Superman starring in Action Comics is what the logo promises, but while Superman is in this issue, our leading man is Midnighter.
Because this is the issue in which we catch up with what the Authority veteran has been up to while Superman has been surviving Mongul’s gladiatorial arena, slowly inspiring the Warzoon to believe in freedom.
‘Midnighter’s Tale’ starts around a month before the events of last issue, after Superman led his new Authority to Warworld to free the Phaelosian people imprisoned there. Immediately, Midnighter sets about protecting the weak from Mongul’s thugs.
He’s down, but not out. As the days pass, and he begins searching for his husband Apollo, Midnighter encounters the same reluctance on the part of prisoners to embrace liberation as has Superman. Unlike the Man of Steel, though, Midnighter has no time for soft words; he tells it like it is.
Midnighter also isn’t delighted with Superman’s unwillingness to go full-on Spartacus rather than sitting quietly in his cell, talking to fellow prisoners in between arena bouts. He respects ‘Blue’ but his priorities are different.
Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s focus on Midnighter comes as a surprise, but it makes sense. As well as filling in part of the wider picture of what’s happening on Warworld, it provides regular artist Riccardo Federici with an excuse to take a month off – the astonishing work he’s been doing must take time. Kennedy Johnson gives us an authentic Midnighter, fearless, relentless and passionate, and adds more shade to the overall story.
Filling in on the visuals are Dale Eaglesham and Will Conrad – the story provides a reason for the occasional change in look – while colourist Lee Loughridge sticks to the established Warworld palette, providing continuity of tone with previous issues.
There are striking images, with the emotions of the Warzoon nicely captured, whether it’s fear, defiance, rage or something else. The storytelling is first rate – both artists are DC veterans – and a real treat is seeing how two of Superman’s greatest triumphs were translated into space-speak.
Rob Leigh’s Fortress of Fonts is raided to capture the various character voices, always looking appropriate to the artwork.
Former Action aces Daniel Sampere and Alejandro Sanchez draw and colour the good-looking cover, which effectively captures one of the issue’s – heck, the entire arc’s – themes.
The Martian Manhunter serial arrives at its penultimate chapter with the story strands featuring J’onn J’onnz and Metropolis cops Certa and Fox finally colliding.
‘Alien Atlas’. Now that tickled my nostalgia bone. Writer Shawn Aldridge provides another smart chapter of the serial, introducing Silver Age plot elements to much more modern DC Universe lore; it works wonderfully.
And just look at that slick art by illustrator Adriano Melo and colour house Hi-Fi – this is the best Martian Manhunter has looked in a long while. Dave Sharpe’s letters are another asset. I can safely say that without knowing what’s coming next month, I want to see this creative team on a sequel series.
Another month, another terrific issue of Action Comics. DC’s original superhero book has rarely been in better hands.