Years ago, super boy Clark Kent gets some advice from mom Martha.
Millions of miles away, another mother is sharing her own life lessons.
Compassion will get you killed on Warworld and the woman is prepared to beat it out of her son to help him survive.
Compassion is the lifeblood of Martha Kent, along with such other good human qualities as empathy and fairness. When she sees a bully, she doesn’t ask how to get back at them, she asks ‘why’? Clark sees this, and learns and grows.
I’m on record as stating that I get a little tired of seeing Jonathan Kent as the dispenser of all wisdom, the perfect Pa. As great a guy as he is – and he truly is – once in a while I wish he was presented as more than A Lesson a Day. Well, we don’t get that here – he’s largely absent – but we do get Ma Kent helping Clark understand that his powers aren’t made for cheating.
It’s refreshing, and we get to know Martha a little better. In the other story, we don’t learn the name of the Tchakegaleng mother, nor the boy who, the cover makes clear, will grow to be the present day Mongul. Given how complicated names are in their culture – the rival tribe is the Khalithengir – it’s probably a blessing. The point is the contrast between the young lives of Clark and ‘Mini-gal’. They’re both innately good kids but Clark has to be steered away from slightly selfish things, while his contemporary must have his good instincts removed. On Mongul’s world the competing influences aren’t so much Nature vs Nurture as Nature vs Nightmare.
Life on Warworld is short for many and brutal for all; there’s a tragedy to the way the rules of their – can I even call it ‘civilisation’? – make sense to them. It’s this warped logic Superman is fighting against in the current day, as the Warzoons’ philosophy has infected their prisoners.
Towards the end of the issue, I teared up – this is powerful work, lovingly created by artists who understand the human heart.
Regular Action Comics writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson isn’t alone this issue – he has a partner in Si Spurrier, who penned the recent, brilliant Hellblazer series. Johnson provides the meaty, Warworld words while Spurrier takes on the kinder realm of Smallville. Each writer perfectly captures the required tone, conjuring up an authentic world with their magic words.
Johnson and Spurrier are aided by top-notch artists Dale Eaglesham and Ian Churchill bringing their decades of experience to bear on ‘A Tale of Two Titans’. Churchill’s skill at drawing kids is crucial to the success of the Clark and Martha sequence, with the super boy’s emotions evident in his expressions and movement. There are a load of children in the background, too, one of whom is especially important to the story, and they also convince. As for Martha, she looks great, warm and strong, and what action there is has understated power.
Churchill pays particular attention to clothing, from the way it drapes to tiny details such as that label sticking upwards from Clark’s tee shirt.
Lee Loughridge’s bucolic colour choices complement this American tale, just as his intense reds and oranges and browns are perfect for the Warworld flashback. There, Eaglesham crafts scenes of everyday horror, neverending pain – there’s a palpable sense of ‘abandon hope’ to the pages. I’ve heard people speak of a beauty in the grotesque – not here, it’s just a frightening world of lost souls.
The book isn’t all serious – there’s a hilariously sweet scene as Clark tries to do something nice for his mom…
The lettering throughout is the work of Dave Sharpe, and it’s a lesson in professionalism for aspiring font folk. Smallville means calms words, mainly, but Warworld invites Sharpe to go wild with the sound effects and boy, does he.
Francesco Francavilla’s cover reflects neither of the visual styles inside the issue, but its simple lines and bold colours speak to the primal power of two cosmic legends.
If you’re following the Warworld Saga in Action Comics, this is a brilliant bonus. If you’re not, it’s simply brilliant. Buy it.