Back in January, DC launched its ‘Future State’ event, which consisted of two months of stories set in a possible future, five or so years hence. One of those stories (“Superman: Worlds of War”) involved Superman as a prisoner of Mongul on Warworld. Since that miniseries, “Action Comics” has been slowly building to a version of the ‘Future State’ story, and this issue begins, in earnest, what writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and DC have been calling the ‘Warworld Saga.’
Written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Illustrated by Daniel Sampere
Colored by Adriano Lucas
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
THE WARWORLD SAGA BEGINS! After learning of an enslaved race with mysterious ties to Krypton, Superman and the Authority travel across the galaxy to dethrone the new Mongul and liberate Warworld. Introducing new characters and a new corner of the DC Universe, the biggest Superman event since the Death and Return of Superman begins HERE.
One of the big questions around the ‘Warworld Saga’ was how “Superman and the Authority,” a four issue miniseries by Grant Morrison, Mikel Janin, et al, would fit in with it, continuity wise. In that series, Superman has been significantly de-powered and appears older, with grey streaks forming at his temples. It essentially seemed like it was an alternate version of Johnson’s story, but not quite the ‘Future State’ iteration, either.
This issue addresses that head on, and gives the reader a firm answer as to how all of this fits together. It’s not the most elegantly told reveal, but it works, and works especially in an old school comics kind of way, aided in no small part by Daniel Sampere’s classicist approach to drawing Superman. Sampere’s Superman is about as iconic as you can get, and set against the backdrop of both the ‘new’ Authority and the hellscape that is Warworld, his signature spit curl seems like a beacon of hope and tradition in place where everything is wrong.
Sampere’s tone begins with bluster and hope and, as the script instructs, his Authority imagery gets less and less confident as it goes on, with that belief transferring to Mongul before the issue’s conclusion. It’s a perfect and subtle shift of power and expectation, and Johnson plots the issue in such a way that it is almost imperceptible at first glance.
Johnson’s script also gives a member of the Authority a new and incredibly important role that is instantly ripped from them, and cannot be returned in a meaningful way. In their first real taste of the role they were assembled for, the Authority loses, and loses big. Sure, no one is lost, but their expertly laid out plan, which really seemed like it would work, has fallen flat on its face.
In the solicitation for this book, there’s a phrase that has stood out since it was first revealed in August: “the biggest Superman event since the Death and Return of Superman begins HERE.”
Now, comics, and specifically comic press releases, are not immune to hyperbole, and hyping something as the biggest/best/most important since “X” is old hat. That said, this feels a little different for a few reasons. Johnson is relatively new to comics, and entrusting him with a story that, even if blown way out of proportion, is on par with the biggest Superman stories of the last 30 years is a huge vote of confidence from DC. But there’s also the reality that, as of now, Jon Kent is the Superman of Earth. Now, status quos shift and change all the time, but there’s a reason to believe that Superman could be in space, maybe not on Warworld the whole time, but not on Earth for quite some time.
If that’s the case, and Superman is off-world for a year or two, that would represent one of the more significant status quo shifts in the Superman books in some time. And while hype in solicits helps sell comics, it is still a little surprising that such a high bar is being used to describe this story. My 80 year old mother-in-law likely knows that Superman died in the 90s, and so to suggest that a new story can reach similar heights seems unrealistic at best.Continued below
One of the most impressive things about “Action Comics” #1036 is how it works as both a continuation of the story set up in “Action” and “Superman and the Authority” but also as a new jumping on point. Yes, the reader will likely be slightly confused as to who some of these characters are, but Johnson gives the story a clean enough starting point that you can likely pick this up without too much trouble.
The start of the issue, focusing on the myth of the Phaelosians, is the most dependent on having read the earlier issues of “Action,” but even that reads more like a tease for a future story than a missed story beat. Johnson’s craft in shaping the story for multiple audiences, paired with Sampere’s instantly recognizable and (pardon the pun) action-heavy work allows the reader to instantly be drawn into the story.
Sampere’s artwork, especially once the Authority lands on Warworld, is dark and grim, but never falls into territory that feels hopeless of bleak. The beacon of his Superman allows horror and death to surround the characters, but never engulf them. It is through his simultaneous reminders of both good and evil that Sampere sets the stakes and the stage for the ‘Warworld Saga,’ and with the revelation that he won’t be on at least part of the book (subbed out for Ricardo Federici, Johnson’s partner on “The Last God”), these pages are bittersweet.
Final Verdict: 8.4 – Regardless of what the future holds, “Action Comics” #1036 is a bold start to this long-simmering status quo.