Book of Doom: Action Comics #870

I’d had the ending of this ruined for me by The Comics Reporter in an 8:10 a.m. no-mention-of-spoilers post announcing that Pa Kent died. I’m sure there are plenty of excuses and justifications for why TCP doesn’t or shouldn’t need spoiler warnings, but the simple fact of it is that I was unable to read this issue without knowing the outcome, and so my perspective was tainted as such.

So we begin this issue with Brainiac having stolen Metropolis, thus ending his need for Earth. The sun-killing missile (not unlike the one we now know he used to destroy Krypton’s sun) was on its way to end life as we know it in this solar system. I just realized this, but are there no other life forms in our solar system in the DC universe? Because Brainiac’s disposal of Earth by way of destroying the sun either means 1) there is no other life in DC’s version of our solar system or 2) Brainiac already swiped it. I’m not sure DC would really want to commit to either.

I also don’t really understand how Superman was able to get the cities out of their respective bottles. Brainiac tells Superman that he cannot remove the cities from the bio-shell — their containment fields will not hold. So what does Superman do? He puts Metropolis down in the big crater and then it comes back. So … didn’t that mean that the city was just successfully removed from its bio-shell? Same with Kandor at the Fortress of Solitude. I don’t really get what the point was of having Brainiac utter that.

Back to the ending I knew was coming, I thought it was going to be kind of cool if Pa Kent died saving Martha from Brainiac’s missile. While one super-powered man was risking his life to save the ones he loved, so too was a powerless man. I was more than a little puzzled and let down by the decision to have Jonathan save Martha from the explosion, but then drop dead from a heart attack. It’s like it should’ve had a Wah-wah-waaaaaaaah playing after it.

The Kents originally dying in Clark’s youth made more sense, character wise, because that way Superman learns fairly early on about the frailty of humanity in his adopted home. Killing them off at this point just seems to be symptomatic of the “When I was twelve” phenomenon, as it superficially reflects an earlier version of continuity without the underlying motivation.

All this griping aside, there was something I really liked about this issue, and that was Johns’ portrayal of love and fear as opposing forces. Love is the unspoken answer to Brainiac’s question of “What could this vacuous world possibly provide you?” that awakens Superman and leads to that awesome “You are a simple brute” — “When I need to be” moment.

And fear drives Brainiac’s carefully constructed world of superiority. As Superman points out in the swamp, Brainiac can’t face things he can’t control. It’s in fantasy battles like these that Johns gives a reminder of how these superhero / supervillain constructs are still accessible metaphors for people and situations we encounter every day. Everyone knows an arrogant, anal control freak; it’s a tiny victory for everyone when Brainiac gets stomped in the mud.

There were little things that bothered me in this issue, but the big-picture stuff was very good.

Doom DeLuise:
Doom DeLuise’s Capsule Review of Action Comics #870: Damned fantastic.

The conclusion to the Braniac story strikes me upon first read as maybe even better than the conclusion to the previous story-arc involving the Legion of Superheroes, and, believe me, I thought that was one of the best stories I’ve read this year.

The way that Superman inspires his cousin is probably my favorite part of the issue, as it feels like they’re finally making Supergirl into something more than what she’s been prior to this. I also really enjoyed the character of Brainiac himself, as it seems they’re finally succeeding in creating a stronger “Rogue’s Gallery,” of sorts, for Superman. Lex Luthor’s a great villain, sure, but Superman needs a few other threats to really shine as a character.

Much has been said about the ending of this issue, with the victory being bittersweet. I think it’s a truly touching moment, and I’m looking forward to how the Man of Steel copes with Pa Kent’s death.

As for the “resurrection” of Kandor, well, shoot. The possibilities for new stories to tell from that are near limitless.

I’m very excited to see what comes next in Action Comics. On the other hand, I’ve dropped the regular Superman title, and I couldn’t care less what happens in that.

Fin Fang Doom:
I can’t say I’m too excited about this “New Krypton” mega-arc that’s going to be running in Action Comics, Superman and Supergirl over the next couple of months. In fact, I’m probably just going to stop buying Action during those months since I wouldn’t normally buy either of the other titles. But Geoff Johns and Gary Frank have been doing a tremendous job on Action Comics for the year or so they’ve been working together, and this week’s issue was no exception.

There’s very little I didn’t enjoy about this issue. Superman using his brute strength to escape Brainiac’s restraints was the first of many “Holy S#!+!” moments in the issue. Then when brute strength wasn’t enough, he used his wits to outsmart Braniac. Let me repeat: Superman outsmarted Brainiac! First he uses Brainiac’s leverage against him to deliver a mean uppercut, and then he exploits the villain’s solitary existence by exposing him to the common germs one would encounter on Earth. Someone has read War of the Worlds.

But the real highlights of the issue were the moments where Superman wasn’t punching his way out of a tight situation, but when he was displaying the feelings he has for those who are important to him. His love for Lois that gave him the strength he needed to break free. His love for Supergirl that gave her the confidence to push herself and do what she didn’t think she was capable. His love for Krypton that was etched on his face as Kandor grew to full size. And his love for his father that was even more clearly etched on his face when he realized he couldn’t save him.

I was actually surprised at how much Pa Kent’s death affected me. As Newsarama has pointed out this week, this isn’t the first time Pa Kent has died. In fact, I’ve often made jokes on Doomkopf about how I forget that he isn’t dead. But something about the way he died, not due to the actions of some evil supervillain but because of a simple heart attack, seemed so tragic and yet so perfect at the same time. The sudden and natural circumstances of his death remind me a lot of the way Joyce Summers died on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I probably don’t have to remind long-time readers of how much Buffy has affected me (just ask Jim or DeLuise…they’ll never let me live that one down).

Superman suffers seeming defeat at the hands of a super-strong alien but turns the tide and wins the day…not exactly an original idea for a story starring the Man of Steel. But Johns and Frank managed to turn that simple equation into a great story. It’s a shame that it’ll be several months before I’ll be able to pick up another story by those two.

Join us tomorrow for the Book of Doom review of Green Lantern #35.