Villains Month continues in “Superman” #23.2 by Tony Bedard and Pascal Alixe, featuring the New 52 origin of Brainiac, now reimagined as an intergalactic mass-murderer, albeit one who still shrinks and preserves cities as mementos of the countless worlds he’s destroyed.
Bedard’s story struggles with the reinvention of the character, whose motives change throughout the story for reasons that are never made fully clear. Vril Dox starts off as an interesting counterpoint to that of Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El; whereas Jor-El looked to keep his only son safe from his planet’s destruction, Vril Dox’s obsession with saving his own planet causes him to think nothing of experimenting on his own son in an attempt to develop an enhanced race capable of fighting off an impending invasion.
Bedard establishes a heroic if misguided intent for Dox, but the character’s motives soon inexplicably morph from trying to defend his home world to “rescuing civilization” by saving one city and willfully destroying everything else. Brainiac undergoes physical changes in between, but there’s no explanation as to how this alteration also alters his mindset. From that point on, his mission becomes as much about spiting the foes he once sought to defeat by essentially destroying the worlds in their path before they can. The so-called twelfth-level intellect he professes to have isn’t really even utilized; rather than playing upon this supposed intellect, Bedard instead makes Brainiac seem more like a malicious child who destroys another child’s toys because he can’t have them; hardly a grand reinterpretation of one of Superman’s most notable villains, who comes across more like a green-skinned version of Thanos with a collecting hobby.
When it’s revealed, as a quick mention only, that Jor-El had at one time succeeded in repelling these same invaders, one has to wonder just exactly what’s so notable about Brainiac at this point. His very name has become synonymous with intelligence in modern pop culture, but here’s a character who can’t even muster up the smarts to driving off an invading army while Jor-El not only does exactly that, but apparently did so while developing the means to save his only son from Krypton’s eventual destruction. The more Bedard tries to explore Brainiac’s character, the more it unravels.
While the story doesn’t succeed at its overall intent, there are some commendable elements. The invaders that threaten Brainiac’s world and many others tie into another of Superman’s best-known foes, and while it’s threadbare logic that binds them it’s nonetheless an interesting idea that’s worthy of developing. And while this story is yet another “Villains Month” origin story involving a dysfunctional family, at least the focus this time is on the parent rather than the child. Overall, though, the most commendable element of this issue is Alixe’s finely detailed and realistic art, the beauty of which is apparent from the very first page, which diversely showcases three very different worlds in the throes of Brainiac’s grip.
Alixe excels at rendering both man and machine with a precision that’s worth slowing down to enjoy, and his use of black, course lines to shade darker areas rather than just applying black ink gives the overall art a softer and almost textured look, not unlike a canvas painting in spots. Ironically, Brainiac himself doesn’t look all that menacing, but everything around him looks great.
“Superman” #23.2 is one of the nicer-looking “Villains Month” issues so far, even if its story is lacking and Brainiac isn’t exactly shaping up to be one of the premier villains of the New 52.