Thursday, September 18, 2008

Action Comics #869 Review

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Gary Frank

So, it's official. Braniac destroyed Krypton. That is an interesting decision. They hinted at it last issue, and at the time, I wasn't sure they would actually go through with it. At the time, I thought it might not be such a bad idea, but now that they've finally decided to make Braniac's destruction of Krypton canon, I'm not sure that I like it. It is always extremely dangerous to tinker with the origins of a major DC character. When DC decided in the late 80s to make Batman not know that Joe Chill killed his parents, it created the sense that he might be somehow out for revenge rather than simply trying to prevent it from ever happening again, so they had to change it back. Even small details like that can fundamentally alter what makes a character's story meaningful. After all, DC's central characters have been successful for a reason. They are iconic, and perhaps even DC doesn't understand why exactly. Even small tinkering can change the motivation of a character.

This book actually fiddles with Superman's origins in several ways. In the late 1980s, DC made the decision to make Superman the last survivor of Krypton, killing off Supergirl and consigning Zod to oblivion. Both of these removals were mistakes, and DC has recently righted them by bringing both Supergirl and Zod (along with Krypto) back into continuity. However, their heart was in the right place. The introduction of things like the City of Kandor made Superman not especially unique. If there is an entire city of Kryptonians, why is Superman special? However, I think uniqueness isn't the entire issue. When there are more Kryptonians around, especially the thousands now revealed to be living in the City of Kandor, Superman's story becomes less about Earth and more about Krypton itself. It has the effect of shifting the focus of Superman's story away from Earth and back to his original planet. When Grant Morrison gave Superman a one-page, four-line origin in All Star Superman #1, he knew exactly what he was doing. At the end of the day, Superman's origin is the past; his story is really a story about Kal-El on Earth. Too many Kryptonians makes Superman too alien.

The introduction of the actual villain who destroyed Krypton in the first place changes this shift even more radically than the recently reintroduced Kandor. If Braniac destroyed Krypton, then he becomes an even more powerful nemesis for Superman. After all, they now have a very strong history. However, that history is now a Kryptonian history, not a human history. Superman is put in the position of righting or avenging wrongs that happened on a planet long ago, and his story becomes about his Kryptonian heritage, not his unique role on Earth. The reintroduction of Superman's aunt and uncle, Zor-El and Alura, compounds this problem; they are the parents of Supergirl and they apparently survived the destruction of Argo City, where Supergirl had assumed they had died. Superman's story increasingly has the focus of protecting Kryptonian family from Kryptonian threats, and this risks overshadowing his story on Earth, in which he is a boy from small town Kansas with a secret.

Despite these concerns with the overall direction of Action Comics, this is overall a very strong issue. Superman continues his battle with Braniac on Braniac's ship. I love Braniac's creepy assimilation cables. Superman really is outmatched, at least for now, and I look forward to his figuring out how to beat Braniac. My one complaint is that I'm amazed that he didn't know that he can't just turn his back on a wounded Braniac and strike up a conversation with his uncle. One would think he'd have a little more tactical wisdom than that. The battle on Earth, however, is far more interesting. There is a great moment when Supergirl and Lois are on the roof of the Daily Planet, and Kara simply says, "Go", letting go of Lois's hand in an especially well drawn frame. Of course, Lois doesn't listen, and she and the other reporters of the Daily Planet fight off Braniac's drones. Having them have any success somewhat lowers the threat level of Brianiac's robots (how exactly do they survive Supergirl's heat vision and yet are able to be knocked out of a window by a desk wielded by two reporters?), but it does have the nice effect of seeing the Planet staff stand up for Earth.

And of course, the ending is fantastic. Metropolis is bottled and spirited away to Braniac's ship. I've kind of always wanted him to do that. If you're going to have bottled cities, you might as well bottle Metropolis, and I really relish finding out what it will be like living in that bottled city so long as Braniac is able to hold onto it (which I'm assuming won't be very long). In the last four issues, Johns has made Braniac a very credible threat, and now that he's gotten hold of Metropolis, things promise to be very interesting indeed.

This is a very good issue, but also a very dangerous one. I hope the editorial staff know what they're doing in increasingly introducing Kryptonian elements to Superman's story. They risk distracting from Superman's successful premise, and may find themselves written into the same sort of corner they did when they eliminated Joe Chill.

B+

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