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.