Thursday, September 22, 2016

Two Stories, One Book: Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac Is Mostly Fun!

The Good: Moments of character, Well-defined backstory for new characters, Wonderful artwork
The Bad: Odd story breakdowns, Short, Poor characterization of love/male influence
The Basics: Resolving the conflict of Brainiac, the gynocentric Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac then works to set up the next volume!

When it comes to my book reviews, I can think of no other work that pleasantly surprised me of late quite like Ame-Comi Girls Volume 1 (reviewed here!). Based on the oversexualized statue and toy line from DC Collectibles, the Ame-Comi book was one that I picked up on a complete lark, not at all expecting it to have any serious merit. I'm a big enough person to admit when I am wrong and I was wrong about Ame-Comi Girls Volume 1. Based on the strength of the first volume, I picked up Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac.

Right off the bat, Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac seemed like it was something of a misnomer; after all, Ame-Comi Girls Volume 1 had very powerfully introduced Brainiac to the narrative, so it seemed like readers already knew Brianiac was rising. Beyond that, Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac is an anthology of the first four Ame-Comi Girls comic books to follow the introductory ("featuring X Character") series and it picks up immediately after Volume 1. As such, it is a story in progress and it is impossible to review Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac without referencing where Volume 1 left off. Unfortunately, because only the first two (of four) chapters deal with the dangling plotlines left from Volume 1, Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac starts to feel like something of a cashgrab by transitioning awkwardly into the next story instead of having Volume 2 tell the whole next story. In other words, Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac is an awkward bridge between two stories; the fast resolution to one and the slow build to another (without any resolution or strong character development). That fracture makes it a tougher sell than it ought to have been.

Opening with Wonder Woman squaring off against the black Kryptonite-infected Supergirl, the battle between the heroes and Brianiac's forces seems to be going quite poorly. As Batgirl, aboard Brainiac's ship, searches for a weakness, Wonder Woman finds the possessed Supergirl's weakness and utilizes the Lasso Of Truth to turn the tide of battle against her. Seeing which way the wind is blowing Duela Dent abandons Brainiac's ship. While Brainiac activates the computer at the Earth's core and sends devices up to the surface all around the Earth, the heroes fight off Brainiac's drones in Kansas. Power Girl makes it to the Earth's core, but finds it filled with giant, mechanical bees controlled by Brainiac. After Power Girl manages to communicate with the drones, she discovers that Brainiac is already in the core waiting for her!

Gaining access to Brainiac's ship leads Brainiac to shut off life support. Rising to the occasion, The Flash passes through the door and hunts down Brainiac as Power Girl fights the Brainiac in the Earth's core. After battling Brainiac, the alliance between the heroes begins to fracture when Power Girl becomes determined to save Supergirl's life, regardless of Wonder Woman's advice. Forming a Justice League to come together should another threat to Earth arise, the group splinters apart to return to their own lives.

Following the Brainiac Incident, in China, the blind mountain-climber Jade Yifei is in the middle of an ascent when she is attacked by the Flying Guillotine. Before she can hit the ground, though, she is chosen by Oa to be the Green Lantern of Sector 2814. Saving her family and getting her attacker to flee, Jade takes up the mantle of Green Lantern with surprising ease. In the anti-matter universe, Parallax finds a way through to the matter universe and on Earth's moon, Carol Ferris finds a downed space ship belonging to a Star Sapphire and she becomes one of the ringbearers for the violet light. Returning to Earth, Ferris attends a party where she steals James Olsen away from Kara Jor-El, in the process revealing herself to be a Star Sapphire. After a fight between Power Girl and the Star Sapphire, Kara Jor-El enlists Avril Palmer (The Atom) to aid her in saving Supergirl's life. The volume ends with the set-up for the next major conflict with a backstory detailing the rise of Sinestra!

First off, and I couldn't truly discuss this when writing about Volume 1 as it came right at the end, the black Kryptonite is one of the coolest ideas that Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray brought to Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac. The transformation of Kara Zor-El into a villain under Brainiac's control is a cool idea that is executed fairly well in Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac. In fact, Supergirl is only stopped by the Lasso Of Truth and that is treated as a temporary fix, with Kara Zor-El being in a state of mortal peril for pretty much all of Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac.

I was initially disappointed that Catwoman had survived the events of Volume 1 to participate in Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac. After all, the artwork in the first book made it look like dark Supergirl has snapped her neck and the potential casualty lent some weight to the somewhat light volume. In Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac, Catwoman's survival is blithely described as a function of using up two of her nine lives and that is a bit disappointing as there is nothing else in the text to indicate Catwoman had anything remotely supernatural to her. Keeping her alive is sadly pointless given that she has no substantive role in Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac.

There is something thematically disappointing about Steve Trevor's role in Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac. As Power Girl and Wonder Woman form the Justice League, Steve Trevor is the voice of pragmatism and reason, the only one in the room discussing the legal ramifications of non-U.S. citizens launching military-style missions from U.S. soil and the superhero team including minors (Barbara Gordon and Carrie/Robin). Trevor is also the only one who brings up the idea that members of the team could be killed and that leads to liability issues. While Trevor's counterpoints to the budding Justice League are a good place to finally address "Girls" (as opposed to "Women") in the title, it is troubling that Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac uses a male character to negotiate practical and rational elements in a female-centered super hero team. In the real world, there are enough problems with getting women to work together for their common goals; it would have been refreshing in Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac to see the female characters model it well for any young women actually reading the book.

In a similar way, Star Sapphire basically uses a love potion (mind control) on James Olsen and that pulls the reader way out of the narrative. In a book filled with accomplished, powerful women (including Carol Ferris, the way she is first introduced and described by Olsen), it seems particularly lowbrow that the Star Sapphire sells herself as the best looking woman at the party. It's a shallow reason for Olsen to want her and it does no service to the concept of love that the Star Sapphire is supposed to embody. For sure, the Green Lantern comics have had trouble reasonably and consistenly defining the Star Sapphires and their powers, but Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac is not doing any favors to the struggle by picking a pretty shallow portrayal of love with Ferris obsessed with Olsen. At least Kara Jor-El is rational enough to see Olsen's near-infidelity for what it truly was and not make the book go too far in the direction of melodrama.

On the opposite side, Princess Diana is presented in Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac as a refreshingly strong character. Not at all plagued by self-doubt or a sense of melodrama, she comes across as a natural leader. Similarly, Kara Jor-El is characterized well as a powerful, articulate woman not requiring the traditional trappings of stereotypical American relationships. Jor-El is not jealous and her protective nature of James Olsen actually comes across in Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac as her desire to see her boyfriend not be victimized by a woman willing to use mind control over him.

The addition of Green Lantern to Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac is an interesting one and the book has a decent re-imagining of the Green Lanterns. Jade's mantra is different and her story sends the book in an entirely different direction. Her backstory is dwarfed by the extensive backstory given to Sinestra at the very end of the book. Sinestra, having once thwarted Brainiac on her own, becomes the next great villain for the Ame-Comi saga . . . right before the book ends.

Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac is somewhat sloppily written in that Kara Jor-El (Power Girl) is referenced as Kara Zor-El (Supergirl) is a scene where the artwork is clearly of Power Girl in her mundane outfit and Supergirl is still in stasis elsewhere in Metropolis.

Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac includes bonus features, in the form of rough character sketches for Brainiac at the end of the book. Between the variant cover gallery and the sketches, the bonus features are mildly amusing, but leave the reader wishing there were more story (substance) as opposed to fluff.

Despite being terribly short and broken up to sell more books as opposed to finish and begin narratives at logical places, Ame-Comi Girls Volume 2: Rise Of The Brainiac is still worth reading and a fun book.

For other books featuring characters that had Ame-Comi reworks, please check out my reviews of:
Wonder Woman: Gods And Mortals By George Perez
Superman: Brainiac By Geoff Johns
Harley Quinn: Power Outage By Amanda Connor


For other graphic novel reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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