The Final Curtain Rises For DC’s Bombshells In Issue #31

by Noah Sharma

 

How do you even capture what DC Comics Bombshells is? The most obvious answer is clever marketing based on a popular line of retro pin-up statues, but that’s obviously insufficient. It’s also a queer feminist reimagining of comics par excellence, a genre-bending war story that probably covers more of the major issues of World War II than the average high school history class, and essentially a complete reboot of DC Comics, going back to its beginnings and retelling its stories in a fully considered and interconnected fashion. All this in 100 chapters.

It’s certainly impressive and, as Bombshells closes in on its finale, the chapters collected in DC Comics Bombshells #33 take a moment to tie things back to the beginning.

The first installment gives us the background on Killer Frost, a character who has long played a role in the series but only recently come into focus. Another of writer Marguerite Bennett’s plentiful folk stories, Killer Frost is here recast as a creature of magic, but one lacking the rules of Raven or Zatanna, adrift in her own curiosity and potential.

Bennett weaves Louise L’Inconnue’s path through the Axis Powers and the villains we’ve encountered so far. It’s certainly convenient, but the sincerity of the relationships that we find in this chapter help balance the costs of the page count and do an admirable job of presenting this Frost as a villain with pathos, even if history and the subsequent chapters hint that her siege of Leningrad might not be the true final clash that ends the series.

The next two chapters are all about revealing the power behind Hugo Strange, Faora Hu-Ul. Having appeared as early as issue #2, albeit in lightly obscured form as General Fyodora Khulun, it’s about time that Faora made her proper appearance.

With the final days of the Western war centered around Russia, it seems only fair that Bombshells’ Soviet Supergirl take the spotlight, and Faora makes for a fitting final threat for her. At once dark mirror image, ominous benefactor, and evil stepmother to our hero, Faora presents the perfect challenge to crystalize our understanding of what makes this Supergirl a hero.

The version of Faora Bennett provides here is at once the logical distillation of the transition from World War to Cold War and a biting commentary of those who are too good to compromise for the sake of others. Bennett calls upon the modern image of Krypton to great effect, drawing quiet but forceful parallels to the setting of her story.

And lest you ever, for even a moment, think that Bombshells isn’t going to be queer enough for you, just savor the following sentence. This continuity’s Supergirl, its greatest and most powerful hero, is the product of what seems to be a polyamorous lesbian artificial conception conducted secretly as an act of political rebellion and delivered with one of her three mothers as the midwife. If there has ever been a proper use of the “This is the future liberals want” meme this has to be it.

Throw in some fun craziness–Hugo Strange’s cepahlopoid man of war, Ivy’s apple grenades, etc.–and more of the burgeoning Supergirl/Lois Lane romance and you’ve got a solid outline for an issue.

Despite the hints of a smooth landing in store for Bombshells, the troubles that have plagued the series since its inception remain.

As ever, the sheer scope of this series could easily accommodate a more thorough exploration and, at times, suffers for not having one. Though the tripartite structure of the issue is nice, each of its chapters feels like they could have benefited from a little more space to breathe.

Doing all of what these stories do in ten pages is respectable, but there are definitely places where things are implied rather than said, or simply ignored to satisfy the limitations of the form. Even a couple of extra pages could probably help significantly, but they also could probably stand to double up to normal issue length and still be packed to the gills with content. Then again, that might kill Bennett; exhaustion, happiness, or both, I’m not sure.

Partially as a result of these restrictions, Bombshells remains a mercurially confusing comic. There are always just a couple of places where scripting or dialogue or art make it hard to follow, with seemingly little regard for how consistent these qualities are around this distracting outliers. It’s not especially bad here, but some of the time skips in Killer Frost’s story and a lengthy bit of monologue in the second chapter can leave the reader with a somewhat floaty feeling that makes it hard to keep the sense of place. In the latter case, the strength of Bennett’s ideas and prose combine to hypnotic effect, but that’s both in a positive and negative sense.

A trio of talented artists and a pair of colorists collaborate on this issue. The art throughout is lovely, but its greatest fault is that it rarely does anything extraordinary. Possibly by editorial urging, the art leans towards a somewhat unimaginative house style that doesn’t always bring the designs of the characters to fullest life.

 

But despite a fairly simple aesthetic, there’s far more than that going on here artistically. Carmen Carnero does some of the issue’s strongest work in the opening pages, collaborating closely with J. Nanjan to create an evocatively haunting origin for Killer Frost. Louise’s meetings with Paula Von Gunther and Hugo Strange also stand out, benefitting immensely from some powerful inking that gives these panels a Dodsons-esque look.

Laura Braga’s big accomplishment is giving us the strongest depiction of Faora in the issue. One early, deliciously powerful moment brings the best out of Braga’s sharp lines and introduces Faora perfectly. Braga’s aptitude for capturing her body language and sleek design help to make Faora the focus of attention every time she’s on the page. And though Braga is called upon to draw some of the sillier moments of the script and a few characters that seemingly don’t respond as well to her style, she gives the whole segment a potent sense of weight.

Aneke and Wendy Broome close out the issue with their tale of motherhood and Krypton’s demise. The layouts in this chapter are especially strong, highlighted by a lovely page boarder and a couple of bold choices. Left largely to their own devices to tell their story under Bennett’s narration, Aneke crafts a wonderful, silent tale full of tender looks and old serial glamour shots, accentuated by Broome’s sepia tinged colors.

This really does feel like the beginning of the end for Bombshells, but it’s an ending to be enjoyed, especially safe in the knowledge that it will return as Bombshells United in August. The villains are certainly in the spotlight this week, with a particularly timely Faora stealing the show somewhat, but learning more of Raven and Zatanna’s history and really seeing what makes the Lois/Supergirl relationship work ensure that those invested in the Bombshells themselves won’t go away sad.

Though many of the problems that have dogged the series from its inception persist, they remain small in the face of Bombshell’s scope, grandeur, and cleverness. Though more interested in illuminating the Bombshells world than changing it, issue #31 sets the stage for the final act and continues this series’ history of smart, inspiring stories of resistance.