Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Superman: Braniac

It's been years since I collected comics. Superhero books have become so joyless and dark, they hold little appeal anymore. Sometime in the last twenty years, Marvel and DC quit marketing to kids altogether, focusing instead on the aging fanboys that make up the peer group of the industry's writers and artists.  The tangled continuities and regular reboots that infect the characters and worlds of comic books are enough to keep casual readers away. Which makes it all the more enjoyable to find Superman: Braniac.

In my view, Superman is rarely done well, but writer Geoff Johns and penciler Gary Frank form a creative marriage that serves the Man of Steel well.  As the title suggests, the story centers around the return of Braniac who sends his probes around the universe looking for civilized planets to steal knowledge from and promptly destroy, but only after shrinking and abducting a city from each one to keep as a specimen.  As it turns out, these robotic probes are what Superman has been fighting all these years, not the real Braniac.  One such robot comes to Earth.  Superman promptly dispatches it, but not before the probe analyzes the Kryptonian's blood and sends the information to the real Braniac.  Turns out, Braniac doesn't like the idea of someone out there sharing Kryptonian culture and science, which he believes now belongs soley to him.  So naturally, Superman must be eliminated.  Fearing Braniac's probes will destroy other planets, Superman goes searching the galaxy for the creature. Only problem, Braniac captures him and sends another probe to destroy the Earth.

The narrative is intriguing and moves quickly.  Johns is one the few guys who seems to have a solid grasp on the Superman mythos.  He has respect for the character, and it shows here.  Superman and his world are recognizable, and casual readers will have no problem jumping into the story.  The Braniac portrayed here is sort of a technological boogeyman who terrorizes the galaxy.  He is genuinely creepy, somewhat reminiscent of the Borg in Star Trek.  My only quibble with the story was a less than epic feel given what was at stake with the plot.  I think there was room to go farther with the story and characters.

The visuals are supplied by former Hulk artist Gary Frank, and it's his best work yet. Frank was born to draw Superman.  His art has a clean, clear quality to it, despite fine details.  He also does what few artists can, which is to give every character his or her own unique face.  None better than Superman himself who Frank renders in a near perfect likeness to Christopher Reeve.  Frank fails in only one area.  The layout, particularly the fight scenes between Superman and Braniac, is at times boring and uninspired.  This hurts the dramatic weight of a story that wasn't very deep to begin with.  All said however, Superman: Braniac is a satisfying read, and one of the better Superman stories.

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