Future State: Superman: House of El #1 review

In the future, a bunch of Superman’s descendants, along with their partners, allies and droids, defend their Fortress of Sanctuary on the Moon from hordes of horrors sent by the mysterious ‘Red King’.

Sometimes people die, but there are plenty more super-folk to fill the ranks.

And in the eyes of one ally, all is not lost.

Not everyone agrees.

Finally, the Red King shows himself.

Well, this is a pretty comic. Scott Godlewski’s art, gorgeously coloured by Gabe Eltaeb, dares you to look away. The panels are arranged to lead the eye speedily across the pages, reflecting the fast-paced action. Godlewski’s people are gorgeous to a man, whether fleshly or mechanical, and he does a nice line in Doomsdays. If ever there was a comic produced to kick off a line of action figures, this is it, with its umpteen Supermen and Women, along with the odd Tamaranean, Blue Lantern and Coluan.

Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s story adds to the impression, being mainly a parade of characters in explosive moments. We don’t get any background on the moon community – presumably the settlement from the terrible Kara Zor-El, Superwoman book several centuries on. But how does it work, does anyone apart from super-people live here, or is it simply an Els-World?

We get enough about the characters for them to function on the story’s chessboard – name, planet, closest relative – but not enough to care. When one guy is killed we’re told how gentle he is, but only his manner of dress marks him out as different from everyone else.

That crisis of faith encountered by the Tamaraean Kryptonian, Theand’r, is pretty shallow, amounting to ‘I don’t know if God exists, oh, hello God’.

The standout player is Theand’r’s hubby Khan-El – a pun on Kon-El? – a shirtless hunk with a twinkle in his eye. If Kennedy Johnson sends him back in time in his upcoming Superman run, I wouldn’t complain.

I also enjoyed Brainiac 4, from the point of view of usefulness, and Godlewski’s design.

And it’s neat that the race known as the Warzoon are loyal to the El family having been freed as a result of the original Superman’s efforts in last week’s Superman: Worlds of War.

But what is this conflict about? Why has the Red King, Pyrrhos, turned against his relatives, is he just bad because of who his mother (a fun surprise) is? If he’s so evil, why does he merit – and take – a second chance when offered? Why is Future State Black Racer, who seemed to be a hero in Worlds of War, working for the Red King?

I believe Kennedy Johnson has served in the US military and he certainly seems to enjoy writing about war – last week it was gladiators, this week it’s superheroes. His experience may bring interesting perspectives but I really hope his tales in Superman and Action Comics don’t go as deep into battle tactics as does this story.

As potential futures go, this is an OK read; it reminded me of DC’s old imaginary stories, but without the intricate plotting and killer ending – this story just stops because the Supermanniest of Supermen turns up, thrashes the upstart whelp and takes him away to unearned rewards.

I’ve been admiring Godlewski’s art in DC books for a while now, and here he hits a new level of excellence – I realise exclusives aren’t in at DC right now, but they’d be idiots not to give him a prime assignment. I’ve no idea why he doesn’t get to do the cover – artist Yanick Paquette and colourist Nathan Fairbairn do a great job, but Godlewski earns the right to fill the prime spot.

Kennedy Johnson, meanwhile, does enough with the snapshot story to make me want to see what he can do across a lengthy run.

The more I’ve looked at this story again, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I want to know. As Jack Kirby showed us in the Seventies, the idea of a Supertown is fascinating. I wish it had been developed more here.

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