On the bright side, "Supergirl Annual" #1 is in some ways exactly what an Annual should be, a chance to tell extra stories that there isn't necessarily room for in a monthly title. Sterling Gates approaches "Supergirl Annual" #1 with just that in mind, letting us not only finally see a story with Supergirl in her new Linda Lang identity, but also finally filling in the facts on how Lucy Lane went from Lois's little sister to the villainess called Superwoman.
Gates' scripts are a little uneven, unfortunately. The two stories are different sides of a coin, but not in an obvious way; the first suffers from going into territory that hasn't been used enough, the second from going into territory that's been overused for many readers. Since setting up Supergirl as "Linda Lang," the "Supergirl" title has done precisely nothing with this new status quo for the character. Part of the problem is that with the character getting pulled into all of the "New Krypton" stories, there hasn't been room for Supergirl to have her own stories and life. So when we finally touch on this part of the character a mere 10 months after it was introduced, the onus is on Gates to tell an especially strong story. But instead, it's the return to Supergirl the well-meaning failure, who makes everything worse every time she tries to help someone. It's painful to read, but not in a good way. It's an aspect of the character I'd sincerely hoped Gates had thrown out when he took over the title, but this isn't the first time he's resurrected the idea. Supergirl doesn't have to succeed every time, but her failures seem a little more mean-spirited than most.
As for the second story, people who have read the "Superman" titles over the years already know a bunch about Lucy Lane, and on some level this second story isn't aimed at them. It's more towards casual readers who may not have even known that Lois had a sister. None the less, though, it goes through some tired territory, not only for those knew about Lucy Lane but also those who have ever read the "underappreciated second child" story before. (Strangely enough, Lucy Lane's marriage and child with reporter Ron Troupe seems to have been wiped off the slate; it's doubly strange since Troupe even has started showing up in the Daily Planet scenes again.) There's some new information towards the end of the story about just where the Superwoman suit came from and what Lucy's death means for the identity of Superwoman, which is interesting enough and the most important part of the Annual. But it's a small grain of fun in an otherwise predictable story.
The art in "Supergirl Annual" #1, though, is not to my taste at all. At a glance, Fernando Dagnino's pencils seem innocent enough, the slick and smooth character designs that the "Superman" books have run with as an overall look this past year. My problem, though, is how Dagnino draws women. When Supergirl is in her Linda Lang guise, she suddenly looks to be all of twelve years old, even as her belly-button peeks out from underneath her top and her shorts are rolled up halfway up the thigh. I'm not pleased with how Dagnino draws Supergirl in her superhero guise, either. When she flies off out of the bank, her skirt is so small it's barely the size of a dishtowel, and Supergirl getting punched out of the sky is an opportunity for a crotch shot upon landing. Even Lucy Lane fares poorly, hugging her father with her legs spread apart at an almost 90 degree angle while she bends deeply at the waist. I understand that Lucy's supposed to have a slight oedipal complex, but I'll hazard a guess that this pose wasn't in Gates' script. Men at least do a little better, although Clark Kent, mild-mannered gorilla, is quite possibly the worst depiction of the character I've seen in a long time.
In the end, I feel bad for Gates because I think a stronger artist on board this comic might have boosted my overall feeling towards the Annual. Instead, though, it's an unpleasant looking book that is a little embarrassing to read. Maybe in the future Dagnino can draw a book with robots instead, where there won't be the urge to try and sex things up? What could have been great instead feels like a misfire, here.