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Mild Mannered Reviews - Action Comics

Action Comics #23.1 Action Comics #23.1

Action Comics #23.1/Cyborg Superman #1

Scheduled to arrive in stores: September 4, 2013

Cover date: November 2013

"Born in Flames"

Writer: Michael Alan Nelson
Penciller: Mike Hawthorne
Inker: Mike Hawthorne

Michael Bailey Reviewed by: Michael Bailey

Click to enlarge

Brainiac lands on Argo and finds that most of the Kryptonians that initially survived the planet's destruction are nearly dead. He has his robotic minions bring him Zor-El, brother of Jor-El and uncle to the future Superman. It was Zor-El's distress beacon that brought Brainiac to Argo so even though Zor's intellect is not as great as his brother's he called for help and Brainiac means to give it to him. Brainiac has his robots strip away Zor's memories and alters his DNA so he will better resemble Jor-El. Brainaic also has cybernetic attachments grafted to him all in an effort to create the perfect Kryptonian. When Brainiac is finished Zor-El is no more and the Cyborg lives with one mission; search the universe for those worthy of perfection and brings them back to Brainiac for enhancement.

The Cyborg leaves and as he travels from planet to planet seeking the best the civilizations he finds have to offer his backstory unfolds. Zor-El, like his brother, was searching for a way to save the people of Krypton. Jor-El questions his brother's idea to use Brainaic technology to save Argo City but this doesn't deter Zor. At first he keeps his research secret from his wife and daughter but eventually Kara discovers his plans. Zor comforts his daughter but eventually sends her away much like Jor sent his son Kal-El to Earth just in case his plan doesn't work. Zor's wife Allura is glad her daughter survived but has completely lost faith in her husband especially after he uses the technology keeping them alive to contact Brainiac. Eight months after the destruction of Krypton Allura dies in his arms.

After multiple attempts and countless worlds the Cyborg finds two subjects worthy of his attention. He makes them fight to the death to see which one is truly worthy and then has the survivor eat from the corpse of his brother. The survivor flees in terror as the Cyborg thinks that they are weeds...all weeds while he is perfection...alone in the garden of the universe.

5Story - 5: That's right...I gave this issue a five. I haven't done that in some time and frankly no one is more surprised by this turn of events than me but it's not a hoax, it's not a dream and it is definitely not an imaginary story. For the first time in a long time I have finished a Superman book and been totally satisfied by the experience.

It was weird too because to be honest I went in expecting to hate this issue. When DC announced they were giving the Cyborg Superman a New 52 makeover my first thought was, "How's that going to work?" That character came about at a very specific time for a very specific reason. More than that he had history. When it was revealed that Hank Henshaw was the Cyborg Superman I was ecstatic because like a lot of REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN I felt as if the five or so years I had been reading the Superman books was being rewarded. I vividly remembered the summer of 1990 when Henshaw was introduced in two very solid stories by Dan Jurgens and to see that bit of continuity brought back in this HUGE story was massive for the seventeen year old me.

To be fair after REIGN ended the Cyborg was never one of my favorite Superman rogues. I liked him enough. If he showed up in a story I never rolled my eyes or thought that it was going to be a bad time for me as a reader. It's just that Hank Henshaw was a lot like Bane or Venom; he worked for a specific story was pretty decent when they brought him back for another battle with the hero but as the nineties stretched on the character's appearances had diminishing returns. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that some characters are better off never being seen again. Sure they can be put to good use from time to time. Bane was great during NO MAN'S LAND and I liked what Gail Simone did with the character in SECRET SIX but it would never top that initial appearance and what he meant for the story he was created for.

So on one hand I felt that DC was trading on a name without giving us the build-up the original Cyborg had. On the other it's not like he was one of my favorite characters ever. Still, I was a bit apprehensive about what the New 52 version was going to be like.

Turns out the answer to that question was the best revamp of this new era.

Having this new Cyborg be a creation of Brainiac was a great start. It tied him to a classic Superman villain and I liked seeing Brainiac as a bad guy and not some ambiguous bug thing. Then revealing that the human side of the Cyborg was Zor-El helped sell the concept because it is one of those ideas that is both shocking and brilliant at the same time. You can't have this Cyborg come about because of the death of Superman, so how does he fit in the Man of Steel's background? Make him Superman's uncle and Supergirl's father. It creates an even tighter connection than Hank Henshaw using some of Superman's cells to make a new body for himself.

What really clinched my reaction and completely won me over as a reader is that Michael Alan Nelson went on to give Zor-El this tragic backstory that made his ultimate transformation that much more dramatic and tragic. Zor-El is not a character I ever really thought about much beyond the fact that he was Supergirl's father. I didn't have a connection to him and when he was brought back into the books during the whole NEW KRYPTON storyline he wasn't around long enough to leave an impression. By showing the rivalry that Zor-El had with his brother and how it drove his actions despite how wrong he ended up being was heartbreaking. Here was a man that was aching to save his family but also to have his ideas and theories be the means of Argo's salvation. The fact that he sent Kara off anyway was both a selfless act to save his daughter and an acknowledgment that his idea might not work which made Allura's comment about him not being more like Jor-El even more of a kick in the teeth. Then he had to watch his wife and the other citizens of Argo die around him. At this point death was supposed to be a release and even though he (for the moment) has no memory of his previous life he is trapped in the hell of being a soulless machine doing the bidding of Brainiac.

It was so satisfying. To be fair I was turned off by Allura's characterization but after some thought I realized that having her say what she said to Zor-El provides a counter balance to Jor-El and Lara, who have from all accounts a very loving and supportive relationship. Would it be nice to go back to the Silver and Bronze Age where everyone got along and there was no family strife between the El brothers? Sure, but frankly this works so much better for a new take on these characters. Also it gives more weight to the Cyborg's mission to seek out and help create the perfect being. By showing how Argo City and eventually Allura died in stages it drove home the point that Zor-El was a failure while this new creature has the chance to be perfection. It's dark. It's twisted. It's disturbing but it was also a fantastic read.

So...yeah. This was a really good issue. It's a little sad that one of the best issues of ACTION since the re-launch doesn't have Superman in it but I am hoping that Andy Diggle is going to turn that around. The rest of the villains that will be featured in the next few issues have a lot of promise as well and if any of them are half as good as this one we're all in for a real treat.

4Art - 4: Overall I liked the art. There is a certain quality to Hawthorne's style that I didn't initially care for but his storytelling is clear and I found myself warming up to his work as the issue progressed. He didn't have an easy task either. All of the locations are alien and most of the characters do not look human but Hawthorne came through as the aliens each had a distinctive design and the backgrounds were detailed. The Cyborg Superman design is rather cool as well and while I will always prefer the original on a nostalgic level I like the new take on the character as well.

2Cover Art - 2: From what I understand this cover comes in two flavors; 3D and 2D. Either way I am not a fan of the art. Cyborg Superman looks okay but Superman looks wonky and I don't care for the background.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2013

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