It begins with a fanboy moment. There was just the pure joy to reading L.E.G.I.O.N. and years later to reading the original R.E.B.E.L.S., and this is admirably recalled in R.E.B.E.L.S.: Sons of Brainiac, the series’ most recent storyarc that rounds out this month on #20.
L.E.G.I.O.N. was always Water Margin, the Justice League, the story of the posse, of singular individuals banding together to higher purpose. Writer Tony Bedard tapped that genre of the original series wonderfully at the outset of new series’ launch some two years back. The Machiavellian Vril Dox is an engaging but not entirely endearing character. A strange marriage between the idealist pursuing justice on a galactic scale and a cold-blooded master manipulator, Dox’s flight from L.E.G.I.O.N. headquarters in the 2008 relaunch of R.E.B.E.L.S. echoed his flight from pursuing Alliance forces in the 1989 introduction of the character and the launch of the original L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘89 series.
Dox was the best of Batman at the time, raw single-minded sociopathy directed towards the idealist pursuit of something greater and more lasting—an infinite and enduring justice. For Dox simply escaping the Alliance ‘Starlag’ was nowhere near enough. What was called for, 21 years ago, was to build an organization that would ensure that the tyrannical Alliance never be allowed to form again. For Dox, L.E.G.I.O.N. would prove to be that organization.
Ever since his first pursuit and evasion of what proved to be the new threat of Starro the Conqueror, Bedard has skillfully expanded on this core genre in L.E.G.I.O.N., the idea of the posse, the ideal of banding together. Longtime fans and new ones alike have watched over the months as old familiars returned, and as new heroes came to replace older characters. And all the while, a second story vector has emerged, one which sees Bedard firmly locating the R.E.B.E.L.S. relaunch in the current politics of a post-52 DC Universe. Dox and his entourage come up against the cultural vacuum left by the Rann-Thangar War, encounter Captain Comet, Adam Strange and Starfire, star-flung heroes who once called Earth home, face up against the scourge of the Black Lanterns.
Sons of Brainiac sees a subtle shift in the new and evolving mythography of the <>R.E.B.E.L.S. title, and a growth in Bedard’s writing. This is a new direction. Vril Dox is not only re-treading the path he walked 20 years ago, but is going back even farther into his history to face down the demons haunting him since his inception. Dox’s “father” the super-tyrant Brainiac, has been captured by Dox himself and been returned to their shared homeworld of Colu to stand trail for crimes against his species. A clone used as slave labor by the fascist war-criminal Brainiac, Dox eventually escaped and asserted his independence. Capturing his genetic forebear and bringing him to justice was a debt of honor.
Matters are of course complicated when Dox’s renegade son, Querl Dox, gatecrashes the proceedings in order to rob the Coluans of their data stores. In tow, Querl has brought the ultimate weapon, the tyrant sun Pulsar Stargrave. A weapon that is soon usurped by Brainiac himself. To interdict the situation and restore order, Dox puts his own ultimate weapon into play—Lobo the last of the legendary species of Czarnians who have complete cellular regeneration.
Beyond the moment of Lobo finally reappearing in the series (what was the original L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘89 if not an entrenched and lingering contest between Dox’s inhumanly cold and violently effective intelligence and Lobo’s brutal physicalism?), Sons of Brainiac is one of the most clear, most eloquent and most passionate arguments for scientistic evolution. New kinds of humans will evolve, not biologically new humans frankensteined into existence, but the kinds of humans who push themselves into superiority.
Bedard speaks inherently to the exceptional within us all. To that severity and that excellence, and that striving towards. How perfect is the imagery of a beast of earth at war with a sun in the sky? Bedard taps the notion of the human-as-exceptional that Jessa Gamble describes in her work with human sleep cycles. R.E.B.E.L.S. like the original L.E.G.I.O.N. is about becoming better than we are. And Sons of Brainiac is the best example of the book’s core to date. It deserves to be read.