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Phillip Kennedy Johnson talks storytelling and stakes in 'Superman: Warworld Apocalypse'

Comic Books

Phillip Kennedy Johnson talks storytelling and stakes in ‘Superman: Warworld Apocalypse’

The final battle begins between Mongul’s Unmade Campions and Superman and The Authority later this month.

DC Comics is no stranger to giant-sized events. In the last year or so alone, we’ve had Future State and Dark Crisis alone. But there’s been another big event that pales even those (at least in terms of length): the Warworld Saga.

The event,  headed up primarily by writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson, saw Superman leave Earth for the titular planet, where he’s been battling Mongul across the pages of Action Comics and his own titular title. With the event spanning since the very beginnings of Future State in early 2021, it’s finally set to wrap up this fall. That ending comes with the six-issue “Kal-El Returns.” The title promises just that, as the Man of Steel comes home in a story that’ll crossover with both Kennedy Johnson’s Action Comics and Tom Taylor’s Superman: Son of Kal-El. But before the happy ending comes to Apocalypse.

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More specifically, Superman: Warworld Apocalypse, which is set to debut on August 30 (the FOC is this Sunday, August 7). The one-shot — with art from Will Conrad and Brandon Peterson and colors by Lee Loughridge — promises to be the deciding battle between Mongul’s Unmade Campions and Superman and The Authority. A new betrayal “threatens to crush Superman’s rebellion” just as Supes’ last chance to regain his powers “lies with Natasha and John Henry Irons.”

Ahead of the release, Kennedy Johnson was kind enough to answer a few questions via email. That includes his thoughts on the event itself, how he thinks it was received by enthusiastic fans, and what comes next for this truly epic story.

Superman

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: How does it feel to be done with the Warworld Saga?

Phillip Kennedy Johnson: Amazing. The Warworld Saga was always the plan when I came onboard Action Comics, and now it’s finished, every bit as ambitious as when we envisioned it. I still kind of can’t believe we got away with it. DC Comics let us tell a Superman story about human trafficking, refugees, and the dangers of propaganda and hero worship, while also telling a story about what it means to be Superman, by definition, the best of us. We got to transform Warworld, introduce a ton of new characters, and make Superman’s family a little bigger and a little richer… I couldn’t be more proud of it or more grateful to all my collaborators on the series.

Because of the off-world setting, there are a lot of characters and settings I haven’t had a chance to write yet, and I’m incredibly excited to bring Superman home in September. We’re about to explore Metropolis just as thoroughly and thoughtfully as we explored Warworld, so stay tuned.

AIPT: Did it all turn out the way you’d hoped or did the “map” shift at all?

PKJ: With comics, I’m a pretty meticulous outliner, but it’s always with the understanding that it will invariably course-correct throughout the writing process. Something that reads well in the outline suddenly makes less sense when I go to page breakdowns, or a decision a character makes in the page breakdowns feels implausible or out of character when I see it in the actual dialogue. I always try to get it as right as I can in the early stages, but no matter what I do, the story always changes, and it’s always best when I let it.

In the case of The Warworld Saga: because it was such a long-form story, lots of things through the middle chapters changed quite a bit, but ultimately we ended up more or less where I wanted to go. Probably the biggest change is that a character I invented for the express purpose of getting killed ended up surviving, and a character I intended to live is about to get killed. But in both cases, the story is better this way.

Phillip Kennedy Johnson talks storytelling and stakes in 'Superman: Warworld Apocalypse'

Art from throughout the Warworld Saga.

AIPT: Were there any lessons or insights you’ve gleaned from tackling an event like this?

PKJ: I’ve learned the importance of engaging with the comics community throughout the creation process. Writing a beloved title as it’s coming out every month is like reading someone a story in real time, piece by piece… but with comics, strangely, the conversation that happens with readers and fans between chapters becomes part of the story too, in a way that’s hard for me to articulate. I can’t say for certain that it’s unique to comics, but I certainly haven’t experienced it in any other creative medium. It’s a fascinating and dynamic part of the comics process that I’m still coming to understand.

AIPT: How was the reception overall? Do you think it “landed” in the way you’d hope?

PKJ: The Superman fanbase has been ridiculously supportive, and every week I hear from readers who say they’ve never liked Superman or never “gotten” Superman, but that now they do. I can’t express how great it is to hear that, every time. Growing a readership is a long game, and as we build on the success of The Warworld Saga and word of mouth about Action Comics continues to spread, I’m confident the fanbase will continue to grow. Anytime I see a comment about Superman being boring or irrelevant, all it means to me is that they don’t see the Superman that I see. People have never needed Superman’s specific brand of inspiration more than now, and The Warworld Saga was written with that express purpose.

AIPT: How does this one-shot inform or influence what happens next, especially with the “Kal-El Returns” arc/event?

PKJ: Without spoiling anything: Superman makes some monumentally big decisions in Superman: Warworld Apocalypse. The reader might not even understand how big until they read the Action Comics issues that follow and realize how things have changed. Superman’s actions on Warworld will have lasting consequences for himself, for the Super-Family, for the people of Earth, and for the gods of New Genesis and Apokolips. And we’ll see all those consequences begin to take shape in “Kal-El Returns” through the rest of the year!


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