H’EL ON EARTH: An Essay On DC’s Super Crossover
Keeping Up With the Kryptonians:
A Family Reunion?
I have cable TV. I grew up with cable TV. I watch too much cable TV. And if you watch cable TV like I watch cable TV, you know that some of the better movie channels go through cycles of playing the same shit over and over for weeks on end. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the eyes and ears is the same serving of Meryl Streep sullenly walking through the West Village of New York, or Bruce Willis breaking through glass windows in bare feet bellowing “yippee ka-yay”. Sure I like sitting down for a good film viewing with a bowl of popcorn and some Red Vines, but many times I watch the same movie over a matter of weeks, while getting ready for work, or maybe during the 15 minutes before the Daily Show comes on. It’s the way of our cable subscribing, ADD world.
But there are a few movies that have a mesmerizing effect on me, that make it a little difficult to walk away no matter how many times I have seen them. When Martin Scorsese is having a programmed revival on one of better movie channels and I see Robert DeNiro doing his push ups and pull ups in his prison cell, covered in tattoos and an orangey tan, I hear that original trumpeting soundtrack from Bernard Hermann, and I have to stop. Of course it’s one of DeNiro’s greatest roles, achieving iconic status, but for me, the real spectacle is the unraveling of the three unit family, first individually, one by one, and then together on that fateful boat ride during a tropical summer storm.
Max Cady proves himself as more than just an ignorant hill billy with a mean streak bigger that the state of Missouri. The man is a navy seal in psychological warfare. You watch as each one of the family members, father, mother, and teenaged daughter, come undone, right before your eyes. And let’s face it, it’s fascinating to watch a person come undone. Unfortunately we have a legion of untalented people far less interesting than Jessica Lange, Juliet Lewis, or Nick Nolte, making a decent living from faking that very process on many of Bravo TV’s shows.
It is a somewhat similar trial of Job of going on with our Kryptonian refugees: Superman (Kal-El), Supergirl (Kara), and the hybrid clone, Superboy (Kon-El). A new Kryptonian has come into town and there goes the neighborhood. And when I say “neighborhood”, I mean Metropolis; potentially the entire world. It is not a recently released ex-con with gritting teeth and greasy hair that’s causing problems for the Super Family, but a scarred and ashen colored being who claims to be from Krypton, named H’El. He claims to have been lost in space for many years and has appeared with a mission to go back in time before Krypton was destroyed.
H’El makes his first appeal to Supergirl in Supergirl #14 by taking her on a Kryptonian version of a spa day. This consists of teleporting himself and her within a close orbit of the sun so Supergirl can rejuvenate herself. I know, right? Supergirl gets tired? She lies down for a sudden and rare nap at her undersea home base, Sanctuary, and suddenly she is floating in space with a stranger. H’el may have been lost in space for decades but he sure seems to have all the right moves when it comes to a woman like Supergirl. On top of the solar spa day, H’El also introduces himself to Supergirl as someone much like herself, “a lost child of Krypton.” We know that Kara has not really felt at home on planet Earth and she longs for the good ole days back on Krypton.
It’s not just what he says that has gravitational pull on Supergirl, but maybe also how he appears. I find Kenneth Rocafort’s and Mahmud Asrar’s visual interpretations of H’El the most persuasive. Each artist has taken the strong physique, bare chest, and lifeless coloring and added to it some contrasting elements. Mr.Rocafort’s H’El appears like a defiant and dark angel with a body Michelangelo might have designed on a bad acid trip, while Mr. Asar’s H’El looks a bit more malnourished and deprived. A tragic former golden boy who was shot into space from Krypton, only to come out the end of the universe with eyes that haven’t seen the love and light of civilization for so long that they have been filled by a thick, inky sadness. Although he basically performs a vivisection on Superboy, and body slams Superman to the point of unconsciousness, if you have any maternal instinct at all, you may have an inclination to bring H’El home and make him some chicken soup.
At first Supergirl is suspicious of H’El. But the soak in the sun sinks in a little bit and Kara admits to herself she is somewhat impressed by H’Els consideration. We observe the affection between the star crossed lovers progress issue to issue. In issue #15 Supergirl is struck by H’El’s voice. “…so cold. Like the deepest, darkest, corner of space.” I thought this was a perfect description. Immediately I could hear his voice slightly metallic, layered, and echoing. I imagined something like a deeper version Mystique’s voice in the X-Men films. But after transporting Kara into the miniaturized and bottled city of Kandor, H’El appears to her as a ghostly image of his former, handsome self. I find this a little strange as he seems to have the ability to transmute himself and everyone else anywhere he damn well pleases. He claims it is the only way he can appear to her within the confines of the sleeping city.
After experiencing Kandor, hearing H’El’s former voice, and seeing one of her best friends in a floating coma, something seems to shift for Kara and from then on, when H’El speaks to her she says, “ I can hear the echo of his true voice inside it now.” The deep and dark corners of space now seem to hold the potential for romance. And let’s face it, if you want a woman to feel special, forget the candies, cards, and flowers, show her a side of yourself only she gets to see. H’El seals the deal by speaking to her earnestly, claiming he only wants her to be happy, to not do anything she doesn’t want to. He seems to only want to give her the gift of coming home to Krypton. Is he just a misshapen Don Juan who still wields a power over women with his words and chiseled pecs? Or is it the real deal?
We don’t know yet if H’El is just a complex anti villain with a noble mission executed by questionable means, or if there is some ulterior motive we have yet to see in the final issues of the story. So far his most deceitful action has been to beat the crap out of Supergirl while disguised as Superman. In addition he has ripped Superboy a new one, literally, teleported Superman and Superboy through multiple dimensions of reality, and he has taken over Superman’s haven and home base, the Fortress of Solitude. Maybe it’s Mr. Asar’s sad puppy dog eyes, or Mr. Rocafort’s Adonis gone gothic physique, but despite his actions H’El seems to have Supergirl wrapped around his finger by issue 15 when she takes the Quantum Crystal from Kandor to fuel his plan of going back in time to Krypton. The protective big brother in me is waiting to see how pure H’El’s motivations are.
It wouldn’t be unfathomable that H’El carries a big, green glowing chip on his shoulder for at one time sharing a filial like closeness with Superman’s parents, only to be launched into space as a guinea pig for the spacecraft that would eventually serve as an escape for Superman and vehicle to his new home, Earth. He claims it is that brave mission that forever changed his life and turned him into the rough and raging figure he is today. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if by the end of the story we find revenge to be H’El’s main motivation.
If it is in fact revenge fueling his actions, we can see a bit of the Max Cady/Cape Fear effect. The intention may be revenge but the effect is a no holds barred, brutal counseling session for the Super family. Without intending to H’El is forcing them to say the things to each other they never have before, bringing all of their undeniable conflicts to the surface. This is no ordinary family so we can’t expect them get a group session with Dr. Phil or discuss this over Sunday dinner. They get to work out their issues while trying to save the world and each other.
I can’t help but like H’El a little bit. His iron clad devotion to Krytonian history and culture is respectable. By the nobility of The El family name he won’t stand for the abomination of a cloned replica with the same name and impure genetic makeup. He basically gives Superman a mega powered slap in the face by calling him on his “glasses and slave name”. He is basically calling him a sell out to his own race. Kara only adds salt to the wound by telling Superman, “ You’ve never really had any real connection to Krypton.”
Later, Supes is forced to literally clean house when and the JLA and he must break into his own Fortress of Solitude and fight a dangerous alien species of weapons called Lockcoils that he has quarantined in there. Wonder Woman seems to enjoy the challenge of fighting them which may score her some points in the Superman’s girlfriend department, but there’s little time to acknowledge it. On top of everything Superboy seems impatient and annoyed with Superman’s holier than though presence. Being bossed around by Batman and Superman’s other JLA coworkers doesn’t seem to help matters. Superboy’s tendency to hit first and complain all the time is made crystal clear he when he face plants Supergirl at the end of Superman #16.
Reading with a mix of concern and sheer delight, as all of the secret resentments and dysfunctions come out from under the cerulean and cherry red carpet, it is Lex Luthor’s jarring question form Superman #15 that echoes through the icy hallways of Superman’s fortress. “Is he (H’El) more powerful than you…or have you just failed to make yourself as powerful as he?”
To the readers who turn their noses up at the Superman books, who think the content is all kid’s stuff with faster than a speeding bullet shenanigans, y’all need to take another look. A couple weeks ago at my favorite comic shop I overheard a fellow geek say to his buddy, “DC stands for Dumb Comics.” He and his friend thought that was pretty funny. I wasn’t so impressed. They’re really missing some good stuff here. Some fantastic art work that matches the complex character interactions and storylines. Yes, Superman is a classic but shit just got real in Metropolis and the creative team at DC is giving us something we can really feel. If you still don’t get it, and think that your Walking Dead is everything and all there is, there’s a guy named Max Cady you need to meet. I think he could explain it to you in a way you would understand.
by Jason A Olson
Cape Fear images courtesy of Amblin Entertainment
H’El on Earth images courtesy of DC Comics