Review: REBELS: Sons of Brainiac trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, April 04, 2011

With REBELS: Sons of Brainiac, writer Tony Bedard presents two stories, one focused firmly on REBEL's driving force Vril "Don't call him Brainic 2" Dox, and the other purportedly on REBEL's supporting cast. The former is a pulse-pounding story that continues to forward the book's themes of family and emotion-among-the-emotionless; the latter, however, falls relatively flat, and as such reveals some of the flaws of this (unfortunately already cancelled) title.

[Contains spoilers]

The seemingly non-Dox "What Happens in Vega" story wastes an entire issue bringing former Titan Starfire from Earth to LEGION headquarters, and then another issue on the same fight between Starfire and her sister Blackfire that we're seen numerous times in New Titans and the Rann/Thanagar War books. In the third chapter, Dox returns to broker the peace, rendering all the other LEGIONnaires moot. Bedard would seem to be focusing here on characters other than Dox, but to give the already well-established Starfire, Captain Comet, and Adam Strange center stage, while newer characters like Ciji, Xyon, and Wildstar languish behind the scenes. The character Bounder gets one line in the entire book, I believe, and we still don't really know who he is or why he's with the team.

Clearly, Vril Dox leads the LEGION, but he also leads the book. I much prefer Wildstar and Bounder, the characters Bedard started with in REBELS: The Coming of Starro, to characters like Comet and Starfire whose stories have already been told -- but if Bounder or Xyon no longer have a place in the book, I wouldn't mind Bedard formally jettisoning them. Let REBELS (if the title were surviving) be Dox's book, maybe in charge of a robot LEGION again, and let Comet and Starfire and such be supporting cast members with whom Dox interacts -- all the better so as not to have to mark time with "supporting cast" stories like "Vega" that don't amount to much.

I say all this, mind you, as a fan of the REBELS title. The "Sons of Brainiac" story that follows is just the kind of emotionally-intense story that I've come to enjoy Bedard's REBELS for. The high concept is that Brainiac 3 tries to kidnap the original Brainiac from Dox and the Coluan people so as to steal Brainiac's knowledge, but Brainiac escapes and threatens all of Colu; in truth, however, this is a story about the strained relationship between Dox and his son, and how that's reflected in the equally strained relationship between Dox and Brainiac. Brainiac may be a super-villain, but Dox despises him most because Brainiac never treated Dox like he was good enough or smart enough -- basically, the reader understands, Dox wants the love from his father he never received, and Brainiac 3 wants the same.

Bedard adds some extra spice to the end of this by having Dox seemingly retreat -- only to return with former LEGIONnaire Lobo in tow. While I paused at the inclusion of another "big name" in this book, Bedard writes Lobo spectacularly. Almost immediately, Bedard demonstrates he understands that Lobo works best in a story like a Looney Tunes character -- Bedard blows Lobo up and has him reshape himself, and even has Lobo challenge Brainiac 3's sentient planet Pulsar Stargrave in a way that, Pulsar notes, defies the laws of physics. Indeed that's perfect -- that's Lobo -- and it ends the story on a high note.

To pick again a bit, however, I'd note that Pulsar Stargrave is a Legion of Super-Heroes-era villain with its own backstory, that the Legion's Brainiac 5 mentioned as recently as Last Stand of New Krypton Vol. 2 (which leads into this story), so Stargrave's presence here -- and the fact that he looks exactly like Solaris from Grant Morrison's JLA: One Million -- doesn't quite make sense. I didn't mind that Bedard plays with Vril Dox's origin a bit, all the better to make him coincide with Geoff Johns's newest Brainiac iteration, but Bedard also revises Starfire's origins in a way I didn't like. Bedard minces details as to what brought Starfire to Earth in the first place, but moreover he completely glosses over the Sun-Eater destruction of Tamaran during Final Night, focusing on the less continuity-heavy destruction of an earlier Tamaranian planet by the Psions. This works in view of the LEGION's conflict with a Psion Green Lantern, but felt too simplistic for a reader "in the know."

Though I've flung my share of brickbats at REBELS: Sons of Brainiac, ultimately I feel this is a pretty viable series, when the focus is right. If Bedard was intent on making this a "cosmic all-stars" title, so be it -- there could be worse things than a space title starring Vril Dox, Starfire, Lobo, and the rest. Unfortunately, I wonder if this lack of real focus contributed to the title's demise -- REBELS faces cancellation just before the Flashpoint crossover, and it remains to be seen whether the final issues will get a collection. I hope the series ends, at least, with Vril Dox still out there, leading the LEGION, such that we can see him as a guest-star in titles if not leading his own.

[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

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2 comments:

  1. I wonder if these guest appearances were intended to boost sales on the title. Sorry to hear that such a promising title got cut down before its time, but Geoff Johns will probably reboot it in 20 years as a spin-off of "REBEL Crisis" or something. I'll wait for the omnibus on that one.

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  2. No, the guest appearances did not much help, did they? I liked when Adam Strange and Captain Comet appeared two trades ago, and I don't mind the Lobo/Vril Dox dynamic either -- but when it's Strange and Comet and Starfire and Lobo, and the former three get two or three issues all to themselves, it made the title feel less special to me, not more. I'd rather read about a dynamic group of new-but-somewhat-connected-to-the-DCU space characters than see old characters fight the same old conflicts; that's what I think went wrong here.

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