Action Comics 2021 Annual #1 review

On Warworld, some years ago, a tiny Superman fan joins her friends to listen to the local storyteller.

Feeling suitably secure, Mr Byla begins his tale on a wedding day.

The Els don’t go in for all that first dance business, it’s more a matter of first fight – a member of the bride’s party must test the strength of the suitor.

But does anyone have an objection to this union? Well, not in the traditional sense, but Pyrrhos, black sheep of the El family (presumably it’s his dress sense), crashes the party.

And soon, this son of the immortal original Superman, and the witch Circe, has gathered the main players and sent them on their way.

Worst. Honeymoon. Ever.

So yes, despite the cover not blurbing it, this is another Future State story. Happily, it’s from the corner of Future State that’s not simply bearable, it’s enjoyable. Stories of Superman descendants are almost always fun, and the introduction of the House of El was one of the real bright spots of Future State. I didn’t think it was brilliant at first read but it grew on me, so I’m glad to see this bunch again.

The big surprise is that Kara is there in her Superwoman identity, apparently mistress of the House, able to give advice, succour and even marry folk. She’s a lot more palatable here, as written by regular Action Comics writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson, than in the miserable Future State Superwoman two-parter. And she looks much better under the drawing hand of Siya Oum, probably because she get to smile, and even looks fierce when she faces the issue’s surprise villain (well, I never recognised the looming figure on the cover!). Sure, she spends a lot of the issue in a magic birdcage, but this isn’t her book.

It’s the new kids’, and they’re front and centre as they try to escape the Phantom Zone and get back to their home on Sanctuary (whether this is set before the Superwoman story, in which the Els were absent, or after, we’re not told). The Phantom Zone has been presented pretty inconsistently since the Bronze Age, but that’s the version we get here, as first presented in the classic Phantom Zone mini-series written by Steve Gerber and pencilled by Gene Colan – hear me talk about that with Dr Anj of Supergirl Comic Box Commentary and our pal Ryan Daly on Ryan’s Gene Colan podcast at this link.

And I was not expecting that – when Aethyr was namechecked I nearly fell off my chair.

So it’s the Phantom Zone we last saw in the 1980s, but several centuries down the line, scarier than ever. It’s the backdrop for the Els to stop acting as individuals and pairs, but to come together as a group, making it apparent this is set before their House of El two-parter, in which they’re very much a unit. Well, the hale and hearty presence of a character who dies over there is also a tell.

There’s a mystery attached to the storyteller in the framing sequence, Mr Byla – how does he know what happens in the future, who is he? Maybe we’ll find out some time, maybe not…since the reveal of Mr Oz’s true (well, ‘true’, I doubt Jor-El was the original plan), I’ve stopped being super keen on these things revealed. My guess would be Mr Miracle Shilo Norman, who cameos in the tale.

The visuals for the framing sequence are just lovely, boding well for Siya Oum’s upcoming Justice League turn (I look forward to her Superman, the big fella doesn’t appear here at all, though his legacy is everywhere). She makes Warworld’s slum look like a cosmic favela, while Sanctuary is as majestic as one could wish for. I especially like the younger version of current Action Comics character Thao-La, Oum captures a delightful kiddiness in her body and movements. And she does a great job of carrying on the visual characteristics set down in the House of El mini by Scott Godlowski.

Godlewski himself draws the Zone sequence, making the realm a real dimension of dread – those slithering beasts and fighting phantoms are something else. And a two-page sequence reminding us that we’re getting what may be no more than a future legend of Superman benefits from a lovely layout.

Throughout, the colours of Hi-Fi help with the storytelling, telling us about the filth of Warworld’s lower level, the antiseptic nature of Sanctuary and the eeriness of the Phantom Zone. Dave Sharpe, meanwhile, as well as doing sterling work all the way through, adds extra effervescence to Thao-La as we first meet her, plodging playfully through the puddles with her Superman ‘action figure’ and making the same superhero noises most of us did as children.

Godlewski and colourist Gabe Eltaeb’s movie poster style cover benefits from the debut of designer Darran Robinson’s new version of the Action Comics logo. Smart.

If you’re reading current Action Comics, this issue ripens the run by telling us a little more about Thao-La’s background. If you’re not, you still get an enjoyable tale of Superman’s possible descendants, both literal and spiritual. Either way, it’s worth your money and time.

7 thoughts on “Action Comics 2021 Annual #1 review

  1. If Thao-La is the girl appearing in Action, then she’s a time traveller – or she ages in reverse?

    I guess she’s also known by the name Thalkis Rose?

    I also wondered if this is the same Sanctuary, and what order the stories appear in. Kara is dead and buried, or is not dead and buried. Sanctuary is a new Krypton, or is a sanctuary for people as depressed and dejected as that version of Kara.

    Apparently regardless of when things happen, she keeps her tulip costume, though all the other Els wear what you’d expect Els to wear.

    Remember when a Sanctuary was the name of Kara’s personal underwater fortress? I think that was early in the New 52.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve Gerber’s Phantom Zone miniseries (1982) remains a highpoint of Superman comics in the 80s. Gerber always had a wonderful way of telling Krypton-based stories 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For some reason this wasn’t at my shop when I went last week, so I was thinking it got postponed again. More likely, my shop just got shorted. I’ll have to check again when I go back in a couple weeks.

    I find it interesting the DC is still publishing books in the future state setting. I feel like the ones they continue with — this, and the Gotham Future State book — will wind up being more coherent than the event itself, which was pretty scattershot.


    1. Sorry you missed this, for now, hope you get it. I’ve no interest in Batman’s FS books, the Robocop/Blade Runner vibe isn’t for me, it’s just wrong for Batman.


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