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Sunday Slugfest: Action Comics #866

Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Geoff Johns
Gary Frank (p), Jon Sibal (i)
DC Comics
Erik Norris: 4.5 Bullets
Christopher Power: 4 Bullets
Kevin Powers: 5 Bullets

Erik Norris: 4.5 Bullets

Geoff Johns is a closet Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman fan. There, I said it. And you know what, you should be too. You won't find a better representation of the Daily Planet bullpen in motion than that show, and it's channeled to perfection in this issue of Action Comics, all the while revealing the building blocks to an epic Brainiac/Superman showdown.

"Brainiac" opens with an intense flashback, 35 years, to when Brainiac first attacked Krypton, bottling the city of Kandor while General Zod attempted to thwart him. It's a powerful opener with a fantastic hook to draw readers into the rest of the issue, reminding me of the best type of Hollywood action introduction. Even Zod's remark about this humongous Brainiac spacecraft being "alien" creates a weird ironic feeling in readers' hearts that's truly unsettling. Just what exactly does an alien of an alien behave like? This full throttle opening perfectly balances the following pages where the action slows down and we are treated to a Daily Planet staff meeting. Here we are reacquainted with Cat Grant, revealed last issue to be making her way back to Metropolis, and Steve Lombard. Geoff Johns writes the script as if this might be Clark and Steve's first meeting, which will tick off continuity buffs, but for everyone else it makes this issue even more approachable. The sequence is also a perfect display of Steve and Clark's relationship, as hilarious as it always turns out to be.

Then there is the confrontation between Cat and Clark, where things heat up to 11, and in true Clark fashion, he plays oblivious perfectly. I could picture Tracy Scoggins (From Lois and Clark) delivering all of Cat's lines, and it really helped pull me into the sequence. It also helps that Gary Frank drew a Cat Grant that resembles Tracy, cheek mole and all. It made me a happy Superman fan because this might be as close to canon as we see that show, at least until I start writing there (jury is still out on if Geoff Johns gives Perry White an Elvis fixation) Then there's Frank's depiction of Clark/Superman and Lois. Chris Reeves and Margot Kidder back at the Daily Planet, and it makes me cheer like I'm a little kid all over again.

So there it is, part one of "Brainiac." The issue provides a great setup, while being 100% accessible to new Superman readers looking to find what they have been missing in comics, as well as old readers who know every excruciating detail of Brainiac and Superman's long history of being sworn enemies. The issue also gets bonus points for making Brainiac scary again, which I have never been able to suspend my disbelief to when I'm stuck looking at a green man with light bulbs on his forehead. Even the cliffhanger is frightening, and it's Brainiac drooling on himself! Promised to be the gateway to the 2008 Superman event, "Brainiac" has started off with all the right steps, and I'm excited to see where this goes.

Christopher Power: 4 Bullets

After being away from DC Comics for a while now--and from Superman comics for a number of years, I decided that with the return of Brainiac to the mainstream storyline I would pick up Action Comics #866. Overall, I am very happy that I did so, because Geoff Johns turned in a solid beginning to a story, and Gary Frank and Jon Sibal turned in a stellar work of art.

Starting with the art, I find it remarkable how much Frank made both Clark and Lois look like Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder. It is even odder to me that DC wants them to do that given the direction of the current movie franchise. However, for this old fan, seeing Clark adjust oversized glasses, and watching Christopher Reeves pull open his shirt to reveal the shield was wonderfully sentimental.

However, the art team is not entirely drawing from the movies in terms of imagery. The appearance of Brainac's ship and the drones are very much like the Ed Hannigan designs. Cat, returning entertainment writer for the Daily Planet, is very much like Tracy Scoggin's from the Lois and Clark : The New Adventures of Superman television series. Most importantly, recent comic appearances of Zod, Ursa and even Ma and Pa Kent are repeated in this book. Amazingly, the art team has drawn from many elements of the Superman library of media, but do it all in a style all their own.

The environments are rendered with as much care as the characters, with even backgrounds, like the window views of Metropolis, having deep detail and reflections. Honestly, I could feel the difference in the environments on my skin they felt so well done. I've given this book an extra bullet simply for the care taken.

Aside from the highly amusing scenes at the Daily Planet, which seem to have a Donner flair to them, Geoff Johns continues his route of expanding the history of Brainiac attempting to bring some consistency between the stories that have been brought about throughout the years. If he manages to pull it off, this could add interesting depth to a character that has been steadily declining into "evil being with evil plan #47." However, beyond the return of Brainiac stealing and bottling cities (making this era consistent with the Silver Age), Johns introduces a new motivation: Brainiac is looking for something within the people of the cities.

I am looking forward to this arc, and it has inspired me to pick up the last couple of years of Action in tradevpaperback to give it a read. That in itself is a positive thing for a writer to do these days.

Kevin Powers: 5 Bullets

For the past year or so, the strongest books in DC's arsenal have been Green Lantern and em>Green Lantern Corps. In that respect, everything involving Green Lantern has been extremely well done and hard to find if you don't pick up books every Wednesday. I'm beginning to notice a pattern when it comes to DC's iconic heroes and Geoff Johns. Damn near anything Johns touches is pure gold. It didn't start with his revival of my favorite character, Hal Jordan. It started years ago from the moment he took over The Flash. Johns redefined Wally West. He set the canon straight, modernized it and set it on the right path. Since Johns, no one has been able to capture Wally as well. It's only fitting that Johns returns to the Flash mythos with Rogue's Revenge. And of course, then there was Green Lantern: Rebrith and the Green Lantern series that followed. Johns not only redefined Hal Jordan but also re-imagined the canon and tweaked the Green Lantern mythos to what we see now. The same can be said about Justice Society; Johns has given it a distinct identity and maintains the book's consistency from issue to issue. Johns is still in the process of re-defining the Green Lantern Corps and Hal Jordan, and it has been phenomenal thus far. Also for the past year, Johns has been helming DC's flagship and longest running title, Action Comics. Sure, Johns does a fantastic job with the supporting characters of the DC Universe, but he's had his sights set on the big kahuna, Superman.

If there is one thing Superman needs right now, it's a streamlined mythology and origin. Sure, we've seen it re-shaping itself since Superman Returns and the "Up, Up and Away" story-arc, and we've seen Zod and some of Krypton's past, but we haven't had a true definitive story of the Man of Steel's origin. So clearly, the logical thing to do is send in "The Doctor" Geoff Johns to re-structure and re-define a character's mythology. Witnessing what Johns has been doing with these characters over the years, even dating back to his first work on Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., I am going to conclude that no one knows more about the DC characters in this era of comics than Johns. Not Morrison, not Busiek, not Carlin, not DiDio, not even Levitz. Regardless of what goes on in the editorial rooms at 1700 Broadway, Johns' name is on the book as the author. Plus, his track record is proof in and of itself: Flash, Green Lantern, Booster Gold, Superboy-Prime, Justice Society and now Superman.

I also must confess, I wasn't thrilled with the first issue of Final Crisis. Trinity has potential to be good (or bad), but given what we are seeing in some of Johns' books, I've really decided what I want from DC right now. I don't want a universe changing mega-crossover. I want DC to focus on their characters and re-define their origins and mythologies, streamlining them and giving them all one solid ground. We've seen so many interpretations over the years that perhaps the time has come to take the best elements of said interpretations and make them one. There's no need for a crisis to do this, just give us good stories that boost the characters and streamline the canon. And I mean just about everyone: Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Catwoman, etc. Hell, even Rucka and Morrison re-defined the mythos of certain characters during 52, and Adam Beechen did it in Countdown to Adventure. Peter Tomasi did it in Black Adam. I'm not the biggest fan of the arc, but Morrison is doing it to an extent with "R.I.P." I'm not a fan of the concept at all, but I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't a good mystery. You get what I'm saying; DC's best titles over the past two years have been those that streamline a character's continuity and mythology. There is so much potential in these stories that the possibilities of what could come out of them could eclipse every Crisis and crossover event in recent memory. The perfect example? Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, both Final Crisis free.

So you are here to read my review of Action Comics #866. Well, essentially I just gave it to you. This is one of the best DC comic books I have read since The Sinestro Corps Special. It's mind-boggling to me that there is so much focus on "big events" and Final Crisis when the best stuff being put out has damn near nothing to do with any of that. Sure, from a sales standpoint big events sell. Just ask DiDio and Quesada. But what about keeping readers interested in the characters after the "big event"? What about keeping readers involved? On Marvel's turf the problem with something like "Brand New Day" was that it did not "fix" Spider-Man's continuity, it made it more of a mess, whereas the success with Green Lantern comes from the streamlining of events and continuity.

Okay, I think you get the point; I'm going to stop beating a dead horse. Anyways, this issue of Action Comics is effing awesome. Next to Luthor, Brainiac is Superman's greatest enemy. With this issue, not only do we get images of Brainiac terrorizing Krypton, but Johns also takes the bottle city of Kandor and explains what happens to it in the span of about two pages. Johns featured Zod and Ursa in their glory days; he depicts Brainiac as a menacing and murderous A.I. that may or may not be Kryptonian. When the new interpretation of Brainiac comes to Metropolis, Superman recognizes it and treats it as a minor threat. This is an important plot device because Johns isn't re-introducing Brainiac as a new entity, he's re-defining him. Sure, it's a new Brainiac, it may very well be ret-conned as the original Brainiac, but it's also constructed to match other media. The popular interpretation of the character is from the DC Animated Universe, an A.I. whose goal is to acquire ultimate knowledge by exploring the universe and alien civilizations. This is very much the case here as this Brainiac is responsible for Kandor and the final page of the issue reveals his operation. I'm excited to see where Johns goes with this story, especially considering Brainiac is heavily rumored to be the villain in the next Superman film, Man of Steel. The mystery surrounding the new Brainiac is intriguing and definitely leaves me restlessly awaiting the next issue. This new Brainiac is downright scary and most certainly welcome.

But the story with Brainiac isn't all that really makes this issue memorable and really begins to streamline the Superman canon. It goes beyond Superman and into the Daily Planet. Johns gives us the four mainstays, Jimmy, Perry, Lois and Clark, but he also re-introduces some memorable DC staffers from days past. My personal favorite is Cat Grant, who comes back to Metropolis from Los Angeles totally sexed up even more than before with a new pair of boobies to match. The interactions between her and Clark are priceless and classic, reminding me of first comic experiences with Superman in the early 90s when Cat Grant was a mainstay. Johns also re-introduces Ron Troupe and Steve Lombard, two popular and regular supporting cast members dating back to the Pre-Crisis days. Once again the canon is streamlined by taking the better elements of days past and updating them for today.

The exchanges between these characters are amazing. The dialogue is witty, it's fast-paced and it's Geoff Johns truly at his finest. I laughed out loud when Clark used his heat vision to break the chair Lombard was leaning back in as he hit on Lois. As I stated, the exchange between Clark and Cat was beautifully done, but the back and forth banter between Lois and Clark after the meeting really captures their relationship perfectly. In the 90s, Clark and Lois's relationship as lovers was always highlighted by playful picking and banter between the two. Johns captures the essence of the relationship perfectly and really reminds me why I love that Lois and Clark are married. And you want to talk about streamlining Lois Lane across all media? How about some orange juice from freshly squeezed oranges while you think it over?

The artwork on this issue is Gary Frank's best thus far. It's much stronger than it was during the Legion storyline as if Frank is much more inspired by this story. I love the way he draws Clark/Superman as Christopher Reeve. His Lois Lane has shades of Margot Kidder, Erica Durance and Phyllis Coates, three women who truly embody Lois Lane. For the purposes of this review, I did some picture study. I didn't find as many similarities with Frank's Lois compared to Noel Neill as I did with Coates. Either way, I think there is more Kidder and Durance in his Lois than anyone else. Anyways, the artwork is grand. There are some iconic images of Superman, and the early depictions of Brainiac on Krypton are frightening. The very last pages showing Brainiac are also quite scary and should be rather interesting as this story unfolds. Johns and Frank are shaping up to be the best DC creative team since Johns and Ivan Reis.

So why in hell does this book have "Sightings" slapped on the top of the cover? Well, true to the mission of the "Sightings" idea, this issue does indeed mark a turning point for Superman. This "Sighting" is the beginning of the latest chapter in re-defining and streamlining the Superman mythos. There's very little that has to do with Final Crisis or any big event and the only scene that felt out of place was the page where Ma and Pa Kent. All I know is that if Pa Kent dies, I'll be upset. That is honestly the only element of Superman's mythos that should not be altered in the comics. In movies and TV it's one thing, but in the comics Pa is an integral part of Superman's life, his moral compass, sometimes even more than Ma, and in the comics, his death is not relevant to the evolution of Clark to Superman. Because I absolutely love this issue, I'm really hoping "Sightings" works out for DC and people pick up these books that are going to start re-defining and streamlining a character's canon. I'm hoping enough people respond positively and DC stops the "big events" and focuses on their characters and giving each of them a definitive mythology.

I highly recommend that you pick up this issue, even if you hate Superman. It's fantastically written, the art is top notch and the implications for the future and the past of Superman are extraordinary. This new Brainiac is chilling, menacing and a formidable foe for the Man of Steel. This is one of the best books DC has put out this year outside of the Green Lantern titles and I can't wait to see what Johns brings to Superman next. This is a Pick of the Week.

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