Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Review: Action Comics Annual 2023

Action Comics Annual 2023 came out last week, the last issue written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson. It is the culmination of the last 3 years of the book. For sure Johnson will be missed on Superman and on Action Comics.

From the arrival of the Phaelosians and Thao-La to the revolution on Warworld to the battle with Metallo to the threat of Norah Stone, Johnson has always shown Superman to be an inspirational leader. Superman is a hero because of his ethics and persona as well as his super-strength and heat vision. Yes, he battled monsters. But he also extended a hand of help to his enemies. He rallied people behind his symbol and his embodiment of hope. 

All that leads us to this story. Here Superman battles a demonic Janna Al Ghul and her armada. But he an inspiration to Otho-Ra. He is able to turn the Blue Earthers towards the light. And we are reminded how he helps the little guy as much as battles the giant villains.

I'd read much more Johnson on the character as he seems like he just Superman. Johnson also has written a great Supergirl. He handles Jon and Conner well. I'll miss all the supers under his care.

The art on the issue is done by Max Raynor who really seems to be a jack of all trades sort of artist. Here he seems to be channeling Rafa Sandoval a little. Compare it to his more energetic, cartoony take on Challenge of the Super-Sons or his slick look way back in Batman/Superman. Everything looks great.

This was a wonderful end chapter for Johnson's tenure on the book. He will be missed.

On to the book.

We start out on Earth Al Ghul with Superman, Bloodwynd, and Etrigan looking to rescue Otho-Ra. 

On the way, the heroes rescue a family who have been defying the Al Ghul rule. It can't be coincidence that this family includes and boy and a girl very similar in age to Otho and Osul.

Just like he inspired the twins on Warworld, Superman immediately inspires these children. The girl feels braver. The boy learns that sometimes the beginning of the fight against evil is as important as the ending. People have to stand up against injustice.

This is the hero Superman has been with Johnson. Inspiring.

As for Otho, she has been fed constant images of her becoming a brutal killing machine on Warworld, with lengths of chains as evidence.

Even within the image, Otho knows something is wrong. Els don't kill. She shouldn't be doing this.

But Janan's magic is powerful.

I like Otho's story arc. Remember how when we first met her, she was making fun of Superman on Warworld and craving the chains. Now she thinks of herself as an El. She doesn't want to kill.

Great art by Raynor here with a good use of a split panel to show the battle within Otho.

This whole time, I have wondered by Otho was so important to Janan's plan.

We learn that she burns her bodies out and needs to perform some ritual to take over someone else. With no other relatives to over-write, she wants to take over Otho.

Now it becomes clear. Why not possess an invulnerable body with incredible power? The dialogue implies the body has to be receptive. With Otho potentially being able to be turned, she makes the perfect target

This portion of the plot is key ... but is really only mentioned in a couple of panels. I wish we get a bit more explanation or visualization of this. But at least it makes more sense now.

The heroes arrive and Superman does his best to talk down Otho from her visions.

I really love these panels. 

The easiest way to break this spell on Otho is to mention Osul. Otho did everything she could to protect Osul on Warworld. She was his shield, like the Kryptonian myth. She isn't a killer or a warrior.

I like both sides of this. For one, it is true that Otho has protected her brother and worried about him from the beginning. That is not the cutthroat nature of gladiators on Warworld. I also really love the linking to the Kryptonian myth. Solid world-building here.

With her new vessel taken from her, Al Ghul shows her demonic kaiju form and invades Earth-0. 

Great art by Raynor here with this monstrous devil imposing and terrifying.

On Earth, the Blue Earth movement are attacking the alien section of Metropolis. 

Suddenly the sky is filled with the Al Ghul invasion force. 

Here is a great moment for Supergirl, one of many Johnson has given us. She reminds these Earthers that they fight for a safe Earth, which could be noble even if their means aren't. The time has come to repel the real invaders. She asks them to fight with the Supers.

Throughout his run, Kara has been the 'smartest person in the room'. She's been more than a young hero. She's been sort of second-in-command of the family. So here, her acting like Superman, inspiring these villains to fight for good, was powerful.

I'll miss Johnson writing Kara.

She's the field general. Here she commands the super-family on how to fight the Al Ghul army.

Seriously, let Johnson write Supergirl. 

Put Raynor on a Supergirl book. I'd buy it.

The fight on Earth turns the Supers way.

Norah Stone ends up being defeated at the hands of the super-twins and Superman.

Look closely. Otho manifest shield powers, much like her mythic counterpart who became the shield for her brother. And Osul somehow creates an energy sword, similar to the legend of the Red Son. 

I wonder if this will become their de facto power set. Or if they even make it out of this book into the next author's arc. But if Otho, the girl almost seduced into being a bloodthirsty warrior, becomes a defensive hero, it would be a poetic ending for her.

Suddenly the doors to Hell open and Janan Al Ghul is ripped through the gates. She threaten Superman that their fight isn't done meaning anyone can pick up from here.

Nothing left but the clean-up.

So how does Johnson end his time on the book. Well back in Action Comics #1057 , we met an ex-con construction worker Superman helped save, an ex-con worried his son will turn to crime.

Now we see that construction worker on the job rebuilding Metropolis. His son shows up and the two have a talk about the good that Superman has done for the city. Not only battering bad guys but inspiring everyone in the city to be better. We see glimpses of the rest of the Supers helping out around town (love Kara giving someone down on their luck a bite to eat). And even this man has been inspired by Superman. That is his power.

Such a great ending, powerful in that it is told from a POV that the reader can understand. 

It's hard to see a writer go when they are still on the top of their game. Johnson was firing on all cylinders. He leaves big shoes to fill. And he has made me a fan. As I have said before, he will be missed.

Overall grade: A


PT Dilloway said...

Sounds like he's going out on a high note. I hope they don't retcon too much of his story right away.

Martin Gray said...

Top review. I’ll really miss PKJ, and Raynor as a real treat at the end.

Is that Kara and Nat given a school talk at the end? Love it!

Anj said...

I think it is 'Paige' and Nat teaching.

I'll really miss PKJ.

Martin Gray said...

Hmm, the hair is in between Supergirl and Peege length… and wouldn’t Paige be wearing glasses?

Anj said...

If only there was a consistent look and tone to Power Girl!

Anonymous said...

It's now Dr. Paige Stetler, tech columnist, so it makes sense she's also faking teaching credentials along with her fake PhD.

Meanwhile as far as we know Kara just sleeps under rocks or gets drunk when she isn't flying around.

So that must be Paige.


Anonymous said...

Well it felt a little pat to me, like they only had a certain number of panels by which to wrap things up, but "Second in Command" to the House of El, is a sweet spot compared to being Ruthye's enabler or PG's sidekick...
Ghod Only Knows Where Supergirl Ends Up Next...


Anonymous said...

I think that's gotta be Kara in that panel. That's what my first reaction was. In Action Comics 2058 it was Kara and Nat who broke up the scuffle that Otho was getting into with one of the other kids at Steelworks. So Kara must have some of consistent presence there. And isn't PG some news reporter now? Wouldn't it be great to see Kara and Nat in a story mentoring the kids at the Steelworks Institute. Is that what her civilian job is in Metropolis now?

What a great run by PKJ. After a long time out of reading monthly comic books in floppy form I jumped back in around Action 1050. I'm glad I did. I now have to go back and read that whole warworld saga.

Anj said...

I reached out to Max Raynor on Twitter.

Indeed, that panel is Kara and Nat! Not Paige.

Good eyes folks!