By: Super Mark

Action Comics 866-870

I was originally going to review these issues one at a time, but I don’t particularly enjoy reading a story-arc one issue at a time. I tend to prefer collecting trade paperbacks and review the entire collection as a whole.

The whole “Brainiac” story-arc has been over for over six months now, and so is the “New Krypton” arc that followed it. So you’ll have to forgive my tardiness. I’ll admit, I might have a problem with procrastination. I’ll get around to dealing with it… Eventually.

These days, it’s hard not to hop on the Geoff Johns bandwagon. When it comes to his writing, he has the Midas Touch. He brought new blood to the Justice Society of America, revamped the Teen Titans, revitalized the Green Lantern Corps, and practically reconstructed the entire DC Universe from scratch. It should be no surprise that the most anticipated DC titles of 2009 –Superman: Secret Origins, Green Lantern: Blackest Night, and The Flash: Rebirth– will all be penned by Geoff Johns.

It should also be no surprise that Superman’s mainstream storylines are the best that they’ve ever been in the past ten years, whether we’re talking about last year’s “Last Son” or this year’s ongoing “New Krypton”.

Of course, that’s just this critic’s humble opinion.

“Brainiac” involves the return of –you guessed it– Brainiac. Aside from Lex Luthor, he’s arguably one of Superman’s most recognized villains, and he’s returning to DC’s current mainstream continuity in a very big way, re-imagined like never before.

The story begins with a flashback 35 years ago to Krypton, where we witness the abduction of Krypton’s capital city of Kandor. Brainiac robot-drones terrorize the planet, invasively lobotomize innocent civilians, and ultimately transport the entire city of Kandor. We have a cameo appearance by General Zod, a respected war hero at this point, who is powerless to stop the invasion but promises the Kandorians that he will find a way to save them.

Zod

Cut to present day, where we see the Last Son of Krypton attending a staff meeting at the Daily Planet.

I would like to comment on the return of Cat Grant and Steve Lombard, obscure but classic reporters for the Daily Planet. Cat Grant returns as a “cougar” (Lois’s words, not mine) as well the Planet’s Hollywood gossip columnist, hoping to write a juicy expose on Supergirl. Steve Lombard reintroduced as a pornstar-looking sports columnist; he is still as sleazy, crude and chauvinistic as ever.

While I’m glad these two are back, I wonder how much drama they will re-introduce now that Lois and Clark are married. These characters worked as social obstacles for Clark Kent before he and Lois were an item. Steve Lombard was something of a bully, and Cat Grant was a romantic foil.

I did, however, enjoy Cat’s failed attempts to woo Clark with her breast implants, and I figured correctly  she will become a far bigger thorne in Supergirl’s side in the months to come.

But you’re not here for the soap-opera crap, are you? No, you’re here for the gratuitous violence, so let’s get to it.

Superman comes across a Brainiac drone terrorizing the people of Metropolis, much like the flashback. Superman assumes that the drone is simply Brainiac, but in fact it appears to be a probe for a far more sinister Brainiac than any we’ve ever been introduced to before.

Drone Fight

Geoff Johns is giving Brainiac the same retroactive treatment he gave General Zod, bringing the character back to his roots. He keeps everything that worked (like the Coluan mad scientist named Vril Dox), and gets rid of everything that didn’t (like the circus performing psychic named Milton Fine.)

Brainiac’s previous incarnations haven’t been completely retconned out of existence, however. Instead, they are described as having been lesser “probes” of the greater, more powerful Brainiac. What we have left is super-intelligent alien cyborg from the planet Colu, cold and calculating, devoid of emotion and compassion.

His motivation is to expand his knowledge by securing samples of various intergalactic civilizations before wiping them off the face of the universe. This is what he has done to Kandor, possibly even connecting him to the destruction of Krypton. And this is what he intends to do to Earth next!!

Supergirl’s words say it all: “You’ve told me Lex Luthor is everything bad about humanity. Well, Brainiac is everything bad about aliens.” Brainiac is an allegory for every negative, evil aspect of aliens in science fiction. He is the martians from War of the Worlds, the robots from The Day the Earth Stood Still, the xenomorphs from the Alien quadrology, the Borg from the Star Trek franchise, and the Sentinels from the Matrix.

At the end of the day, however, it’s still the bald-headed, green-skinned, half-alien, half-robot evil genius with aspirations for interstellar domination and Kryptonian manslaughter we’ve all grown to hate. In other words, it’s still Brainiac.

Brainiac

This Brainiac’s portrayal is not only shown to be an intellectual rival of Superman, but also as much of a physical rival. This Brainiac towers over Superman, and he is able to match him in battle. His vast intellect also allows him to mostly out-think the Man of Steel as well, debasing Earth culture as beneath his interest and threatening to destroy it simply for the sake of spiting Superman.

Ironically, it is Superman’s so-called “brutishness” that ultimately proves to be Brainiac’s downfall. A sterilized being to the Nth degree, Brainiac is overwhelmed by Earth’s micro-organisms. Brought out of his security bubble where he is in control, Brainiac is promptly defeated.

Superman’s triumph is truly epic. Not only does he defeat Brainiac, he also saves his adopted homeworld from destruction and restores the bottled city of Kandor to is normal size, freeing hundreds of thousands of his fellow Kryptonians.

I also have to mention Johns’s treatment of Supergirl. Many other critics have pointed this out before me, and I tend to agree with them. While several solo story-arcs from other writers have sunk the Girl of Steel to an unprecedented low, Geoff Johns completely redeems her in just a couple of pages.

Gary Frank’s art is fantastic. What really separates his work from the rest of is the attention to detail on the faces. Unlike other artists (*cough* Ian Churchill *cough*) who draw the same face for every character, in this issue each character has a look and expression that is distinct from everyone else.

An astute observer will notice that the face of Clark Kent is modeled not after the traditional square-jawed, spit-curled rendition of the Man of Steel, but rather after Christopher Reeve. Furthermore, Lois Lane looks like a young Margot Kidder. I know many will disagree with me, but for me that warrants a change of underwear.

Superman Comparison

Some have been highly critical of the movements DC Comics have taken to re-introducing Silver Age elements, accusing writers of running out of original ideas and rehashing stories have already been told. Sometimes it’s hard to argue against that kind of logic. Then again, Geoff Johns rehashed Brainiac and Kandor, and it was excellent. Grant Morrison churned out Final Crisis, and …

… Well, at least it was original.

If you ever get a chance Read the original story of Brainiac in Action Comics #242, you’ll see that it’s essentially a condensed version of this story-arc. By today’s standards, you have to admit it’s pretty goofy. The key word is “re-introduction” here. That’s the idea behind it: making these stories cool again.

I’ve been a fan of Superman for a long time, but I wasn’t there when Superman first recovered the bottled city of Kandor. I wasn’t there when the Legion of Super-Heroes invited Clark into their club. I never had a chance to know Barry Allen as the Flash. When I think of Dick Grayson, I think Nightwing, not Robin the Boy-Wonder.

… And I wasn’t there when Pa Kent first died.

I have to admit, I was initially resistant to the idea of killing off Jonathan Kent. John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” had successfully reintegrated the Kents as vital parts of the Superman mythology. Allowing readers to become intimately familiar with Clark Kent’s adoptive parents over the years has added to Superman’s home-grown quality that has made him more relatable. There’s also a damn good reason that Pa Kent has been named the number one dad in comic books.

Pa Kent

I guess one of the reasons I was resistant was because I have a very close relationship with my own father. I am being very honest when I say that I consider him one of my best friends. When I read about Pa Kent, I’m often reminded of my own dad. And when Pa Kent died my heart went out to Clark, because I had the brief but bitter taste of what it would be like when my dad goes.

That being said, I also appreciate the dramatic reason that Jonathan Kent has to die. It’s the same reasons that Gandal fell down the chasms of Khazad-Dum. It’s the same reason that Darth Vader struck down Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s the same reason that Peter Parker neglected to stop the burglar who later killed Uncle Ben.

Death is an ugly but inevitable part of life. Everyone will eventually have to go through the loss of a loved one at one point in their lives. In many ways, coping with death is a rite of passage. How we deal with death has a way of defining who we are.

I’m not necessarily saying that this story-arc is profound in its portrayal of Jonathan Kent’s death. However, I do understand it.

Superman’s Human/Kryptonian dichotomy is made stronger by the simultaneous restoration of Kandor and the death of his adopted father. In many ways it is both the greatest and worst day of his life. It’s a dichotomy that will no doubt be (by this point, has been) explored more closely in the “New Krypton” and “World of New Krypton” story-arcs.

A solid read. Well worth your time and money.

Overall Grade

9 / 10

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