It took a year, but we’re finally getting the Warworld Gladiator Superman teased way back during Future State in the current storyline in Action Comics. The Warworld Saga Part 5 kicks into gear this week with Clark Kent’s powers diminished while fighting aliens in a gladiatorial setting after being trapped by Mongul. Can Superman escape…and does he even want to?
Ingeniously, writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson has taken a different angle here — instead of Superman fighting his way out, he tries to stay chained to inspire the Warworld people. How do you change the minds of an entire planet who have only known killing? For Superman, it’s about never giving up even faced with something as impossible as entrenched cultural norms.
This issue opens with Superman speaking through personally written notes detailed over captions. Dave Sharpe does a good job giving these captions a handwritten look, and over three pages Johnson draws us into Superman’s situation. It makes for an easy jumping-on point for casual readers. Riccardo Federici makes it easy to enjoy thanks to his incredible pencils, from Superman’s ripped shirtless look to two-story tall beasts that need slaying. Add in colors by Lee Loughridge which have a warm look as if the images were scrawled in a sketchbook and you’ve got an opening that feels important and maybe even historical.
The main plot of this issue revolves around two children who are fighting in the arena. They seek Mongul’s approval but are met with disdain and the impossible request to kill each other. The culture of Warworld is merciless and cruel, which further shows how Superman being engrained in the system in some way can be hugely impactful. You’ll be drawn into these children’s experiences while trying to wrap your head around their desire to get approval from a monster like Mongul.
The Warworld shows a bit more of itself in this issue through its environments and creatures. Federici draws a heck of a double-page layout of Superman and another character walking in a cavern. This leads to important info for later, but adds nice visual ideas about this growing world in our imaginations.
There isn’t a whole lot else to the issue, although we do get a Mongul vs. Superman fight however unfair it may be. At this point seeing them fight seems a touch pointless given Superman is depowered, but it’s a nice reminder of the predicament Superman is in. There’s a quick check-in with Superman’s allies too, although we’re in a bit of a waiting game at the moment. Could this story be moving a bit faster? Possibly, since the general vibe of Superman using hope to change minds hasn’t changed too much over the story arc.
The backup by Shawn Aldridge and Adriana Melo continues the Martian Manhunter story focusing mostly on a fight scene with a steel jawed bad guy. Aldridge continues to explore Manhunter’s thoughts well and the art gets the job done even if it looks a bit simplistic all things told.
Action Comics #1040 continues to show Superman’s greatest power may be the ability to inspire hope. His “goodness” is on full display here, while he also holds his own depowered and fighting giant alien monsters. It’s a wild concept that is super fun to see executed so well visually with a lot of potential for where it goes from here.
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