Comic Book Review: Action Comics #870

Johns continues to impress me with his excellent work on Action Comics. Johns is one of the better world builders in the industry. And Johns is certainly doing a fine job updating Superman’s continuity by mixing in more of Superman’s pre-Crisis history. I am sure that Action Comics #870 will be another well crafted read. Let’s do ahead and hit this review.

Creative Team
Writers: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Gary Frank
Inks: Jon Sibal & Bit

Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Brainiac stating how Superman led him to Earth. Brainiac says that now that he has Metropolis in a bottle that he will go ahead and destroy Earth. After all, Brainiac refuses to share any of the knowledge that he collects by capturing the various cities from across the universe.

Brainiac continues that he thought that Superman was an intelligent creature. A man born of many worlds just like Brainiac. Brainiac then states that he was wrong about Superman. That Superman is a threat to no one. That Superman has dedicated his life protecting a planet that has offered Superman nothing.

Brainiac continues that Earth lacks Krypton’s science and that Earth’s weapons are primitive even compared to barbaric Rimbor. Brainiac states that Earth is devoid of any quantifiable value.

We cut to Ma and Pa Kent looking at the brewing thunder storm. Jonathon Kent states that their boy must be in the middle of this storm. We slide back to Brainiac concluding that Earth is not necessary to his continued evolution. That Earth’s culture is useless.

We see Lois still on the roof of the Daily Planet’s building. Lois sees Superman trapped in Brainiac’s bio-pod. Lois screams out that if this is the end then she wants Clark to know how much she loves him. Superman’s super hearing picks up Lois’s tender statement of love.

Brainiac stands in front of Superman and asks what this vacuous world could possibly provide to Superman. Superman, clearly inspired by his love for Lois and his family and friends on Earth, grits his teeth and powers up and breaks free from Brainiac’s bio-pod. Superman goes to punch Brainiac, but Brainiac catches Superman’s punch.

Brainiac says that Earth has robbed Superman of his potential. That Superman is far from being a Kryptonian. That Superman is nothing more than a simple brute. Superman answers back “When I need to be.” Superman then proceeds to beat the crap out of Brainiac.

Superman then grabs the bottled cities of Kandor and Metropolis. Superman then calls out to the rest of the bottled cities that he shall return and free them as well. We cut to two Brainiac robots strapping Supergirl down to an operating table. Suddenly, Superman blasts the two robots to pieces with his heat vision.

We hear Brainiac calling out to Superman stating that Superman’s physical attacks are futile. Brainiac states that he is control here. Supergirl is scared of Brainiac. Superman tells Supergirl that she must go intercept and destroy the weapon that Brainiac fired at the sun or else Earth will perish. Supergirl replies that she is not fast enough. That she cannot do it. That she is scared.

Superman replies that Supergirl can do it. Superman then adds that it is okay to be scared. Supergirl’s expression of fear then hardens into an expression of determination and resolve. Supergirl then blasts off toward the sun.

Brainiac appears on the scene and says that Supergirl’s actions are futile. That Supergirl will be incinerated along with the Earth. Superman responds “We’ll see.” Brainiac shoots back “No. I will see. You will die—-Earthman.” Brainiac adds that he controls life.

Superman responds that life cannot be controlled or bottled. That with all this knowledge that Brainiac still knows nothing about life. Superman says that Brainiac’s ship is not life. That this ship is Brainiac’s bottle. Superman then blasts a hole in Brainiac’s ship and blasts Brainiac out of the ship. Brainiac falls to the ground and lands in a pond in a swampy area.

Brainiac stands up and screams for everything to get away from him and to get off him. We see all the bacteria from the natural surroundings all over Brainiac. Superman states that Brainiac cannot face things that he cannot control. Superman says “Welcome to Earth, Brainiac” and plows Brainiac into the ground.

Brainiac sputters that Superman cannot remove the bottled cities from his bio-sphere. That their containment fields will not hold. We see the two bottled cities in Superman’s hands beginning to crackle and glow with energy. Superman says “Thanks for the tip” and flies off.

Brainiac begins to stand up and mutters that he downloaded where Superman’s true home is. Brainiac says that as Superman took Brainiac’s home now Brainiac will take Superman’s home. We see a missile being fired from Brainiac’s ship.

We cut to Superman placing the bottled city of Metropolis in the middle of the crater left behind after the city was stolen by Brainiac. Superman then flies off with the bottled city of Kandor. We shift to Supergirl still racing after Brainiac’s missile that is heading to the sun.

We slide back to Smallville where Jonathon and Martha Kent are standing outside of their house. We see Brainiac’s missile streaking toward their house. We cut to Superman flying to what appears to be the Arctic. We cut back to Jonathon Kent diving and rescuing Martha from the missile as it whizzes past her and blows up their home.

We cut to Supergirl catching up to Brainiac’s missile and grabbing it and throwing it away from the sun. We shift to Superman arriving next to the Fortress of Solitude. We hop back to Jonathon holding Martha as they walk away from their burning home.

We then cut back to Supergirl watching the missile explode harmlessly far away from the sun. We shift to the bottled city of Kandor suddenly erupting in a massive energy spike and Superman falls to the snowy ground. We cut to Brainiac either dead or unconscious in the swamp.

We slide back to Jonathon telling Martha that everything is going to be all right. We cut back to Superman watching the energy erupting from Kandor getting larger and larger. We hop back to Jonathon clutching his chest and having a heart attack.

Martha screams out “Clark!” We cut back to Superman mesmerized by the energy crackling from Kandor as the ground shifts and changes. We hop back to Martha screaming “Clark!”

We cut back to Superman standing there and seeing the city of Kandor fully restored. Superman is stunned and amazed seeing a real-life Kryptonian city. We hop back to Martha screaming “Jonathon!”

We cut back to Superman finally hearing his mom. Superman says “Pa?” Superman then streaks off flying as fast as he can.

We cut to Superman landing outside of his parents’ house. Martha is holding Jonathon’s body. Martha is crying. Superman exclaims “Pa!” Superman then kneels down beside his mother and grieves. End of issue.

Comments
The Good: Action Comics #870 is another technically sound and sharply crafted issue by Johns. This issue moves along at the prefect pace as Johns begins with a steady pace before Superman breaks loose of the bio-pod. At that point the story shifts into a frenzied pace that crackles with kinetic energy. This issue had a pleasant flow that made it enjoyable to read.

Action Comics #870 was well plotted. And that should be no surprise considering that Johns’ greatest strength is his ability to craft complex plotlines that unfold in an organic fashion. This story arc has stayed on track as Johns has kept his focus by delivering a tightly plotted story.

Johns treats the reader to tons of quality action scenes in this issue. I loved the scene where Superman is inspired by his love for his family and friends on Earth which lets him “Hulk up” and proceed to kick some serious ass on Brainiac. Superman has taken a beating so far in this story arc so naturally the reader is excited to finally see Big Blue dish out some punishment.

I liked the neat twist with how Johns has Superman defeat Brainiac. I have to say that I am inclined to believe that a character as intelligent and powerful as Brainiac would have some type of immune system defenses against alien bacteria. Having said that, it was a cool concept to have the germs and bacteria born from real life take down Brainiac who has kept himself sealed up in his bio-pod for all these years.

Johns pulls off plenty of fine character work. Johns continues to do a nice job handling Supergirl. I will probably never be a fan of Supergirl. It just is not in my DNA. However, Johns is pretty much the only writer who has gotten me to not actively hate Supergirl’s character. I loved the scene where Supergirl swallows her fear and displays the grit and determination of a true hero.

I enjoyed how Johns played with the similarities and contrasts between Brainiac and Superman. Both characters are the product of more than one world. However, Brainiac has never forgotten his roots and clearly views himself as Coluan and superior to every other species in the universe.

On the other hand, Superman has embraced Earth culture just as much as he has his Kryptonian culture. While Brainiac represents the traditional view that aliens have of a backwater planet like Erath, Superman does not. Brainiac views Earth culture as empty and useless while Superman sees the good in Earth’s culture.

And this leads me to the next theme that Johns plays with which deals with the duality of Superman’s character. Johns answers the question as to how does Superman view himself: Kryptonian or Earthling? To be sure, Superman understands that he is a Kryptonian and has great admiration and love for his home world and root culture. Still, in the end Superman is a man. An Earthman. That is how Superman acts and reacts. That is how Superman views himself and it shapes his view of life and the universe around him.

Johns does an excellent job re-enforcing the fact that Superman is who he is not because of his incredible Kryptonian powers, but because of his human parents and the wonderful upbringing they gave him. Johns hammers the point home by having Brainiac call Superman an Earthman. And Brainiac is correct. Superman, despite his biology, is indeed an Earthman.

Superman is not a super-powered alien who represents everything that Earthlings are not. Superman does not represent everything that Krypton is and that Earth is not. Instead, Superman represents everything that Earthlings can be. Superman embodies all the positive aspects of mankind. Superman is more human than many indigenous Earthlings and that is what makes him the source of inspiration that he is. It is not his Kryptonian powers. It is how Superman has fully embraced Earth and its people and culture.

The final nine pages were spectacular. Johns does an impressive job handling the cutting back and forth between the various scenes. This was a strongly plotted portion of the issue and was meticulously laid out. The quick and sharp scene cuts create incredible tension and excitement in the reader and help to increase the intensity of this already powerful ending.

I am curious to see what Johns does with the City of Kandor. The restoration of the City of Kandor on Earth has to be a very short lived story. There is no way DC allows an entire city of Superman powered Kryptonians to roam around New Earth. That would make Superman much less unique. But, it certainly has plenty of potential to be a rather interesting plot for Johns to investigate.

Brainiac deciding to rob Superman of his home after Superman robbed Brainiac of his home was logical. Jonathon then having a heart attack after saving Martha was also logical. I may not have liked it for other reasons, but Johns did a fine job making sure Jonathon’s death was not forced or random at all. The death worked well within the context of the story.

The ending was fantastic. It was incredibly emotional and touching. The reader has to have a heart of stone to not feel a tinge of sadness when we reach the final page of this issue. Johns creates an ending that has a massive impact on the reader.

Johns wisely eschews having much dialogue at all in the final four pages. Instead Johns relies on the moment itself and Frank’s powerful art to tell the story. The final splash page simply wrenches the reader’s heart and has more impact than any narrative or dialogue could possibly have.

Frank and Sibal deliver some incredible artwork. Frank’s work on Action Comics has been simply fantastic. Frank is equally as adept at drawing furious action scenes as he is dramatic poignant scenes. Frank is able to bring to life each character and pour so much emotion into each facial expression. Frank brings Johns’ story to life like few other artists could. Frank’s emotional and detailed artwork is just as responsible for the power and weight of this ending as Johns’ writing is.

The Bad: The death of Jonathon Kent just did not work for me. I know that pre-Crisis Superman lost both Ma and Pa Kent when he was still Superboy. I think they died from some rare tropical disease or something that Superboy failed to save them from.

At any rate, the fact is that I do not see this move by Johns as trying to re-instate more of the Pre-Crisis Superman mythos. If that was the case then both Ma and Pa Kent would have died together once again and left Superman alone with no parents. Instead, this move by Johns seems like yet another effort to make Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie official cannon rather than Superman’s comic book continuity.

We already have Frank drawing all of the characters in Action Comics exactly like the actors from the 1978 Superman movie. The Fortress of Solitude that Johns gives us is not the Pre-Crisis version. Instead, it is the version of the Fortress of Solitude from the 1978 Superman movie. The general personalities of all the supporting cast as well as Lois and Clark perfectly mimic the personalities of characters as they were presented in Donner’s 1978 Superman movie. This move by Johns to kill off Pa Kent also tracks the 1978 Superman movie where Jonathon Kent died of a heart attack.

I know that Johns used to work for Richard Donner and clearly thinks the world of him. And I know that Johns views the 1978 Superman movie as the definitive interpretation of Superman. And I know that Johns views Christopher Reeves as the iconic version of Superman. And that is great. I do to.

Richard Donner is a fantastic movie director. And Donner’s 1978 Superman movie is one of my all-time favorite comic book movies. And, yes, for me Christopher Reeves IS Superman.

However, the fact remains that a huge percentage of current comic book readers were not alive when Donner’s Superman movie was released and a huge percentage of comic book readers have never seen Donner’s Superman movie. And a good percentage of current readers do not view Christopher Reeves as THE definitive version of Superman.

By aping the 1978 Superman movie so much. Johns runs the risk of alienating a good number of comic book readers. Also, it is becoming painfully obvious that Johns does indeed view the 1978 Superman movie as cannon. That the 1978 Superman movie is just an important part of Superman’s continuity as any back-issue from the 1960’s or 1970’s. It is obvious that the 1978 Superman movie is a substantial source material for Johns.

I strongly dislike using a movie as a source material for a comic book. The Superman comic books should stand independently from the movies. By using the 1978 Superman movie look and feel, Johns is taking away the timeless and iconic nature of Superman.

Another problem that I have with Johns killing off Pa Kent is that it takes away part of what made Superman so special and unique. Almost every single super hero either has lost either both their parents or one of their parents. And the few super heroes who still have both parents generally have horrible parents. Superman was the exception.

Superman still had both his parents and they were fantastic, loving and wonderful parents. What a breathe of fresh air in comic books today. That was such a rarity. And the fact that Clark had such a strong bond with his parents added to Superman being the embodiment of love, hope, truth and justice.

It is part of what made Superman such a positive character in a comic book world full of hate, death, misery, tragedy and trauma. Superman already has suffered loss in that of his original parents and his home planet. That is enough for one character.

If Johns thinks that all super heroes must have some sort of “trauma” in order to give them the “proper” gravitas then losing your biological parents and your entire home world should be more than enough to accomplish that job. I think that Superman deserved to at least have his adoptive parents alive and well.

Another aspect that I disliked with Jonathon Kent’s death is that it adds an unnecessary layer of angst and guilt on Superman’s character. Now we get to see a Superman who will be wracked with guilt over the fact that he did not hear his mother soon enough for him to race onto the scene and save his father. This is something that we get more than enough of on just about every other single title currently being published. I do not need it also on Superman’s titles.

Again, part of what made Superman so special and unique is that he did not have this seemingly requisite guilt and angst that writers are possessed with saddling on every single comic book hero. I have Batman to read if I need to sample a hero who is angry over his parents’ deaths. I have Spider-Man if I need to sample a hero who is feeling overwhelmed with guilt over causing his Uncles’ death which ultimately fuels his belief that with great power comes great responsibility. I do not need this also on Superman.

Jonathon’s death also fails to serve any other purpose other than cheap “shock” value. Superman is already a grown and experienced hero. This is not a fledgling super-hero like Peter Parker was who used Uncle Ben’s death as his motivation and inspiration to be a super hero. This is not a young boy in Bruce Wayne who uses his anger and loss to fuel his commitment to his war on urban crime in Gotham.

Superman already has the proper motivation and outlook on life. Superman already knows right from wrong. Superman already has a strong moral compass and a keen sense for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

The death of Jonathon Kent does nothing to grow Superman’s character or somehow make him a better hero or to get him to reassess how he operated as a hero prior to Pa Kent’s death. No, all Jonathon Kent’s death can do is to “shock” the reader and then serve as a source of the same predictable, unoriginal and ever-present guilt and angst that we get on almost every other comic book on the market.

I know that Johns believes that by killing off Jonathon Kent that he is moving Superman closer to the iconic version of Superman that we knew prior to the 1986 Crisis retconning of Superman. While iconic is great, what this move by Johns will ultimately do is make Superman less connected to his humanity. And Superman needs all of the connections he can get.

Overall: I refused to dock my grade for Action Comics #870 due to my personal bias against Johns killing Jonathon Kent. The fact is that regardless if I found Pa Kent’s death to be a wise move or not, the fact remains that Action Comics #870 was a technically sound issue. Johns crafts a fine read that offers the reader an excellent blend of action, and drama. Action Comics #870 is a powerful and emotional read that is sure to have an impact on the reader.

5 Comments

  1. ‘The death of Jonathon Kent does nothing to grow Superman’s character or somehow make him a better hero or to get him to reassess how he operated as a hero prior to Pa Kent’s death.’
    I’m not sure if I agree with you on this one Rokk. JK’s death will have its adverse effects on Superman’s character, and I trust that Johns will portray this fact in the best way possible. JK dies at the end of the issue; therefore, we cannot pass judgment yet. Let’s wait for the next issue and see how Johns handles the repercussions for Superman there.

    ‘I strongly dislike using a movie as a source material for a comic book. The Superman comic books should stand independently from the movies.’
    Not always. Both Jimmy Olsen and kryptonite never originated from comics but the 1940’s ‘The Adventures of Superman’ radio show. And now both are very important elements in Superman’s comic book mythos. Its not about sourcing material from movies, TV shows or games. Its about incorporating great ideas someone came up with. Ideas which could be better than what was originally published in the comics. I absolutely love the idea of a crystalline Fortress that houses a wealth of information of krypton and messages from Jor El. It truly makes it Superman’s home away from home (Smallville).

    ‘By aping the 1978 Superman movie so much. Johns runs the risk of alienating a good number of comic book readers.’
    To tell you the truth, I don’t think there is anyone who can say that they never saw the 1978 Superman movie. Even though they may now realize how iconic a Christopher Reeves Superman may be or state that: “CHRISTOPHER REEVES IS THE SUPERMAN”, they could welcome a good idea of how Superman should be interpreted. It doesn’t matter if this idea was invented years before they were born.

    Beyond that I loved the review. Very insightful.

  2. I think Pa Kent’s death has more significance if it happens in Clark’s childhood rather than as a full-grown Superman. By now, he’s already learned his powers can’t save everyone – which is the primary reason for the Kents’ death anyway back in the Silver Age.

    That said, I still think the Byrne reboot gave Superman too much of a great life: super-powers, Clark Kent both macho and successful, loving family: nothing to really relate to there for the common joe.

  3. Even if done well, I see no need to kill off Pa Kent, but then, we all know what is looming on the horizon: Black Lanterns. 🙂

    I see no reason not to incorporate good ideas from another medium, whether it is a movie, tv show, or whatever. But I do specify “good” ideas. The Donner movie was fun, but even having that around as I grew up does not make Reeves my idea of what Superman should be. (I liked him better in “Deathtrap,” actually)(Reeves, not Superman).

    I’m kind of worried about how far DC, and Johns in particular, intend to go with bringing back an earlier version of Superman and the DCU. Will Final Crisis end with the last fifteen years of comics undone? I think a lot of DC’s talent would consider that a happy ending. As long as they can rewrite the past to include more loss of body parts.

    Yep, getting cynical with my old age.

  4. I dislike the idea of Richard Donner’s Superman becoming THE Superman, as I’m a fan of Superman as the concept is currently understood (and best shown by Morrison’s ALL-STAR series), but I get the commercial reasons why: you want a property identifiable by the population at large, rather than just comic book readers.

    And to be fair, the Christ-of-Comicdom version of Superman is far less easy to tell stories about than Donner’s younger, more mortal, and inexperienced version.

  5. ..

    It just seems like an odd re-telling, if you will, of what we JUST finished reading in All-Star Superman.

    If I’m not mistaken, ASS (hehe) bookends with DC One Million and the “old” (early late 1990s-early 2000s) DCU.

    It’s esentially the same plot point, the same beat, but a different “cause”. I personally liked the time-beast angle with future Supermen rather than the somewhat unintelligent (so it seems from this issue) Braniac.

    Perhaps it’s a trap for Superman to regrow the city. THAT might be an interesting twist.

    I’ll keep reading. Supes books are pretty much the only mainline DC book I can handle at the moment.

    ..

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