Thursday, August 14, 2008

Action Comics #868 Review

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Gary Frank

Geoff Johns continues to produce the finest run on Superman that I have ever read. He is completely reinventing (or rereinventing) the character and his world in a way that is so perfect, it doesn't feel like a revinention. Rather, it feels like this is the way the character should always have been in the first place.

In this story, Johns in reinventing Braniac into one of the greatest single threat Superman has ever faced. Braniac is a more destructive version of the Borg, capturing single cities and individuals, and then wiping out the entire civilization. He seeks "perfection", which was one of the key principles of the Borg, presumably wishing to assimilate all knowledge to himself so that he can encompass the entire universe. That's pretty dangerous. He has captured the bottled city of Kandor, and now is attacking Earth, as it has the two remaining Kryptonians (he must not know about the third or care about Power Girl). It is not enough that he absorb the civilizations; the civilizations must also be exterminated so that he can contain all of the information exclusively.

This book is hinting very strongly that Braniac may, in fact, be responsible for the destruction of Krypton. I'm not sure of how good an idea this is. Tinkering with the origins of DC's greatest characters is always dangerous business, and until now, its destruction has always been a natural disaster. However, it would not fundamentally alter Superman's origin, as Jor-El may have been aware of what was occurring as a result of Braniac's machinations. It would lend much greater emotional weight to one of Superman's arch-nemeses if he was responsible for Krypton's destruction, so if that's the way the story chooses to go, I will not be disappointed.

The sheer power of Braniac takes this story to an epic level. He finally, for the first time ever in comics, emerges from his cocoon to fight Superman. Superman gets to fight the real Brainiac, not a machine or a clone. Moreover, Brainiac is so strong, he makes very short work of Superman. Braniac isn't just highly intelligent and technologically advanced, he is strong as well, meaning that Superman cannot simply beat him by working around his latest plan. When Superman defeats him (as I assume he will), Superman will have accomplished on of his greatest victories ever.

Gary Frank's art in Action Comics is very strong. His facial expressions are some of the best drawn in comics. Sometimes they seem so accurate, I wonder if he isn't working from photographs. The early scenes with Supergirl and Cat Grant are largely funny because of the facial expressions that Frank draws for the various characters. Supergirl's cluelessness at the hostility of Cat would likely not have come across so clearly without Grant's art. Moreover, the almost bored disdain of Brainiac at Superman makes him seem more powerful. Truly powerful people don't often don't express much emotion; they don't have to. Frank manages to bring real life to the character of Brainiac, who has often seemed very, well, artificial.

There is some interesting development of Superman's relationship to his parents and his cousin. Originally, they protected him. Now, he protects them. There is a strange sense of helplessness that parents feel when they realise they can no longer protect their children, and even the sense of pride they have in their children can never really offset that. Supergirl is truly terrified of Brainiac, as she has encountered him before on Krypton, and wants to protect Superman from something that she understands better than he does. This was her opporuntity to fulfil the role she was sent to Earth for in the first place. However, there is nothing she can do, and she realises quite clearly the Superman doesn't need her, at least, not as a protector.

The final scene of the book is fantastic. Brainiac has come to Earth. He may have destroyed Krypton, and now he plans to capture Manhattan and destroy the rest of the planet. Even though the skull design of Brainiac's ship is old, Frank makes it look creepier by giving it a darker colour and adding a few touches that almost make it look like it is rotting. My only complaint is this: shouldn't the ship be bigger? I mean, this is the greatest threat the Earth has ever seen and it's not even the size of a skyscraper. Aircraft carriers are larger than the ship. I'd hoped that the most dangerous alien threat the world has ever faced would be at least the size of a city.

In any event, Johns, who seems to be writing half of the books at DC right now, has truly captured the epic scale of the Superman tale. He is a man from another planet. Now he faces what Supergirl calls "the worst of aliens". This story successfully revitalises one of Superman's greatest adversaries, and tells a story worth of DC's greatest hero.



Cristiano Silva said...

Bottom line: I think Geoff Johns is a great writer, and in a great moment of his career. I'm glad that such importart characters like Superman, Legion of Super-heroes and Green Lantern are at his hands. Nonetheless, you pointed out right in your review, that he's not only working with the characters, but also with theirs origins also. Take Green Lantern as an example, where we can see his origin being retold, and all that idea of color spectrum power and other lanterns troops stuff.

This means: it seems that Geoff has a great power in DC nowadays, and you know well what comes with great power...

Keep this good work in your blog, please!


Daniel said...

I agree and I'm very impressed with almost everything Johns is doing right now. I almost didn't notice just how many books by him I'm reading. It's like I gravitate to them naturally.

Thank you for the comment on the blog :).