Friday, May 28, 2021

Review: Action Comics #1031

Action Comics #1031 came out this week and was a crackling second parter to the Warworld Rising storyline by creators Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Daniel Sampere.

I have to say this is probably my favorite issue by Johnson to date. The ever-present Father/Son musings have been muted here. The 'Superman is dying'/'Jon is becoming Superman' plot has also been put on pause a bit. I need to be clear. I don't mind those story bits. But at time in the Johnson era they have been a bit heavy-handed. I needed a breather and I got one.

And what a breather. The Warworld refugees plot is pushed forward significantly. But there are still some mysteries here, enough to make me stroke my chin and ponder a bit. A new subplot with Atlantis is put into play. 

Plus, and shame on me for burying the lede, Supergirl shows up and is smart, bright, optimistic, and caring. Pencil in some moment from this issue into the 'best of 2021' list. If this is how Johnson views Kara, shame on DC for making her drunk and vengeful. Let her stay here.

Daniel Sampere's art (with great colors by Adriano Lucas) really pops this issue. The opening battle sequences given energy, the quiet exposition moments given care. I wouldn't mind seeing him on something Supergirl in the future if the stars aligned.

On to the book.

Picking up where last issue left off, Warworld fighters are swarming around a Warworld troop ship filled with refugees speaking an ancient Kryptonian dialect.

This opening page is just fantastic.

First we see the S-symbol. And then this wonderful wide-eyed expression on the girl on board as she recognizes it. Superman is almost angelic in this whited out, lit from behind, sort of silhouette, adding to the feel. And then he is off before she can reach out and touch him. We see that she has the S-shield branded on her palms. There is some connection here!

Just brilliant.

And I love Superman's dialogue here. He introduces himself as Clark, an important distinction from Kal. And he won't let her be harmed.

A perfect amalgamation of words and art.

Jon tries to keep the refugee ship in the sky but it truly is barely holding together and begins falling into the sea.

Meanwhile, Superman skirmishes with the fighters and drives them off, giving Jon and him time to swoop in and grab the Kryptonian-speaking refugees before the ship plunges into the ocean.

I never know if these things are intentional. But Superman using the tractor chains the fighters are using to defeat them has some symbolism. He is freeing the refugees from the chains of their enslavers. He is attacking the Warzoon using their own symbols of domination against them. 

And wonderful art again. That last panel, you can feel the momentum of the toss with Superman's body language.

The refugees are brought to the Fortress for medical care where the entire super-family is in attendance to help. These prisoners are in terrible medical condition, suffering from all sorts of maladies.

I am just thrilled that Supergirl is there to help her cousins, especially given the fact that these prisoners might be Kryptonian. She has the most to say about the culture having lived it.

With Kara, Jon, and Lois on duty in the Fortress, Superman heads to Atlantis who have claimed the refugee ship as theirs. 

One thing that is interesting is that the ship seemed to be powered by a chunk of the Source Wall. It is emanating immense power.

Superman, of course, would like to study it but the Atlanteans claim it as their own. It is too powerful and too valuable to give up. And if Superman is asking them to care for the ship, he has to give them some perks too.

But this is an interesting mystery! How did they get this? I can imagine at some point Superman might actually need to reclaim this setting up some friction with the Atlanteans. Fascinating.

And yes, I noticed sigils on this thing, some similar to the weird ones Scott Snyder brought to all his Totality stuff.

But there was more on that ship ... prisoners.

These guys speak some other language. They know Superman though. That word is clear. So what are they saying? And who is teaching them to hate Superman.

Their behavior says these are beings whose minds have been twisted. They don't want their chains removed. And the big one immediately attacks Superman.

I got the sense here that Warworld is a terrible place where Mongul not only imprisons these people but slowly warps them into a sort of fanatical fervor surrounding his power over them.

Back at the Fortress, we get some exposition. Supergirl is everything I want her to be here: intelligent, caring, optimistic.

When Jon scoffs at these refugees being Kryptonian, Kara reminds him that they are just being exposed to the yellow sun and therefore might be slower in processing it.

Then she translates the saying Superman said, from the dead Kryptonian language Falkiri. This is the equivalent of someone on Earth knowing Latin by ear and translating it on the fly.

But hold on, there is more.

She not only can translate the phrase, she knows the context.

Thalkis was a scientist on Krypton who was executed for her devotion to the truth. She was like Galileo. So there is no reason for these refugees to pray to her.

Jon thinks it is a trap and flies off. Remember, he knows that history says Superman dies sometime soon. He knows there is a legend of Superman heading to the stars with other Kryptonians never to return. No wonder he is denying these prisoners being from Krypton. What I like is Kennedy trusts the reader to remember this and put it together. We don't need another text box talking about Superman's death and Jon's fears. We are shown ... not told.

But here is the big thing for me. Johnson could easily have let Lois say all these things. Lois has been researching Kryptonian history in the Fortress. Instead, he lets Kara have this moment. It shows her intelligence. It shows how she wants to care for these people.

How does this Kara, standing next to her family, helping, and wanting to be a presence become the drunken, sword-wielding, despondent being in the Tom King upcoming book? And why doesn't DC recognize this sort of characterization of Supergirl as valid?

In the Fortress, the refugee girl awakens. 

She shows she has some powers, smashing a Kelex with her bare hands. She rushes to find her chains (removed by the heroes) and rewraps her arms.

She flashes back to Warworld. Mongul tells her that he is merciful. He will spare her people if she goes out and kills his enemy, her enemy - Superman. And to remind her, he will mark her with her enemy's sigil.

It turns out that Jon was right. This is a trap.

This is a disturbing torture scene and Sampere shows us the horror.

I wonder if somewhere in the past, some Kryptonian scientists, devoted to the philosophy of Thalkis, were captured by Warworld and remained on the planet as slaves. They mated with other prisoners, resulting in this girl and her people. They have some power but not all the power of pure Kryptonians. And they have been under the heel of Monguls for so long they can't recognize him as the villain. That would explain the older language, the idea of Thalkis as a god (perhaps blurred over time), and the power set.

Regardless, this was a great issue! I wanted to read more right immediately, always a good sign. I love the colors here from the bright Fortress, to the murky blues and greens in Atlantis to the reds of Warworld, Lucas brings it.  From the action to the exposition, to the mysteries, it is a very entertaining read.

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for a terrific review, I especially like your speculation about the origin of the young woman.

And yes, Supergirl was spectacular here without using a single power - her personality and intellect just shines. Why can’t DC embrace THIS character?

Anonymous said...

I thought that she was already wearing Superman's sigil - Mongul says she chose it. It's part of what infuriated him.

Maybe most of the stuff about Superman declining or dying is in the Superman book, soon to be cancelled and replaced by the Jon book. That book needs to justify the upcoming changes.

But meanwhile Action will be continuing - best not to over-emphasize Superman's supposed death or decline more than is needed here, but engage us with the actual story that is still unfolding.

This was a darn good issue!


Anonymous said...

Just think in a few short weeks Supergirl will go from being heroic and steadfast to being drunk & alone on a red sun planet...but hey, she gets a sword!! All Hail Blonde Sonja!! DC's Next Big Idea!!



Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of supergirl,

A new moment for your top 10 of 2021,i have the impression that it will be difficult this year.

Honorable mention for Krypto : a nap in the library !

Martin Gray said...

Condescending as ever.

Yeah, yeah, we know Kara’s history, KET. And we can all find Tom King interviews and read his Twitter feed. The fact is, he loves to write about damaged heroes and if they’re not damaged, he’ll sure as heck ladle on some angst.

Supergirl has worked through her traumas many times, I don’t want to see her not just back to square one, but down at minus five, acting out the self-destructive loner bit. It’s tired. I want to read about a heroine who has had terrible troubles, and finds her joy.

Anj said...

It is easy to take care of this Mart.

But thanks for defending.

Anj said...

I think it is important for me to say outright that it is not differences in opinion but tone and manners that matter here.

I like hearing different opinions. But not insults.

And as I have been blocked from responding to you on other platforms, I see no need to let you have this be your bully pulpit KET.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Anj. There is absolutely no reason because you should put up with his smug, patronizing insults and mockery.