With the War of the Supermen coming in May, the Nightwing/Flamebird story needs to reach it's conclusion. Action Comics #886 came out last week and provided some much needed back story for the Kryptonian demi-gods and eased the approach to the finish line. There were some nice revelations here and a decent cliffhanger.
The overall story has detoured a bit from the initial concept of 'Zod's sleepers' to this more religious storyline. Sure, Jax-Ur is here as a villain. But a couple of other sleepers haven't been mentioned as we have explored the Thara/Chris relationship more closely these last few issues. I wonder if Greg Rucka ran out of time because of some of cross-overs that intersected in this title like they have in Supergirl.
As I have said before, I have enjoyed Action Comics and the Thara/Chris story. So I am interested in seeing how this whole thing ends. I don't see them anywhere on the War of the Supermen covers. Do either Chris or Thara survive? If both die, I hope their passing is reflected in the other super-titles. Will Superman and Lois mourn as though they have lost a son? Will Kara mourn yet another loss in her personal life?
Much of this issue is exposition. Thara gives Chris a sort-of virtual reality Kryptonian bible. With it, Chris is able to literally enter the story of Rao, Flamebird, and Nightwing.
In a nice touch, Pere Perez does the art for the current storyline while Fernando Dagnino pencils the 'Book of Rao' pages.
Dagnino's art has a more visceral ... a more rough energetic feel to it which better suits the chaotic and fire-filled Rao pages than Perez' polished look.
The story unfolds as the Kryptonian creation story. In the beginning there was nothing and from that nothingness came Rao. He then creates the universe with Krypton as his 'jewel', his epicenter.
After creating the worlds and galaxies, Rao then gives out slivers of his power and creates a whole system of gods, demi-gods, titans, etc. As readers, we have only heard of Flamebird and Nightwing with any depth. It makes sense that there would be other gods in the Kryptonian pantheon but who knew there would be that many! 14 major deities and 211 demi-gods including Nightwing and Flamebird.
Flamebird is the goddess of rebirth. She is shown to raze the landscapes so that an even more glorious world can come to be.
And so, for the first time we read about Vohc The Builder. He is the creation god for Krypton, building the world and all in it. And each time he creates something for the world, Flamebird eventually destroys it. Her job is the purge the world. Vohc's job is to build an even better one.
I don't envy Vohc. His task sounds like Sisyphus. Nothing he made ever lasts. And yet, he seems pleased with his life and in love with Flamebird. Her actions spur him to even greater creations.
Vohc finds Nightwing on the periphery of creation and befriends him. Nightwing is described as a lonely presence, created by Rao to protect the world from evil. But in doing that task, constantly surrounded by the dark side of the world, Nightwing has become withdrawn and solitary.
Vohc extends his hand in friendship and eventually introduces Nightwing to Flamebird. The two fall in love, the darkness of Nightwing complementing the bright light of Flamebird. I love Chris' response here as he recognizes the primal nature of their love, the passion. I am sure he recognizes some of that within himself and his feelings towards Thara.
Of course, Vohc is taken aback by this. He has always loved Flamebird; it was unrequited, but it was love. In hopes of winning her, he creates a near perfect effigy of his love for her. When he shows it to her, she does what she does ... destroying it. With that act, Vohc turns to evil.
Vohc renames himself Vohc the Breaker and states this his purpose thereafter will be to destroy. And the first thing to destroy will be the love between Nightwing and Flamebird. Vohc creates a crystal rod which traps Nightwing in a 'phantom state' forever seperate from Flamebird.
And with that the story ends.
There are themes and elements within the Flamebird/Vohc/Nightwing story that echo with current events. This 'phantom prison' Vohc creates sounds like the Phantom Zone. And Chris was trapped within the Zone much like Nightwing is. In fact, Chris implies that he thinks the Nightwing entity is still trapped in the Phantom Zone (or some phantom state since the Zone has been destroyed). That may be why the Nightwing has never manifested within Chris. It is still imprisoned somewhere.
I can imagine that Chris finally manifesting the Nightwing spirit might be the climax to this story, happening in the last issue of this arc.
The passion we saw within the Book of Rao becomes evident on the physical plane. Thara and Chris finally consummate their love.
Remember, Jax-Ur recognized Thara as the Flamebird a few issues back and made a deal with her for Chris' life. Here Jax-Ur tells Flamebird (not Thara) that 'the bill's come due'. There is much here that I liked.
For one, it is now hinted at that Jax-Ur is the vessel for the manifestation of Vohc. It is the Flamebird that yells at him 'have you no love for me at all?'. Second, if that is true, how great is the love of Flamebird that she would deal with the devil like this? Has her passion blinded her? Has she missed the Nightwing so much that she would forsake the future for a few more moments in the present?
Jax-Ur tells the Flamebird to lead Chris and Thara to his lab in the desert.
Thara is clearly unaware of the actions of the Flamebird. In fact, she says the entity hasn't been talking to her much the last few days? Is that guilt on the part of the Flamebird? Can a demi-god even feel guilt?
Within the labs, Jax-Ur springs his trap. He incapacitates Chris by having sunstone crystals grow from his body. It seems his 'cure' of Chris also came with a side effect.
Crystals growing from a Kryptonian's body? For me, it brought back some bad memories of the 'crystal hell' Supergirl.
Jax-Ur then activates his device, bringing forth 'god' ... I presume Rao.
So there was a lot going on in this issue, even if the bulk of it was written in text as the Book of Rao. Certainly, the backstory of the two demi-gods helps flesh out the Thara/Chris relationship and the some of the events that have unfolded during this run.
I also think that this story will end with Jax-Ur/Vohc recreating the Phantom Zone. Could it be that it was the rescue of Chris, the removal of 'Nightwing' that led to the destruction of the Zone?
There are only 3 issues left to this story and I have enjoyed it more than I thought I would when it first started. So kudos to Greg Rucka and now Eric Trautmann for weaving a deeper story (religious manifestations, primal love) in the standard framework of good guys hunting bad guys.
I also want to say again how much I like Pere Perez' clean art style. He has really stabilized the art and feel for this title since becoming the regular artist.
Overall grade: B/B+
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