Friday, May 24, 2024

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #546

You know it is a tough week when here we are on Wednesday and I still haven't been to the comic book store this week. I probably won't get there until tomorrow!

So while I promise I will get to reviews of the new releases soon, I figured I could dip into the back issue box again today. After reviewing the semi-trippy origin of the new Brainiac in Action Comics #544, I figured I'd cover the ending of that arc in Action Comics #546

I have only recently been reading this Marv Wolfman run on Action Comics in the immediate pre-Crisis wind-down of the character. I have to compliment him for his efforts to expand the scope and grandiosity of the book. He introduced Syrene and Lord Satanus. He brought Brainiac back and then amped up the danger of the villain. Heck, this story feels like a mini-event with the finale guest starring both the JLA and the Teen Titans. (The Titans were at the top of the heap at this point.) He even tried to shake up the supporting stories, splitting Lois and Superman and having Clark date Lana. Maybe the powers that be realized Superman and the universe needed to be updated and reinvigorated.

But he also seems to have increased the crankiness of Superman overall. As Clark, he is a little angry, a little put upon, a little twitchy. Part of it that this Clark wants to enjoy his life and the way he has lived up to then feels off. That wish to optimize the Clark life means his Superman often acts like he is tired, doesn't want to move on to the next threat, and almost wishes he could sit back and relax. There is just a tinge of emotional and physical fatigue here. Interesting in a way, but off-putting.

Gil Kane really breaks it all out in this issue given the guest stars, city street battles, and the one-on-one fight of Superman and Brainiac. This new Brainiac isn't the easiest design and at times Kane seems unsure of the proportions, the head/face plate being inconsistent in places. Still, my admiration of Kane as grown over the years. And I'm 99% sure he basically traced a Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez pic in this issue. Overall a good job here.

On to the details.

We start with Superman alone in his Fortress trying to analyze the new Brainiac. But the computer doesn't seem to be working at its best. There are no answers. And with Brainiac deadlier than before, he needs answers.

Here is a good example of the new characterization.

Superman flies out of the Fortress saying Clark just needs a good hot bath. Landing in his apartment, he hears a knock at the door. It's Jimmy and Clark thinks 'why is he bothering me?' 

Turns out Morgan Edge isn't happy with Clark's absences and Jimmy is there to gather him up. 

So much for mild-mannered Clark, jamming his finger in Edge's face, yelling at him, and storming off. 

I don't need Clark to be a milksop. But all of this seemed just a little bit off.  Was this an attempt to modernize Superman, or bring him closer to what was selling in comics at the time.

At least the storming off was purposeful. Brainiac's ship and an enthralled alien army is descending onto Earth. Superman knows he needs help so it is off to the JLA satellite. Luckily Wally is visiting Barry up there. 

If the threat is big enough for the JLA, why not bring in the Titans!

Here's a pretty solid splash from Kane putting everyone in the same panel. Cool to see Kane's take on these characters. 

But a Terry Long reference??? Yeesh. 

And where the heck is Supergirl!?! Shouldn't she be the first one on the speed dial? Of course, it was Wolfman who thought Supergirl was a barnacle on Superman's mythos so maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

And then it is off to save Earth.

Another cool panel ... but I am 99% sure this is a Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez panel that has been traced over.

"No greater fighting force has ever been assembled."


While the Titans and the JLA skirmish with the ground troops, Superman tries to bring the fight to Brainiac. And the villain is more than willing to eliminate his own troops if they fail.

I do love this inner monologue from Brainiac. You might remember that Brainiac went back in time and saw the 'hand Krona saw' create the universe. He labeled that entity (God?) as his enemy then.

Here Brainiac says his plans are to destroy 'the master programmer' (God?) and the programmer's 'angel of death' Superman?

While this is supposed to be a truly cold, robotic Brainiac, this has the voice of a zealot! So interesting, an anti-God Brainiac! 

Last issue (not covered here as I don't have it!) Superman lured targeted red sun torpedos into the sun. Could those missiles have kicked up activity in the sun, increasing sun spots and flares? Could that be impacting the Fortress's computer? Could this effect Brainiac?

I do like the first panel composition with the present Superman mulling over the memory of him heading to the sun. Pretty cool!

On Earth, the battle continues.

So interesting to see Terra before she reveals here ulterior motives. Titans was on #34 when this came out, 8 months before The Judas Contract. But that 'playing hero' line sure is foreboding and foreshadowing!

Meanwhile, Superman turns the tables on Brainiac, using the tug of a tractor beam to increase his own speed and power. 

Nice strategy which pays off when Brainiac has to go on the offensive, turning off the beam and reverting to his force field.

See how the Brainiac anatomy is a little wonky?

Freed, Superman whips up increased solar winds and flares from the sun.

And as planned, it effects Brainiac ... in fact it nearly incapacitates him. 

Floored by the radiation, Brainiac is seconds away from being pounded into 'spare parts for a washing machine'. Whoa ... this isn't your father's Superman!

But the villain is able to reach his controls and blast away!

With Brainiac gone, the mind-controlled alien armies stop fighting and everything is back to normal. 

Okay, that defeat was a little quick and a little easy given the set-up. But no complaints here at all. High action, lots of guest stars, a new take on an old villain, a determined hero and some solid art all around. Well worth scouring the bargain bins for!

Still, I don't know if Wolfman's take on Superman is one I would want for a long time.

Overall grade: B


H said...

Yeah, like I said, not a big fan of Marv Wolfman’s Action Comics run. The personality stuff overwhelms it for me and the new villains/long-running plot lines feel like they belong to a different book (I haven’t read it, but is this anything like his post-Crisis Superman run?). I think they already did the Clark-dates-Lana thing in the 70’s during Marty Pasko’s run anyway.

Definitely wasn’t meant to last- the last few years of the book were mostly lighter and shorter stories. I think it also has to do with the Titans style of storytelling never really appealing to me. I still don’t get why it was so popular. I like Gil Kane though- I think his thick line, angular style works well with Brainiac, even if the scale keeps changing.

Anonymous said...

Independent of anything else, here's one thing I appreciate about this issue: seeing Starfire interact with the Kryptonian contingent of the DCU is glorious. I really wish there was more DCU content featuring the aliens who reside on Earth both interacting with each other to share their sentiments about what they think living on our world as benevolent outsiders to humanity has been like, and on a more personal level how they conceptualize their personal situation as aliens amidst human society seeking the dual goals of acceptance among humans as well as their recognition as genuine outsiders to humanity. Amog all of the DCU's typically Earth resident individuals, Starfire could perhaps provide a more meaningful answer to those questions than any other character in the DCU, which in turn makes any pairing between her and the DCU's Kryptonians potentially enthralling. Independent of their interaction in this issue, I hope that one day DC gets all of its Earth resident aliens together and gives us a god insight into how they think about being outsiders among humanity who have to grapple with the question of how much they can respect human civilization without disrespecting their native civilizations.

Beyond that, this issue is also kind of fascinating to see in the context of what the last days of the Silve and Bronze age Superfamily were like. I think Wolfman was taking them in an interesting direction, but ultimately I still can't deny that Alan Moore just wrote a majestic capstone to that era's portrayal of Superman and his world when he penned "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?". In particular, Moore's handling of Kara's fate was so much more respectful of her than Wolfman's treatment of her in Infinite Crisis that I'll always think Moore rather than Wolfman nailed down the truly definitive end of the Silver and Bronze Age Kara Zor El's career. With that said, this is still a nice pre-crisis story, and a nice prospect of the kinds of stories DC could have published if they hadn't decided to reset their whole fictional universe.

Anonymous said...

I just Luv Marv Wolfman's conceit, "Beast Boy is Awesome, Supergirl Though, is a Useless Appendage"...