This issue begins with a flashback to Krypton, showing us the day Kandor became a bottle city. It’s a new spin on the traditional Silver Age telling of the tale – rather than being simply zapped, shrunk and bottled, Kandorians are attacked by killer robots, soldiers Zod and Ursa try to protect the populace and a forcefield grows to form the bottle. It’s an inpressive, shocking vignette – for me, this is the first time Brainiac has come across as frightening. The first page alone, with a robotic finger skewering a citizen, is horrific – I would say too horrific for an all-ages comic, but I’m getting used to such violence in Geoff Johns’ scripts. He doesn’t half like a bit of gore.
Present day Earth, and Perry White has called a Daily Planet staff meeting consisting of six people. Good grief – I work in newspapers, and people are being let go as profit margins are squeezed, but six staffers to turn out a great metropolitan newspaper? Let’s be generous and assume Perry is seeing people in small groups, as he introduces returning gossip queen Cat Grant and new sports editor Steve Lombard to Clark, Lois and Ron Troupe. That’s one Bronze Age character and the post-Crisis version of a Bronze Age character (hands up who’s old enough to remember Rona Barrett – sorry, Lola Barnett?) in a story that’s a homage to the Silver Age.
(And it looks like there’s a revamp of a Bronze Age story coming up, as Jimmy is investigating ‘the City Under Metropolis’. Was there a single reader who didn’t immediately think, oh yes, Action Comics 412, May 1972, ‘Secret of the First Metropolis’? Errrrr . . .)
It’s an interesting mix, and indicative of the Superman books’ fast and loose approach to continuity, which was muddied by Mark Waid’s Birthright mini, further obscured by the Futuresmiths (don’t ask, just be thankful they erased the heinous Cir-El) and completely scunnered by Infinite Crisis. No one has had any idea what’s in and what’s out for years now. Me, I’d be happy just to know if Clark was a vegetarian or a fan or Boeuf Bourguignon.
My best guess is that the start of Geoff Johns’ Action run counts as Year Zero and everything old is new again – except when it’s old, as in Clark and Lois referencing their post-Crisis on Infinite Earths courtship. And young Pa Kent is old again – I guess DC think people are now forgetting Jon Schneider’s hunky Pa from the telly. Superman seems to know Brainiac (he’s met a version or two post-Crisis on Infinite Earths), yet this issue is titled First Contact.
Oh well, here’s Superman tackling a Brainiac drone apparently out to get a sample of his DNA for some evil cloning experiments (please God, no more Bizarros). The drones and Brainiac’s ship echo the immediately pre-Crisis Brainiac-ware of Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane, though far more fearsome. And we see inside the ship, into a room with dozens of bottle cities connected to an apparently new version of Brainiac. This guy’s in some kind of sleep state, his state seemingly connected to that of the cities.
Meanwhile, in Smallville, a neat sequence involving Ma and Pa Kent’s cockerel weathervane apparently registers a passing invisible superperson (oh, would that it were Matrix-Supergirl, returning to continuity and her old friends the Kents), but Pa doesn’t notice his cockerel as he can’t wait to get his hands on Ma Kent’s pancakes. Yum.
Geoff Johns provides another sharp acript, presenting likeable protaganists and dastardly baddies. And penciller Gary Frank and inker Jon Sibal provide their best art job yet, and they were pretty good to begin with. Whether they’re drawing Kryptonians, the Planet cast, robots or farmers; whether we’re in Kandor, Metropolis, Met County forests or Kansas . . . everything looks real. I’m not a big one for extra splash pages, but a shot of Clark becoming Superman is a full page worth the space, while the spread showing Brainiac’s chamber of cities is stunning. This scene is echoed on the cover by Frank and colourist Brad Anderson (who provides a masterclass in comics colouring inside) and the logo fair pops, with the red and yellow contrasting nicely with the spooky greens – and is that a thicker than usual drop shadow? It looks superb.
There’s an extra cover element, Dan Didio’s Sightings banner, which means this issue will be important to DC continuity. Mind, given DC continuity these days, I wouldn’t set much store by that – just buy this issue for itself.
After the long delays of the issues involving Adam Kubert and Richard Donner, an Action Comics of this quality on a monthly basis is a delight.