Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Warworld Rising trade paperback (DC Comics)


After an uncertain start with Superman: The One Who Fell, new Action Comics writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson comes out strong with Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Warworld Rising. Great showings for the Super-family; an entire, fascinating culture created for the eponymous Warworld; perhaps the most life given to Superman villain Mongul in a while; and a surprisingly direct and defined Superman himself all contribute to an exceptionally gripping read. Looks like Johnson is sticking around for a while, and I’d be happy to see more (almost) like this.

[Review contains spoilers]

There are a lot of ways a Superman depiction can go, especially by a new Superman writer — friendly, heroic, but at the outset usually mild. Johnson’s Superman threatening in Superman: The One Who Fell that he and Amanda Waller will “have a conversation you won’t like,” which, as a matter of fact, never manifests, is an example of this kind of “not so direct as to offend” Superman. It’s the understandable kid gloves with which a writer might treat the DC Universe’s most powerful hero as they get their feet under them.

But a standout moment for me in Warworld Rising is Superman floating between warring Atlantean and U.S. forces, finally losing his patience and declaring “Enough!” before he freezes a watery trench between them. It is a bold, almost post-modern Superman (or a Superman post-identity revelation from Brian Michael Bendis' Superman Vol. 3: The Truth Revealed), a Superman not so concerned who likes him, devoutly a citizen of the world and answering to no one’s moral judgment but his own.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Equally striking is Johnson’s willingness to have Superman essentially steal a disputed artifact right out from under Aquaman. We see this as well in Superman’s unflinching intention to go to Warworld, despite the knowledge that it’s a trap, despite that the Justice League won’t go with him.

I believe implicit in all of this is the sense that Warworld has been Superman’s dirty secret for a while now (even if no one but Superman himself believes it so) — that Superman knows there’s a forced labor planet out there where people are suffering but he’s never been able to do anything lasting about it. Sure, Superman can’t be everywhere, and surely there are people suffering on his own fictional Earth that Superman can’t help, but Warworld has been a recurring threat and bad actor, lead by one of Superman’s sworn enemies. In this way, it feels like Johnson brings a particular, inexplicable-except-for-comics wrinkle of Superman’s mythos out into the light, often the best basis for a story.

So too, in Warworld Rising’s conclusion, as mayhem breaks out among a Fortress of Solitude littered with corpses, I thought Lois Lane’s quip, “Mongul happened,” was particularly astute. At times a bruiser, at times a despot, here I thought for the first time Johnson cements Mongul’s place in the upper echelons of Superman’s rogues gallery beside Lex Luthor and Darkseid. Granted Mongul has a bit of help here (I’d love to see a green-skinned, organic Brainiac revealed), but even so, here’s a genuinely well-enacted scheme designed to sew chaos as a convenient side effect, with its primary purpose to bring Superman willingly to Mongul’s doorstep. It’s a chess game, when I don’t think we often see Mongul playing chess, but yet it seems perfectly suited to the character.

Ardent Super-fans should also appreciate appearances not only by Lois and Jon Kent, but also Supergirl and Krypto (with Conner name-checked). Johnson wastes no time offering the how and why of Kara and Krypto on the scene1, which I found refreshing — Superman needs them and they’re there, simple as that. Johnson also writes a most impressive Lois, compassionate when her husband falters but also wicked with an alien blaster when marauders take the Fortress.

The sticky wicket then in all of Warworld Rising is Jon Kent. Surely the issue here is Jon is upset by the prospect of his father’s potential death (see my review of Superman: The One Who Fell for various reasons why that’s nonsense), but his acting out ranges from outbursts at his family to taunting a Warworld refugee to stating, I kid you not, that he wants to punch Batman “in his stupid head.” If one imagines Jon as an adolescent suddenly aged up to a young adult, perhaps this depiction makes sense, but as Bendis and others established, Jon’s aging was only rapid by “our” perspective, not his; he lived all those intervening years. So even upset, Jon’s rude, angry demeanor doesn’t mesh with what we’ve seen of him previously in adult form, letting alone as a child, when Jon was the kinder, gentler of the Super Sons. It wasn’t right in One Who Fell, and neither does Johnson’s depiction of Jon work here.

I had thought mistakenly that Mikel Janin was doing interiors here, not just covers, which is not the case; no matter, because Daniel Sampere draws a powerful, majestic Superman right from the jump. Previously I had found Sampere too much in the DC house style, but the Super-titles is about the one place I don’t mind that so much (as close to Dan Jurgens as possible, please) and here I found Sampere nicely evocative of Jason Fabok, for instance. Christian Duce is a good backup, though sometimes Superman’s absurdly distended neck muscles seemed overwrought.



But overall, I get it, I’m on board, I’m ready for the next one. That Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Warworld Rising has Atlantean geopolitics alone is enough to grab my attention, and that’s before all the other fine elements. At last check Johnson was on his way to Action Comics #1050 and I’m glad to see it.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

  1. I‘m hard–pressed to recall where Kara is ahead of Tom King’s Woman of Tomorrow miniseries, and don't get me started on who or what Krypto is anymore.  ↩

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Great review. I loved Johnson's take on Superman and it's nice to see a relatively self contained long form story (something we don't see too much of lately). I agree that Johnson doesn't have a good voice for Jon yet......I couldn't understand the out of character behavior, but the rest of the story and the art make up for that. I know that I am along for the ride for the rest of the story....

    1. I was glad to see (if I'm not mistaken) that Johnson isn't leaving after the Warworld story, either.


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