Action Comics #866 (August, 2008)
“Brainiac, Part 1: First Contact”
Writer – Geoff Johns
Penciller – Gary Frank
Inker – Jon Sibal
Letterer – Rob Leigh
Colorist – Brad Anderson
Associate Editor – Nachie Castro
Editor – Matt Idelson
Cover Price: $2.99
Here’s a question… how can a comic be really good, and totally maddening at the same time?
Well… to answer that, we’re going to have to investigate the era of Superman that I refer to as “The Nebulous Interim”. This is the period of time between Infinite Crisis (2005-2006) and Superman: Secret Origin (2009-2010). A period of time responsible for some really great Superman stories… however, one in which nobody seemed to know what was going on!
It seemed we were constantly promised that a definitive origin was “on it’s way”… while being almost condescendingly patted on the head and told not to worry about it.
Now this isn’t the first time we’re covering a book from this era… but for some reason, the Brainiac arc, to me… “personifies” everything about it.
Without further vamping… let’s get to it!
We open on Krypton (35 years ago)… and we find ourselves in the middle of an invasion! Looks like Brainiac has found his latest city to bottle up. General Zod, Ursa, and the rest are powerless to stop him from “doming” Kandor… and taking it away. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be seeing this for “the first time”… remember, we’re still in that weird interim between Infinite Crisis and Superman: Secret Origin… where things are just sorta thrown out there.
That takes us to the present day, where Perry White has assembled his Daily Planet Dream Team… which includes a returning Cat Grant… and the “brand-new” Steve Lombard? I know what you’re thinking… we already knew Lombard. Well, yeah… but we’re in Superman’s “nebulous era”. Some things stuck… others didn’t. Though, to be fair… I don’t think we’ve seen much of Steve since the original Crisis. Anyhoo, he’s an ass… and Clark causes him to trip out of his chair.
Cat has been reimagined as something of a… cougar? Is that what we call her? She pushes her newly-enhanced chest into Clark’s face, and when he doesn’t respond, she suggests he’s from “another planet”… wonk wonk wonkkkk. Worth mentioning, they do mention that her son had been killed earlier on… so, I guess that’s some continuity we’ll be holding onto.
Lois and Clark con-fab after the meeting, but Clark is hears that there might be trouble heading their way, and “supes up”. I’ve given Gary Frank a lot of guff over his Superman drawing style, but here’s a really nice page:
We shift scenes to Smallville, where Jonathan Kent is “mendin’ fence”. He’s being stubborn and not waiting for the weekend when Clark can help him. Ya think they might be telegraphing something with this scene? Nahh…
Elsewhere, Superman catches up to the incoming “asteroid”… and is surprised to see that it’s not an asteroid at all, but instead… Brainiac! The brainy-bot attacks Superman with a… needle-on-the-end-of-a-tube… “pok”ing him in the head.
The battle ends abruptly… Brainiac scans Superman’s Kryptonian blood… confirms that it is, in fact Kryptonian… then collapses.
We shift space-ward, and board Brainiac’s skull ship. Inside we see (a fleshy) Brainiac attached to dozens (maybe hundreds) of wires… each attached to a stolen “domed” city.
We zoom in on Brainiac himself… who we learn has been attempting to locate a Kryptonian for quite some time now.
If you can ignore some of the nebulous continuity, this was a really good opening chapter.
Let’s talk about that nebulous continuity though. I’m getting the impression that this was supposed to be the first time “we” saw the taking of Kandor… otherwise, why re-tell a tale already so ingrained in Superman lore? I mean, who doesn’t call it “The Bottle City of Kandor”? To simply call it “Kandor” almost seems wrong! Superman clearly recognized Brainiac when they faced off… so, it’s not like we’re passing him off as an entirely new concept. I dunno… this whole era was kind of maddening in that way.
Then we have the Daily Planet Dream Team. Cat Grant, returning from a stint on the West Coast… and looking kinda rough. Clark’s back to referring to her as “Ms. Grant”, which seems weird considering what a large role she played during the Death-and-Return era. But then again, Clark has reverted into “goober” form at this point anyway.
Steve Lombard gets an introduction… and is treated like a brand-new character. Not sure why this bugs me so much… it wouldn’t be so hard to suggest that he also went “off campus” for a time. Especially when just a little while later, Secret Origin will establish that he’s been at The Planet longer than Clark anyway!
Worth mentioning the Ron Troupe is also present and accounted for… though, if you blink you’d miss him. No mention of where he came from, all we know is that he hates Steve Lombard… and “ignorance”. I guess it might’ve seemed forced if they mentioned that he filled in for Clark while he was “dead”… so, I can’t get too mad at it.
The Smallville scene, brief as it was… is pretty important for what’s to come. Without giving it all away, not that it isn’t common knowledge, things change after this arc. This really is a “nothing will ever be the same again” sorta thing.
The Brainiac fight… gives us a bit of action, and introduces the mystery of just what Brainiac wants. Again, we’re in that nebulous “in between”, so it isn’t clear what has or hasn’t already been established.
Gary Frank provides the art… and he’s in top form! Hardly a sunken-in cheek or eye to be seen, except where they ought to be (lookin’ at you, Ms. Grant). This is before he went “full-Reeve” on his Superman model as well… which is a good thing.
Overall… this is an odd one to recommend. No matter how good the story is, there’s a part of me that just can’t get “comfortable” in this… lemme say it again… nebulous interim. I feel kinda like I’m flailing… and it also feels like the creators have far too much, I dunno, “freedom” with how things are handled. When you take continuity out of the equation, it’s hard to feel like there’s anything really “at stake”, ya know?
Speaking of nebulous… I still haven’t the foggiest idea what the SIGHTINGS banner is all about. I feel like I’ve got dozens of books in the library with that banner, and still don’t know what it’s all about!
Now, don’t get me wrong… this was a fine issue, and I enjoyed my time with it. If you were a brand-new reader (who came on post-Infinite Crisis, perhaps), I’d bet that you loved this! If you’re a seasoned reader, maybe you were a bit confused. If you were a lapsed-reader…. fuhgeddaboudit!
Overall though… I think there’s plenty to dig here regardless of your Superman “pedigree”, just go in with the understanding that certain things just aren’t going to make sense… or might even contradict previously established lore. So, if pressed, I guess I’d fall on the side of “recommended”. This story has been collected in trade, and is available digitally.