Friday, November 12, 2021

Review: Action Comics #1036

Action Comics #1036 came out this week, the first chapter in the much anticipated Warworld Saga. Between the events in the Future State Superman mini-series and the current storyline, we knew this is where it would be heading. I guess the bigger question is where it will be ending. That Future State Worlds of War mini-series felt like it was many years in the future given the gray hair on that Superman. But maybe ... just maybe ... that was a near future state.

Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson has really been hitting it out of the park recently on this title. This Superman, dying from breech radiation, being proactive in the need to free the Warworld slaves, and mystified by (perhaps) an offshoot of surviving Kryptonians, has been a compelling character. Perhaps more compelling than I can remember. Whether it is slamming his fist on the JLA table to be heard or organizing a misfit band of near-heroes and villains to be his strike force, this is an incredibly determined hero, perhaps racing the clock to do one last great deed. Invading Warworld? Incredible.

But as impressive as that is, the fact that Johnson (for the most part) seamlessly ties this book into the metatextual romp of the recent Grant Morrison Superman and the Authority mini-series, is a feat. I have to admit I didn't see it coming. I thought this was just going to be a 'don't think about it too hard' sort of timeline.

On top of this, Daniel Sampere is bringing startlingly great art to the proceedings. There is a panel here that is haunting that I just stared at for some time. There is a splash page that is inspiring that I stared at for a long time. But he also has to show us Durlans, the Authority space ship, and monstrous aliens too. Everything works together beautifully.

On to the book.

There is quite an interesting beginning.

A wise, rather calm appearing Durlan is writing a letter to his people saying he will leave his post as head of the planet to become the head of the United Planets. His words are serene and poetic.

And underling arrives to say that Superman has sent a message looking for UP help in his Warworld invasion. In that missive, Superman drops that he is there to save the Phaelosians.

That word 'Phaelosians' triggers the Durlan President to drop his monkish demeanor. He flies into a rage saying he will never help Phaelosians. The word must never be said. This messenger must never tell this to others. He even loses such control that he insults the aide and his mother.

The change in this being's personality is palpable. Sampere's art conveys it beautifully. 

But why this response? Did the Phaelosians have a bad reputation in the universe? Did they attack Durla? How interesting would it be if these are culturally abhorrent beings that Superman is striving to free (along with all the other Warworld slaves)?

Cut to our heroes who have arrived in their ship to Warworld.

The place looks like Apokolips. The planet is dotted with explosions as we learn that while Mongul rules the planet, there are internal tribal skirmishes across the land. 

In what looks like a warning (sort of abandon all hope), we see a corpse hanging crucified from a satellite with a banner across his chest. Later we learn it means 'so say the dead'. 

Superman flies out and closes the eyes of this poor soul. I like this reaction from the Authority. It is such an oddball team. Manchester Black can't fathom why Superman cares about one dead being. Meanwhile Lightray hopes she can become like Superman, caring about everyone. 

I love Superman as a symbol hope and aspiration for new heroes.

The team lands on the planet and are met by a projection of a hooded figure. Superman recognizes this being as someone established on Warworld but also an apparent ally (even though all the Authority thinks this person talks like a super-villain).

This being says Superman is too late to save all the recently dead. The culture of Warworld is that beings who kill become stronger by that kill, getting links in their chains and mythically absorbing the strength of the slain. Also, intriguingly, this being says they know Phaelosians better than anyone.

They lead Superman to this field of the Phaelosians, all crucified and dead. This isn't your father's Mongul, shooting impossibly large missiles in space. This is a villain that'll order the mass death of a race out of spite. It looks as though Mongul has killed all the Phaelosians. Perhaps Thao-La is the last remaining. Chilling.

Kudos to Sampere. This is a stunning and horrific page. The dead just dot the landscape. But I stared at this page for a long time. Powerful.

Now Superman calls this person a 'he' but who knows what is under that cloak. Given the theoretical longevity of Kryptonians perhaps this is some Kryptonian ex-pat who leads the Phalelosians in the teachings of  Thalkis, the Kryptonian scientist?

The trail of the dead lead Superman and the Authority into some skirmishes.  The landscape seems a bit too much like Earth for comfort with busted down autos and roving gangs. Ultimately the heroes into the Warworld Arena.

There, in another poster worthy panel, Superman addresses the beings of Warworld, telling them he is there to break the chains of slavery that Mongul has put them in. 

A hope speech, an inspirational speech!

And the art here, with our point of view looking up at Superman, the light behind him, is perfect.

Again, I stared for a long time here, rereading the speech a couple of times before turning the page.

The speech is interrupted by Chaytil, the advisor of Mongul.

We have seen that there is less than more of this person, missing legs and an arm. But he has a long chain. He says he is the longest living Warzoon, meaning he has slain the most. 

He then boasts he will continue to live, and live long enough to see all the heroes heads adorning the arena.

This philosophy that killing leads to strength and freedom is so warped. The fact that this person, so wounded is considered one of the strongest is insane. The perfect foil to Superman's message.

But Chaytil didn't come alone.

He brought his own super-powered team: Teacher, Mother, Orphan, Darling, and the Unmade. All are sufficiently bizarre enough to have walked out of a Grant Morrison Doom Patrol issue. In fact, Mother looks so much like Red Jack that I wonder if it is Rhea under the mask.

And they have some power. Mother releases enough Kirby Krackle to knock Superman down an peg.

Looking forward to seeing a brawl between the supers.

And then this brilliant revelation.

Mother's attack reveals that Superman is much worse off from his illness than we have been led to believe. Enchantress has been powering him up and putting on a glamour.

Boom! Just like that we have a Clark that looks like the Superman and The Authority hero.  Just like that we have a Superman that looks like the character in the Future State Worlds of War mini. Just like that we are linked.

Okay, so it doesn't explain how that Superman was talking to Kennedy. And it does mean that maybe Clark was fooling Jon and Lois. Maybe they didn't realize he was in this rough of a shape. Do they know he is dying? 

Anyways, that was a 'whoa' moment in the book. Only topped by Mongul himself showing up at the end.

This was a great opening chapter to this arc. Lots of tidbits pushing things along. Tremendous art including some stupendous pages and panels. And then this big reveal.

Roll on Warworld Saga!

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Top review, as ever. Such a great story and amazing art, with the colouring of Nightwing regular Adriano Lucas again showing what a talent has is.

I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read my review of the issue, but I didn’t find the weak, great Superman reveal as convincing as did you… that’s likely me being thick!

Now, what did I miss as to why the cloaked person might not be bad? The bit about him not being there to fight?

Anj said...

Hmmm ...

That being seems almost self-serving. There wasn't a lot of pro-Mongul stuff in that speech. More cultural discussions.

I just wonder if this is someone playing both sides.

But I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Sampere has been tremendous, and unfortunately this is his last issue. #1037 later in November will be drawn by Miguel Mendonca. While Sampere's name is solicited for #1038, he just posted to Instagram that #1036 was his last on the book and it's unlikely he forgot. Then Mendonca is listed for #1039.

Mendonca has been drawing Justice League: Last Ride.

In the official Future State Timeline, the Worlds of War story occurs in 2030. Things are accelerated, though - the Batman stories were supposedly taking place in 2025-2027, but those too are happening now.