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Sunday Slugfest: Action Comics #867

Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Geoff Johns
Gary Frank, Jon Sibal (i), Brad Anderson (colors)
DC Comics
"Brainiac: Part 2"

Joey Davidson: 5 Bullets
Erik Norris: 5 Bullets
Christopher Power: 5 Bullets
Kevin Powers: 5 Bullets

Joey Davidson 5 Bullets

As a kid, I was never really into DC all that much. When I did make it to a comic shop, I was always buying something that involved Wolverine, never Superman or Batman. It was the X-Men or bust for me, and I have no idea why.

That;s relevant because it clues you in a little on my knowledge of DC. I know the Marvel Universe pretty well; I know the characters, their origins and their personalities. I grew up with them. The DC Universe? I've been trying to deal with that one for about two or three years now. I've read DC's non-continuity material, but it's the in-continuity stuff that makes me struggle. Final Crisis? Forget it; I have no clue what's going on there.

See, that's the difficulty for me with buying DC books. They have so much history and running plot that picking up a random issue is sometimes impossible for me. I'm the type of reader who gets flustered when I don't know or get exactly what's going on in the panel. I need to be "in the loop," as someone once put it. I need to be in on the inside jokes and knowledge in order to really be engaged and appreciate what's going on.

I've only enjoyed one arc of Action Comics before this current one. It was the Johns' arc involving the Legion. With barely any DC or Superman knowledge, outside of the films, I am still capable of being "in the loop" when it comes to these books. That's what I like so much about the way Geoff Johns has been telling this story. I'm sure there are plenty who have known about Kandor for like half of their adult lives. I haven't. But since Johns laid the incident down in issue #866, I'm able to appreciate what Braniac does to planets. I understand why Supergirl is upset, and I know why Superman feels the need to stop Braniac immediately. Knowledge gives urgency to this comic book drama, and that's why the medium is so addictive. The more you know, the more you are entertained. Johns has taught me the crucial information in these two issues. I get it, and I'm entertained.

Johns presents a Clark Kent that I really enjoy reading. He's light hearted, whimsical and boyish. He's got those qualities that make him Superman. He's a Boy Scout. Johns depicts it perfectly in the sections where Clark talks to his father and when he's in the Daily Planet office. He's just a lovable guy, one who is really easy to get attached to.

Then when it comes time to take care of business, Supes comes shining through. When Superman arrives at the planet where Braniac is terrorizing a strange alien civilization, he tears into the robots. Ripping them apart, he attracts Braniac's attention. Braniac reacts, and… I'm not going to ruin the moment, but readers are left with a final panel that makes Supergirl's words at the beginning of the issue that much more meaningful.

Supergirl tells Superman that no one has ever truly met Braniac, only his puppets. So that little bit of knowledge that Johns injects into the story makes the final panel where Braniac is about to bring Superman onto his ship that much more chilling and tense. This is a great story.

And in case you are wondering, Frank's art is incredible. The Reeves likeness in Superman makes him that much more innocent and really adds another level of likeability to the character. His action sequences are spot-on and look fantastic. And some are bound to develop a sweat when Supergirl is on the page as well. Let's leave that at that.

If you’re an Action Comics fan, issue #867 will more than likely leave you happy and excited. For those who are new like me, dive in. Johns is a wonderful storyteller, and personally, I look forward to where he takes Superman next.

Erik Norris: 5 Bullets

Holy s---! A Superman that actually takes the fight to the enemy instead of lollygagging around until it's too late, when the Daily Planet globe has been knocked off the building once again. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank continue to wow me with their work on Superman in Action Comics. We are getting some mind-bendingly cool epics here that also don't take shortcuts in showing exactly what makes the Man of Steel so iconic and relatable.

For a man who can shoot lasers out of his eyes, lift planets, and fly at incredible speeds, Superman shares a trait that makes us all human: a desire to discover how he fits into the big picture. It is for this reason that Geoff Johns was the perfect writer to pick up one of the Superman books and show readers exactly what makes him who he is, and how he is one of the most relatable superheroes in existence, even with laser eyeballs and the ability to fly. In that regard, Johns has simply been hitting home run after home run. He has, so far, delivered three epics for the Man of Steel, each of which pinpoint what makes Superman the hero/ person he is supposed to be. Whether it's fending off the forces of Zod, helping return prestige to the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st century, or tussling with Brainiac, Geoff Johns always makes Superman a vessel for the emotional struggle of identity. I know for a fact I can't replicate Superman's feats of strength, but I understand his love for family and friends, and how he will do anything in his power to keep them safe. That's what makes Superman super, and Johns understands it and perfectly relates it back to his readers.

Here in "Brainiac: Part Two," Geoff Johns opens with a scene of Superman and his cousin, Supergirl, examining a Brainiac drone. It's interesting because Johns once again uses continuity to his advantage to explain why there have been so many past iterations of Brainiac which also serves to create a mystique around the character, fueling this new story. It just makes perfect sense and the mere fact that no one has ever seen the real deal gives Johns a perfectly clean slate to work with for his eventual reveal of the one, true Brainiac. I have said it before, and I will say it again: that there is no better storyteller in comics right now who honors continuity while continuing to usher it forward in new, and exciting directions.

Then there is Johns' partner in crime, Gary Frank. I dare you to find a better penciller for Superman than Gary as his nods to Christopher Reeve in Superman and Margot Kidder in Lois are exquisite. He even nails all the emotion Johns packs into his scripts perfectly. Whether it’s Kara's fear at the mention of Brainiac, or Jonathan Kent's admiration for his perfectly moral son, Gary Frank nails it all. Lastly, the way Gary Frank depicts the difference in mannerisms between Clark and Superman is only rivaled by one, Frank Quitely. A humble and goofy Clark is offset by a confident and composed Superman which Frank renders perfectly without ever making the two personas seem like two totally different individuals.

Part Two of "Brainiac" once again delivers everything I could ask for in a Superman comic. I got action, character development, a great Daily Planet office sequence (Lombard is hilarious), and a kick-ass cliffhanger that, once again, makes Brainiac menacing without actually doing anything. I can't wait till Superman comes face to face with his foe and sees how truly horrible the real Brainiac is. The cover image to next month’s issue seemingly indicates I don’t have long to wait. If you aren't picking up Action Comics, please do. As far as superhero books go, this is one of the best.

Christopher Power: 5 Bullets

After the stellar outing by this team in the first issue in Geoff Johns' "Brainiac" storyline, I know that I had high hopes going into this new issue. I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. In a couple of years we could see the entire DCU written in Johns' image as it were.

Important aspects of this book revolve not around its story, but how Johns, much like he is doing in Green Lantern, is respectfully taking previous history and enhancing it. He is not throwing out huge amounts of history and saying “they did not happen” like some other writers have done in the past; instead he is taking ideas and tweaking them. In particular, in this issue, Johns plays with the idea that Superman has never actually met Brainiac proper, only avatars of him in the form of organic or inorganic constructs. He also plays with the Zod mythos--which I thought I saw in the first issue as well and did not mention in my review--in that he is making Zod out to be more than just a General gone bad. It appears that history as we know it may not be the whole story, and that Zod supported Jor-El at one time in his theories. Again, this is a good example of respectful writing. Instead of just changing the Zod character, Johns presents the factual inconsistencies as gaps in Kal-El's knowledge of Zod. It feels very natural in its presentation.

Johns also seems to have a very good handle on the characterizations of both Superman and Supergirl, and what they mean to each other, their families, their public and to the world at large. For Supergirl, Kara is presented as a strong woman, torn and conflicted by what she has seen in the past. She is haunted by her memories of civilization, whereas Kal-El views the Kryptonian civilization in a more dispassionate way. He isn't impartial, far from it; however, he does exist apart from it, like someone who observed Krypton through a telescope (or telescopic vision). This is a powerful observation about the character of Superman, which--while a bit of a re-tread--is powerfully driven home by the contrastly angry, frustrated Kara Zor-El.

Johns cleverly takes these observations about the Superman/Supergirl relationship with Krypton and contrasts it with their relationships on Earth. There was no need to depict Clark in the Daily Planet in this story. It was not central to the plot at all; however, he does show Clark (not Superman) interacting with several people at the Planet. Additionally, it gives Clark a chance to discuss Kara with Lois, in particular how Kara is separate from Earth society, similar to how Clark is separated from Krypton. I liked this a lot, as it shows the two as different but equal.

In order to emphasize this point, I refer to the scene previous to the Daily Planet scene, a scene which again seems completely pointless to the story; however, it is possibly the most important scene in the entire book. Johns demonstrates Clark's involvement in the world through the eyes of his parents: Jonathan and Martha Kent. I give Johns credit for writing the best Kent scene since some of the early episodes of Smallville, with Jonathan talking to Clark about what he means to the world, and what he means to his parents. In three chat bubbles on the last page of that scene, Johns manages to do what Kurt Busiek could not do in four pages in Trinity #6: he tells you who Superman is, and why. I re-read those pages several times, and it reminded me why I like the Superman mythos in the broader sense. It reminds you that you can be part of the world, but also part of a family unit. This is something as an ex-pat Canadian living in the UK to which I can definitely relate. The emotion conveyed in this and other family scenes is the reason I gave this issue 5 Bullets.

Then we have a bunch of scenes with Superman flying through space and smashing robots. That was pretty fun too.

Turning to the art, I again am astounded by this team. Gary Frank has managed to completely capture the essence of Christopher Reeve as Superman. In the majority of the front facing panels, Clark and Superman look like Reeve, but the images also carry body posture and facial expressions that are very reminiscent of Reeve.

However, unlike the last issue, there are many exposition panels that show Kara Zor-El as a beautiful young girl. She is a little thin for my tastes, and my goodness, does she need a new costume, but her face carries emotion and expressions that are appropriate for the character. In the panel where she hugs Clark, even though she is in boots, she stands up on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around her cousin. It is an ideal presentation of the youthfulness of the character, and that she is, well, shorter than Clark. Imagine, an artist who understands that not everyone is the same height ... how refreshing.

Inking and colours pull off some truly exceptional panels. The use of heat vision, both by Kara to melt the robot and Kal-El for shaving (that was particularly cute), was coloured perfectly with high intensity at the eyes and lower farther out (at least in my mind). Clark's sepia memory panels carry with them a feeling of sentimentality and warmth, while the cold green and grey of Kara's memories carries the dread she has for them. As I already mentioned, the robot scenes were fun, and the art is largely responsible for that.

It is seldom these days that I give comic books perfect ratings. While this book is not pushing the boundaries the way that Final Crisis is in terms of deeper meanings and subtext, it is a beautifully rendered book with powerful moments. Your mileage may vary. I've read the issue several times, and maybe I am being overly sentimental from being back in Canada, but I have enjoyed it very much. Johns managed to take a lot of tired, old ideas about Superman and write them with respect and passion that is rare these days in comic books.

Kevin Powers: 5 Bullets

Quite honestly, this is what I love to see and the type of books I want to see from DC across the board: a Superman story not bogged down or tied into a big event, just a modern tale, even with plenty of ret-conning that is deeply rooted in the character's mythos. My three favorite DC books right now are Green Lantern, Justice Society of America, and Action Comics. All three books are helmed by Geoff Johns, and they all stay pretty well contained on their own and have very little to do with any big events. I love the way Johns takes the Superman mythos and not only gives his own spin, but also adds to the overall story. It's not so much "leaving his mark" as it is understanding the best qualities of the characters and their story and adding elements that elevate the quality. Johns has laid the groundwork for future stories, whether or not he remains the series' writer.

I've also been a fan of the latest incarnation of Supergirl since her debut a few years back. While I lost interest in her title a while ago, I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't excited about Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle taking over. However, in this issue, Johns utilizes Supergirl perfectly. Her presence serves a purpose beyond being just a plot device; she actually becomes integral not only to the story but the overall approach to her is very important to the future of Superman and the Kryptonian legacy. Supergirl's dialogue and purpose in the story is to advance the mystery and the menace of the true Brainiac. The threat of the new Brainiac seems so much more real when an actual Kryptonian is talking about how she is frightened of Brainiac. Even after all these years she remembers what Brainiac did to Kandor and Krypton in vivid detail and you can really sense the chills going up her spine. She's so scared to the point her heat vision goes off. I love the way Johns infuses elements of Kryptonian history into this story, and I especially love getting more information and background on Zod, Non and Ursa.

I also love the re-imagining of Brainiac that has been presented in this storyline so far. While Superman and Supergirl chat, she reveals that the Brainiac robot that Superman fought last issue was not Brainiac. In fact, all the Brainiacs that Superman fought over the years--from Milton Fine up until last issue--were "probes" and he has never fought or even met the real Brainiac. What adds to the sense of danger is the fact that while Supergirl all but has an emotional meltdown, Superman doesn't think much of it. He seems generally confused by what Supergirl is saying because in actuality he doesn't know a whole lot about Krypton. Thus, he does not see a threat. Johns succeeds in a big way by giving Superman a massive flaw in this issue: his naivety. He's fought Brainiac so many times, in so many incarnations, that the thought of a "real" Brainiac doesn't register with him. Superman is instantly vulnerable because he's misinformed about Brainiac.

This naivety continues even when Superman is talking to Ma and Pa Kent. He plans to go out and find Brainiac instead of waiting for him to come to Earth again. But I love the way Johns continues to put Brainiac off as an afterthought from Superman's point of view. He focuses on Clark's life growing up and a chest of mementos his father kept over the years as Clark's powers developed. I loved this aspect of the story because I believe it throws the reader off. We can see Superman's naïve approach to Brainiac, and we see the always infallible hero show a moment of vulnerability, only to be re-affirmed how amazing and important he is by having Pa Kent reveal his souvenir chest and acknowledge how important Superman is to the universe.

Johns continues to keep the focus off of Brainiac following this scene with one at the Daily Planet. This is where Supergirl's purpose in the story remains important as Clark talks to Lois about how he wishes he knew more about Krypton and about Supergirl. Brainiac is still an afterthought in Clark's mind and becomes one in the reader's mind as Johns exposes us to the "new, but old" cast of Daily Planet characters.

The idea of Brainiac being an afterthought in Clark's mind come to a head at the end of the issue and continues to build on the sense of danger surrounding Brainiac. Superman travels to a distant planet that Brainiac is invading, and he begins to destroy all of the probes. He ends up saving the planet, knocking himself out in the process, only to have the real Brainiac show up at the end. This incarnation of Brainiac is brilliant. There's a real sense of danger; he's scary, powerful and there is a feeling that Superman won't beat him, only fight him off temporarily. This is shaping up to be the greatest incarnation of Brainiac and the context of the ret-con is completely plausible and adds to the mystery behind the character.

The artwork in this issue is absolutely phenomenal. Again, Gary Frank seems inspired by the quality of the story, and it truly shows in his work. The images of Brainiac are chilling; I really enjoy his Christopher Reeve inspired portrayal of Superman and the action is fantastic. However, my favorite artistic moments involved Supergirl. Sometimes I don't mind Supergirl's sexed-up look; it all depends on the artist's style. However, Frank draws Kara probably the best of anyone. She's hot, but not sexed up. She's depicted in a classy manner and looks absolutely fantastic. Johns and Frank have done the once thought impossible: they have used the new incarnation of Supergirl in a classy and meaningful way.

I absolutely love this issue, I love this story, and I love the Superman mythos-centric approach Johns takes to this title. Next to Green Lantern this is DC's best title. It's free of big events, and it's truly all about Superman. What's even better is that this is DC's flagship title and now the quality seems to be rising to levels where it should always be. Johns is one of the best superhero writers in the game, especially amongst the icons of DC. I hope and pray that he takes over Batman in addition to Action and Green Lantern because this stuff is just so good.

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