Action Comics #23.1: Cyborg Superman #1 (and the New Cyborg Superman is?)
By Andy Frisk
September 28, 2013 - 19:04
Publisher(s): DC Comics
Writer(s): Michael Alan Nelson
Penciller(s): Mike Hawthorne
Colourist(s): Daniel Brown
Letterer(s): Carlos M. Mangual
So. It has been two years now since the The New 52, or DCnU, launched. It's pretty well documented here at the ComicBookBin that I pretty much despise what the editors at DC Comics have done with Superman in The New 52. I've grown to live with it, and have simply decided to leave it all alone since I cannot find anything good to say about this incarnation of Superman, his relationship with Lois, his relationship with Wonder Woman, and the rewriting of his and Krypton's history. I was done complaining about the piecemeal deconstruction of everything that I liked about the mainstream DCU Superman, but now DC Comics has stirred my New 52 Superman ire anew and given me something new to write about: the awkward shoehorning of some of the Post Crisis Superman's greatest villains into the new continuity. Cyborg Superman (and Doomsday) have been given new silly origins and forced into the story in a way that obviously demonstrates the fact that they never should have been written out in the first place, and that the Post Crisis incarnation of Superman never should have been done away with.
As revealed (spoiler alert) in the pages of Action Comics 23.1, Cyborg Superman's origin has been re-written to reveal that he is now Zor-El, Supergirl's father. Zor-El survived the destruction of Krypton and was upgraded into an "elite" Kryptonian by Brianiac. Now, he's more man than machine, can't remember who he was, and is evil to the core (in a Nazi/master race-like bigoted type of way). Oh, and his hair went from blonde to black during the "upgrade" as well. Some might see this as a neat little twist of a development, but what it is really is a blatant attempt by DC Comics to have its Superman cake and eat it too.
The original Cyborg Superman was a by product of the Death and Return of Superman story that put Superman's titles back on the sales charts in the early 1990s and defined the character for the Post Crisis generation. Cyborg Superman was originally one of the four Reign of the Superman characters who were supposed to be Superman somehow reborn. The character was forever tied to that monumental storyline, and ended up being a popular Superman villain over the years around which some really great stories were told. With The New 52 reboot, Cyborg Superman's existence (as well as Superboy, Steel-who had a decent attempt at a reboot at the hands of Grant Morrison in Action Comics Vol. 2-and Doomsday's) were wiped out. Oops. These were some really interesting and viable characters who, wait for it, actually helped Superman's books' sales...and now they couldn't be used.
This apparently ended up not being a problem for the editors at DC Comics though, who simply decided to rewrite their origins and stuff them back into the continuity because, well...most of the rest of Superman's villains are pretty silly...to say the least. Beyond Lex Luthor there's Toyman (seriously?) and The Parasite (not much better). Well, there is Brainiac and Zod (who is getting a screwy reboot currently as well...something about him cutting his teeth fighting monsters in the wilds of Krypton or something...), but beyond that, Doomsday and Cyborg Superman are pretty much it, as far as strong, believable, and complicated villains go. (Granted, Doomsday is basically jsut a grey Hulk with bony protrusions who smashes everything in sight, but his original origin and applications were interesting.) So, Cyborg Superman is back, and he's now Superman's uncle. Guess we'll never get to have a story like New Krypton again, and that was one of the few major Superman story arcs that rivaled Death and Return of Superman over the past two decades.
The Zor-El/Cyborg Superman made his New 52 debut over in the pages of Supergirl recently. Pages of a comic book that I quit reading a while ago. He gets his big origin story in Action Comics #23.1 though. This issue, despite the horrific editorial gymnastics that were pulled off to bring Cyborg Superman "back," is not a poorly written or drawn issue of Action Comics at all. Michael Alan Nelson and Mike Hawthorne do a great job plotting and visualizing the story here. In fact, it really would be an interesting introduction to a new Superman villain, if it wasn't such an obvious attempt attempt to recapture some modicum of the the great storytelling that used to a regular part of Superman's monthly titles. Brainiac's personification is chilling, and the whole tone of the issue fits in quite well with the (once again poor editorial decision) to make the Superman titles very, very, very dark and, in many ways...depressing. Something that Superman titles shouldn't be. I have no problem with them being realistic, deep, and thought provoking (like Death and Return of Superman and New Krypton were), but they shouldn't be depressing.
Oh well. I'm learning to live without my monthly (most of the time weekly) installments of Superman stories to enjoy. There are a few Superman titles out there that are worth reading (namely Scott Snyder's Superman Unchained and Greg Pak's Batman/Superman), but the days of my eager anticipation for the next issues of Superman, Action Comics, Supergirl, and Superboy have sadly passed, at least for as long as The New 52 Superman exists in his current form.
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