That's a gorgeous cover illustration by Amy Reeder, coloured by Guy Major, but it doesn't do this issue justice. Smiley Supergirl is suited to a poster book, or a promotional illo. A first issue, or special. But this issue's change of pace story should be represented on the cover to let potential buyers know there's a different flavour to the drama inside.
So what is inside? Not the usual hero vs villain business. Instead, it's a story in which Supergirl joins journalist Cat Grant to track down whoever is kidnapping kids off the streets of Metropolis. The mystery has special resonance for Cat, as her son Adam was murdered by the Toyman (later needlessly retconned into a Toyman robot). The situation gives Kara a chance to learn why Cat hates her, and Cat an opportunity to hear Kara's point of view.
The most intense scene of the issue is the Arkham Asylum interview with Winslow Schott, the toymaker turned menace. Having been receiving creepy dolls on the days children have vanished, Cat quite reasonably suspects he's behind the disappearances, and likely murders. Supergirl shows her steel in this scene, letting Toyman know that he answers Cat's questions, or else.
What happens next is pretty freaky, and a good indicator that Toyman isn't involved. By the end of the issue we know just who has been tormenting Cat, though not why. As well as the long-in-coming Cat/Kara confrontation - one in which writer Sterling Gates favours neither character's point of view - 'Toying With Emotions' features a rewarding phone chat with big sister figure Lana Lang putting Cat's behaviour into perspective, and underlining that while not a relative by blood or marriage, Lana's as much a member of the Superman Family as anyone.
The new villain appears in just a single panel, but makes a big impression - file under Camp as Christmas, But Don't Turn Your Back.
(Yes, I could tell you more, but this comic book deserves extra readers - if you've some spare pennies, and haven't tried Supergirl of late, give it a go. try this issue, or grab the trades, Who Is Superwoman?, Friends and Fugitives and Death and the Family. Then report back!)
The Sterling Gates/Jamal Igle creative teaming ends after next issue, and while I don't doubt Nick Spencer and Bernard Chang will bring their A-game, dang but I love the current pairing. The people Gates writes, the relationships he fosters, are among the most real in comics. And they benefit hugely from the skills of Igle, whose storytelling choices are always spot-on, and followed through with style. Where lazy creators repeat panel after panel for talking heads scene, Gates and Igle like things more animated. Have you ever seen Supergirl look more human than in these panels, inked by Jon Sibal, coloured by Blond and lettered by Travis Lanham? Click on the images to enlarge.
Gates and Igle have defined Kara and co for the modern era, and while they're in the final stretch, they're not coasting. This month's mood is far from that of previous issues, but because characters are so well-defined, we can comfortably plug into something different. And while Cat's unreasonable behaviour does drive Supergirl away, she doesn't abandon the job - as would have happened in the early days of this book - but flies off to investigate from another angle. Kara has grown into quite the young hero, and her two adoptive daddies can be very proud.
Even Cat is allowed admirable qualities, such as her mother's devotion, and reporter's courage in entering her apartment when she knows the villain is likely to be inside.
If all this isn't enough, there's a tremendous closing scene bringing back a villain from earlier in the Gates/Igle run. I don't think there'll be a loose end left unaddressed as the sequence closes, but knowing the work of these gentleman, there'll be no rushing or short-changing. A classic run is almost over, and I'm savouring the final moments.