Review: Action Comics #23.1
Cyborg Superman is an extremely interesting character now in the New 52, as he is one of the few people to have his origin story made very different from the previous universe. With his identity now being connected to Kara and Kal-El in very close ways, there is great potential to mine some personal stories in the future. In his Villain month solo outing, writer Michael Alan Nelson and artist Mike Hawthorne attempt to show us not only how Zor-El transformed into the robotic creation but his mission: the pursuit of perfection.
One aspect that Nelson is able to do very well in this issue is the juxtaposition of two different storylines, as the reader is shown both Zor-El’s attempts to save his people while Cyborg Superman looks for perfect specimens to give to Brainiac. Though the two are different in time and place, some great parallelism is on display, especially with the ending showing the same man alone, whether it is his mission as a Kryptonian to save his people or to find a perfect person as a machine. Nelson really manages to capture a scary detachment that plays into the cold Cyborg Superman, which is heightened by the fact that readers know this man used to be a passionate and caring scientist. His time spent on the planet Kampara is very varied, as the society shown is one where the poor live in filth while the rich actually reside in the sky above the rest. It is interesting to see Cyborg Superman in his pursuit of a perfect person, as his quest leads him to more and more isolation while Zor-El’s attempts to contact Brainiac only lead him to isolation as well. The sequences done on the planet are well executed and paced when in tandem with the flashbacks to Zor-El’s failed attempts to save people.
However, there are some weaknesses with the narrative overall. There is no real resolution to Cyborg Superman, as he is just created and then set loose. The story does not connect in any way back to the current Supergirl series where Cyborg Superman first showed up, and this version we are shown in the villain issue is certainly much more cold and cut off from his Kryptonian side. Also, though it is an interesting take with making Zor-El the new Cyborg Superman, there is never any real reason given for why the cyborg character looks exactly like Kal-El. The family crest being used makes sense, but Cyborg Superman looks nothing like Zor-El after the surgery, and even his hair changes color from blonde to black without any acknowledgment. With no Superman even around yet for Brainiac to model this cyborg off of, this is an annoying plot hole that was not addressed at all in the context of the story. The end of the book can be a bit confusing, as we are told Zor-El’s use of Brainiac’s technology is killing the Argo, but it is never explained why that would be so. A panel with Allura dead in Zor-El’s arms also raises questions, as the reader doesn’t know whether she died of starvation, depression, or maybe even by Zor-El’s own hand.
On the art front, Mike Hawthorne uses a clean style to illustrate the events. His scenes are set usually from more of distance so all characters can be seen and the proceedings are easier to follow. His Zor-El does suffer a bit from a lack of expression in his face besides “angry” and “closed mouthed” in earlier scenes, but Hawthorne does a great job with Cyborg Superman. Particularly effective, a panel on page 16 gives one character so evil and cold an expression that we see he is no longer the emotional man that he used to be. When Cyborg Superman also picks up one of the Kampara rich citizens, Hawthorne’s penciling allows for the alien to believably go from tough guy jerk to a teary eyed person fighting for his life. Special recognition must also go out to Letterer Carlos M. Mangual, as his work with Cyborg Superman’s wording makes the character’s speaking feel so unique and different from anyone else on the pages.
Action Comics 23.1 is a nice experience that doesn’t really tie-in to any Forever Evil events. Cyborg Superman’s creation may not have been executed perfectly, but the journey he goes on in this book is worth a read, as it parallels a being of cold and methodical destruction with a man who wanted nothing but to save those around him from destruction. There is an effective feeing of tragedy that comes from this story, and hopefully that will continue when Cyborg Superman is utilized in the current Supergirl arc.