Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: Superman 23.2 Brainiac

Superman #23.2 Brainiac came out this week and was another satisfying issue released during Villain's Month.

Writer Tony Bedard weaves a very good origin story for Brainiac, bringing in elements of his classic history while rectifying and explaining how The Collector in Grant Morrison's Action Comics run is linked to the villain. Brainiac was the name of Krypton's A.I. Brainiac classically isn't the centipede like creature we saw in Action. So how did it all mesh? Bedard explains it and in a way that is extremely palatable since it riffs on the revelations about Brainiac during his time on Action Comics.

Moreover, there is sort of a 'through a mirror darkly' comparison to Vril Dox and Jor-El which brings another dimension to this origin story. Brainiac is Jor-El gone wrong in many ways. There is even a sort of echo of the current Zor-El as well.

Pascal Alixe does the artwork on the issue and brings a very polished penciled look to the book. From the high-tech land of Colu to the steampunk feel of the world Noma, site of this issue, Alixe really brings a great flair to the story. There is a sort of Gray Frank vibe here, just enough to remind me of Frank's art but being unique enough to be its own work. I wouldn't mind seeing Alixe on a monthly book.

We start on Noma where hero Victoria Viceroy is watch Brainiac dismantle her planet. The Brainiac drones are on the ground, cataloging and gathering key artifacts in preparation for the planet's demise. Brainiac has taken control of Viceroy's android ally Pneumenoid.

With Viceroy defeated, Pneumenoid spins the tale of Brainiac's origins. It is a relatively classic framing device although it means that Pneumenoid is essentially monologing. But this concept that Brainiac has to convince the heroes of the planets he destroys to understand why he does what he does is a sort of psychological flaw.

Again, the art on this section is so great with the detail needed for a steampunk environment, from the decorative piping on Pneumenoid to the blunderbuss Viceroy wields.

Back on Colu, Vril Dox, their world's greatest scientist, is aware that his planet is in peril from the Multitude. And his idea to help prepare for that disaster is to make the Coluans stronger, to survive the attack. His first subject - his own son.

The idea of knowing the planet will be destroyed and preparing for that is Jor-El's story as well. But rather than trying to save his son, Vril decides to experiment on him. That is a warped take on the Superman origin.

It is, however, completely in line with Zor-El's actions in Supergirl, experimenting on her with World Killer tech in hopes of making her stronger. Vril even has his version of Alura, a wife horrified by the actions.

I do like that Vril's psychological foibles are mentioned here. He is called 'odd'. But he clearly has no concept of the sanctity of life or personal freedom.

And then we get a nice replay of Jor-El's impassioned speech in front of the Science Council, except here it is Vril Dox standing in front of Colu's governing board. Dox talks of the 5th Dimensional army The Multitude (the Vyndxtvyx army from Morrison's story), how they move from planet to planet, and that Colu is next.

So instead of "Krypton is Doomed" we get "Vod-Colu is next". The insistence on making a stronger Coluan also ties in nicely to The Twenty storyline in Scott Lobdell's Superman as well. So this issue links Brainiac to both the past and the future.

But Dox is also accused of crimes and is sentenced to a prison sentence on a rocketship.

Of course, Vril wrote all the programming for Colu's technology. He is able to access his C.O.M.P.U.T.O. operating system to take over the ship. And then he returns to Colu in something akin to his current Brainiac ship, shrinks and bottles a city, one that has his wife and son.

And immediately after that bottling, the Multitude arrives and destroys Vod-Colu.

So there is a lot to digest here. The fact that Brainiac decided to save his wife and child shows some sort of humanity inside him, even if he is denying it exists. I really love how Alixe crafts this page with the wife and child outside the panels. It separates them from the rest of the destruction around them, showing us visually that they are important to the story, part of a bigger picture.

With his first city bottled, Brainiac then goes out, collecting information and cities before the Multitude can arrive.

And now we hear why the Brainiac from Krypton, the worm-like Brainiac that came to Earth in Morrison's Action, looks so different from the classic humanoid Coluan. It is because Brainiac has created drones with an 'aspect' of him present, to improve his efficiency.

This reminded of Geoff John's Brainiac arc where all the Brainiac's that Superman had fought were merely drones and not the true Brainiac. So that worked very well for me, bringing in elements of a more classic origin.

And this splash page is wonderful by Alixe. The brooding Brainiac in the background as we see these monstrous aspects surrounding him. In particular, I find the Mind-Wyrm Brainiac from Morrison's Action horrific!

During that first sweep of the galaxy, the Brainiac Wyrm heads to Krypton and bottles Kandor. During that attack, this Collector becomes Brainiac by name, absorbing the Kryptonian AI. So, at last, we have the explanation of the name.

I think this is one of the key moments in the book. Brainiac finds Jor-El to be a kindred spirit - no surprise given the opening scenes here. But, unlike Vril, Jor-El is able to repel the Multitude. Unfortunately Brainiac can never learn how because Krypton explodes.

I really think that Brainiac does not like to be one-upped when it comes to intelligence. Jor-El out-thought him, and that doesn't sit well.

Back on Noma, Victoria Viceroy has heard enough. She knows, because of some technology she built into Pneumenoid, that this origin story isn't 100% true. (I love the name Madame Absynthe! Too bad we won't see this world again.)

So what is Brainiac after? Is it to find a world with beings that he can download the Coluan intellects into (as in Lobdell's current arc)? Is it to simply gather as much knowledge as possible?

Viceroy shoots Pneumenoid forcing Brainiac himself to show up. He admits that he destroys the planets he 'collects' now to deny the Multitude their prize. But we know that Jor-El was able to defend against the Multitude. So why destroy the planet if, perhaps, the champions of that world can replicate Jor-El's feat.

I don't think Brainiac wants someone else to do what he couldn't. We know it is a twisted urge, a psychological flaw. I think this is fantastic.

Before Brainiac can destroy Noma completely, Viceroy sends out a copy of this encounter, so others can hear Brainiac's story. And Earth's Dr. Veritas is able to pick up the signal and translate it. Now Superman will know, Brainiac is coming.

So overall a very entertaining issue. From a Brainiac story, we see the merging of the Morrison wyrm Brainiac, a nice reflection comparing Vril to Jor-El, the interesting and humanizing element of a wife and child in Brainiac's history, and then this jealous feeling over Jor-El's accomplishment. That all worked. And it gives the character more depth, making him more interesting then a simple cold robotic intelligence.

But this all comes together with the art by Alixe who is able to do quiet moments, massive destruction, sterile Colu and sumptuous Noma. I love the soft pencil look here, which works despite the tech-heavy nature of the character.

Great stuff. One of my favorite issues from Villains Month.

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Just excellent work all around. I was intrigued that Tony Bedard made this Brainiac 1 Vril Fox, traditionally the name given to his son; mind, he may share the name - I don't doubt Bedard had plans for him.

'Pneumenoid' is a clever name, it's like something from Futurama or the Jetsons - maybe a combo of 'humanoid' and Von Neumann self-replicating machines?

Is it too much to hope that in the last instant before Noma exploded, Victoria Viceroy was shrunk and bottled? She's too good to be a one-off, surely? And perhaps we could meet Madame Absynthe?

AndNowInStereo said...

Sounds intriguing. I won't be going back to my comic shop for a few weeks so I doubt I'll be able to get a copy, but I'll look for it when I do.

I wonder if this should ideally have come out before Action 23.1 - because knowing more about Brainiac makes me see his depiction in that issue in a slightly different light. If Brainiac's thing wih Jor-El isn't just respect but more like a personal grudge it makes him feel more interesting. Likewise it makes Zor-El seem even more of a victim of a twisted mind, with Brainiac possibly having the ulterior motive of getting back at the family of the man who was better than him...?

Supertorresmo said...

I liked that Braniac 5 fits nicely now. I was having trouble conciliating him with the monstrous Brainiac of Morrison's AC.
It is shown very clearly that the son of Brainiac survives so the lineage can continue.

Anj said...

Thanks for early comments.

I also picked up on the Vril part Mart. Hopefully we will get a L.E.G.I.O.N. book at some point with the 'true' Vril.

And Thomas, great point about folding in this story about the El family into the Cyborg Superman story. Explains the obsession with Jor-El apparent in that story too.

Anj said...

Thanks for comment Supertorresmo -

Thanks for B5 talk. This world was Vod-Colu. So maybe the bottled city gets enlarged on a *New Colu*, and with B2 around then we know we will get a Brainiac 5. (Or will we with the LSH being on E2 now.)

Anonymous said...

Should have been "Yod-Colu" to tie closer to Legion mythos...

Anj said...

Thanks for the comment!
Looking closer, it might be a 'Y' making it Yod-Colu.

And that would make more sense.

Martin Gray said...

I was surprised to see Yod-Colu in the issue, I'd never heard of the Brainiacs being from anywhere but Colu, but apparently it appeared as that in a 1967 Adventure Comics. Still, given that every other time it's been simple Colu, I don't see that Yod-Colu would tie it to Legion continuity any more closely than the regular version ... a one-off name change may as well be a mistake as canon.

valerie21601 said...

Where it concerns Brainiac 5, he can still exist in the DC universe even if he isn't part of the Legion of Super Heroes. His life would have simply taken a different path on Colu.

Well actually if the Legion didn't exist the other members would just be loners or take a different path in life.


Saturn Girl would have joined the Science Police.

Cosmic Boy would have gone into construction work.

Lightening Lad would have become a farmer.

Ultra Boy a gang member if not leader of one.

Tinya would still be still a traveler between worlds.

The list can go on and on.

Anj said...

I also had to look up Yod-Colu, so used to it just being Colu.

My guess is the bottled city of Yod-Colu will be enlarged to become the new 'Colu', explaining both names.

I also like COMPUTO, so I thought that was a nice touch as well.