Monday, March 1, 2021

Review: Future State House Of El #1

When Future State and it's books were announced, I circled the Phillip Kennedy Johnson books as must haves. In the new Infinite DCU and post-Bendis, Johnson is taking up the reins of the super-books. While these stories are in a possible future, the Johnson Future State super-books would at least give me a sense of his take on the character.

Future State House Of El #1 was labeled as the continuation of the Future State Superman Worlds Of War mini-series. But we are once again flung into some future, with some time having passed since the cliffhanger of Superman WoW and left to fill in the gaps.

Now I was pretty impressed with the Worlds of War book for the take on Superman as an inspirational figure, always on the side of truth and justice. If this is where Johnson is going I'll be fine. And truthfully, this one-shot seemed to continue that feeling. We are generations removed from Superman but his family, in all their incarnations and with all their mixed lineages, all continue to espouse his ethics. In fact, even the freed peoples from Warworld, recognizing Superman's role as freedom fighter, have stuck around and fight under his crest. Their mantra is ‘Truth and Justice’. What’s not to like about that.

There are some great new characters here. Ones I hope we see at some point in the future. But it is the plot that I liked here. Superman's inspiration continues.

The art is by Scott Godlewski and is truly gorgeous. It seems to be on the outskirts of Ed McGuinness, although a much finer line. But the scope of this outer space brawl is vast. The characters are many and all dressed in different regalia. It all comes of beautifully. Give this artist a monthly!

On to the book.

We start with buildings on fire and what sounds like the beginning to a myth. This isn't conversation. This is literature.

Nice opening page. Drops you in the middle of the story and grabs you.

The El clan have retreated to their stronghold. An army is marching across space, a seemingly unstoppable armada led by the Red King. The troops are a hodgepodge of all the worlds the Red King has conquered, including New Gods. It doesn't look good.

Here we get to meet the main heroes.

Khan-El, in barbarian gear.

Brandon Kent of Earth, in t-shirt and jeans.

Alura, the Valkyrie.

Rowan a Blue Lantern and her brother Ronan. 

And Theand'r, a Kryptonian/Tamaranean. 

It is a great group, diverse in powers, gear, and races. Diverse in approaches to war.

But one thing is true, they know they are outmatched.

Theand'r really gets to shine. She has the passion of Kara. I guess I should say the passion of Kory. She has the powers of a Kryptonian.

And when her father sacrifices himself to stop a massive Kryptonite weapon to be deployed, she unleashes her fury.

This is a character I wouldn't mind reading more of, someone trying to mesh two different upbringings. And she has a very solid look. All this action is glorious by Godlewski.

Brainiac 4 is on the side of the Els and has sent out an emergency signal of some sort. But before he can explain, he is eviscerated, bisected really, by the Black Racer.

Controlled by the Red King, the Brainiac corpse warns of a reckoning.

Again, these are small nuggets of a timeline we don't know anything about. But still, seeing this Brainy torn apart stirred emotions. Johnson really gets to the heart of the matter.

Alura gives him a proper goodbye, vaporizing him with heat vision so he can no longer be a tool of the enemy. I can only hope that Alura is a descendant of Kara and has a relationship with this Brainy. But I fear I may never find out.

In the night before the final battle, the Els gather their thoughts. 

Theand'r has a crisis of faith. She wonders if Superman ever truly existed. She speaks of other myths like Supergirl and the moondragon, a riff on the Kara Zor-El Future State book. 

Ronan says while Kal may have never existed, all he stands for - Truth and Justice - do exist. And his insipration, his symbolism is felt by the rest of the clan.

Superman has become almost a religious figure.

The dawn breaks and it is time to get right through it.

The different sects within the House of El all cry out their allegiance to the cause before battle. Then they scream the battle cry, Truth And Justice.

Truth and Justice. As a battle cry. I love it.

I do love how the descendants of Warworld also swear allegiance to Superman for freeing them years ago. Nice call back to the prior WoW miniseries at least letting us now how that story turned out.

And then the Red King shows up.

He is Kal-El's blood son, ageless, and angry, He slaps around the others for being not of true blood, the genes of El diluted out. 

And he has some serious powers, just taking out every super-family member he can.

But then Brainy's desperation move proves worthy.

The actual Superman, gray haired but still vital, shows up and ends the fray. 

We learn that the Red King, Pyrrhos, is the son of Superman and Circe. Kryptonian and magic! An explosive combination. It is hinted that maybe Clark didn't know it was Circe when Pyrrhos was conceived. But more importantly, he knows that Circe has fed Pyrrhos nothing but lies.

Rather than end in bloodshed, we see the true power of Superman. He offers Pyrrhos redemption and the estranged son accepts. Sure, there are probably billions of corpses left in the wake of Pyrrhos' war but everyone deserves a second chance. 

Just like that the war is over. The Els are victorious because Superman pulled their fat out of the fire. All that is left is the retelling.

And so we see that the mythic opening is probably Theand'r's retelling of this battle and how the House Of El remains the beacon of hope it always has been.

I liked this story a lot. Superman Worlds Of War was a sort of primer on who Superman is. This was a summer blockbuster action movie. And heck, even I need one of those now and then. Plus you add in all the spice - heroic sacrifices, crises of faith, a few standing against many - and you have the elements you need. All this and new characters I want to read more of? Win win win.

I'd be absolutely remiss if I didn't talk more about Godlewski's art which includes space ships, Doomsdays, parademons, hand to hand combat etc. It is gorgeous. But the quiet moments, like Theand'r wondering about her beliefs, have weight too.

I think these stories set the stage of what Johnson thinks of Superman. I'm ready for the DCU to start up again.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Having a character named after Supergirl’s birth mother has to be a good sign!

I liked this more on second reading, and agree, it would be good to see these people again.

I do think that Son of Circe - and in my mind, this is the Silver Age Superman Family version, not the Wonder Woman villain - might have shown a little desire to change. Then again, I gave Superboy Prime a big pass...

Anonymous said...

Alura is a confusing case, because there's an implication that she's married to Khan-El. Early on, Brandon and he are talking about fighting alongside daughter and wife, and Theand'r and Alura are standing there.

But wouldn't that mean Khan-El married a cousin? And if she is his wife, their interactions seem to be mostly collegial. She is the one who reacts when Khan-El is slammed to the ground when Pyrrhos arrives, and she helps him up.

But if Alura isn't his wife, then I don't think we ever see who his wife is.

Alura might be partly descended from Amazons, because she wields a lasso and seems to be leading the charge of the cruiser-riding Valkyries, who dress like her (visors, for instance) but have red capes (hers is blue).

But she also says, referring to herself in 3rd person, that the Warworld Engines stand with her.

Maybe she had a connection to Bry, too.

A busy woman - in 2 relationships and leading 2 different groups of fighters?

Maybe I'm conflating two different characters.

I'd like to see the family tree!


Anonymous said...

(When I say Alura has a blue cape, I mean in the interior pages. Her cape is red on the cover, and Theand'rs and Khan-Els colors are also different on the cover.)