The Brainiac TrilogySaw this tweet yesterday from one of my favorite accounts:
Read “The Brainiac Trilogy” pretty good. Nothing exceptional, Not the best version of Brainiac. but then it has a killer final page in Action Comics #649. pic.twitter.com/yJqbkhqyxd— Adam Talking Superman (@TalkingSuperman) August 2, 2020
I had noticed these issues were added to the DC Universe service recently, likely connected to the recent hardcover release of The Adventures of Superman by George Perez. Interestingly titled since Perez never worked on The Adventures of Superman, but I digress. I took this as a good opportunity to revisit the issues.
One of my favorite things about Post-Crisis Superman is the way it built on the stories and the universe bit by bit. Writers dropped threads for other writers to pick up and expand upon. There was always a B-Plot moving along from book to book that would escalate. Characters would weave in from story to story in an organic way. There were always good reasons for villains to come back into the story. There is a large supporting cast that makes Metropolis feel real. It was very engrossing as a reader and really felt like the continuing adventures of Superman rather than just one writer’s quick story or take. I think Reign of the Supermen is the best example of this type of story telling from this era with threads going back to the Man of Steel miniseries and setting a brand new status quo. But the Brainiac Trilogy is a great precursor for things to come.
Post-Crisis Metallo debuted in Superman #1 several years earlier and was only defeated thanks to a last minute Deus Ex Machina of Luthor. Milton Fine as Brainiac appeared in Adventures of Superman #438 over two years prior. With both of them captives of LexCorp it was natural to get them all together. The B-Plot of Clark starting as managing editor of Newstime carriers over from the other ongoing Superman books of the time. Happersen and the crew at Cadmus in the supporting cast roles. It all comes together here. The creative team is firing on all cylinders. Brainiac would return in a big way in two years for Panic in the Sky!
This may not be people’s favorite incarnation of Brainiac, but there is certainly an attempt to bring him in line with the classic interpretation while still retaining the “modern” feel the books were shooting for at the time. They finally made him green.
I’ve written before about how the paper of these issues makes a big difference in the colors. Newer printings on nicer paper and especially digital versions look completely different than the originals. In the example here you can see that the big “POWER” sound effect isn’t just green and white. The digital version is missing the color between the letters and the green is much more subtle in the original. If you look closely at Superman’s hands they look gray in the digital version. Looks like a coloring error, but when looking at the original they are colored correctly, because the colorist knew about the paper.
There are lots of things to notice in this page. The first thing that jumps out is the “brainiac pattern” is much more subtle in the original. It stands out very strongly with the bright white background. The colors look very flat digitally, this time caused by the printing process as much as the paper stock. You can really see this difference in the close up panels of Superman’s face. Places that were left white don’t look uncolored in the original like they do digitally. Finally, in digital, Brainiac looks neon. I think this is a CMYK vs RGB translation, but this is not the proper color of Brainiac.
I’m glad there is an accessible way to read these stories. Perez is a legendary artist and his Superman is iconic. These books are fun and part of a great, years-long story that I don’t think could ever be replicated today. I just wish there was a place fans could see it as intended. These back issues would take a significant time investment to track down.
Two small bonuses of reading the original issues: letter columns and house ads. Wish I had this Kevin Maguire Superboy the Comic Book poster from 1990. I’d guess not many people got this and even fewer of them are still around. Off to eBay!