I just re-read the Superman: Brainiac trade paperback, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. It’s a significant story in its particular period of Superman history as it basically is the immediate prologue to the massive New Krypton storyline that dominated the Superman titles for quite a while. I’ve been making my way through the New Krypton trades for a while now, enjoying an extended Superman storyline in spite of mediocre reviews. That’s what led me to pick up Brainiac even though I’d previously read it from the library.
Anyway, all that to say…what a great story! Geoff Johns is a very uneven writer for me, sometimes bringing a lot of enjoyment, and other times a lot of irritation. Often, he brings both in the same storyline (usually the turning point is around the 40-50% mark, where it goes from being potentially great to meandering and fan-slavish). But though Brainiac is pretty straightforward, it is tightly plotted, with strong character drama for the leads (Superman & Supergirl). There’s lots of actions, sharply (though not deeply) developed supporting characters, satisfying references to past continuity without sacrificing forward momentum, and a real feeling of emotional consequence for the whole Superman universe (as my pile of New Krypton trades can attest to)
It’s also got good artwork, I assume. I really am not a great judge for that. But I like it – the characters seem consistent, the action is clear, and the images generally attractive to look at. There’s a relative minimum of purely unpleasant images by today’s comic standards (a few nasty shots of Brainiac attacking people, and some in-story gratuitous renderings of Catherine Grant notwithstanding).
There’s also a good amount of big action that is nicely compressed into the story’s relatively short length (five issues plus an epilog), with lots of shots of Superman hitting things, with his fists. This is something that you wouldn’t feel like you have to point out, but ever since Superman Returns came out seven years ago, its’ been high on a lot of people’s wishlists for the character. (We all wait in eager anticipation for Man of Steel to come out later this year). The central face-off between Superman and Brainiac, which takes up a fair amount of page count, is as epic as you would want it to be, with some decent dialogue (eg. Brainiac says, “You are a simple brute,” and Superman replies, “When I need to be,” before pounding the guy.) It feels like it would make a good movie, which is promising since it’s the basis of the next announced DC Animated film.
So, yeah, this comes strongly recommended whether one is looking for a good standalone Superman story (albeit pre-New 52) or whether you’re interested in an important part of the grander picture.
Superman: New Krypton Index
Last Son • Brainiac • New Krypton vol. 1 • New Krypton vol. 2 • Mon-El • Supergirl: Who is Superwoman? • Nightwing and Flamebird vol. 1 • New Krypton vol. 3 • Codename: Patriot • Supergirl: Friends and Fugitives • Nightwing and Flamebird vol. 2 • Supergirl: Death and the Family • Mon-El – Man of Valor • New Krypton vol. 4 • Last Stand of New Krypton vol. 1 • Last Stand of New Krypton vol. 2 • War of the Supermen