Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review: Action Comics Annual #12

Action Comic Annual #12 was released last week and provided the back story for the Nightwing and Flamebird duo, Chris Kent and Thara Ak-Var. The issue was written by Greg Rucka who tells it mostly in exposition with only a handful of dialogue balloons throughout the whole book. The art is solid by Pere Perez. I have already talked about the excellent cover by Renato Guedes.

One thing that really did stand out is the excellent coloring job by Mazi. There was a lot of nuance in the tints of flames and energy here. Really super stuff.

The issue starts with the Black Zero unit of the Kryptonian military flying to Kandor to fight Brainiac as he attempts to steal the city. Black Zero is led by Ursa and includes fighters Ak-Var and his wife Tes.

Of course, there is an emotional edge to this battle for the Ak-Vars. Thara is in the city.
Black Zero ends up getting routed by Brainiac. During the skirmish, Ursa actually collapses in fear. She then leaves her troops, running away as the Brainiac drones engage the force field bottle. While Ursa escapes, Thara's parents, previously wounded and lying in the path of the force field generators, are literally ripped in half by the bottle. In what has become a recurring theme, Thara witnesses her parents' death ... a horrifyingly gruesome event for a little girl to see.

I like that the Ak-Vars' deaths actually represent a moment of weakness for Ursa. Previously I thought it would turn out that Ursa assassinated them. Now that they died with Ursa cowering on the ground, the event takes on new meaning. I doubt Ursa wants to relive it any more than Thara does.

After some timein the bottle, the Kandorians realize that Brainiac is only interested in observing them. The Kryptonian culture is restarted with people falling into their familiar guilds and roles. The hope is that either the Kryptonian forces (they are unaware of Krypton's destruction) or their own meager Kandorian forces will strike back at Brainiac so freedom can be won.

Things change when the Argo City survivors are added to the mix. Suddenly the hope of returning to Krypton ends.

One thing I did like was the further description and deepening of Thara's relationship with Alura and Zor-El. She was Kara's best friend. Kara is gone. She has no parents. It is not surprising that they fall into each other's arms.

While no prior scene has actually shown a loving parental nuturing relationship between Alura and Thara, I always just assumed they were more than passing acquaintances in Kandor. I am glad to see it spelled out more here.

In the meantime, we see Chris as he returns to the Phantom Zone just after the Last Son story arc ends. Immediately upon returning, he has his first growth spurt, aging about 6 years.

While Rucka doesn't say exactly why this happened, he does throw out a couple of theories. Maybe it is Chris' unique physiology. Maybe it is his exposure to the yellow sun. Maybe it is both.

Not knowing where else to go, he returns to Fort Roz where he finds an unlikely ally - Non. Non keeps him hidden and safe within the fortress; not even Zod and Ursa know that Chris has returned. Non is becoming a more complex character rather than the lobotomized brute I mostly know him as. Even in World of New Krypton, he is following Kal's orders rather than being simply a Zod sycophant.

Thara is said to have been a rather devout Kryptonian before the Brainiac incident. Now, she finds herself haunted by visions in her dreams of the Flamebird being.

As she grows, she is given the title of Head of Security by Alura and Zor-El, despite the fact that others are more worthy. But work alone cannot ease Thara's troubled soul. Zor-El tells her to go back to the church she has abandoned.

I am very happy that Thara's position as head of security was explained. It made little sense to me that a teenage girl should head the surviving Kryptonian military. At least now I know it was more nepotism than true evaluation.

The religious guild welcomes her with open arms. In the cathedral she has a true vision of the Flamebird and is claimed by the guild as one of their own. Thara is initiated within the guild, feeling that she is somehow one with the Flamebird entity.

There was a ripple of 'Dark Phoenix' here but just a sniff.

And it was intriguing to finally see within the religious guild's workings, even if it was only a peek.

While all of this is happening, Chris continues to recover in Roz. At night he roams the fortress looking for a way back to Earth. One night he stumbles into a room where Zod has kept all the Brainiac tech that he has gathered.

Without clear reason, Chris puts a Brainiac headset on his head. The technology hums to life with Brainiac tendrils burrowing into his scalp. At that moment, Thara is in deep prayer. Somehow, this confluence of events has them mind-meld for a moment. Suddenly all their memories are shared - a moment of unity. Thara knows about Chris now ... and knows she must save him.

It is not without consequence however. Chris is discovered by Zod, the headset is removed, and he is placed in irons. Thara continues to wonder if she is truly meant to be the living Flamebird and feels she must save Chris. Realizing that she cannot reach that goal as an acolyte she leaves the religious guild.

In the prior issues of Action Comics, you could get the sense of some religious fervor within Thara. This was no simple mission to round up criminals. It was somehow more so it was good to see the mystical origins of her Flamebird identity. It makes her zeal, her willingness to risk the life she has on New Krypton, easier to understand.

Once away from the religious guild, Thara retakes her title as Head of Security. Within that capacity, she has access to all the current technology that Kandor has been working on. Included in that are 'phantom zone encounter suits' with limited phantom zone projectors ... at last a way to get to Chris.

This is one of my favorite small scenes in the book. Thara enters the phantom zone, an infinite dimension in hopes of freeing Chris. But how could she find him?

When she enters the dimension, a flaming path to Roz blazes before us, another religious vision.

At first I thought Thara might simply be insane. But now, maybe there is more to this ... maybe there is something more holy.

Thara flies into the fortress and is nearly overwhelmed by Ursa until Non again shows some initiative. He uses the limited projector on Thara and Chris, freeing them from the zone. Then he destroys the projector with his bare hands. Now that was unexpected! Thara and Chris will now become the embodiments of Flamebird and Nightwing.

I thought this was a good story to help flesh out the motivations of Thara and Chris as well as get more information of how she freed him. I also like all the discussion about life on Kandor and Krypton. The religious overlay of the Nightwing/Flamebird legend on top of Thara and Chris' story is a nice wrinkle to add. By making the story more expositional, it added a feeling of mythology to the story - one of retold legend rather than exactly living through it with dialogue. Slick touch.

Add to that the layers of backstory with Thara/Alura and Zor-El as well as Chris/Non and you have a very 3-dimensional cast of characters in New Krypton. This was a good annual.

Overall grade: B/B+


TalOs said...

Brilliant! Just absolutely brilliant! And I hate to say it (but I will anyways) MUCH better then Supergirl #42 even at that! (Hell Power Girl #2 was better then Supergirl last week!)

Rucka's only currently working on Action Comics, Detective Comics (featuring Batwoman as of THIS week with Question II as it's back up), and co-writing Superman: World of New Krypton so aside from Landry Walker (Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade) I honestly couldn't think of anyone better to take over Supergirl then either Rucka or Walker rather then having to put up with Sterling Gates and his endless 'going round in circles' used plot and cast choices.

Saranga said...

I really liked this annual. Back story, details of character's earlier life, religion and a romance plot. All stuff I'm really into at the moment.

Anj said...

I really liked this annual. Back story, details of character's earlier life, religion and a romance plot. All stuff I'm really into at the moment..

Thanks for the post.

I also liked the story for the same reasons. Thara and Chris are now have a lot more depth to them, are more 3-dimensional.

And now it is clear that the decision to hide their identity as Flamebird and Nightwing was not doen haphazardly.

TalOs said...

Exactly! This is why I truly loved Greg's AC annual over Supergirl because unlike Sterling Greg KNOWS how to really give us the audience/readers our moneys worth without having to resort to re using stuff that was already covered issue in issue out in order to produce a great story.

Hell, all you need to do is check out his Wonder Woman run to see what I'm talking about here.

Greg KNOWS how to tell a really gripping story (just like PAD) unlike Sterling who's work feels like a real labor and bore to read in comparison.