Action Comics #23.1 - Cyborg Superman #1 review

The Cyborg Superman was revealed, in last month's Supergirl, to be her father, Zor-El. I hoped it wasn't true.

This Villains Month history lesson shows that it is true. I hate the idea - I'd far rather Zor-El be dead than a vile version of Superman, a cold-hearted killer.

So I'd rather this issue didn't exist. But as a Supergirl fan, I had to take a look and I have to admit, this is a well-crafted comic. Writer Michael Alan Nelson flashes back and forward in time to the last days of Krypton, and spin-off city Argo, showing us the events that led to cosmic conqueror Brainiac transforming the dying Zor-El into a 'perfect' Kryptonian. Flesh replaced with circuitry, memories deleted (click on image to enlarge).
That beat about the heart is a great line, indicative of the skilful wrting throughout. We see Zor-El rankled by the continual praise for his younger brother Zor-El, the arguments between the two as to the best way to save Krypton's populace from the coming destruction. Jor-El favours rocket ships, Zor-El believes reverse engineering Brainiac's shrinking technology is the key. As time passes, baby Kal-El is sent to Earth, Krypton explodes, but Zor-El and his family survive on Argo, a chunk of planet blown into space. But as even that succumbs to poisoning, Zor-El does two things - sends daughter Kara to Earth, and relays a signal into space, calling on Brainiac to bottle them for posterity. It would be a fate better than death.

But by the time Brainiac arrives, most people have already passed, and he sees fit to save just one of the remaining - Zor-El, the only one who dared called him. Ironically, he too believes Jor-El had it over his brother, so alters Zor-El's DNA and remaining tissue to emulate him, explaining why he looks so much like Superman. The family crest and ceremonial cape help, too - it's interesting to think that years before the careers of Superman and Supergirl, someone was out there in the universe ensuring their symbol was becoming one not of hope, but of fear.

Brainiac gives the Cyborg a mission: go out into space and find more beings worthy of being 'perfected', leading to harrowing scenes on a planet named Kampara. 'What are you willing to do to survive?' is the chilling question he asks again and again.

'Born in Flames' is a tight, well-structured tale - transitional captions ensure we never get lost, while the dialogue lends a poignancy to Zor-El's story. All the man wanted to do was save his people. It's not as if his rivalry with Jor-El manifested as hubris, caused him to make a mistake that doomed Argo, or his family. Calling on Brainiac was a last-ditch attempt to save the people of Argo. In the end he only saved - and lost - himself.

The art of Mike Hawthorne is wonderful - open, clear, expressive, with a particular facility for planetary landscapes and the inhabitants thereof. His Brainiac is brooding, alien evil, while the various members of the El family look suitably heroic. I don't know where Hawthorne's been hiding, but someone should give him a regular assignment immediately. They might also attach colourist Daniel Brown, whose subtle palette finds room for pleasing accents.

The 3D cover, despite good artwork by Aaron Kuder, doesn't quite work. Cyborg Superman looks fine, with his two levels, and Brown's green background is striking, but the Superman figure - like Power Girl and Huntress on the Desaad book - shifts around too much to please the eye. And of course, Superman's not even in here - this is all Supergirl storyline, with the Action Comics labelling a cheeky attempt to sell more copies.

Overall, this is a good villain focus. The fact that I abhor the idea of Zor-El as judge, jury and executioner of the so-called weak doesn't take away from that.

Comments

  1. I had exactly the opposite read of everything you saw positive. I thought the characters were carricatures, the drawing cartoonish and amateur, with the inter-cuts and jumpcuts amateurish at best.

    Once again lacking either finesse or originality, Nelson ran to the idea vault of H. G. Wells (The Time Machine)and David Gerrold (of tribbles fame, he wrote "The Cloud Minders" for Star Trek) to create a rather inept Kampara from the stolen ideas of better writers.

    And by now, the Nelson tin ear for dialog begins to grate on my last nerve.

    Sorry, this issue just looked and read like the worst of the worst ideas thrown into a blender and pureed by a HACK and drawn by a recent art school graduate.

    I found nothing positive in structure or content or story telling mechanics at all.

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  2. What about the 3D ... do we at least agree on the 3D?

    You probably had too much sense and got the 2D version, never mind. Anyway, many tas for the comments Adam,

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  3. The 3-d we can agree upon. And sorry about the opposite opinion, but cliches in writing never seemed to sit well with me for some reason.

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    1. There's no apology necessary Adam, we're not always going to agree. I appreciate you reading my ramblings, and responding.

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  4. Cyborg Superman was my favorite villain. This is not Cyborg Superman. Why have I read as much DC as I have over the years. By all accounts, the stuff I loved sucked and deserves to be rewritten. I'm open to new villains, but obviously DC is nnot. Who is the Rainbow Raider now?

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    1. I dunno if he's appeared yet, but when he does, please let him still have that glorious name, Roy G Bivolo ...

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    2. Doesn't matter...he died in his first appearance in Grodd #1.

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    3. Ack, never mind. I should've read the whole thread first.

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    4. No bother, thank you for reading at all. Looking forward to reading today's Rogues, and the thoughts of your terrific Speed Force site.

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    5. And the Speed Force review has just popped up! I cam't read it myself yet ... http://speedforce.org/2013/09/rogues-code-review-rogues-1/

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  5. This sounds like Galactus and the Silver Surfer type deal. What is up with the bait and switch I was expecting this to be in Action Comics like Scott Lorbdell or Greg Pak was doing something but nope and I don't read Supergirl and I was hoping for something cool being done with Hank Henshaw

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    1. I knew DC's labelling would mislead people - it's a shame, Sam. I just hope he's not an astronaut or something gay, over in Teen Titans.

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  6. Hank Henshaw is an astronaut in Teen Titans or something gay.

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    1. LOL, actually, he's like a scientist who had one meaningless panel in RAVAGERS or something. I just saw it posted online because people got all excited. DC seems to really like to get my hopes up and disappoint me as hard as they can. First, it was that terrible Superman movie and now this. Why would they hype the new Cyborg Superman design three months ago and then deliver this. Anyone who got excited about that promo image was pumped to see the character they love return. This is a totally different character. Are kids today chomping at the bit for more Zor-El material? That guy wasn't even in the comics for the first fifteen years I was reading. I just really do not understand DC. They had a classic villain and threw him away for no reason. A new villain who is a scout for Brainiac might be cool. This character is a pathetic imposter. Made me think how cool it would be to see the real Cyborg Superman team up with or fight Brainiac. Don't think we ever saw that story, but it might be more entertaining than the Pax Galactica or whatever they have running in the title these days. IDK. Dc Comics aren't worth my time anymore.

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    2. Hi Scott, I'd certainly rather Hank Henshaw were CS - even if he Zor-El is released to death and HH takes over, Zor-El's been sullied.

      And yes indeed, original fans who ordered this based on the promo image will be annoyed, and fans of Suoerman too.

      It's just another bonehead move by DC.

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  7. I think you liked this book more than I did.
    I just can't move past Zor-El being so bratty and jealous. And I don't see how making him a villain in the DCU makes sense. It didn't work the last time.

    What is interesting as that the events of this book take place about 30yrs ago. What has he been doing over that time?

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    1. Being horrible to the imperfect and realising he's lost his memories, I suppose.

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  8. To derail the comments… Rainbow Raider appears in Flash 23.1 (the Grodd issue). No idea if its really Roy G. Bivolo but by the end of the issue it doesn't really matter.

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  9. Ah, Ta Murray. The New 52 Grodd isn't my cup of tea, too much maiming and biting off people's heads. So the Rainbow Raider upset the monkey, huh?

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  10. I'm afraid so. And while I've preferred earlier versions of Grodd to the new 52 version, I'd recommend the Villains month issue. Great art by Chris Batista and the story is pretty strong, too. A good look at the many characters of Central/Keystone City as opposed to page after page of Grodd.

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  11. Oh dear. Mind, you've sold me on the comic, Murray!

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  12. Cool! I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say about it. And to derail the derailment a little further, I don't know why I haven't been checking out your blog more regularly. It's great! I've added it to my iPad tabs so I'll definitely be checking it out on a regular basis now.

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    1. Ah Murray, you just made my day, thank you!

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    2. Just read Grodd, Murray, and you're right, I did like the art. Not at all keen on the story though, just more Grodd brutality.

      And 'Chroma'? That's almost as bad as Turbine - I wish Buccellato and Manapul would stick with the class names, the replacements are simply cliched rather than cheesy.

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  13. I hated this comic, Cy(Borg) Superman is now a friggin Star Trek like BORG! Sad story copying!

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  14. Hey, maybe the Bizarro World could be the Borg Cube?

    But yes, rotten story.

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  15. I'm late to this party, but I thought this book was pretty poor. Flat and boring artwork for Krypton, ugly and generic brown sci-fi artwork for Kampara (this is the sort of look that put me off reading comics when I was a kid in the 90s), a characterisation of Zor-El I don't recognise and which seems incongruent with Supergirl #0, and ultimately, not much of a good narrative flow. I felt very let down here. It's easily the lowest point of Nelson's run with this story, which is a shame after the good Supergirl 20-22 he did. Even the slightly iffy #23 was more engaging.

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    1. Thanks Thomas, it's funny that we're so far apart on the art front. But otherwise, yeah!

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