Monday, July 4, 2022

Review: Action Comics #1044

Some life stuff kept me from getting comics in a timely fashion last week so reviews were pushed back a bit. So you get a review of Action Comics #1044 on the Fourth of July holiday. Seems fitting that on the day we celebrate America's independence, we get another chapter of Superman trying to win Warworld's denizens their freedom.

Writer Philip Kennedy Johnson has been doing a wonderful job with pacing this Warworld saga. These are middle chapters but every issue continues to move the plot forward. Every issue has a plot thread nudged, a new thread begun. But we also continue to get a good look at Superman as an inspirational figure. This isn't just action. This isn't just revolution. This is how Superman can change things and change people. 

This issue also has an excellent back-up, 'A World without Clark Kent', looking at an Earth without Superman. In it we get a peek at what the Superman family has been doing. And in particular we get a great look at Supergirl and the respect she has from the other members of the team. We see a caring Supergirl, invested in her family, and caring about others. She also has a great left jab. It's about time we see this Supergirl again. Johnson really seems to have a solid understanding of her.

The art is a wonderful mix. Riccadro Federici continues the horror show of Warworld. Mongul's warriors are part Cenobite from the Hellraiser movies, part Alien Xenomorph, part Venom symbiote, and all carnage. Mongul is vicious and brutal. It sings. Will Conrad draws a flashback giving us the origin of Orphan. And David Lapham brings a grungy style to the Earth back-up. Each part's look fits the story.

I truly feel this is going to be a landmark story for Superman, with a lasting impact. Everyone should be reading it. On to the particulars.

We start with Superman talking to the captured Mongul elite named Orphan. I love how Superman introduces himself as Clark. It humanizes him. 

Looking back we see two explorers, a couple from Valeron (that's Vartox's planet!), were investigating the Source Wall when it exploded. The female explorer was pregnant at the time. Despite the astronauts getting killed in the explosion, the Valeronian nurse droid somehow rescued the fetus. Between the Source Wall energy and the robotics, the two fused to become Orphan and Darling. (I like how the woman calls the man Darling as a pet name ... the origin of the robot's name I assume.)

The two were discovered by Mongul's troops and realize what they have with this Source-powered being. They have a warrior and they have knowledge to build 'Orphan Boxes', the variant Mother boxes.

We learned last month that Mother, one of Mongul's elite warriors, isn't a sycophant. She likes to feed and Mongul could use her. That was interesting to me, that her loyalties were to herself, not Mongul.

Here we see that is similar to Orphan. Orphan is all too ready to betray Mongul and help Superman rescue Enchantress if and only if Superman reunites them with Darling. That relationship is more important than loyalty to Mongul. 

This whole story is a contrast between Superman and Mongul. While Superman is inspiring and leading and showing people the way, Mongul's highest ranked officers are in it for themselves. Mongul isn't a leader.

Orphan even knows that Superman needs to unlock the secrets of Genesis and for that he needs someone 'far away'. Nat seems to intuit who that must be. It has to be Thao-La. She has always been a key here.

To hammer home that contrast of Superman and Mongul, we get this great scene. 

Otho and  Osul, the two young Warworld inhabitants who initially made fun of Superman, are now sort of following him like eager younger siblings. They can't believe Superman has a sleeping mat amongst the people, so different from what they expect from 'leaders'. 

And then Superman shows them some carvings he is doing. Koltari is a Kryptonian art carving, a sort of puzzle box. He talks about making one for Jon and keeping himself busy by making more here. He gives them each one he has made.

This sort of humanity is what I love about Superman. And the inclusion of this scene is just the breather we need in this issue which is about to get bloody. Clark has his down time  even here where he gets to show people who he is.

Meanwhile, Mongul is missing his fallen scientist Teacher. The remaining workers can't resurrect Lightray. In frustration, Mongul pulps one of their heads.

When OMAC says they only joined Mongul because of his promise to return Lightray to life, Mongul lashes out against her.

Again, we go from Superman talking to the kids about art to Mongul killing and attacking his troops. 

Orphan leads the Revolution to the stronghold of Mother.

Mother initially looks like a vampire queen out of Morrison's Doom Patrol but quickly morphs to a sort of Queen Alien look. 

But even in this final form, Superman is able to rescue Enchantress and make his escape via Orphan's teleportation powers.

The scene is a horror show of Orphan blasts and Mother's freakish monstrosity. It is beautifully and terrifyingly drawn by Federici. I would have showed more if I could. 

Again, I just love Superman's dogged tenacity here. He won't be scared by Mother. He won't allow her to drain Enchantress any more. And if Mother doesn't like it, she can complain to Mongul. 

Remember, Mother isn't an acolyte of Mongul. She works with Mongul because he gives her the victims to feed. Losing Enchantress is a breach of their contract.

She confronts him ... only to be quickly dispatched!

Every time I think I have a sense of how powerful Mongul is, Johnson ratchets things up a notch. He kills Mother almost too easily. 

And it is a clear delineation between leading by example and leading through fear. Mongul is going to run out of his elite fighting force pretty soon. 

Unless he reforms or recreates them.

His scientists are able to resurrect Lightray by fusing her with Mother. This is another creepy new character, a sort of Venom-ized Lightray. 

The hooded figure, who I think is a traitorous Kryl-Ux, is there to witness it. They think this will force Superman to find the remains of Orglun.

Whew! What an issue. Both plot and characterization was brilliant here. 

But wait there's more!

At the Fortress, Thao-La continues to have significant medical fluctuations in power and stability as she tries to absorb Genesis energy.

The medical pod is worthless. Thao-La will die and probably take out everyone when she does. Supergirl realizes she needs to do something. Despite Kelex's protest that the pod was built to withstand Kryptonian strength, she shatters it with a straight left.

(I really love that Steel knows that Kelex needn't worry. When Supergirl sets her mind on something, she does it.)

Great action here by Lapham. You can feel the blow.

And then, perhaps hoping that Thao-La's Kryptonian heritage can help save her, Kara flies her to the sun.  Another great pic showing that Supergirl can be physical and caring.

I know I see things that aren't there but seeing that panel immediately reminded me of this one, at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, with Superman carrying Kara's body.

But then the piece de resistance!

Amanda Waller recruits Kenny Braverman to help her recover the Genesis Wall stone.

That's right! Hold on to your Zero Hours! It's Conduit!!!


So we got the incredible main chapter. We got excellent Supergirl moments. And Conduit.

This was a meal of an issue. And I am already hungry for more.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Tremendous thorough insightful review! Learned a lot and really enjoying this Action run.

Anonymous said...

Great review.

The convoluted syntax makes it is difficult to be sure, but I think Darling may be only the name of the little robot, and not the husband's name or how she's addressing him. Though that is definitely kind of weird. But doesn't matter at all.

I wonder if what Johnson has done with Lightray here is to pick up on the ominous ending from Morrison's Authority book, "Lightray Is."


Anonymous said...

Nice to see Supergirl backing up Action Comics Again...if only for a few panels. love her strength, determination and compassion, “Nobody is Dying on Her Watch!” Being the message here. Somewhere in super heroine Valhalla, the Silver Age Supergirl nods in agreement.