Saturday, October 11, 2008

Review: Action Comics 870


As always, reviews a chock full of spoilers. And, as always, great issues get long reviews.

Action Comics #870 was released this week and was the final chapter in an excellent Brainiac storyline. This storyline was fairly dense what with its rethinking of Brainiac, reintroduction of Kandor, rehabilitation of Supergirl, and replaying of Pa Kent's death. Threads from this arc are going to have long-standing ramifications for all of the super titles. Not since Reign of the Superman have I felt that one arc has added so much to the mythos.

There is lots to review here and lots of commentary so let's jump right in.


First off, we should review one more time the fact that on this historic issue of Action Comics, one covered in the mainstream press because of Pa Kent's death, that the variant cover highlights Supergirl. While the main cover is foreboding and funereal in theme and composition, this cover is bright and vibrant with a kinetic layout.


Things pick up fairly quickly from last issue. While Superman's brain is being force-fed Brainiac's database of cultures, Brainiac is regarding Metropolis and Earth with derision. Terran culture is useless to him with nothing to add to his knowledge base. Ah, but love conquers all. Superman hears Lois telling him how much she loves him. Spurred on by her statements, he breaks free and gives Brainiac a royal beatdown. I won't say Superman fights dirty, but I love how he puts his fingers into the soft holes in Brainiac's head to get a hand hold. Nasty. Add a heat vison blast to the face and Brainiac is left face down on the floor.

One thing that I have liked about Johns' characterization of Superman is that he doesn't seem to mind bloodying his hands when the time is right. He has the utmost respect for life and has iron-clad morals. But if you cross the line, Johns' Superman will thrash you. It is a refreshing look going against the 'Big Blue Schoolboy' stereotype.


Grabbing Metropolis and Kandor, Superman flies through the ship and saves Kara from being experimented on. He tells her she needs to save the sun while he deals with Brainiac, Kandor, and Metropolis. Kara seems a bit meek here begging Kal to keep Brainiac away from her, telling him she can't do it, she isn't fast enough, and that she is scared. Superman seems to know what to say and tells her that it is all right to be scared thus steeling her resolve as seen above.

This was the only small misstep in the issue for me. One complaint that I see a lot from some Supergirl fans is that they feel she defers to Superman to much, that she seems meek or even subservient to him, that he needs to rescue her or spur her on. While I don't usually agree with that sentiment, I think this scene smacked of that a bit too much. It is also very very hard to reconcile this response, this level of fear and inaction, in the context of what this Supergirl has done already. Johns has done a great job of conveying why Brainiac would hold a special place of horror and fear in Kara. But racing into space to save Earth? She should have just nodded and flown off. This is the Supergirl who in Puckett's run flew into deep space until she almost died from lack of oxygen; this is the Supergirl who in Kelly's run was a dynamo, full of fury and passion; this is the Kara who last issue overcame her fear of Brainiac drones and waded into battle like a berserker.

So this response ... this fear to the point of near catatonia ... just seemed off for Kara. This seemed more like a hard reboot rather than the soft reboot we have seen recently. One thing I really liked about the Gates/Igle issue was that they did not wipe away her current past but immediately acknowledged it ... warts and all. Superman shouldn't have to say 'it's okay to be scared' to this Supergirl. Nor should that alone incite her as much as it did.

Did it kill the issue for me? No it was more like a hiccup in an otherwise great issue. But it just felt a tad wrong.

But wouldn't it have felt better to Supergirl fans if she heard the situation and took off determinedly like she does here? She looks fierce! Anyways, Kara takes off to stop Brainiac's solar aggressor. Superman realizes that maybe Brainiac's ship is a source of power, and that removing him from this sterile environment might weaken him. After all, what better way to learn about life then getting an old fashioned mouthful of swamp water.

Welcome to Earth, Brainiac! Hee hee!

Brainiac tells Superman that removing the cities from his ship will power down their containment fields. Hearing this, Superman flies off to the Metropolis crater.

It is hard to know if it is the physical pummeling he has taken; the disconnection from his ship;the sudden invasion of the variety of bacteria, parameciums, and insects on his body; or the combination of all of that but Brainiac shuts down. I tend to think it is the combination because the germ theory alone is a little too War of the Worlds for me.

Brainiac's last vile act before shutdown is to vow to rob Superman of his home, firing a missile at the Kent's farm.

In the mean time, Superman regrows Metropolis in the right spot.


And Kara beats the missile to the sun, saving Earth. Gary Frank even gives her a nice panel where she beams a self-satisfied smile. She deserves that moment! Maybe Kara's demons are finally behind her.

I'll say it again.

Kara saves Earth!

Tremendous!

But Supes isn't done yet. He has to find a place to regrow Kandor. And what better place than next door to the Fortress.


But while saving Kandor, Superman didn't know about the Kansas-bound missile. The Kent's family farm is destroyed and Pa, while able to save Ma from the destruction, suffers a heart attack and appears to have died!

So, a lot has been written about the need for Pa to die. Was it a necessary plot point to move the Superman character forward? I grew up in an era where both Ma and Pa were dead. Part of what motivated Superman was that despite his powers he couldn't save either of his adoptive parents. For me, I do think that the loss of Pa's life will further remind Superman that he cannot save everyone, that people die. It will increase his humanity through his growth from grief. I don't know if I am saying that I am for Pa's death ... more that I don't mind it. I only hope the fact that Superman was saving Kandor at the time does not weigh him down with guilt.
So in this arc and in this issue a lot of new things have been added to the legacy of Superman. Outside of that one small misstep with Kara I thought this was a superb issue.

Overall grade: B+

12 comments:

TalOs said...

Hmmmm, apart from Supergirl acting a wee tad bit out of character come her heroic confident self now needing Superman to urge her on to take out something as tiny as a Coulan missile (which she would've done in a heart beat before) I seriously loved this issue and it's overall arc from Johns and Frank come their portrayal of Supergirl, Superman, Kents. sr, Lois, Planet staff practically everybody that was basically featured in this really! :P

Alas, poor Jonathan "Pa" Kent, his always seeming to be getting the rough end of the stick come Super-mythos now in general. Be it Pre-COIE E-1 DC comics continuity, the 50's era TV show, Donner's "Superman" movie, "Smallville" and "Superman Returns" and back to regular comics again now too. So sad.

R.I.P. Mr. Kent. sr. You more then earned it.

P.S. - I think we all know how Clark will react to having recently lost his Pa but I wonder exactly how Kara will react to the shocking news of her so called "uncle Jonathan" having tragically passed away now too? :/ (Not to mention at the same time as being reunited with her Kryptonian biological parents in Kandor among encountering other fellow Kryptonians now here too!)

Anj said...

Alas, poor Jonathan "Pa" Kent, his always seeming to be getting the rough end of the stick come Super-mythos now in general. Be it Pre-COIE E-1 DC comics continuity, the 50's era TV show, Donner's "Superman" movie, "Smallville" and "Superman Returns" and back to regular comics again now too. So sad.

Thanks, as always, for the post.

I do think that was a Donner-ification of this title when Johns started (Donner was a co-writer, the rethinking of Ursa and Zod, etc). So I wasn't shocked when Pa died, even by a heart attack like in the movie.

It also lends itself to the return of many SIlver Age concepts as well.

TalOs said...

Hmmmm, you raise some very good points here indeed, anj.

But in all honesty I have to say that I still was under the impression it was gonna be a red herring and instead Geoff was going to off Pete Ross here due to him not having been seen ever since Greg Rucka's own run on main Superman title now. (And that was exactly how many years ago now? lol.)

Please believe me when I say that i'm NOT one of these fanboys who's stuck in the past because i'm actually a fan of moving FORWARD rather then BACKWARDS, change with an actual purpose then change just for change sake, especially come DC Comics in general at that. ;)

Anonymous said...

Well as for Kara's hesitation, I didn't pay it much mind, it was clearly intended to telegraph to Superman her fear and hatred of Brainiac...something she TRIED to tell him in the first issue but the big lout didn't listen.
:D
the big thing is, she caught the damn missile and disposed of it with evident glee THAT is Supergirl in a damn nutshell IMHO.

BTW Gary Frank is edging up in the rarified heights of regard I once reserved for Curt Swan...can he please be the prime penciler on all future Supergirl-Superman team ups???? Puh-leez!!??

John Feer

Anj said...

Well as for Kara's hesitation, I didn't pay it much mind, it was clearly intended to telegraph to Superman her fear and hatred of Brainiac...something she TRIED to tell him in the first issue but the big lout didn't listen.
:D


Thanks for the post!

So if Superman had said 'you stay and fight Brainiac while I get the missile' I would understand the need for the pep talk.

But this was 'fly as far away from Brainiac as you can and save earth'.

Again, it didn't ruin the issue, it just felt a bit too forced, especially given her prior history in her own title. It was just a hiccup.

the big thing is, she caught the damn missile and disposed of it with evident glee THAT is Supergirl in a damn nutshell IMHO.

Exactly.

If anyone is reading Supergirl for the first time here, she is immediately likeable, heroic, and human.

Great arc, especially for Kara.

Mike said...

But if you cross the line, Johns' Superman will thrash you. It is a refreshing look going against the 'Big Blue Schoolboy' stereotype.

It's also a nice throw-back to Siegel and Schuster's original concept. It didn't pay to get on that early Superman's bad side.

I can accept Supergirl's fear and hesitation by saying that Braniac had her so freaked out that she wasn't her normal self for a moment. In the panel where you see her sudden resolve, it's as if she remembered who she was. Anyone can have moments of self-doubt, especially when facing one's greatest fear.

Anj said...

It's also a nice throw-back to Siegel and Schuster's original concept. It didn't pay to get on that early Superman's bad side.

It is great to read those very early Superman issues when he tossed around wife beaters, unscrupuloous mine owners, and even femme fatales.

I can accept Supergirl's fear and hesitation by saying that Braniac had her so freaked out that she wasn't her normal self for a moment. In the panel where you see her sudden resolve, it's as if she remembered who she was. Anyone can have moments of self-doubt, especially when facing one's greatest fear.

She does turn around quickly. Still, it is not as if Superman told Supergirl to face Brainiac, instead telling her to outrace the weapon.

As I said, it was more of a hiccup than a major stumble for the issue. Overall, I am thrilled with the Johns' Kara.

JOHNNY ZITO said...

I love having Superman and Supergirl work in tandem like Batman and Robin.

Great review. What do you suppose will happen to Ma now?

Anj said...

I love having Superman and Supergirl work in tandem like Batman and Robin.

Great review. What do you suppose will happen to Ma now?


Thanks so much for the post.

I think an old-fashioned super team-up is a good thing every so often. It should not be overused.

As for Ma, I think she will stay on the farm and will remain an important part of Clark's life.

mhunt said...

You don't have a PM or email to write to you so I'll tell you this here:

guess which silver age issue takes Supergirl in a rather adult topic. It's a book that features Supergirl as the main lead.

mhunt said...

I forgot to add that this tip is because of the comment that Supergirl was 'off' her personality in this issue review.

Anj said...

You don't have a PM or email to write to you so I'll tell you this here:

guess which silver age issue takes Supergirl in a rather adult topic. It's a book that features Supergirl as the main lead.


Hmmm ... you have me intrigued. Many silver age issues skirt some tricky issues, so I wonder which one you are talking about.

My email is available from my profile page here.