Superman: Brainiac

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On today’s installment of, “What Didn’t Geoff Johns Write for DC?”we’re met with a Superman storyline from Action Comics.  I didn’t have many expectations for this comic, thinking it’d just be a seemingly self-contained storyline about another meeting between Superman and Brainiac.

Silly Jess. When will you learn?

There’s a meeting between the pair, sure, but this comic is so much more than your standard “Superman fights a bad guy and saves the world” schtick.  I knew it would be something more when Supergirl points out that Superman has never actually met Brainiac before. He’s met his clones, his programming, but never him.  I knew then that clearly Johns was leading up to that crucial meeting.

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The two come face to face and Brainiac actually bests Superman. Captured, Brainiac learns the location of Earth and plans on destroying the planet, after capturing Metropolis and converting it into a bottle city.

Oh yeah, did I not mention that? He hoards them for their knowledge, retaining a single city while destroying the rest of the world.  He has dozens collected, and Superman is surprised to find that Kandor is not the only Kryptonian city under Brainiac’s care.

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Argo City is still in tact, along with Supergirl’s parents.  The implications of this revelation are pretty astounding. Superman has come a long way from his “last son of Krypton” days, with cities full of Kryptonians now, some of whom are close relatives.  In typical Superman fashion, Clark saves Earth as well as the bottle cities, helping preserve countless worlds from complete annihilation. Of course, while all of these world-saving events are happening, a heart-breaking scene is playing out on Earth.

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While Superman is saving the world, his father dies of a heart attack.

I didn’t want to believe it. I kept hoping he’d be shown in the hospital, weak but alive.  His life has been threatened before, but he’s always pulled through.   This time though, Jonathan Kent succumbed, plunging Clark into a well of grief as he struggles to deal with this loss.

This scene shocked me, and took a lot for me to accept. It felt so tacked on to the story. There was no build-up, no heightened sense of drama. Jonathan Kent just died with no-one but his wife around.  But then, isn’t this how it usually happens? He’s been in a handful of situations where his life is hanging in the balance for days, weeks, months on end. Here though, his death feels realistic because there’s no build-up, and so the impact is that much more powerful.  My heart ached for Clark and the pain he was feeling, because we’ve all experienced a similar loss, or have known someone who has.  This is a universal pain, one which we mere humans can understand as much as Superman.  I didn’t expect to come across such an emotional moment in this comic, and yet it somehow managed to flow perfectly. I may not like it, but I can’t deny its resonance.

This comic surprised me, tugging at my heart strings more than I could have expected. True, the Brainiac portion wasn’t quite as poignant as Jonathan Kent’s death, but it was a solid story nonetheless.  The further explanation of who Brainiac is and what he does was welcome, and if there’s any sort of a silver lining in the story, at least Kara has her family back. I want to hate the ending, but even I can’t deny that this was  destined to happen sooner or later.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch some cartoons to lift my spirits after this truly sad ending. RIP Jonathan Kent.

-Jess

 

Superman: Up, Up, and Away!

I’ve finally reached the “One Year Later” story arc, with Up, Up, and Away! being the first book on “the shelf” to take place after the events of 52.  It’s pretty much the perfect follow-up story too, focusing on a single character rather than overwhelming the reader with events of the entire universe and all of its main players.

As the story opens, Clark Kent is still without his powers.  Luthor has avoided conviction on a truly staggering number of accused crimes, but the public has lost all trust in him.  He retreats to lick his wounds, as well as continue work on a pretty impressive weapon he’s been perfecting.  While Clark adapts to life as a normal person, Intergang continues to strike out. With no Superman there to stop them, they run rampant.  Luthor even corners Clark in an alleyway and gives him a beating, which surprises both Clark and Lois.

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It hasn’t been all bad though, with the couple happily settling in to a normal life.  Of course, Superman can’t be gone forever, and as he’s attacked for his reporting he slowly begins to regain his powers.

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And the man is back.

His powers are still a little stable as they slowly return, but Superman manages to easily defeat the Intergang squad of goons.  His next opponent, though, isn’t so easily stopped.  Luthor has gotten ahold of a Kryptonian crystal that controls a long-buried creation that landed on Earth decades ago.  Twisting it for his own nefarious means, Luthor crafts a nearly indestructible suit with which to destroy Superman.

Of course, Clark is not so easily stopped, and after a few rounds he lets loose a truly impressive hit that completely removes Luthor from his protective shell.

At this point, the comic reaches its true climax.  Superman and Lex are standing alone, having fallen into the river and swum to the nearest shore.  Luthor vocalizes his hatred for Superman, accusing him of always being around, even when he was gone for a year.

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Superman makes one of his grand declarations, pointing out that the public doesn’t owe them anything, and that their respect and trust must be continuously earned.  It’s a moment that reminds the reader why Superman is the best, while also further driving home the point that he’s a truly humble person who has no desire to lord his power over others.  He and Lex are exact opposites in that way, and their exchange in this scene helped cement the fact that they’re doomed to be locked in this struggle forever, as each represents something that the other will never understand.

As a Superman comic, it falls in line with the best of them.  It was fun watching Clark happily adjust to civilian life, only to have his powers unexpectedly come back to him.  The fight scenes were entertaining, and the animosity between Clark and Lex came to a head, with Luthor continuing to fall from grace.  Clark still seems to be adjusting to his abilities, but I never really doubted that he’d get them back sooner rather than later. This is Superman, after all.  He can never be gone for long.

-Jess

 

 

Superman: Secret Origin

Fresh off of the 52 series, I’m graced with a comic that, publication-wise, is a bit out of place. This mini-series was published a couple years after the “One Year Later” storyline, but I’m diving in headfirst, trusting Mistah J’s judgment and placement of this trade on “the shelf”.  Given the subject matter, it already makes sense.  Secret Origin is a retelling of the famed early years in Superman’s life, from his rocket’s crash landing in Smallville up through his first few months as the uniformed man of steel.

I was a little apprehensive going into yet another retelling of Superman’s origin. I feel like I’ve read it so many times that I wondered if this trade could bring anything new to the story.  Given that it’s written by Geoff Johns, I really shouldn’t be surprised that Clark Kent is completely reimagined here, somehow managing to be classic and modern all at once.

The earliest portion of the comic shows up the familiar story of Clark slowly gaining his powers as a child. What’s interesting about this version is how unsure and uncomfortable he is with these newfound abilities.  He accidentally breaks Pete Ross’s arm in a friendly game of football; he sets off the school sprinklers after Lana kisses him and his heat vision activates; he can hear every cruel word spoken about him by his classmates.  It’s a confusing and unsure point in life for anybody, but when you have spectacular, unknown powers, it’s nearly unbearable.

Ma and Pa Kent do everything they can to encourage Clark to embrace his abilities, with Ma even crafting a uniform for her son to wear.  Injecting a hint of realism into the story, Clark begrudgingly dons the costume.

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The gangly, unhappy boy wearing a superhero costume isn’t one we see very often in comics, yet it fits perfectly. What teenage boy would willingly done the outfit in this world, where it hasn’t yet become a symbol of strength?  Small asides like this are peppered throughout the comic, making Superman feel much more human than in previous incarnations.

As Clark grows up, he moves to Metropolis to become a reporter for the flailing Daily Planet.  He crafts the bumbling, shy reporter persona perfectly, and when he finally makes his first appearance as Superman, he doesn’t put on any airs of superiority.

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He’s down to earth, he’s relatable, and he just happens to be able to fly and lift massively heavy objects.  His humanity shines through even as he performs extraordinary feats.

Throughout the story we also watch the rise of Lex Luthor, a boy Clark had a passing meeting with in Smallville and who would go on to become a powerful force in Metropolis.  Lex despises Superman, believing him to be from another world and viewing him as a threat.  He does everything he can to sway the public opinion away from the man of steel, and for a while he succeeds. That is, until he goes too far and creates Metallo, a kryptonite-powered man who goes a little crazy and starts endangering innocent civilians.

As Superman subdues the threat, he’s faced with numerous questions about his intentions in the city.  His answer reminds all of us why he’s so well-respected.

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Superman reminds the people that they have power of their own, and that no one should be treated as a savior.  As he flies off, public opinion starts to change, and he’s finally seen for the hero he truly is.  Luthor’s animosity grows, but the final word is in: Superman’s one of the good guys, maybe the best guy, and he’s here to stay.

As an introduction to the character this was a brilliant story. Given that I’ve read so much about Superman already, I was surprised at how much I liked this story.  It didn’t feel derivative, but instead built upon the solid foundation of Superman lore that has been in place for decades.  Lex Luthor’s unstable behavior is partially explained as a result of his poor upbringing, while also implying that he’s simply unhinged to begin with.  Clark has plenty of fun interactions with his parents, Lois, and Jimmy, with a small reference to Krypto even making its way onto the page.  It’s not necessarily new territory, but it sheds new light on a story we all thought we knew.

For Superman fans new and old, I’d highly recommend this mini-series. Whether you know everything about the man of steel or next to nothing, this is a great addition to his story, adding the perfect touch of humanity to an out-of-this-world character.

-Jess

Superman: Infinite Crisis

“Infinite Crisis Week” Day 5!!!!

We’re inching closer and closer to Infinite Crisis. The suspense is palpable, and each story is more closely tied into that story than the previous.  Superman: Infinite Crisis, as the name suggests, directly ties into that storyline.  With this trade a huge reveal is made, namely that Earth-2’s Superman and Lois Lane, Earth-Prime’s Superboy, and Earth-3’s Alexander Luthor (all of whom were saved from destruction during Crisis on Infinite Earths) have returned to the fold, and are less than pleased with what they’ve seen happening on the current Earth.

Saddened and disgusted with how corrupt the world has become, they all feel as though they must do something to correct the natural of order of things. Compounding this feeling is the fact that Lois, trapped in this alternate world for so long, has started to fade.

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Desperate to save the woman he loves, Superman crafts a recreation of Earth-2 , hoping this will restore Lois and heal whatever’s been ailing her.  It seems to work at first, but as Lois points out, it’s not really their world, and with that she collapses and dies in Superman’s arms.

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Distraught over Lois’s death, Superman breaks through the barrier between the worlds, bringing him face to face with the current Superman.

The two have a “Freaky Friday” style moment, in which they switch lives and make different choices based on what they view is right.  In these altered realities much stays the same, but many things change as well, not always for the better.  One reality finds the world thrown into a fascist state, with Superheroes playing judge and jury for all villains.  Regardless of what happens, the two wind up locked in a desperate battle to preserve the world they know and love.

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Ultimately the two are united on one earth, facing off against each other, with Earth-2 Superman being convinced that our current Superman is leading the world to destruction.  An unexpected appearance by Wonder Woman changes the course of the fight, with Diana ensnaring Earth-2 Supes in her lasso, forcing him to listen to reason.  In a moving scene, current Superman points out that a perfect world wouldn’t have a need for a Superman, leaving Earth-2 Superman to realize that the perfect, idealized world would never be his world.

The story is far from over, but at least now the two Supermen are fighting on the same side.  It was heartbreaking watching Superman lose Lois, as well as come to the realization that he can never be a part of the perfect world, no matter how many times he’s saved his own world from utter destruction (the biblical image of Moses being refused entry into the promised land comes to mind).  It’s heartbreaking to say the least, and only helps cement Superman as a true hero.  Nevertheless, the story is just beginning, and with everything about to happen in Infinite Crisis, more than just Superman’s life is about to change forever.

-Jess

Superman: Ruin Revealed

Welcome to day one of “Infinite Crisis Week” here at Holy Comics, Batman!  What does that mean, you ask? Well, it means I read all of Infinite Crisis as well as all of its tie-ins, so this entire week is going to be dedicated to dissecting those stories.  Needless to say, a lot is going to be talked about this coming week.  First though, a little backstory/disclaimer:

These stories intersect with one another quite a bit.  Mistah J, in his effort to make sure I read the story in the order intended without jumping back and forth in time, patiently went through the entire Infinite Crisis storyline and left notes and directions for me, creating a path for me to follow throughout the numerous trades.  It was meticulously well-done, and felt as though I was unearthing new details at every turn, as I jumped back and forth between books and pieced together this massive story.  It was the closest I could have come to experiencing the stories as people did when the individual issues were coming out, and for that I’m extremely grateful. It’s too good of a storyline to be separated out into single trades, and I’m so glad I was able to read everything woven together as it was.

That being said, it also means that I was finishing books at different points in time, so I was forced to decide how to order them.  As I’m writing this post, I’ve already completed the entire Infinite Crisis storyline, so I’ll be writing my posts knowing how everything turns out. That being said, I’m still only going to focus on the events of each particular trade for my posts, in the effort of doing these stories as much justice as possible.

Now without further ado, onto the first trade. Superman: Ruin Revealed builds off of the most recent Superman story on “the shelf”, focusing on Ruin and his attempts to destroy everything Superman holds dear.  As Superman tries to discern Ruin’s identity, an unlikely suspect is revealed: Pete Ross, Clark Kent’s best friend and former President of the United States.  Of course, Clark has his reservations about the truth of Pete’s guilt.

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Clark has known Pete a long time, and is sure of his innocence.  Unfortunately, just about everyone else believes Ross is guilty (after all, the evidence is pretty damning).  Determined to unearth the truth, Clark continues his search, all the while more and more people close to him are put in harm’s way.

After considering who has the knowledge and intel to attack Superman so personally, we finally learn who the mastermind is being Ruin’s mask.

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Emil Hamilton, Superman’s longtime friend and ally.  Emil seems to have jumped on the Brother Eye bandwagon, believing that Superman poses a threat to society and must be destroyed before he harms the world.  Bizarrely, Hamilton doesn’t actually know Superman’s secret identity (as was assumed) and just happened to target people that Clark Kent knew as well.  It was a bit odd, Hamilton being in the dark about so much when he seemed like such a formidable threat, but I suppose it was necessary for the story. Superman couldn’t send Emil to jail with him knowing the whole truth (and we wouldn’t want to see Zatanna use a mindwipe yet again).  Still, Ruin felt like less of a threat when we realized he didn’t know Superman’s secret identity, and some of the immediate danger dissipated when his lack of knowledge was revealed.

Superman brings down Ruin despite Hamilton’s best attempts at destroying the people Supes holds dear (having kidnapped Pete Ross, Lana Lang, and their child).  It’s an interesting trap, and I enjoyed reading Ruin’s skewed sense of justice (killing Superman is for the good of the world, but it’s okay for Ruin to kill innocent people to do so?).  Although he lost some of his gravitas once his identity was revealed, Hamilton was an interesting choice for the villain, and I liked seeing a tangential tie-in to The OMAC Project.  With more and more people seemingly scared of Superman’s power, it seems clear that change is unavoidable.  If not, the entire world could turn on Superman and his kin, fearing the damage they could do, well-intentioned or not.

-Jess

Superman: Strange Attractors

With all of the goings-on in the recent trades on “the shelf”, it’s nice to take a small step back and be able to enjoy smaller, more self-contained stories.  Superman: Strange Attractors focuses less on the aftermath of Blue Beetle and Max Lord’s deaths, and more on Superman himself, as he faces off against a series of villains.  There aren’t really any major over-arching storylines here, except for the few references to The Society, of which both Doctor Psycho and Black Adam seem to be a part of.

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Their run-in with Superman was merely a pit-stop on their way to a meeting with The Society, with little reference to the larger storyline there.

Not that that’s a bad thing. I enjoyed taking a breather from all of the heavy-handedness and being able to enjoy a few simple Superman stories for a bit.  Along with Doctor Psycho and Black Adam, Supes also faces off against Livewire and, in one of my favorite storylines from the trade, the Queen of Fables.

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Feeling remarkably reminiscent of Vertigo’s Fables series, which was well underway by the time this issue was published, I enjoyed seeing a fairytale story brought into the world of Superman.  Not only is it visually striking and different, it also allows Superman to lament how much he dislikes magic, one of his few vulnerabilities.  It was a fun and different sort of Superman story, and the moments it referenced back to fairy tales on Krypton was particularly entertaining.

Given how each story ends, it seems unlikely that this is the last we’ll see of these villains.  I’m hoping they make future appearances in a larger context, rather than simply being random appearances with no tie-in to the bigger story going on.  Gail Simone’s writing here is great, and I especially love how she writes Doctor Psycho and Lois.  Each has a clear, distinct personality, and reading about each of them was more engaging than other stories of theirs I’ve come across.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one.  The stories are really fun, but they’re also pretty straightforward.  I’m not sure if these were meant to be filler until Infinite Crisis finally hits, or if the events here will subversively tie into the larger story in an as-yet unknown way.  Whatever the case, these were really fun, solid Superman stories.  No earth-shattering status quo shifts, but plenty of action and quippy dialogue to hold my attention.

-Jess

Superman: Sacrifice

These recent comics are really stepping up their game as they lead up to Infinite Crisis, not only in terms of story content but also the way in which various titles intersect.  Superman: Sacrifice directly ties into the story begun in The OMAC Project.  More specifically, it takes place concurrently, which meant I had to put down OMAC halfway through and read this so as to read the whole story in order.  God bless Mistah J and his numerous post-it notes dictating when I’m supposed to switch back and forth between trades.  He’s nothing if not diligent in making sure I read the stories in the order in which they were intended.

Superman: Sacrifice builds upon the already unsteady world our superheroes have found themselves in.  Feeling off-kilter as of late, Superman begins to question how the world perceives him. Do they view him as a hero, or do they fear them as a potential threat to their safety?  Compounding this worry are strange visions Clark has been having, imagining that Lois is being manipulated by Brainiac or Darkseid.  After finding himself in the JLA watchtower covered in blood with no recollection of how it got there, we learn that clearly something is very wrong with Superman.

This feeling is only further cemented when it’s revealed whose blood stains his hands.

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Clark showed up at the watchtower, where Batman was working alone, and inexplicably began attacking him.  Bruce took quite a beating and was lucky to survive.  Clark, unsure what caused him to attack one of his closest friends, is met with fear and uncertainty by the rest of the JLA.  After probing Clark’s mind, J’onn J’onzz learns who has been tampering with Clark’s mind:  Maxwell Lord, the head of Checkmate and the individual responsible for Blue Beetle’s murder.

With the cat out of the bag, the JLA knows they have to track down Lord and stop him.  Unfortunately, with the help of the Brother MK I technology, Lord has been listening to the League’s entire conversation, and chooses that moment to once again take control of Clark’s mind.  Believing that Diana is Doomsday and that she has just killed Lois, Clark begins a violent attack that has no end in sight.  Their fight moves from the watchtower to Earth, and with each being so evenly matched, there seems to be no end in sight.  Diana knows that Clark won’t stop until she’s dead, and vowing to find another way, she brings the fight directly to Max Lord.

With her lasso binding him, she demands to know how to stop his mind-control over Superman.  Lord explains that there is no way to stop it, save for her to kill Lord himself.

With no preamble or pause, Diana does just that.

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In one swift move she snaps Lord’s neck, breaking the control he had over Clark and freeing Superman’s mind.

Shocking? Yes, and not without consequences.  Diana shows no remorse for what she’s done, and while she attempts to defend her actions, she soon learns that both Superman and Batman no longer view her as a friend or ally.  Having done what they all swore they would never do, Clark and Bruce ostracize Diana for crossing that line.  The wide-swept affect of her actions have yet to be felt, but no doubt there will be repercussions for this act, no matter how noble it may have been.

The rest of the comic focuses on Superman’s continued feeling of “otherness”, a sense that he is completely separate from the rest of humanity.  He even begins to question whether past events were his own doing, or actions spurred by Lord’s mind control.

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It’s unsettling to imagine Superman not being in control, and even more so when you consider that so much of his life could have been altered due to Lord’s power.  The comic creates a shaky world for the reader, leaving us unsure of how much of our heroes’ actions were true and how much were coerced by an outside force.

With that in mind, there’s a part of me that wonders how much of what I read was real.  Did Wonder Woman really kill Max Lord, or was this all part of his plan to tear apart the JLA and create a sense of uncertainly and fear in the public eye?  Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part because I don’t want to believe that Diana is so flippant about murder, but it seems unlikely that Max Lord would be taken out so quickly in the story. I could be wrong, but he seemed like a pretty key player, and to eliminate him at this point felt off.  Then again, all of these issues lately have felt a bit off, so who knows what’s right or wrong?  What I do know is that I’m extremely interested to see how it all plays out, so while the storyline might be throwing me for a loop, it’s also so compelling that I can’t help but hold on for dear life just to see where it all goes.

-Jess