Trapped on Warworld, his powers inhibited by red sun radiation, Superman is learning what it means to be a fighter in Mongul’s arena.
Later, one of the other fighters tells Clark that his approach is going to get him killed.
Elsewhere in the tombs of Warworld, Omac and Natasha Irons – who accompanied Superman on his stalled mission to free the slaves of Mongul – are getting to know their fellow warriors.
Omac has fans…
… while Natasha seems to have a plan.
The story also gives us a deeper look at the workings and origins of Warworld, and an update on two other members of Superman’s Authority.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s tale gets richer by the issue, as we see Superman and friends settle into their new life. Actually, ‘friends’ may not be quite right, given Omac looks to be open to a heel turn. Whatever the case, it’s good to see the new Authority members as more than Superman’s cannon fodder; they’re all heroes, all capable of thinking for themselves, of trying to find a way out of the horrible situation into which they’ve been dropped.
The opening narration by Clark is just lovely, reminding us that words are his weapon of choice (just don’t ask where he’s hiding his pen..). Later in the issue we see that he is willing to adapt to Warworld’s ways. Throughout the story, Clark’s empathy is ever-present, his respect for life and desire to help others his North Star. And his investigator’s eyes come to the fore as he observes, processes, begins to form a plan.
Grant Morrison introduced this new Omac in the recent Superman and the Authority mini-series but left them a (Buddy) blank slate, meaning I’ve no idea whether they will betray Superman, but the idea adds spice to the previously bland bodyguard of the fallen Lightray. I understand Omac’s bitterness – Superman took a basically untested, poorly briefed ‘team’ to a planet of murderous warriors ruled by a madman, with no Plan B in place. And now their friend is dead and they face a bleak future.
Natasha Irons has been used a fair amount since her Nineties introduction as Metropolis’s second Steel, and has consistently been shown as a smart, intuitive engineer; it looks like she’ll be key to freeing the Warworld slaves from Mongul and his Warzoon, but I wouldn’t bet against Johnson surprising us.
Mongul himself doesn’t show up in Chapter 4 of The Warworld Saga, but his shadow looms over the entire story, and there’s a reference to the doomsday planet’s first comic book appearance, way back in DC Comics Presents #27. Amusingly, given all the continuity resets the DC Universe has had since then, Superman declares it non-canon.
The instalment ends with a dash of hope… and then I go back to the beginning to again gasp at the astonishing art of illustrator Riccardo Federici and colour artist Lee Loughridge. This is Superman the Barbarian, with every page evoking the golden era of pulp magazines. This is Superman as Conan crossed with Doc Savage, a sinewy warrior lost in a wasteland of danger, but never giving into despair.
The strain felt by Clark as he prevails against a war beast, the intelligence on his face as he strives to decode an ancient language… this work deserves awards. Loughridge’s colour choices evoke a hellscape, a dusty, dark pit of horror. Dave Sharpe uses an attractive cursive font for Clark’s journal, while the rest of the issue is lettered with suitably in-yer-face letterforms.
Recent Action Comics artist Daniel Sampere provides the movie poster-style cover, featuring searingly good portraits of Clark, Natasha and Omac, with Alejandro Sanchez’s colours reflect the interior but for the superbly effective white background and black logo. It’s brilliant work all round.
The issue also continues the Martian Manhunter serial as J’onn J’onzz puzzles at the return of old foes, aided by a teenage girl nicknamed ‘Zook’ – a very Silver Age nod. Two more J’onn threats from that period also show up, while in a storyline that finally intersects with J’onn’s, Metropolis detectives Certa and Peters continue their investigation into missing kids.
Courtesy of writer Shawn Aldridge, artist Adriano Melo, colourist Hi-Fi and letterer Dave Sharpe, it’s tonally very different from the lead strip, but none the worse for that – I’m enjoying this story a great deal, with the question as to whether J’onn is posing as one of the cops still not answered. Melo’s storytelling is pleasingly precise, with J’onn utterly commanding.
Edited by Paul Kaminski and Jillian Grant, Action Comics #1039 is a superb issue, with one story that looks set to be a classic, and another that’s pure fun. Buy it.