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The Action Reaction | November 2021 Reviews

November’s Superman books soar to new heights, as the Warworld Saga begins.

SUPERMAN: SON OF KAL-EL #5

The plot of issue #5 is easily one of the highlights of this run so far. While confronting the dictator Henry Bendix about his weaponization of superhumans and the attack on the Kent farm, Jon is hit with a localized solar flare that boosts his powers through the roof. His enhanced senses scream at him, telling him of half a dozen emergencies happening around the world – so Superman rockets off at top speed, trying to save everyone all at once. 

Despite his father’s best efforts, Jon has always felt as if he’s unready or unworthy of the role of Superman. After being hit with the solar flare, he finally feels like he has enough power to truly embody the S on his chest, and giving any less than 100% would be a betrayal of what he stands for.  

It makes for one incredible montage. John Timms renders the hell out of Jon’s powers at their peak, really making readers feel the young Superman surging with power and spending every last drop he’s got. But just as he starts to feel like he lives up to the symbol on his chest for the first time, Jon begins to struggle under the strain of pushing his superhuman body to its absolute limits, and has to reckon with the knowledge he can’t be everything to everyone. It’s the most powerful use of the role of Superman in this series yet, and that bodes well for the future. 

And then, as some of you have read in headlines well before this issue was released, there’s the kiss. Instead of arising from dramatic, life threatening circumstances, it’s a cute and spontaneous moment. After feeling the weight of the world on him for the whole issue, Jay’s attention to caring for him visibly lightens the load on Jon. I don’t feel completely invested in their relationship yet, but it’s a genuinely sweet starting point for the two of them. 

Ultimately, this is a really solid execution of the kind of premise that’s made possible by Jon’s existence as Superman’s son. However, for all the ambition of the idea “bisexual teen Superman takes on climate change and corrupt government,” this is starting to feel like Tom Taylor is doing the most palatable and straightforward version of that. Perhaps that’s the most likely way to make this series stick around long-term, but I’d love to see the art team really cut loose with the kind of scale that only Superman can handle. Ultimately, though, I’m still happy with this issue.

ACTION COMICS #1036

DC’s own promotional material claims that “the biggest Superman event since the Death and Return of Superman begins HERE!” in this very issue. And honestly, after reading this comic, I feel like I’ve bought into the hype. From the moment Clark Kent and the Authority look on Warworld from orbit, you feel the titanic scale of the task they’ve signed up for, and every page you turn draws you deeper into Mongul’s domain. The little details about the terrain and culture worm their way into your brain, taking the abstract idea of the setting that has usually been rendered as endless colosseums or a discount death star and making you feel the weight of billions locked in perpetual war. 

It’s tough to achieve a genuine sense of foreboding and building dread with a team of powerhouses like the Authority around, but ultimately, they’re a handful of super-people going up against a PLANET. And while the core twist of the issue wasn’t a surprise for me, it still felt like a seismic shift for the characters, keeping me invested in what happens next.

Also, shifting perspective to the head of the new United Planets is a brilliant maneuver. It lets the audience understand why Superman are without backup, deepens the mystery of Warworld’s connection to Krypton. It even adds more texture and nuance to the theme of how corrupt power structures fail us by looking after their own interests, which Phillip Kennedy Johnson established earlier in his run on Action Comics.

Despite how it builds on other issues of this run, as well as the Superman and the Authority miniseries, I feel like I could pick this book up without any prior context and be entranced by the story being told, because it manages to recap the mission and introduce the characters without ever feeling like redundant exposition for people who read the prior issues.

The writing consistently impresses, but it wouldn’t have half the impact without the outstanding artwork of Daniel Sampere and vivid colors by Adriano Lucas. Every page of the issue feels like it came from a blockbuster movie with an absurdly bloated budget and animation technology from the future, glowing with vibrant life and personality even as the protagonists descend into hell.  

There is one thing that bothers me, though I feel it’s ultimately subjective. Mongul ordering his men to brand the dead with the Superman sigil in order to hurt Clark seems a little gratuitous. While it’s in-character for the tyrant, there’s a kind of murky unpleasantness to using a symbol that means so much to people as part of a war crime. Still, my personal feelings about that don’t take away from how much I enjoyed this issue.

ACTION COMICS #1037

Something had to happen in this issue to make things much worse for Superman and the Authority – after all, if they simply powered through Mongul’s defenses, there wouldn’t be much of a story. What surprised me was how much punch the perspective of the United Planets’ council added to the drama on Warworld. Even though this is just one planet, it really feels like the events of the issue have dire consequences for trillions of people across the vastness of space. Despite how unlikely it seems that the United Planets would leave Superman to fight alone at the start of the issue, once they start talking, the grim logic of the politicians involved is more than plausible. It demonstrates to the audience how such neglect is justified on our own planet, perfectly embodying the theme set up in prior issues without feeling defeatist. 

That’s a tough balance to strike, but personally, it hits that sweet spot of being honest about how evil works without ceding territory to despair. And somehow, the creative team manages this while juggling characterization for a fresh superteam, an intriguing squad of minibosses that each showcase different aspects of Warworld, and a gladiatorial beatdown for the ages. 

Also, holy hell, I need to pay more attention to Miguel Mendonca’s art, because Sampere is a tough act to follow and Mendonca does so with panache. With Adriano Lucas’s colors unifying the aesthetic, the art feels like a natural extension of what’s come before without being aping Sampere’s style. 

If you’ve enjoyed this Action Comics run up until this point, the second chapter of the Warworld Saga delivers even more of the things that make it work, deepening the themes and heightening the stakes. It might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a try. 

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