Action Comics #1049: Facing the fight ahead!
In the Warworld Saga’s conclusion a few months ago, the child Phaelosian Osul-Ra was caught up in the battle between Superman, Mongul, and Superman’s “ally” Kryl-Ux. Although he was mortally wounded, he survived thanks to the mysterious Fire of Olgrun, which Superman gifted Osul in order to raise him from the dead. The consequences of this action were unclear at the time, but from Action Comics #1048 we see the beginnings of what this means for the future. First on the list we have the arrival of new gods from Apokolips and New Genesis, each bent on collecting fire – and eventually Osul-Ra himself.
Metron, the representative of New Genesis, is primarily a passive observer as he tends to be. The Apokolipsian corner is very different, unsurprisingly. Apokolips’ entourage includes the current ruler of the hellish planet, Orion, as well as his half-brother Kalibak and the notorious sadist Desaad. To say that their approach is more “direct” would be an understatement. Luckily, Clark is currently overloaded (pun not intended or regretted) by the white sun of Warworld…which makes the battle more complicated than the gods intended.
Plus, it’s not just Superman who stands between the New Gods and their purpose. Perhaps the greatest danger of all is Osul himself and the shard of the ancient god Olgrun that lives within him. A fragment that may be more active – and more aware – than anyone anticipated.
If dealing with angry gods descending on his city doesn’t give Superman enough to do with his time, Lex Luthor has it covered. In classic form, Lex decides to defeat Superman via John Corben, also known as Superman’s classic enemy, Metallo. The problem is that John himself just isn’t interested. He’s moved on from his supervillain days and found a quiet routine as a permanent resident of Stryker’s Island Penitentiary, where he lives for simple pleasures, like books and weekly visits from his sister, Tracey.
Lex Luthor doesn’t take rejection well. And wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to Tracey?
So this issue is Part 5 of the Kal-El Returns storyline that spans both Action Comics and Superman: Son of Kal-El… sort of. If you follow the numbering on the covers like I did, you’ll end up bouncing from a cliffhanger in the Superman vs. New Gods fight into a casual story about Jon struggling to date Clark, and then back into the fight. It’s not really a big deal, but it’s an odd decision to bill the two books as numbered parts of the same story is actually a bit awkward, given that the books don’t really match or have not much to do with each other in terms of history.
Aside from nitpicking, this is another big issue. After a few fun and wacky years with Luthor — years that saw him join the Justice League, become the sidekick of a dark creator goddess, and discard her humanity for power — it’s refreshing to see Lex be his classic Superman-self-hating anti-alien human evil genius. While the Joker may have already surpassed him in sheer fame and popularity, Lex remains one of my favorite classic villains, and he’s more relevant than ever in today’s increasingly oligarchic world.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s take on Clark has always resonated with me and is no exception. The mix of his deeply human qualities and transcendent aspirations makes for a powerful mix. Plus, Johnson never fails to build and strengthen the connective tissue between his run and previous runs. The best recent example of this is from the last issue, but I’m mentioning it anyway because I couldn’t see it back then: the flashback of Jor-El picking up Jon that was triggered by Orion’s request to hand over Osul-Ra. It was so beautifully done, just a quick flash that immediately puts us inside Clark’s mind, reveals his motivations, and lets us feel the depths of his determination not to allow a repeat of his great regret from the past. Just beautiful things.
Like the previous issue, Action Comics #1049 is beautifully illustrated by Mike Perkins, arguably one of the best artists currently working in comics. On the surface, he seems like an odd choice for Superman – his work is gorgeous, but also heavy on blacks and a bit moody. It reminds me a bit of Gene Colon’s tone, although their styles aren’t particularly similar. That said, the grandeur it brings to the page is befitting a battle between gods, and Stryker’s Island’s dark scenes alone are worth the price of admission.
We leave this issue in an interesting place, with a reveal that should prove hugely consequential, and plenty of parts set in motion that I can’t wait to see land and sort itself out.
In our backup, “Red Moon Part 3” by Johnson and Lapham, we continue to follow the fallout from the fall of Warworld. Chaytil, Warzoon veteran and follower of the newest (and now completely deceased) Mongul, seeks revenge for the fall of Warworld and the death of its leader. they had. Hiding beneath Metropolis, he commands what amounts to a kaiju and plans to destroy the city from below. Unfortunately for him, Supergirl and the recently empowered Thao-La are present and the latter knows Chaytil’s ways well enough to anticipate his actions.
When we first met Chaytil as the Warworld saga approached, I must admit I didn’t think much of him. After all, it’s not uncommon for bad guys to have a right hand man – someone who inflates their egos, talks shit to their enemies, and generally sincerely believes whatever the bad guy is up to.
That being the case, I’m glad to see that his character is more considered and more important than that. He’s not just a talkative underling, he’s a veteran warrior and a dangerously cunning enemy, regardless of his physical disabilities. Someone who could be useful, for example, to a warlord or a promising conqueror…?
Well, that’s all I have to say about it, but let’s just say that this final part of Red Moon makes a point of setting the character for further stories. It will be interesting to see where these characters come from and how the echoes of Warworld’s downfall continue to reverberate outward.