The Action Reaction | September 2021 Analysis

As Clark leaves for Warworld, the story across three Superman books begins to take shape, and we’re here to dig into what makes each component of that work.

September’s Superman comics proved pivotal in the ongoing narrative that the Superman comics are weaving together. Clark Kent finally left to go save the people of Warworld, Jon Kent took a stand, and the Authority felt the rubber meet the road on their first official mission.

As one chapter closes and another begins, the Action Reaction team of David (@DavidMann95), Gabrielle (@Gabrielle_Doo), and Rook (@RookGeary) looks back on the events of Action Comics #1035, Son of Kal-El #3, and Superman and the Authority #3.

Rook: Out of all the issues this month, what was your favorite line? Why?

David: Clark trying to get through to June Moone should probably be it, but what could it really be other than ULTRA-HUMANITE! MEET SUPERMOBILE!

Rook: I’m certainly going to remember that one for a while! But yeah, Clark telling June “Every moment’s a fresh opportunity to do something you can be proud of!” really stuck with me. It’s got this sincerity to it that very few characters can really sell, but Superman’s one of those characters.

Gabrielle: I think all three issues were great, but my favorite was probably Action Comics #1035. Despite one moment where Jon felt in disconnection with his counterpart written by Tom Taylor, it keeps being amazing. I love how PKJ gives Clark a voice that feels appropriate and easily recognizable as the character’s voice, but makes him a little bit unique too. My favorite line was probably Clark’s words for the funeral of the two people Mongul killed. 

Rook: Yeah, there’s a real mythic quality that PKJ is able to give Clark’s dialogue there. It’s so larger-than-life, but it has that trademark compassion.

Rook: How about your favorite page?

David: Probably the second page of Humanite and his allies’ discussion; a nice laying-out of the potential of the new direction for Clark. 

Rook: Page 2 of Son of Kal-El is phenomenally effective at conveying the sheer scale of what’s necessary to save everyone in a collapsing building. It’s a rare page that immediately sells “yeah, this is a job for Superman” and proves Jon’s got the chops for it.  

Gabrielle: Hard to know, honestly, because there’s some amazing pages this month. It probably is Clark’s and Jon’s goodbye hug. Clark’s words are very tender and reassuring, and the final black and white panel adds a layer of melancholy that’s just great. Either that or Jon’s speech on live television in Son of Kal-El. 

Rook: Standout lettering moments? Because personally, it’s gotta be any time the Ultra-Humanite opens his mouth. The jagged border of the speech balloons makes it feel like he’s brute-forcing a corpse’s vocal cords to vibrate according to his whims, rather than speaking through any kind of natural process.

Gabrielle: The explosion caused by Supes’ heat vision that destroyed Mongul’s device was very striking specifically for the lettering. The art is already great, but the lettering gives the moment a lot more impact.

Rook: Favorite non-Superman character (of the month)?

David: D’z’amor strikes a very fine balance of hilariously pathetic – to the point even Superman mocks him to his face – and grotesquely unsettling, which fits his purpose perfectly.

Rook: Very, very true. For me, it has to be the Enchantress — a character that never really grabbed me until this issue. Both her classically-witchy look in the Grimdark! section of Superman and the Authority and her “fused” form are mischievous, iconic, and expressive, and getting to see her cut loose and have a little fun actually got me invested in her.

Gabrielle: Without being familiarized with the Authority before this story, I really liked Manchester Black and his interactions with the whole team and especially Midnighter. It has glimpses of their history that makes me wanna read more about them without necessarily having to do that to understand it.

Rook: What’s really speaking to you about the art this month?

David: It’s speaking to me alright, and it’s speaking “Sampere, don’t go”.

Rook: Boy, do I feel that. I also love the gorgeous contrast between Fort Superman’s ethereal techno-crystalline aesthetic and the Ultra-Humanite’s satellite base. They’re both heavy on the sharp angles, but the satellite has a raw and utilitarian quality to its design, like a machine stripped of the plastic casing that makes it user-friendly.

David: Action and Authority are really dueling out there for the definitive modern take on the Fortress, and whoever wins, so do we.

Gabrielle: I’m totally with both of you. The Fortress looks spectacular. It’s actually something I don’t tend to like, but Sampere’s art makes it look absolutely beautiful and like an actual place where they would be.

Rook: Jon’s only shown up in one series so far, but what’s most distinct about each writer’s version of Clark? 

David: All three are pretty classic in their own ways, especially since they’re all having or will have Clark act in contrast to others, but modulated to fit the circumstances – he’s wise and playful and perfect in Son of Kal-El to make losing him more of a punch for Jon; in Action he’s got just enough self-recrimination to spur on some pretty radical actions; in Authority he’s got a bite he wouldn’t normally to reinforce that, as noted, he doesn’t have to live up to being The Guy anymore.

Rook: All three Clarks definitely feel like the same guy to me, but I appreciated that each writer used him to bring something different to the table. One difference is how he speaks in Superman and the Authority, like he’s from a separate era of comics than everyone else. It isn’t so different that it comes across as distracting or grating, but it’s noticeable how he’s the only. It makes me believe he’s older in a timeless way, without dating him by using the slang of some bygone decade. 

Rook: Between Andrej Trojan, Bendix, and the Ultra-Humanite, it looks like there are three new variants on the idea of someone like Lex Luthor embracing posthumanism in the worst way — the tech-priest, the despot, and the rotting corpse all grasping for the title of Man of Tomorrow. What’s your favorite part of each one? And which do you think is most likely to make the jump to other media first?

David: Bendix is the obvious choice as far as translation – he’s a Wildstorm boy and therefore always going to get Jim Lee’s nod. He’s a fascinating choice as a counter-Superman given how things went down for the original take – specifically since his big reveal as a bastard is at the climax of the original volume of Stormwatch in Change Or Die, where he sabotages the utopian efforts of the Superman analogue in The High whose actions ultimately inspired The Authority, and who Clark implicitly reflects in turn now. I don’t know that I see Taylor being the one to draw out all that potential, but granted we’re still early.

(As for the other two: Ultra-Humanite is GREAT in this as basically the living embodiment of the brainwashed mob bent to the will of an egomaniac, but I can pretty much guarantee no one but Morrison is going to get it for a long, long time. Trojan was interesting as essentially ‘tomorrow’s Lex Luthor’, but so far there’s essentially nothing there.)

Rook: I think Bendix being positioned as Jon’s nemesis makes him inevitable, but on a pretty long timeline. Maybe Superman & Lois will get there in season seven or something, but otherwise the adaptations seem to be focusing on Clark for the time being. 

I have such high hopes for this Ultra-Humanite — the Grundy body is so much more thematically meaty than yet another evil ape, as is his mob consciousness. His relationship to us is the inverse of Clark’s — instead of being a celestial visitor who came to embody our greatest virtues and hopes for the future, the Ultra-Humanite used monstrous methods to reach for something beyond humanity, losing his humanity in the process.

But would I bet on DC capitalizing on this take any time soon? Nah. If anything, there will probably be another revamp of the Ultra-Humanite before they capitalize on how much the Authority take has going for it.

As for Trojan, I feel like he hasn’t had a chance to shine outside of the Midnighter backups, but I think his “creepy billionaire transhumanist with an even creepier cult of personality” shtick is only going to get more timely.

Rook: How do you feel about Manchester Black’s character development and journey? With all the other members’ introductions, it’s taken a backseat, but remains central to the conflict of Superman and the Authority. Does it feel like a real change is occurring in him? 

David: Depends on the take. The last time Joe Kelly wrote him back in Ending Battle he came to a grudging acceptance that Superman was ‘the real deal’, so going along with him here feels less like a radical role reversal than him gradually getting out of his own way. If you’re going by his actual last appearance where he tried to brainwash Jon and ended up with his brain stuck in a cow, then yeah, this is a pretty drastic 180.

Rook: Yeah, fair points. How earned the character development feels depends on how familiar you are with past stories, and which ones you think of as consequential. I do feel like his journey is less central to the story than it originally seemed, but ultimately this book is about the Authority and not him, so it works for me.

Rook: Morrison shifts further into classic Morrison-isms in their dialogue for issue #3. I feel like that’s partially to establish subtle generational differences — Superman talks like the classic model stepped out of another story and into a grittier reboot, more or less. But do fan-pleasing nods like that, the Supermobile, and the hurdles on the moon in issue #1 lose too many new readers? And is that worth it?

David: I feel like anyone who went past the first issue and had it clearly laid out ‘hey, this is a guy who’s been around forever and he’s still trying to make good’ should be able to roll with those sorts of aesthetic anachronisms.

Rook: I don’t feel like the Supermobile and similar nods are out of place, and I certainly enjoy their inclusion, but I can also pinpoint the introduction of the Supermobile as the moment that would lose several of my non-comics reading friends. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but I feel like we may be losing more than we get out of Easter eggs of this sort.

Rook: How do you feel about how the Authority’s “preferred no-kill policy” is handled? 

David: I’m actually glad for the ‘preferred’ – Clark demanding that standard of others can done wrong come across as absurdly holier-than-thou given he’s an invulnerable godling in a way it doesn’t with, say, Batman. We don’t need the threat of this whole thing falling apart over some characters going too EXTREME anymore than we do Superman suddenly being okay with cracking heads, he’s just asking everybody not to be assholes.

Rook: I completely agree. Clark is able to not kill anyone because he’s Superman, and somebody with that much power should be able to find a way to resolve things without death, but asking that of everyone else is conceited and defeats the purpose. 

Rook: Is it just me, or does the Ultra-Humanite’s base remind anyone else of the God Garden from Midnighter’s backstory? Ominous floating triangle in orbit, now in cherry flavor?

David: The God Garden comparison’s a good catch but I think that’s mostly just Janin’s sensibilities shining through; I’m pretty sure the main point of comparison is Skywatch, Stormwatch’s old headquarters, given the number of deliberate parallels there.

Rook: You’re probably right, yeah. I think tying the God Garden, Skywatch, and the Ultra-Humanite together would be a really interesting direction, but it’s pretty unlikely.

Rook: Tom Taylor seems to have righted the ship in this issue, but does it seem like he’ll be able to keep it up, or should we just expect the occasional nosedive in good taste at this point?

David: Pretty much inevitably; this seems poised to be all the best and worst of Taylor in one book. Superman as a character short-circuits some of his most damaging instincts as a creator in the same way he does for Millar, but at the same time this being capital-t Topical is going to steer him down paths he’s not equipped to handle.

I think just going by how comics work until now I could be a bit disappointed in future issues, regarding the preservation of the status quo and useless systems. But I’m hopeful too, this issue was great and I think it could maintain that quality.

Rook: What’s your take on how the protest and Jon’s arrest was handled?

David: In isolation I like it a lot as an obvious way of him drawing attention in-universe to an issue and throwing his weight behind a cause. How that’ll progress, especially given the backlash to the cover for #7, we’ll see; it’s kind of a move he can only pull once.

Rook: Yeah, it’s a great moment and works perfectly in the issue, but the follow through is going to be tricky.

Rook: Between Midnighter, Apollo, and Bendix, WildStorm is being set up for rebirth. Is this foundation potentially solid enough for a serious revival? Can Jim Lee make that happen?

David: Plus Grifter’s big return in the Bat-Books; the entire Wildstorm situation was a disaster with them as a new line instantly falling apart in pretty irreparable ways just as Steve Orlando as the one guy who could really make them as part of DC work was leaving the building. Morrison’s only really left a foundation for two characters and in fact implicitly kicked the rest of the old Authority to the curb, and no one paid much attention to the reformation of the WildC.A.T.s, so I don’t know that there’s much here to lead to other than them existing in their own little spots pending another huge push.

Rook: I’ll say Wildstorm is back when Jenny Sparks or the Engineer show up in a big way. Until then, I’m not holding my breath.

Rook: In Action Comics, how effective was the moment of Thao-La’s decision? A titanic character development, a predictable climax, or some of both?

David: Wish it’d had more buildup personally, but unless the Warworld Saga was going to be pushed back further she pretty much had to have her big moment here. With her immediate arc completed and with her out of commission for now, it’s hard to say much of where she might go for the time being.

Rook: Did the teleport-thingy Clark threw at Mongul blowing up throw anyone else for a loop, or is that just me? Like, he kind of half-teleported to Warworld, and then…I’m just lost on how the logic of that worked. 

David: I think the teleporter made it all the way back and Clark was sort of trailing behind it, and then he severed the connection before he could make it all the way.

Rook: Ahh, that tracks.

David: Given the clear degree of coordination between the titles right now, it’s hilarious that Authority, Action, and Son of Kal-El all have completely different takes on Clark leaving Earth, right? I get that each creator would want their own spin on that moment, but that’s a bit much.

Rook: It’s hilarious, if a little unfortunate. It works well in each story individually, but it’s definitely going to throw some new readers. 

I actually feel like this has more to do with logistics than each writer wanting their own version of the moment. I don’t know enough about the editorial difficulties of making one moment line up across three books to say that for sure, but given how rarely we see it in comics, I’d put money on it being much more difficult than it sounds. 

Rook: Okay, here’s the big one. What the hell is going on in Tales of Metropolis?

David: I was one of the few who liked Sean Lewis’s Superman of Metropolis two-parter well enough, but this series…woof. This just is not doing whatever this is supposed to be doing.

Rook: I genuinely loved Superman of Metropolis, despite it clearly being three or four issues crammed into the space of two. I don’t have nearly as positive feelings for this series. I just don’t feel invested in the cast every time they jump to a new protagonist, and it’s a very plot-heavy narrative in not many pages, which seems to be Sean Lewis’s bane. I’d like to see what he could do with a few issues, but Tales of Metropolis isn’t working for me.

Which is weird, because when you step back for a second, this issue is Jimmy Olsen investigating a cyberpunk Ouija board ghost, and that sounds rad.

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