Friday, January 28, 2022

Review: Action Comics #1039

Action Comics #1039 came out this week and was another superb chapter in the Warworld Saga. Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson is not only giving us a Superman we need right now, but he is also building a complicated and multilayered new world for us to explore. 

The main plot is a depowered Superman playing Spartacus in the arena of Warworld, inspiring hope and ultimately I assume revolution. That part of the plot is impeccable as we see a Superman sticking to his ethics while supposedly in deathmatches. We see him turning people's hopelessness around. It is fantastic. 

But Johnson is really world building here, both metaphorically and more literally. We are starting to learn about Warworld itself, it's origins and layers. We have already learned about the culture and patriarchy of the Mongul clan. Now we are also learning about the traditions and lives of the arena fighters. We see snippets of hymns sung to Thaklis. We learn about the Phaelosians.  Meaty stuff.

This also marks the beginning of Riccardo Federici on art. Every artist on the Warworld Saga has been spectacular and Federici is no exception. His work brings a very detailed finely penciled look to it that sings off the page. Every sinew, every tendon, every crag on a warrior's face is visible and palpable. It reminds me of the ultra-rich Sunday comics of yesteryear. It isn't exactly Hal Foster or Alex Raymond but it evokes the lushness of them.

As I have said many times on this blog, I want good stories. If you tell a good story, even if it is in a direction I didn't think I would like, you still got me. I didn't know I wanted an Earth Elemental Swamp Thing until I got it. I didn't know I needed a flame-winged Matrix Supergirl until I got it. I didn't think I wanted Superman off-Earth on Warworld when I first heard it. But I am thrilled I am getting it. This is great storytelling.

On to the specifics.

We start out mid-battle. The Phaelosian children we met last issue, OMAC, Kryl-Ux, and Superman are on one side of the melee. Giant beats and other of the warrior slaves are on the other. I mean Superman could very easily say 'they have a cave troll' in this fight.

But it also shows how Superman's team uses actual strategy, tripping these things with their chains and holding them down. That is, until Superman comes in and basically punches out some sort of dinosaur thing.

Look at this art and feel the strain and sweat in the combatants. Amazing.

But I also love the voice-over, Clark's Warworld journal. The words sound so spot on showing Johnson's understanding of the character. Clark talks of being a reporter, the son of farmers and scientists, and how his work as a hero was to be the 'champion of the oppressed'. What better way to wear that name than by trying to save these slaves.

Post-victory, we see the team lining up to get their added chain links. 

We see those children playing make believe with one of them saying they are Mongul. I guarantee we see this scene play out again but with that kid pretending they are Superman. He will worm his way into their beliefs that way.

But more importantly is how competent OMAC is in the fights. And also how surly she is. She is grieving Lightray and you can tell she blames Superman for bringing them there. How long before we see OMAC on the other side, facing off against Clark.

As for Natasha, I like how she also wants to work her way into the system in a different way, asking to join Leonath as a smithy.  She wants to make her own armor ... and maybe help out Superman.

She is still on mission. And I love that about her.

Even here we see those small touches. As night falls, we hear the prisoners in the Phaelosian section singing hymns to Thaklis the Kryptonian scientist.

Inside the prison, Kryl-Ux chides Clark for his head-on battle style, reminding our hero that he no longer is invulnerable. 

As I said in the intro, Johnson is piling layers on layers. Here we learn about the Phaelosian homeworld, a place that sounds idyllic with homesteads and a viable ecosystem. That is, until Mongul and Warworld came.

Will we see flashbacks of this place? How they came to embrace Thalkis' teachings? I can only hope so.

And even more world building, this time about Warworld.

The original origin, as discussed in DCCP #28, is dismissed as untrue by Superman. 

Instead we learn that at one point Warworld was an actual planet with lands and animals, a world were bits and pieces of other worlds have been bolted to the surface and built over ad nauseum. It is an ever growing amalgam of conquered cultures. 

I assume this is the original world of the Warzoon. But how interesting that there are giant worms and lizards from that original world still crawling under the heaped up tech.

And then in another 'culture' moment, we see a funereal ceremony where the slaves and the Warzoon both attend without combat.

We have learned how Warworld will kill any who stand in their way. They will bring some survivors on as gladiators. And when the last of a race taken this way dies, there is a ceremony where the body is thrown into the abyss below the surface.

The Warzoon praise Mongul and their ways for conquering these people.
The slaves mourn the loss.

But what I love about this scene is Superman's response. He apologizes to this being for not being there earlier, not saving that race. He will protect others where he failed here.

That is Superman. 

But wait, there's more.

Johnson throws another plot thread into the tapestry.

Clark sees some of the language that was on the 'Source Wall rock'. Moreover, he can tell that the Warzoon don't know how to read it. Is this another culture that got bolted onto Warworld so long ago that the understanding of it was lost in time? Is this a subterranean Warworld culture still around? 

And how did the Phaelosians sent to Earth get hold of that rock. 

This is going to factor in somehow. Given the power that small rock gave off, who knows how much power exists here.

In the end, Superman realizes he needs to adapt.

He'll learn the way of the Gladiator. And he gets a S-shield chest plate from Natasha, something she forged.

Federici makes Clark look so beefy. 

That would have been a fine ending right there. But there's even more.

Midnighter has started his own rebellion, one more violent. He and a couple of new followers kill some Warzoon and sneak into a temple where other Warzoons are praying loudly around a shackled Apollo. Midnighter vows to save his lover. At some point.

No doubt all this 'praying' is some brainwashing. Without a doubt we will see Superman fight OMAC. Without a doubt, we'll also see him fight Apollo. 

So nothing but praise for this issue. We start out with a tremendous action sequence. And then we get, in essence, a lot of exposition. But it is presented in a way that we are shown and told. The wonders of this saga just keep heaping up, like the layers on Warworld.

I didn't know I needed this story. But I'm sure glad I am getting it.

Overall grade: A

1 comment:

Martin Gray said...

Wonderful review. You’re right, this is the Superman story that’s come out of nowhere and grabbed the imagination, giving a renewed energy to the Man of Steel’s legend. When the original Future State preview story appeared, I was gloomy, thinking I’d never enjoy an extended trip to Warworld, but this is brilliant stuff, I’m mentally budgeting for an omnibus. Kennedy Johnson’s story, Federici’s art, Daniel Sampere’s cover (did you see his Tweet on that subject, in which he said he wanted to evoke Seventies gladiators movies?)… the Warworld Saga is the very definition of ‘Instant classic’.