Action Comics #23.1 by Michael Alan Nelson (Comics Review)

As I mentioned in my review of Supergirl #21-23 a week back, I had a lot of fun getting back into the title with the creative change of writer Michael Alan Nelson and artist Diogenes Neves. Up until then (actually till about #19), the series had been plodding along, going from one boring story arc to another, and I had lost faith in the title almost completely. So much so in fact that I had taken a 10-month break in between.

With Michael and Diogenes coming in however, the title gained a new life and I’m finally really excited about reading this book. However, in Villain’s Month, Supergirl has not been trusted with an issue of its own, which is rather sad since there is a distinct lack of female creators and female heroes being featured during this time. And with Cyborg-Superman being put forward as a distinctively Supergirl villain, it is odd to see his Villain’s Month issue being main-titled under the Action Comics banner. DC marketing clearly has a loose hold on how best to put forward all their titles.

Either way, I was really excited for this issue, given how Supergirl #23 ended, and because I’ve come to really like Michael’s work. Of course, I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting him in person and discussing his plans for Supergirl, so cue more excitement. I had no idea at the time that he was going to be moving forward with this title like this, so I’m quite elated to see where he goes next.

Note: This review contains major spoilers for Supergirl #23 (primarily the ending).

Action Comics 23.1As we saw at the end of Supergirl #23 the New 52 version of Cyborg-Superman is revealed to be Zor-El, the father of Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El, and thus uncle to Superman aka Kal-El. It was a really torturous cliffhanger panel, given what had just happened, and Michael set the stage for a really emotionally-driven follow-up story in Supergirl #24 and beyond, hopefully. With this issue, Michael takes a step back in time and gives us the origins of this new version of Cyborg-Superman.

What we get here is a sibling rivalry between Jor-El and Zor-El, at a time when Krypton is tearing itself apart and the planet is on the verge of destroying itself. This sibling rivalry has been one of the most fascinating things about the House of El. We’ve seen it in various mediums before, and is a reflection of the relationship between Superman and Supergirl as we’ve seen it over the years. Most recently, when I listened to the audiobook of Kevin J. Anderson’s quite fantastic The Last Days of Krypton (review), I got to see this sibling rivalry in detail and it was one of my favourite plot points of the story.

With Michael, we see a slightly different version of that same, and it is just as entertaining in a tragic sort of way. The brothers can’t agree on how to save the planet and they chose different methods, with Jor-El resigned to saving his son by sending him to Earth, while Zor-El thinks to shield the city of Argo, his home-city, entirely and protect it that way. But none of it is enough, for the destruction of Krypton continues apace and Zor-El’s story gets tragic by the panel. We see him fall further and further down into his ego-induced belief that he can save Krypton and that no cost is too high.

At the same time, we also see how Brainiac arrives on Krypton during its last moments, how he saves Zor-El and how he turns one of Krypton’s greatest scientists into an android parody in his own image, a rather nightmarish fusion of machine and flesh. And thus Zor-El becomes a herald for Brainiac, doing for him what Silver Surfer did for Galactus over in the Marvel universe. Cyborg-Superman now has a new mission: to hunt down perfection and acquire it for his master. Through this, Michael writes a story that is very serious, and often dark and disturbing in equal measure. There is no overt violence, most of it happens off-panel or is just hinted at on-panel, but there is enough to see that Cyborg-Superman is a villain who means business and is ruthless in his pursuit of his goals.

Oddly, Zor-El doesn’t seem have changed much, even with his memories taken away and having been turned into a villain. The differences and similarities between the two are what make this story so enjoyable, what makes Michael such a great writer to read. He balances everything really nicely and delivers an emotionally-moving story about one of the most driven villains in the DC universe.

However, I felt that it needs to be pointed out that Action Comics #23.1 retcons the story of Zor-El as we saw it in Supergirl #0. In that, we see a very different chain of events, with a very different… ending to Zor-El and Krypton. I don’t get that part really. We are only two years into New 52 and we are beginning to see small retcons like this. Quite odd really.

On art duties for this issue is Mike Hawthorne, with colourist Daniel Brown and Carlos M. Mangual as letterer. Given that the story of both Cyborg-Superman and Zor-El is being told simultaneously, with a non-consistent (in a good way) switch in panels between the two, Hawthorne handles it really well. Both stories connect very seamlessly with what’s happening in one being reflected in the other. Hawthorne’s pencil-work here is very different to that of Neves on Supergirl and its great to see another artist’s take on these characters, especially someone with more consistency to his pencil-work than Neves.. And the same thing goes for the colours and the inks, since the teams there are different as well. Daniel Brown’s colours use a much wider palette for the issue than what we see on Supergirl from the colourists on that title, and Action Comics #23.1 is a very colourful issue because of that. Brown and Hawthorne’s vision of Cyborg-Superman is incredibly powerful and establishes the menace and power of the character that Michael Alan Nelson shows through his script.

It is really interesting that so far, while Michael has established Cyborg-Superman’s connection to both Supergirl and Superman, on both a familial and genetic level, he has yet to actually name the villain as Cyborg-Superman. Kara has given him that moniker as a way to understand what he is. I’m certainly looking forward to what Michael does in Supergirl #24 and what role the villain plays in the Forever Evil event.

Rating: 9/10

More Supergirl: #21-23.

Posted on September 8, 2013, in 2013 Reading Challenge, 2013 Writing Challenge, Challenges, Comics Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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