Friday, September 19, 2008

Review - Action Comics #869 - Holy Cow !!!

This is a long post because I am going to gush a bit about this issue.

Every so often a comic comes out that reminds me 100% why I have stuck with this hobby for so long. An issue that has great writing and great art ... an issue with action and drama played out by archetypal characters all in the setting of super-heroics. In this day and age where there are shelves full of dreck in the comic book store, issues like that are true diamonds ... more like needles in a haystack. So when one comes along, readers should shout about them from the hillsides to draw attention to them.

And if you are lucky enough to stumble on one of these issue *and* it also stars their favorite character, in my case Supergirl ... well it suddenly becomes an all-time favorite. I would already put Action Comics #869 in that category. With a great plot by Geoff Johns and the typical wondrous Gary Frank art, this is an instant classic. My guess is I will re-read this issue many times.



First off, a little controversy. When this issue was first solicited, the cover showed Clark holding the bottle on the left. On inspection, the label says Crow beer, but for all we know it could be root beer. I guess DC didn't want their iconic good guy to share a brew with his dad (despite his being of legal age and all) and so the issue with the 'beer label cover' was either delayed or pulped in favor of the more innocuous (and clearly photo-shopped in) 'soda pop' label seen on the right.

Should Superman be able to have a brew with his Dad? I would think absolutely yes. Would I want my kid to say 'I want to drink beer like Superman!!' I would think probably not. Still, it was so harmless, why not let Clark enjoy a cold one with Pa. It still could be root beer.

My guess is with the All-Star Batman #10 curse word disaster and that issue's subsequent call-back, DC just wanted to play it safe.

But on to the story.
As we saw in the preview pages from a couple of days ago, Brainiac has arrived on Earth and begun his attack. Supergirl, on the roof of the Daily Planet, confronts her fear of Brainiac and goes on the offensive. Now this is the Kara we have all waited to see, heroic and decisive.



While Supergirl goes into action on the ground, Superman is facing off against Brainiac on the Coluan ship. Brainiac explains that he somehow is able to harness strength from the beings he has captured as the prisoners' genetic information is fed into his body-suit and mind. After hearing this, Superman disconnects Brainiac from his system by biting(!!) through the conduit linked into the back of Brainiac's head. Suddenly being unplugged causes Brainiac to temporarily short-circuit, allowing Superman a moment to explore the ship and look for Kandor.


Surprisingly, Superman finds himself being called to the city. And he is being contacted by none other than Zor-El and Alura, Supergirl's parents!! Although their survival was foreshadowed in Action Comics #850, this was still a wonderful reveal! Dressed in their more traditional Silver Age garb, they immediately ask about their daughter.

How great is this? This isn't the 'crystal hell, kill Kal-El' insane Zor-El! This is at least a reasonable facsimile of the loving Zor-El seen in the Supergirl title. Of course that Zor-El was described as a ranger with Alura being the scientist. This one clearly seems to be the scientist type.

Okay .. okay .. so it is a little confusing to have 3 origins of Supergirl in 5 years.
The first thing this Zor-El and Alura ask of Superman is not 'can you get us out of this bottle?' The first thing they ask is 'did our daughter survive?' These are loving parents whose first thoughts are of their child's well-being. Such a simple and refreshing thing to now be doctrine in Supergirl's past.

As for Kara, she is still kicking robot tail on Earth, swearing that Brainiac won't hurt anyone again. Nice!

But the revamping of Kara's origin continues ... and man did it continue to floor me!

Look at the panel above. That's Argo City, protected by a bubble! Turns out that Zor-El was able to use some of the force-field technology he saw when Brainiac captured Kandor to erect a makeshift force bubble that protected Argo from the explosion of Krypton.

It is unreal that Johns was able to take the Silver Age concept of the bubbled Argo City and update it in a valid way.

So we now have a heroic Supergirl, a loving Zor-El and Alura who are alive, and the bubble Argo City. So far so good!!!

Alas, Brainiac does not like to share his technology. Nor does he like cultural and genetic information to be out of his control. He wanted to have the only knowledge of Krypton and so, drawn to Argo by his own technology, he goes about destroying it. He harvests what he feels is new information and puts it into Kandor. This includes Zor-El and Alura.

But before the remaining pieces of Argo are vaporized, Kara is put into a prototype evacuation rocket and sent to Earth. And look at Kara in the rocket! She's dressed! She is not naked and parading gleefully around Zor-El like back in those awful 'Kill Kal-El' storylines.

So Johns took parts of Supergirl's Silver Age origin he could use (bubble city, loving parents) and added new elements (Brainiac) while discarding things that these days would not be easily explained (lead foil floors, anti-Kryptonite, Kara's parents being in the 'Safety Zone', etc).

Apparently this is now the new Supergirl dogma, the one true origin. And I for one could not be happier. It has enough of her classic origin to please the old-schooler in me while updating it for my 21st century sensibilities.

Per Jamal Igle on the DC boards, the other origins will be somehow be explained away in Supergirl #35. Hurrah! Maybe we will never ever hear about the crystal hell Zor-El again!


But the issue is not over yet and suddenly things look bleak for the heroes.

Supergirl is overwhelmed by the Brainiac drones and taken into his ship. Superman is also subdued by a recovered Brainiac and begins being tortured.


Metropolis is shrunken into a bottle and taken on board Brainiac's ship.


And if that isn't bad enough, Brainiac fires a 'solar aggressor' into our sun which will make it explode in under an hour. Talk about your classic comics cliffhanger!

Wow!

That is a lot of story ... a lot of history ... and a lot of action to be crammed into 22 pages. From a Superman point of view, this whole story with a new more powerful Brainiac and the re-appearance of Kandor has just been absolutely spot on. That alone would make this a very good issue.

But then you add the improved portrayal of the hero Supergirl with this classically inspired new and improved origin with all the wonderful Silver Age bits delineated above.


Even the small things like Zor-El's clothes being the same he was wearing waayyy back when Al Plastino drew he first appearance in Action #252 add to the strength of this issue. These flourishes let me know that Johns knows his Superman history and respects it.

Congratulations to Mr. Johns and Mr. Frank for their run on Action Comics and this issue in particular. Suddenly Superman is relevant again. Suddenly Supergirl is a character I can be proud to say I love again!

Overall grade: A++

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Y' know I could've done without the domed city in space as I recall the struggles the writers had with it back in the 1960's to make it seem plausible. Frankly the suspended animation origin with the tension betweent their respective ages seems to me a more sensible and economic origin. However...other than that it was a great freakin' issue...the slight of Kara Zor El, Last Daughter of Krypton beating on Brainiac with his own robot arm, warmed my wintery soul all the way back to 1972!
I hope she really beats on his robot @ss next ish!
Can't wait....
All Power to the Kara Soviets
No Superman without Supergirl!
Today Midvale!
Tomorrow the Multiverse!!!

John Feer

Anj said...

Y' know I could've done without the domed city in space as I recall the struggles the writers had with it back in the 1960's to make it seem plausible. Frankly the suspended animation origin with the tension betweent their respective ages seems to me a more sensible and economic origin.

Thanks for the post!
I'll have to re-read the issue. I think the suspended animation angle still exists.

My thoughts when I read the issue was that Argo did not last long in space before Brainiac destroyed it. Zor-El is young because time passes differently in the bottle (I think he said that).

So I think she was sent to protect Kal (maybe from Brainiac now) but still went into suspended animation for some reason.

In this way, the age difference between Kara and her parents will remain relatively the same since when she last saw them.

Kara Zor El, Last Daughter of Krypton beating on Brainiac with his own robot arm, warmed my wintery soul all the way back to 1972!

It was such a great panel I had to include it in the review!

Heath Edwards said...

this was a great issue! supergirl is our heroine, and that's the way it should be...
one thing i've not really gotten into with the new superman/ supergirl origins, is the portrayal of krypton having been destroyed only a few decades ago. i much prefer the idea that it was destroyed eons ago. a bit like the 'in a galaxy far away, and long ago' star wars thing. it places krypton's tech/ scientific/ cultural advancement, and thus loss, in a greater place for me. oh well... as well as kal and kara as more exotic survivors than having them be survivors from around the beginning of the 20th century...
still a great issue! looking forward to the next one. these last few issues make me long for the days of the triangles, which are coming up. a bit of the story each week...

Anj said...

still a great issue! looking forward to the next one. these last few issues make me long for the days of the triangles, which are coming up. a bit of the story each week...

I don't know if they are going to be ongoing or only for linked stories like New Krypton.

Still, I love the way Kara has been portrayed here! Makes me glad the powers that be wanted to integrate her so much into this story.

The Fortress Keeper said...

So they're going to explain away the other two - very, very, very - bad origin stories for Kara?

Great! (I kinda liked the space-ranger Zor-El for origin #3 though, oh well)

Only problem ... what's the "Kill Kal-El" snotty Supergirl doing in this week's Brave & The Bold, and why is Marv Wolfman writing her?

Guy doesn't really have an affinity for Supergirl, to be honesrt.

Anj said...

So they're going to explain away the other two - very, very, very - bad origin stories for Kara?

Great! (I kinda liked the space-ranger Zor-El for origin #3 though, oh well)


In some ways I am glad that the plan is to explain them away instead of simply ignoring them. But from what I have read from Jamal Igle on DC and on Geoff Johns board, this origin is now *the* origin.

Only problem ... what's the "Kill Kal-El" snotty Supergirl doing in this week's Brave & The Bold, and why is Marv Wolfman writing her?

My guess is that these issues were already finished and needed to be put out before the new origin was cemented.

I dislike the 'Killer Kara' version so much I might not even review the book.

And you are right, Marv has never seemed to be a Supergirl fan.

Anonymous said...

The irony is, Marv Wolfman got his start at DC writing a Supergirl story late in the Adventure Comics run...He must find that humiliating or something.
there ought to be a firm rule in place at DC that Marv is NOT allowed to write or refer to Supergirl in any way.

BTW did I mention I now derive the same level of joy from Gary Frank's arwork that I used to get from Curt Swan???
DAMN Curt drew a pretty Kara Zor El, unpretentious, not an bloated amazon or anything just...pretty...always in thoughtful type poses that brought out her inherent braininess...
Sigh...
Nostalgia...

:D

John Feer

Nikki said...

didn't we already get the explanation for Evil Zor-El with Dark Angel?Why go there again? It needs to be catalogued and move on. She's been here 3 years now and she still isn't past her origin. It all just seems like a quick rehash to get her back to her pre crisis history ASAP and continue as if she never died. Now I'm not complaining I just don't need to retcon a retcon.

As for the issue, Supergirl was amazing, Brainiac was amazing and Kara's parents were amazing. Some of superman's actions and dialogue were questionable. As for the future I hope its alura that becomes Superwoman. I'd rather it be someone connected to Kara and not a random kryptonian or non-house of El member wearing what is in present canon the El family crest. (that's always rubbed me the wrong way)

Anj said...

didn't we already get the explanation for Evil Zor-El with Dark Angel?Why go there again? It needs to be catalogued and move on. She's been here 3 years now and she still isn't past her origin.

Thanks for the great post.

Yes, Dark Angel said that part of what Kara saw was her being tested. But I also think there was some vague statement like 'all the things leading up to this future were true' or something like that.

But then we also had the origin seen in the Puckett issues with the ranger Zor-El.

I think the primary folks running the super-titles just decided they needed to finally stabilize the origin and bring it back to its roots.

As for the issue, Supergirl was amazing, Brainiac was amazing and Kara's parents were amazing. Some of superman's actions and dialogue were questionable. As for the future I hope its alura that becomes Superwoman. I'd rather it be someone connected to Kara and not a random kryptonian or non-house of El member wearing what is in present canon the El family crest. (that's always rubbed me the wrong way)

Great idea with Alura! We did see Superwoman on the upcoming ALex Ross covers.

Thanks again!

TalOs said...

Congratulations to Mr. Johns and Mr. Frank for their run on Action Comics and this issue in particular. Suddenly Superman is relevant again. Suddenly Supergirl is a character I can be proud to say I love again!

Overall grade: A++


Dude, my sentiments exactly, ah! :D

Oh and yet again, I'm sincerely sorry for not giving you proper credit when using your review sypnosis come Supergirl's startling origin revelation on the official site of Geoff Johns.

Anj said...

Dude, my sentiments exactly, ah! :D

Oh and yet again, I'm sincerely sorry for not giving you proper credit when using your review sypnosis come Supergirl's startling origin revelation on the official site of Geoff Johns.


Glad you liked the issue too!

And no worries, I was pretty pumped that you felt my words were worth quoting!