Superman: Worlds of War #2 review

It’s years since Superman disappeared, and a young woman has made a pilgrimage to Smallville. The town has become a tourist trap, somewhere folk come to swap stories about encounters with the Man of Steel, and theories about what’s happened to him. Not Sadie.

She explains that it was a single story written by Superman in his other identity of Clark Kent that touched her. He details the life of an African-American, Edgar Watters, from his start as a piano player in the Forties, through the hell of the Second World War, his time as a civilian rights activist in Metropolis and to his lonely death.

Yep, it’s the old dual narrative trick. Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson tells the story of two men, both Supermen in their own way. Apart from Edgar settling in Metropolis, there are no DCU elements to his tale – it’s fairly likely he’s based on a real person. I’d like to have ‘met’ him visually, but all the images accompanying his story are of Superman fighting the Mongul hordes on Warworld.

I mentioned Sadie by name, but I only know it because she was name-checked last time… by a woman she’d not actually introduced herself to. This time she’s not named at all, it’s a little sloppy. And given Kennedy Johnson makes play of the fact that Clark Kent saved Sadie’s life it’d be good to know what she’s doing with it – has she been inspired to fight for others, like Edgar, or be a journalist, like Clark? She doesn’t worship Clark, isn’t a pilgrimage a waste of time?

Mikel Janín’s illustrations are gorgeous, the gladiatorial arena setting providing the perfect excuse to nod to Renaissance art with his sinewy, godlike Superman. The action is intense, exciting, the effort etched on Superman’s face as obvious as his determination. Jordie Bellaire’s reds and oranges add to the feel that Superman is fighting in an inferno, just as Edgar was shaped in the crucible of earthly wars, for different shades of freedom. Janín also provides the marvellous cover image.

A break from Edgar’s story shows Superman facing Mongul in a moment between battles.

He’s killed Superman thousand of times? Surely Mongul is speaking figuratively, with every time Superman is strung up a little death.

But how has Superman survived for what must still be years without his powers, against fighters bigger and likely stronger, while refusing to kill?

He’s Superman! Mental strength is enough to keep you swinging that axe…

…or maybe it’s connected to American exceptionalism, as evoked in the only moment in Edgar’s story that jarred.

That’s more than a little patronising. Yes, the US turned the tide of the war – after coming in pretty late – but that’s a little much.

The story doesn’t conclude, it simply points us to the upcoming House of El comic. I doubt it will end there either.

Likewise, Superman: Worlds of War, the book, doesn’t end here. Nope, there are three back-ups. Mister Miracle continues from Superman of Metropolis and features Shiloh Norman lost on Warworld, with only a strangely chatty Mother Box to help him escape. He winds up trapped in a time loop

Then we have Midnighter, who was on Warworld in last issue’s Mister Miracle story, but here he’s lost on a satellite, with only a mysterious voice on his computer to help him escape. He winds up trapped in a time loop.

Finally, a young girl from Apokolips, or maybe New Genesis – last issue’s opener really wasn’t clear – has come to Warworld to find ‘Dees’ and ‘Talla’, who were voices she spoke to when she was a mecha-racer. Reading this, it felt like I was trapped in a time loop.

Our heroine, Tanda, calls herself the Black Racer because she’s big and fearsome, like the New Gods’ personification of Death.

What she isn’t is mysterious and striking, like Jack Kirby’s creation, a dark knight zooming through the air on skis. She’s just a cocky kid in a robot suit… she did die pre-Warworld, and came back to life – but this is the DCU, hasn’t everybody?

And of course, the strip doesn’t conclude, it just stops mid-action. Hopefully this is the last we see of Tanda. Jeremy Adams wrote the wonderful Black Adam story in the Future State: Suicide Squad issue, but this is strictly filler fare. The art by Siya Qum does the job, but Black Racer’s bland outfit – shiny and grey – is a real negative. The only bit of visual novelty comes from Tanda’s three plaits, hanging out the back of her sallet, ready to be yanked off by the first foe she meets.

Brandon Easton’s Mister Miracle script has entertaining moments, but with no one for Shilo to chat to but (ugh) ‘MB’, whose personality-free dialogue is in offputting robotic font, this was a one-note read with a seriously wordy, headscratcher ending.

We quickly see that Mister Miracle can pull anything out of his back of tricks, keeping tension at bay.

There’s a cameo by Jon Kent which demonstrates the very boring way he tackles a crisis; yes, he talks to an AI, in this case Fortress of Solitude major domo Kelex.

The art by illustrator Valentine DeLandro and colourist Marissa Louise kept me looking at the pages, while Dave Sharpe managed a spot of Kryptonian along with the regular and robot fonts.

Midnighter just went on and on and on and on…

You need more? He’s on something called the Chrysalis Satellite, facing a guy name Trojan who’s disguised as his husband Apollo, and after a couple of pages of villainsplaining it’s nine sides of bashing and blasting and trash-talking until the man behind the mystery voice appears. It’s Midnighter, from a few years in the future, and he’s sending his younger self into the past of 2021 to have an adventure in Action Comics.

The strip is gifted with characterful art of Michael Avon Oeming, coloured by the always excellent Jordie Bellaire. I commend writers Becky Cloonan and Michael W Conrad on a good-value story – the back and forth of the long fight isn’t boring, and Trojan’s plan is entertainingly bonkers – but I just wanted it to end. It’s 20pp as opposed to the other back-ups’ 10pp. I like Midnighter, but there was too much fighting, and the business with two versions of the hero and a ‘bootstrap paradox’ – it’s all a bit too timey-wimey And of course, there’s that patented Future State non-ending again. It’s exhausting.

There’s a lot of creative talent on this book, but it’s not what I want in a Superman comic. The Superman strip has the headliner take a back seat to a lecture; Mister Miracle is uninvolving; Midnighter, too long; and Black Racer… I literally fell asleep. I’ve always been a big fan of anthologies but the trick is to vary characters, situations and settings enough to make every feature a novelty; Superman: Worlds of War didn’t manage that.

8 thoughts on “Superman: Worlds of War #2 review

  1. You confirmed I made the right decision to never buy anything ever again related to Future State, excepting of course Bendis’s Legion…

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  2. Black Racer has a “sallet?” I learned a new word from your review.

    Superman: I’m curious how he got stuck on Warworld; is he really dying and being resurrected (can’t actually tell if some of the times we seem him knocked down, it’s fatal); and how he gets out of it. But maybe House of El will explain it. I doubt it, as that is set much further into the future, and suspect Phillip Kennedy Johnson is planning a long game in Action and/or Superman. Something I don’t look forward to, as I’m tired of all of it.

    Worried about PKR’s style, I checked out some of his other writing. From what I observed, he only infrequently includes some narration at the start or end of stories, which looks appropriately used and not abused as it was here. I took one look at this and did what I always do – just read the article by Clark straight through first, then went back to take in the Warworld action.

    Re Midnighter, I have my own theories about the time loops (I think there’s something of a figure-8 involved), and wonder: you wrote “It’s Midnighter, from a few years in the future, and he’s sending his younger self into the past of 2021 to have an adventure in Action Comics.” I guess he’s from the future in that he knows more, but isn’t he the one who was most recently from 2021 (or at least some past timeframe, though 2021 is a helpful shorthand), then sucked to the “present” of this Warworld story when the temporarily aged-up Midnighter activated the “payload box” and tossed it into the Collider? (Whew, long sentence.) This Midnighter from 2021 stays in Warworld in the end, after sending the other one back to 2021 (a side-effect of that time travel alters him back to normal age), then steps through a different portal “door” and is apparently greeted by the spider-drone delivering the package with the communicator and device (hard to see in print because of the color choices). (Another long sentence.) So it looks like he was probably returned to a few hours earlier, when the adventure on Warworld begins – but for me the confusing element is he doesn’t appear to have lost his memory and is talking knowledgeably to the Midnighter he sent to 2021. That, and not at first seeing the drone, threw me off. Anyway, I guess it’s hard to call either of them from the past or future as both of them have been through everything.

    The de-aging/aging story element seems superfluous – caused by what looks like a Collider flare when Midnighter smashes a control panel. I think it was inserted mostly to help us visually distinguish the two Midnighters. It’s then hand-waved away – when hurled through the Nexus door to the past, we’re told a side-effect is to return him to his proper age.

    I hope Cloonan and Conrad write a less confusing story as they continue with the Midnighter backup in Action, but he’s still tinkering in his workshop with the Trojan stuff, so good luck to us. People who sat out Future State may have some difficulty, and those who’ve read it have had enough by now.

    Mister Miracle – maybe I’ll buy the upcoming mini-series because, frankly, DC has cancelled almost everything I used to read, so what else am I going to buy? Fifteen Batman books? (And now DC just announced a second Joker book! I didn’t think he should even have one book to himself. Maybe it’s a mini.)

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    1. Wow,thanks so much for the explanation as to Midmighter’s timeline. Honestly my comics shouldn’t be this complicated. It’s not quite River Song stupid, but it’s very annoying.

      I’m not buying the Mr Miracle mini, it’s likely going to be more of the same.

      Did you get through Black Racer?

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      1. Black Racer was a simple enough story (though in the first issue, I wasn’t happy I had to remember Talla vs. Tanda, and I couldn’t even tell at the time if these were friends of hers). So much easier to read than Mister Miracle or Midnighter, that it was a relief. A relief vs. so much of Future State, actually.

        I liked the very cool black suit from the first issue, but which she ditched for the overly complicated giant armor in #2.

        Oh, but the dining room scene on level three was actually pretty funny.

        I noticed that the dialog balloons in Black Racer have a non-pointy tail – something I’ve only previously seen in some Spider-Gwen books. I don’t see the point of it – it’s distracting, and I don’t like it.

        I’d forgotten who River Song was — I did try to watch Dr. Who a number of years ago, but always found it too over-the-top. You know, the screwdriver that could do anything as needed by the plot, among other silly things. Maybe people like it for nostalgia reasons, as it seems aimed at 7 year olds. But it’s got a huge adult fandom.

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  3. The sonic screwdriver was more consistent in the old days, it was basically a skeleton key. And the song in ‘River Song’ is ‘I’m my own Grandpa’ cubed. I’d watch episodes with the character on and enjoy them due to the walking charm bomb that is Alex Kingston, but over time her story got more and more convoluted.

    If you have access to them, and time, try some Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker episodes from the Seventies.

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  4. I remember hanging around with friends watching episodes from the early 1970s – they aired once a week on our Pubic Broadcasting System (PBS).

    Kingston i discovered when she worked as an emergency doctor on ER, which you might have gotten episodes of in the UK, as it was for many years the top-viewed broadcast TV show in the US.

    All the medicine I know comes from that show – “She’s seizing! Ativan IV push — stat!”

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    1. I loved her on ER. I might watch a few episodes soon, it’s all on one of our free streaming services. I still laugh at the way they did music on the amazing live episode, with a guy being percussive on hospital pipes!

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