R.E.B.E.L.S. #23 came out last week and continued a trend of sort of vexing issues. As usual, the story itself was good with solid if unspectacular art throughout. But, continuing a trend of the last half year or so, the R.E.B.E.L.S. team is barely in it, overshadowed by Green Lanterns who already have 3 books on the market. At least this book really showcases just what a manipulator Vril Dox is. As I have said often here, Brainiac is the straw that stirs the drink of this book. You need Dox to be at the center of the action.
I understand that this is sort of the DC Cosmic book and it would make no sense to ignore the presence of the Corps. That said, this book did just that for the first year plus. And I know that DC is a business and Green Lanterns are a hot commodity right now. Including them makes sense as a way to bring in new readers. And that said, sales have remained steady or slightly declined, so it isn't like the hordes of GL fans are flocking to the title.
But I digress ...
As I said, R.E.B.E.L.S. #23 really was a great issue to show just how far Dox will go to make a point and further his agenda. It is almost villainous.
One subtle change in the character of Dox is his sudden use of the media as a weapon. I feel that the Brainiac from the earliest issues simply wouldn't care about how he was portrayed in the court of public opinion. Now, he actively courts the media, spinning things the way he wants.
For example, I like how here he is glad-handing John Stewart when you know he would rather slip a knife between his ribs. It is basic politics but it is interesting to see Dox use it so effectively.
Stewart is on Rann/Tamaran as an emissary for the GL Corps as they try to deal with the R.E.B.E.L.S., either by forming an alliance or by having the Corps maintain their supremacy. Of all the REBELS, Adam Strange is the one holding the olive branch, trying to bring the two groups together.
While the two groups try to play nice with each other, however, a threat is looming in the background. Starro and his lieutenants are trying to regain power. Knowing the Psions experimented on Starro drones in the past, realizing that the Psion scientists could help 'reactivate' Starro's powers, the group lands on the Psion homeworld.
Astrild Stormdaughter, another of my favorite characters in this book, uses her life draining/giving powers to emaciate and murder several Psions. It was a nice and deadly use of her powers, convincing the remaining sniveling lab tech to work with them.
I had hoped Stormdaughter would join the R.E.B.E.L.S. after the initial Starro threat. But her loyalty appears steadfast.
The Corps is having a hard time remaining as the law enforcement unit within the Vega system because the general populace of the planets seems to be rejecting their authority, choosing Dox and his group instead.
In fact, seven different terrorist groups within the system have vowed to do whatever is in their power to get the Lanterns to leave. Stewart thinks this is another manuveur by Dox; that Dox is the person who has inflamed the terrorist cells. Now that is a loaded accusation. Does that mean Stewart regards Dox as a 'terrorist'? Can such a person really be the 'hero' of a book? It is what makes R.E.B.E.L.S. such a unique title.
As if on cue, one of those terrorist groups, the Citadel Liberation Force, state they have a doomsday device that will blow up the sun. When Dox says he will send his team, Stewart says that the rookie Green Lanterns will deal with the problem.
And here is the best moment of the book. Dox knows just what strings to pull to manipulate people. Here he brings up Xanshi to Stewart, picking at an old wound. It is such a nice panel, Dox sitting at a sumptuous table, relaxed and smug which GL fumes, energy leaking from his ring. You can almost feel Stewart's hand shaking in rage. This is Dox going for the jugular.
For those who don't know, way back in the mid 1980's, in the Jim Starlin/Mike Mignola mini-series Cosmic Odyssey, Stewart refused any help from his teammates, feeling he could stop any problem. Unfortunately, he was wrong and this bomb exploded, destroying the planet Xanshi. Stewart has been dealing with the guilt over this incident since then.
The Citadel soldiers appear to be stupid brutes and are easily captured by the Lantern initiates. But the bomb they are packing is highly complex tech. Clearly someone is behind this situation ... and that person is probably Dox. What's more, the device is some sort of black hole bomb. If it goes off, it would snuff out Vega's sun, destroying all life on the planet.
If Dox is responsible for creating this 'sun-eater' then he has a lot of explaining to do. Even if he thinks he has all the bases covered, there is still significant risk here.
Amazingly, Stewart sees 'behind the curtain' realizing that Dox is behind this whole thing. Despite the fact that the rookie Green Lanterns don't know how to deal with the bomb, Stewart won't let the R.E.B.E.L.S. rush in and be the hero. Despite the another Xanshi jab, Stewart remains obstinate. The Lanterns are here to keep the peace.
Nice staring contest between the two leaders. My guess is this isn't the last time they are going to clash.
Luckily the rookies figure things out. If they smash the outer casing of the bomb before the inner mechanics kicks in, the black hole won't manifest. It is a calculated risk but it pays off. The bomb is defused and the system is saved.
And apparently, John Stewart has learned his lesson. He did ask for help. Veteran Lanterns Rayner,Ganthet, and Natu were all there as back-up in case the rookies needed some help. But since they didn't need help, the initiates are graduates to full-fledged GLs, earning the uniform symbol.
I still have concerns that this title is becoming too enmeshed with Green Lanterns. While Dox has tremendous moments, much of the book is devoted to these Lanterns. They have the big action moments of the book. And we still haven't seen the other R.E.B.E.L.S. in action since the Starro run.
I read Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps for my GL fix. I read R.E.B.E.L.S. to read about R.E.B.E.L.S.
Clearly, Dox isn't happy about the Green Lantern victory. In the meantime, Stewart is able to turn the tables, acting smugly as he discusses the virtues of those chosen to wield the green ring. And in a counterpunch to the Xanshi jabs, Stewart belittles Dox' character, reminding him he was chosen to be a member of the Sinestro Corps.
I don't think these two can easily co-exist. I can't imagine Dox taking this lying down. This characterization of the Brainiac 2 is what keeps me coming back for more.
And it turns out that Dox was behind the bomb scare. Unreal!
The bomb was designed by Lyrl who is still kicking around. I worried that the animosity between the two would simply be swept under the rug. It looks like there is still some hate bubbling under the surface. Lyrl will remain Vril's 'secret weapon' (a little wink to Supergirl history?) even if things are not settled between the two.
Knowing how Machiavellian Vril is, I am surprised that he would leave Lyrl around. Could it be that his fatherly love and pride is blinding him? I am very glad that the two aren't suddenly chummy. There is too much history to just eliminate it.
Will Lyrl hook up with his prior allies? The Psions have been successful in re-animating the Starro starfish on the Conqueror's chest. Starro the Conqueror is back. Still, his power was based on the sheer number of slaves he had plugged into his system. With no slaves, does Starro have any power? Even Smite and Stormdaughter are 'fishless'. He probably needs to start invading again to regain some of his former stature.
I will reiterate how much I loved the tragic origins of Astrild Stormdaughter. I think she has a lot of potential as a character. So I was glad to see her again.
So overall, this was a very good story about Brainiac and the lengths he will go to prove a point. But really, this was just as much a Green Lantern story. I seem to say it every month but I'll say it again. When was the last time that Wildstar, Amon Hakk, Bounder, Ciji, or Xylon done anything of note in this book? When will this book be a purely R.E.B.E.L.S. book again?