Monday, May 27, 2024

Review: Superman #14

Superman #14, part 4 of the House of Brainiac event, came out last week and was just another excellent chapter in this arc. Writer Joshua Williamson continues to push this story forward while adding new mysteries and wrinkles to keep the momentum building. He also is leaning into DC history and continuity here. From all the Brainiacs, to call back to recent mini-series, to maybe deeper dives, I love it.

There are three sort of plot lines in this issue. Superman and Lobo are skirmishing while General Chical watches on. This plot sort of truncates in this issue and not in the way I assumed it would. I like being surprised. And when I say it truncates, it truncates.

There is the ongoing Lex and Supergirl team-up. Obviously I am following this one pretty closely. Given the weird history when Matrix Supergirl hooked up with Lex, seeing the two together always has some historical resonance. I like here how both don't seem to like or trust the other but they understand that Brainiac is the bigger threat. Here there are a couple of new nuggets to mull over.

The last plot is Brainiac's actual plot. We know he has some holes in his memory ... I have a theory, We know he is building something. We get to finally see it. He actually kind of wins in this issue with the book ending on an ominous cliffhanger. 

Together that is some great stuff. I have the usual questions and nitpicks. But from a story view, this is great.

Rafa Sandoval and Miguel Mendonca combine on art again here and continue to shine. Sandoval's Superman is the sort of physical presence I like. Giant, broad chested, intimidating when he needs to. Mendonca does most of the Supergirl pages and his style is a little rough but solid. The action and panel composition is great. 

On to the details.

Last issue General Chical convinced Lobo to go against all his prior history and join the Czarian army. 

I thought for sure that when Lobo attacked Superman last issue, it was a feint. After all, Lobo killed the Czarians to be unique. But nope. It was real. 

This is a solid brawl. Well crafted by Sandoval.

I love how Superman just wants to take the fight outside, away from the crowd. That middle panel is marvelous. 

After Superman is softened up though, Chical chains up the Man of Steel and takes off.

Now one plot that I don't have ideas on is the Lena one. I am not sure where she fits into all of this. It is clear that Brainiac has ideas for her. But what are they??

As I have admitted, I don't recall a lot about the Lena/Brainiac 13 stuff from the past and haven't gone back. 

Last issue Supergirl seemed to jump to her death with Lex. It turns out, for some reason, her powers are slowly returning. She is able to dig her claws into a Coluan building and sort of scratch her way down with Lex in tow. I wish there was some line about why her powers are returning or how she knew about it. But here we are. Great 'superhero landing' panel at the beginning.

I love that stern look Kara sports in the second panel. She doesn't trust Lex even if he says he is on the up and up.

We are reminded that Colu was blown up in Justice League:No Justice. Heck, I read that and have no memory of it. Is it that so many mini-event/mega-events/new continuities have been tossed out these last 10 years that none of it sticks? This I will go back and try to reread.

And so begins the Lex/Supergirl team-up. Look at them running together in the streets! Odd partners which makes it interesting. Supergirl is confident and strong. 

Last issue I wondered if a theme in this story was the idea of family. House of Brainiac instead of House of El. Last sons all over the place rediscovering family ... or creating it. Looks like Kara is on board with me.

But it is Lex's admission that he knows the missing piece of knowledge in Brainiac's mind. And he knows that Brainiac has filled that hole with something menacing. 

What is it that's missing? I think I know, especially given Williamson's mining DC's history.

Back in Action Comics #544Action Comics #544, when Brainiac went through all space and time absorbing knowledge, he saw the hand Krona saw at the dawn of the universe. Let's call that 'God'. 

Perhaps he couldn't grasp something that big. Perhaps he blotted it out. But the concept of an enormous power, the lingering feel of it, remained. And so he has gone about trying to create it.

One of those last sons is Vril Dox, now on Colu. 

It sounds like Kara and Vril have a history. Is this R.E.B.E.L.S. ? Or something else? I'd have loved an editor's note here!

Here is my one quibble. 

Superman is brought into Brainiac's ship by Chical and hooked up to the energy draining machine. 

Is that Conner in the first pod? I guess he was captured last issue. It looks like Kara next to him. I guess it could be Superwoman. But it is confusing. Last we saw Conner he was with Livewire and Parasite running around. 

I know it is easy enough for me to say "I guess Connor and the rest were recaptured" but one line or panel would've helped.

Brainiac is successful!

Brainiac Queen is activated from the drained energy from all the beings Brainiac has captured.

She looms over him, a sort of Borg Queen monstrosity. Scary. This is what he has been building, a dark god to replace the memory of a creator one.

But then things get horrific.

The Queen kills (and eats?) the surviving Czarians draining their powers of immortality. 

I mean ... look at this design and image. This is Hideaki Anno level of scary bizarre. This is Eva Unit-01 eating the Zeruel angel. This is straight out of Neon Genesis. 

And I, for one, am all for it. 

THAT is a cliffhanger. 

So a couple of quibbles aside, this was another great chapter. We see the Brainiac plan actualized. We learn Luthor knows the secrets Brainiac is hiding. Supergirl and her mini-squad are out there continuing the fight.

Roll on!

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

In general, I agree with your points and would say that this issue as well as this event are quite good. Two "quibbles" however stand out to me, because they're so obvious that their presence in the story seems like a fundamental error on the part of Williamson and the editorial staff attached to this series.

The first serious problem is the decision to portray Kara as having enough residual power to survive a multi-thousand-foot fall by literally clawing her way down the side of a skyscraper. Everything leading up to this point suggested that she and the rest of the Superfamily were completely depowered when Brainiac captured them. Suddenly turning around and saying that Kara at least - because I also have no idea what the powered status of the rest of the Superfamily is - just happened to have enough power to do this feels like bad writing. That's particularly irksome because a decent justification for this probably would have only taken a few lines or panels to explain.

To be clear, I don't have a problem with this happening per se or by extension with the idea that Kara and possibly the rest of the family had enough residual power to do this. I just wish there was some kind of explanation for what's going on with their powers, if for no other reason than that the behavior of the rest of the family's members is much trickier to explain if they still have a fair bit of residual power left yet for some reason Kara's the only one who's actually able or willing to use it. If they actually have this much power left but are just sitting around in their bottles while she's actually using it to achieve something, it makes the rest of them look stupid, weak, and/or cowardly, which doesn't match with their characterization up to this point.

The other issue I have is that Jon's absence from all of this has become a serious problem. Despite the assertion that he's on some extremely important mission with the Titans, he hasn't shown up with them in any way. I don't need him to actually be with the Titans, but what I do need is some decent explanation for why he's not working with his dad to save his family. If he's supposed to be with the Titans, DC should actually show him with them. If he's not with them, then there should be some other reasonable explanation for why he's not trying to save his family. What's particularly baffling about this oversight is that it would have been very easy to avoid this problem.

If Jon was actually supposed to be with the Titans, it should have been a simple matter for Williamson and Tom Taylor to work something out. If not, a perfectly decent explanation for Jon's absence would have been to make him one of the members of the family who got kidnapped and bottled by Brainiac at the beginning of this arc. Given these alternatives, the way Williamson has handled Jon's absence from this story comes across like a basic flaw in his design of this arc, and by extension it reflects badly on the editorial staff attached to this event that none of them were able to correct this problem before the arc was published.

This is still a pretty good story, but the basic errors Williamson and the editors should have caught don't bode well for what to expect from this team after this event is over. I would note in particular that errors like this just don't seem to be as prominent in either Mark Waid's ongoing World's Finest Run, or in the issues published under Philip Kennedy Johnson's tenure on Action Comics. That's not to say either of those series were flawless, but it is to say that they both seem better written and edited than Williamson's current run on Superman and Action Comics. Hopefully, somebody
at DC can straighten out these errors and deliver high quality runs on Action Comics, Superman, and other Superfamily related titles that live up to the qualitative standards of what we got with Waid's World's Finest and PKJ's Action Comics.

Anonymous said...

Connor, Lana, Livewire, and Parasite are the ones shown, but have to magnify big time to tell. Then you can just barely make out edges of the S shield on Lana's outfit.

In my recollection, all the planetary systems near Colu got blown up in No Justice, forming the Ghost Sector, which is where Justice League Odyssey was then set. Williamson wrote that part of No Justice and was the creator of Odyssey.

I'm enjoying this event!


Martin Gray said...

Great review, I like your deep cut theory about the hole Brainiac is trying to fill… mind, I was hoping it would be a cute little space monkey.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I am glad someone else noticed Supergirl's mysterious partial repowerment, I was scratching my head about that one as well, and as noted above, it's a good example of clunky writing. On the other hand she put a good scare into Luthor so that much worked like gangbusters.
I guess it makes "Brainiac Sense" for the Coluan Droid to Fill His Spiritual Void by Building Himself a Goddess to abjectly worship...I mean some people just drink vodka or start shuflling tarot cards, so there ya go...


Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

The Supergirl sudden repowerment is a mystery no doubt. As you say, 2 lines of dialogue would have gone a long way.