Monday, January 3, 2022

Review: Action Comics #1038

Happy New Year to all!

What better way to ring in the new year than by posting my review of Action Comics #1038.  Action Comics has really been hitting on all cylinders recently and this chapter of the Warworld Saga is no exception. 

Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson is bringing in a multi-layered epic that will probably stand up for years to come. He has taken Superman off-world. He has weakened him. These things I am usually wary of. But Johnson also is bringing us new myths to the Superman legend, the Phaelosians and their culture are at the very least Krypton-adjacent. He is showing us a truly inspirational Superman, bringing hope to the lives of the downtrodden. Add to this some insane action, appropriate for this title, and you have a winner. The ending of this issue gave me goose bumps.

Miguel Mendonca's art is perfect for the arc. Somehow Mendonca gives us polished art that is somehow at the same time gritty. That works for a storyline set on the dingy arena world of the Warworld, filled with grime and blood while also elevating Superman as a hero. Clean and gritty? How?

On to the specifics.

Last issue ended with Mongul burying his spear into Superman's chest. I thought for sure this was some bluff, a mind-trick by Manchester Black. 


It was Superman. But he is brought back to life by Mongul's servant. Because somehow the symbol of a defeated, enslaved Superman is a better victory for Mongul than a dead Superman.

Paraded around in chains, Superman seems utterly defeated. His feats of besting Starro, Darkseid, and even the prior Mongul are lauded, making the new Mongul seem even more powerful. The Authority are trussed up too.

Now there is no way that Superman could 'really' die here. But it seems Mongul has fallen for one of the worst villain traps ever, keeping his enemy alive. While keeping Superman alive here might make Warworld continue to tremble, being able to crow you killed Superman would reverberate throughout the universe.

I talked about how Johnson is adding culture and history to the Superman myths. An early thing added was the idea that Mongul is a title earned. 

Here we learn that if you defeat someone on Warworld, you claim all their belongings. That's another great addition.

Mongul now feels he has claim to Earth and the UP. He gives the defeated Authority to Mongul's champions as slaves. But OMAC and Steel, who broke free earlier and tried to fight their way to Mongul, get added to the arena warriors. 

See what I mean about Mendonca's art. The page layouts flow well. That first panel is so sharp. And then the second panel, showing the beaten Superman is so dark and gritty. Just wonderful.

But the big thing in this whole arc is Superman as beacon of hope and goodness.

When Mongul declares Superman his slave and demands that Kal behead the fallen warrior Khaljo, Superman instead uses the axe to cut the chains holding up the corpse of Lightray.

Lightray is long dead but Superman still gives her kind words to send her off on her journey. Beautiful language here. The pieta-like pose, the soulful look on Superman in that last panel make this even more impactful. 

Plus, no doubt Lightray, as a New God, does come back. We haven't seen the last of Lia.

We had already learned about how the length of your chain on Warworld is a marker of freedom, a sign of combat victories. 

Now we get to see this ceremony happen. OMAC and Steel took out 6 guards when they tried to escape so six links. With other slaves chanting prayers about being chained, OMAC gets 4 links, Steel 2. 

Poor Steel. You'll need to be a great fighter to win in the arena while essentially handcuffed.

But it is the pomp that got me here. This was almost religious as the other slaves talk of the grace of Mongul, blessing the heroes with this iron. 

Bloodied and bruised, Superman is thrown into the cells with the other Phaelosians. 

We meet a couple of them, including some younger fighters who initially don't buy into the hope that Superman represents, threatening to kill him even.

But when he name-drops Thao-La, a couple of them soften. I love how, perhaps realizing how close he came to dying ... or how he is dying ... Superman thinks of Jon. 

It has been a while since I have seen a Superman this completely physically destroyed. Great work by Mendonca showing this shattered Kal. 

Up to this point, Johnson has shown us a Superman simply outmatched by Mongul. It looks like our hero is completely beaten.

But then things turn around and we see the real strength of our hero.

The Midnighter actually did escape. He comes to free Superman. If the two blow up the red sun generators, Superman's powers will return and the Man of Steel can take the surviving Authority home.

But Superman refuses. First, if the generators are destroyed, it will rip apart Warworld killing everyone. More importantly, Superman is right where he wants to be, inside with the slaves, where his message is most needed.


That's Superman.

Disgusted, Midnighter storms off wondering if the slaves' lives are worth more than the heroes.

Not more. But not less.



That's Superman.

And this is how those ideas of hope spread. We see the young Phaelosian  Osul-Ra is awake. She hears that Superman could have escaped but didn't. Maybe she sees how selfless he is.

That could have been a great way to end the issue.

But Johnson gives us another ka-pow moment.

Khaljo, the warrior Superman refused to kill, also bore witness to that exchange.

He scrawls the S-shield into the dirt of his cell, saying simply 'hope'. 


Even bashed and beaten, Superman can be an inspiration. This is how he wins.

I just loved this issue. Loved it. 

Seriously, Superman is physically beaten but indomitable. He cares. And he wants to be heard by those who need him the most.

Powerful stuff indeed.

What did you think?

Overall grade: A+


Anonymous said...

Agreed, this is truly epic in scope.


Martin Gray said...

Great review, this was another winner. I loved the Martian Manhunter back-up too.

Is this Lightray a New God? I thought she was the Tangent Universe Flash with a new name.

Anj said...

I thought in the Superman and Authority mini it was said she was a New God.

I'll have to look again!