Friday, May 17, 2024

Review: Action Comics #1065

Action Comics #1065, the third chapter of House of Brainiac, came out this week and was a full-throttle, warp speed adventure, filled with brawls and plot progression. In many ways, this was a Supergirl issue, once again pushing the new reality that she is the second in command of the Super-family, the field general. Throw in some Superman/Lobo fun and a back-up story that brings back a favorite character of mine and this was a big win.

I'll start by saying Joshua Williamson is really crafting an excellent event here. There is still a lot of mystery around what Brainiac is doing here. What are his goals and motivations? He isn't acting quite like the cold collector of knowledge. The gathering of Brainiac doppelgangers is fascinating. And what is this 'missing knowledge' in his mind that is shorting him out. 

I like seeing a more proactive and frankly more physical Superman. His family is missing. Brainiac is a threat. He needs to find the villain and he'll use most any means possible. I like seeing Lobo as a sort of dark mirror of Superman, dealing with his own General Zod. Even Lex is intriguing as I try to understand his motivations and goals here.

But this is a Supergirl site and she dominates a lot of the issues. There was plenty I loved. She is smart and calculating. She is brave and pretty fierce in her determination to defeat Brainiac. Heroes and villains respect her and her leadership as she leads her team through the Brainiac ship. That's all great. 

She wields a gun and a knife in this issue. (Conner wields an axe.) I guess given the situation, that makes sense but isn't my favorite image.

She literally spits in the face of Brainiac. That seems a little bit childish and crass for my take on Kara.

She does something foolish and possibly suicidal at the end of the issue. That sort undermines the intelligence and leadership she showed before. Maybe not the best.

I am trying to see all that through the lens of her facing down her own personal boogie-man in Brainiac. I suppose she can veer towards the unhinged.

Still, for Supergirl, this has to overall be a positive. She is a main character, a hero, and proactive.

The art in the main story is done by Rafa Sandoval and Miguel Mendonca and really shines. I love Sandoval's barrel-chested Superman, a sort of modern Wayne Boring! And Mendonca somehow makes the jacket Supergirl costume look good! Mirko Colak brings a dark, heavily shadowed art in the back-up, a perfect style for the story itself.

Okay, enough prologue. On to the book.

The issue starts with a quick flashback. We see Supergirl still bottled, eavesdropping on Luthor and Brainiac. (Remember, last issue ended with Kara escaping her bottle but remaining shrunk.)

I show this to point out two pieces of information this added.

One, Luthor says Brainiac has been collecting his doppelgangers. It means these aren't all the same Brainiac in different constructed bodies. It implies, perhaps, different universe Brainiacs? Gathered because this Brainiac needed more energy to accomplish what he wants. 

Do they agree with this Brainiac and so fell into line? Is he controlling them? I don't know if we'll find out but I am thinking about this and that's always good.

It also seems that Brainiac has kidnapped super-powered people to drain their energy for whatever he is trying to do. That means he needs a LOT of energy.

Flash forward to the present and Superman and Lobo are in pursuit of the Brainiac ship only to run into General Chical and his Czarian gang.

Superman's response is basically perfect. He has no interest in wasting time in a melee with these people. He uses his heat vision to destroy the Czarian's motorcycles so he and Lobo can continue on their way. That is a smart Superman keeping his eyes on the prize, even convincing Lobo to delay the brawl.

Time is mission-critical. So seeing Superman just unleash his heat vision and take off was great. Wonderful art here. Those explosions pop off the page.

Even small, Supergirl knows she'll need help to thwart Brainiac and move around his ship. So she enlists Livewire and Parasite to help, freeing them from their prisons. (The villains are full size as they are in Brainiac's draining machines.)

I love how Supergirl is able to corral these villains into a fighting force. I also like how she has some working knowledge of Brainiac and his ships. In some ways, he is her arch-enemy.

And I had to share this panel which just reminds me of the old days when we'd see the Atom sitting on Hawkman's shoulder in the JLA comic.

Stumbling onto the Brainiac armory. Finding the 'bottle rifle' that shrunk Supergirl, Livewire reverses the effect and enlarges Superboy and Supergirl. In some ways I was sort of bummed it ended so quickly. 

She has a gun. Conner has an axe. They are still powerless even though Livewire and Parasite are at full strength.

In the ship, mechanical tendrils gather Kara up and bring her to Brainiac. I do love the feeling that these two just don't like each other. His dismissive 'Argoan' is perfect. Her spitting in his face? Maybe a little too crass for this Kara who seems to be maturing in front of us. I like to think of these characters as inspirational heroes. Heroes don't spit in the face of people. Or maybe that's just me.

But it's okay. I like her fearlessness here.

Great art by Mendonca. I feel like that top panel is an homage (semi-homage?) to something in the Brainiac arc by Johns/Frank. This bears more looking in to.

Rather than kill her, Brainiac trots her around to show off his plans. Classic villain blunder. But we have seen his brain isn't firing perfectly.

Is Lex playing Brainiac here? It sound like he has some plan in mind even though he is helping Brainiac build something. 

Hmmm ...

One step of Brainiac's plan? Enlarging a city from Colu within the confines of his ship!

We all thought Colu was completely destroyed. 

Why is this important to Brainiac now? He seems almost emotional in this arc. So perhaps he is trying to recreate his culture? Is Brainiac a 'last son' too? Does he envy the super-family?

Somehow (and some where) Kara has hidden a pretty sick looking dagger. 

She frees herself, grabs Lex, and jumps off Brainiac's floating platform above the Colu city.

Again, I don't know if I like her threatening Luthor with a blade to his throat. This isn't Kara. She isn't a killer.

The problem with jumping with Lex? She has no powers. She has, perhaps, jumped to her death. Also seems a little foolish given all the smarts she has shown before.

As for Superman, he and Lobo stop on a planet to find Space Cabbie hoping he can tell them where Brainiac is.

Instead, they again run into Chical who asks Lobo to be his new second in command and presumed heir to his empire.

A couple of things here. I love how Chical calls Lobo out as sometimes being a doormat. Second, I like this luring of Lobo to an extreme dark side. This feels almost like Zod asking Superman to become more Kryptonian. 

Given that Lobo killed all the other Czarians in the past, I don't buy his turncoat play here.

The back-up story is also written by Williamson with art by Mirko Colak. 

The art is very noir and fitting given that the main character is one I love, the narcissistic, fascist Vril Dox. He hates Brainiac and can't believe he is being pulled into this. But he knows what information Brainiac is missing. Another mystery and a good one. 

I really like Vril, covering his stories in REBELS. way back in the day. 

Solid issue all around with a lot for Supergirl fans to mull over.

Overall grade: B+


William Ashley Vaughan said...

I agree that Supergirl appears to be acting a little out of character in some moments in this story. However, I can see credible reasons for these moments, although I don't know for sure if they are what Williamson has in mind. I don't think that Supergirl would spit in any other villain's face, but Brainiac is her own personal nightmare whose theft of Kandor cost her a friend if I'm remembering correctly. She hates him more than enough for such an action. As for the knife, remember that she doesn't have any super powers at the moment. She needs some way to defend herself against Brainiac and any tricks or traps he may throw at her. I don't think she intends to kill anyone. It's an ace up the sleeve.

Threatening Luthor with it is probably a bluff designed to terrify him into telling her what he knows as is jumping off the building. I'm pretty sure she has a backup plan to keep the two of them from going splat. Also, in the first panel in which Brainiac has her trapped in his tendrils, you can see the dagger in a sheath on her leg. The spitting and defiance may also be an attempt to keep his attention on her face and away from the weapon she is about to use to escape him.

Martin Gray said...

Great thoughts from you, Anj, and William. Spitting IS terribly common but yes, the situation is dire and maybe she’s emotional. Or maybe it’s Super-Spit, designed to rot Brainiac…

Speaking of sneakiness, surely Lex is putting something into the Brainiac Queen that will allow him some influence… I just hope he’s not linking her to Lena, that girl deserves a break.

And I’d not be surprised were Kara to have dug her old Legion flight ring out of her cape - we did recently see her reference pre Crisis LSH stuff re: Brainiac 5.

Steve said...

The art in the back up really let down the story. as I said on Martin's blog, I couldn't remember who Lyrl was and there was no visual reference to jog my memory because of the overuse of black ink.

Anonymous said...

Part 1 of 2:

I actually liked this issue enough to say that this is my favorite part of the House of Brainiac arc so far. It featured compelling narrative development; engaging exploration of its core characters' mentality and place in the world that dovetailed nicely with the storyline; and solid hooks that left me genuinely interested in reading the next installment of the story. That's particularly significant, because two of DC's other currently ongoing Kryptonian focused series - Kneel Before Zod and Power Girl - generally don't have those traits. Seeing these positive attributes in a series centered on the Kryptonian side of the DCU is therefore a relief for fans of the Super Family who've been faced with the sad prospect of a seemingly irreversible decline in DC's Kryptonian centric comics this year following PKJ's departure from Action Comics, Jason Aaron's terrible Bizarro arc, and the ongoing creative debacle of Kneel Before Zod and Power Girl.

This issue is especially meaningful when contrasted with last week's abysmal installment of Kneel Before Zod, because this issue succeeds at telling an action oriented story while that issue failed. In KBZ, the action is just mindless brutality that substitutes for world building, narrative building, and character exploration. Page after page of that series just features Zod and his foes pounding away at each other, without giving us any insight into his character or that of people around him. KBZ’s plot is entirely event driven and moves forward only because the writer and editor need it to move along so they can make the story happen. Above all, the action ultimately seems like it's there to distract from how little plot development or characterization there is, particularly because when the action isn't happening the plot becomes a repetitive cycle of loss, fighting, and misery on Zod's part while his characterization is just him constantly becoming an ever more exaggerated version of who he is at the beginning of the story.

Here by contrast, the action also allows us to learn something about the characters that gives us new insight into them. Kara demonstrates that she's exceptionally resourceful, bold, and clever, proving that her efficacy as a fighter isn't just tied to her powers. Livewire and Parasite show that they are more rational and intelligent than they've been in many previous depictions of them. Chacal's call to halt the fight and offer Lobo leadership of his gang out of a recognition that his outlived his glory days shows that he's not just a mindless thug. We also learned that Brainiac is more self doubting and fallible than he initially seemed; that he might have more of an attachment to Colu than previously thought; that Brainiac's current campaign of superpower acquisition goes way beyond Earth; and - based on Chacal's and Brainiac's comments - that there's a fair bit of tension between Brainiac and the Czarnians which could be exploited down the road. In one issue, we therefore got strong character development, compelling, character driven narrative progression, and interesting world building. This issue thus achieved everything an action driven issue of a comic should set out to achieve in a way that KBZ (as well as the recent issues of Power Girl) hasn't ever achieved. Beyond being a nice reward for the readership, it shows that action driven comics can be quality popular literature, and that superhero comics don't need to be mindlessly grimdark to entertain an audience.

Anonymous said...

Part 2 of 2:

Beyond that, here’s some other observations:

* You happen to have included the one glaring error this issue had. In the page where Kara breaks free from Brainiac and jumps off the platform with Lex, her top is shown as having blue sleeves and sides in the first panel, while the third panel also shows blue sleeves. I don't know if this error was at the level of the colorist or the printer, but it’s particularly jarring since the second panel on that page portrays the jacket with the correct color scheme.

*Building on William Ashley Vaughan’s comments above, the panel of Kara and the other three bursting out of the armory to attack Brainiac's drones pretty clearly shows her with two knives strapped to her thighs, as do many of the subsequent panels. Brainiac probably didn't take them off of her when he captured her because arrogantly presumed that she couldn't get to them and/or that they posed no threat to him.

*I also agree that Super Family members wielding weapons is usually not welcome, but in this case given that Kara had no powers and is also fighting a bunch of drones that neither she nor the other family members think of as people, it's appropriate. For what it's worth, having heat vision as well as invulnerable finger nails and teeth could be considered to be the equivalent of perpetually wielding laser rifles and unbreakable, ultra sharp knives, so her wielding weapons here could also be seen as a way of trying to partially regain the fighting capability she's lost as a result of her depowering.

*I was disappointed to see the twins and Kenan reduced to appearing without any dialogue in a single panel. I get that with a Super Family this big it can be tricky for everybody to get some time in the limelight, but it doesn't change how disappointing their near total marginalization in this story has been compared to the welcome attention they were given under PKJ. Hopefully, we'll see more of them in the future.

*I still have no idea what's happening to Jon, much less why he's completely absent from this story. Lois’s throw away line from Superman 13 that he’s on a mission with the Titans could have resolved that, except the last issue of Titans didn’t feature or mention him at all. If the next Titans issue doesn’t say anything about him he’s essentially vanished from the DCU for the moment. At a minimum, he's definitely no longer in Parthas – the last place we saw him – because if he was he would have done something to help Dreamer defend the town from anti-alien racists in this week’s Suicide Squad: Dream Team. He also wasn’t kidnapped by Brainiac, nor is he working with Paige to safeguard Metropolis, so his absence from this story feels like an inexplicable plot hole. That’s because if he wasn’t kidnapped or otherwise engaged it seems he would have definitely been Clark’s top pick for an ally to help rescue the Super Family. Hopefully at some point somebody actually will actually resolve this dilemma by providing a genuinely substantiated explanation for why Jon wasn't helping his dad save his family.

Anonymous said...

I can't get over how Godawful that Supergirl costume is.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to Supergirl I've learned to keep my expectorations while I was grossed out by that part, I did enjoy Supergirl "acting like a boss" even if she looks acts and sounds like an homage "Cough!" to MCU Captain Marvel...who coded a lot like a Supergirl "cough!" homage back in the 1970's.
Glad someone spied those knives because I couldn't figure out how she got free of those tendrils fact until tonight I thought maybe she'd recovered her super powers somehow...wicked evil thought, DC Would Never Let Supergirl get repowered so easily...
And its all a laughing party until Absolute Power ruins everyone's summer.