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.