Thursday, 9 February 2012

'Superman: Brainiac' Review

There isn't any of my monthly comics I buy this week so I thought I'd review a trade paperback I picked up recently instead; Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's excellent Superman: Brainiac.

Lately I've been going through a bit of a renaissance when it comes to reading about the Man of Steel. Superman has always been one of my favourite characters, there's no denying it. In fact he might possibly be my favourite character overall. It's not a popular thing to admit, even in the world of comics, because despite being the most iconic comic book character ever (he is, at least admit that), the stories involving Superman are traditionally known as not being very good. He's the man that can do everything, who can stop anyone and can't be harmed but this makes him pretty one dimensional and in many people's eyes, boring. Yes there's Kryptonite, that radiated rock that can kill him, but come on, there's only so many stories creators can tell using that angle. The Kryptonite thing has been done to death and I appreciate it's difficult to come up with new ideas to keep Clark Kent and his red and blue alter ego relevant in today's world. The most common argument against Superman is that he is almost impossible for readers to relate to. Not only is he an alien but he's pretty much invulnerable and most of his stories involve a sci-fi twist, featuring characters from out of space and giant monsters. Honestly, Batman is much easier to relate to and it shows, because the character is infinitely more popular in both comics and the wider world, thanks largely to Christopher Nolan's films and their focus on realism. Put it this way; isn't it easier to imagine yourself as Batman rather than Superman? A sense of realism is important to the majority of comic readers and most of the time, Superman falls short of the mark.

Nonetheless, that doesn't stop Superman claiming a place amongst my favourite comic book characters of all time. I was essentially raised on Superman. Saturday evenings as a kid involved dinner in front of the TV with The Adventures of Lois & Clark on the box. I grew up watching Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, and I'd play those VHS tapes to death. As a really young kid I remember having a Superman pop-up book I adored. One summer's day sat in a paddling pool in the garden, I used that book to try and re-enact the scene in Richard Donner's Superman The Movie when he gets chucked into the swimming pool with the Kryptonite chain around his neck. Superman taught me a valuable lesson that day: cardboard and water do not mix (I was devastated, that book was everything to me). So it's safe to say I've been hooked since a very young age and Christopher Reeve is largely responsible for that.

So when I saw Gary Frank's rendition of Superman, I knew immediately that Superman: Brainiac, along with Superman: Secret Origin and Superman and The Legion of Superheroes were definite purchases. In fact Superman: Brainiac was the final book out of the three that I read and I thankfully left the best until last. The book is rather slim in size (it does collect 5 issues though) and feels about half the size of Superman: Secret Origin, but that doesn't mean it's half as good. That's definitely not the case, as Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are on the top of their games here. It's an easy book to finish in one sitting but Johns has packed a lot in there. I'm not gonna go into any detailed plot lines but it's essentially Superman finding out he has never really fought the true Brainiac before and he has to protect Metropolis from ending up in Brainiac's collection of bottled cities. The whole gang is along for the ride, including Lois, Jimmy, Perry White, Ma and Pa Kent, as well as a rather buxom Cat Grant (who is involved in a very funny scene with Supergirl, who detects "some weird plastics" in Cat's chest with her x-ray vision). The story races along but it flows seamlessly enough and Johns does a great job with the pacing - despite being a small book it doesn't feel rushed at all. After finishing it's clear Johns really understands the character and has remained true to Superman's core traits whilst also breathing new life into old characters to create a fresh and interesting story. I've loved everything Johns has written involving Superman so far and I really hope he comes back to the character some day soon in the future.

But Superman: Brainiac, for me, is all about Gary Frank and his gorgeous art. In my opinion Frank is the definitive Superman artist - the character has never looked so good. Curt Swan, John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, Jim Lee - I'm sorry guys but Gary Frank comes out on top as the best of the bunch. I know that Frank's obvious reference to Christopher Reeve is not to everyone's taste. Hey, there are some strange people who don't like the Superman films. Regardless of that fact, you have to admit that Frank's pencils are of the highest quality. Just look at the detail he puts into facial expressions for proof. Every character's face is distinctive which is actually a rarity amongst comic artists and illustrators. If Gary Frank was the permanent artist on the monthly issues of Superman or Action Comics, I'd buy every single issue, regardless of the writer. I really hope Frank returns to drawing Clark Kent soon. I suppose that's enough gushing for now...

Overall, despite being a mere 128 pages (according to Amazon), Superman: Brainiac provides plenty of bang for your buck. Johns has crafted an exciting story that draws you in right until the end. This is a very easy book to finish in one sitting, not because its short in length but because it's hard to put down! Frank's artwork is to die for and if you're not convinced about buying this book, just get it for the art because you won't regret it, not one bit.

Amongst The Panels Rating: 4/5

Thanks for reading.

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