Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 2: The Arena
(Collects Action Comics #1036-1042)
Phillip Kennedy Johnson (writer), Ricardo Federici (Illustrator), Miguel Mendonça (Illustrator), Daniel Sampere (Illustrator), Dale Eaglesham (Illustrator), Will Conrad (Illustrator), Lee Loughridge (Colorist), Adriano Lucas (Colorist), Dave Sharpe (Letterer),
Sean Lewis, Sami Basri (Illustrator)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
THE WARWORLD SAGA BEGINS!! AND IT IS A WARWORLD THE LIKES OF WHICH YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE!!
The adventures of Kal-El, the original Superman, continue in this second volume of the Warworld Saga and it’s quite impressive to say the least! For those of you that read my review of the previous volume, you know that we are following a weaked Superman as he tries to keep fighting the good fight and go to those who ask for his help despite the challenge and doing his best to pretend that he’s at full power – this is all made even more troubling for our hero and his loved ones who know of his weakness, when he decides to answer the call for help to liberate the millions of souls living in the brutal oppression of Warworld and the refugees who sought his aid to save them as they were the last of their species in the known universe.
For those who read the mini-series Superman & The Authority by Grant Morrison a while back, you would know about the crew Supes assembled – but for everyones benefit I’ll explain: As Kal El found himself weakening, he assembled a covert-ish crew to work with him, they went places and did things he couldn’t always manage and they acted as support for him in his compromised state. The unlikely team is a re-imagining of sorts of The Authority from Wildstorm and this new incarnation has the familiar faces of Midnighter and Apollo at the forefront and in place of Engineer, The Doctor we have Natasha Irons and Enchantress who longtime DC readers would know + we have newcomers Lightray and OMAC who are drastic and frankly quite welcome re-imaginings of the characters who bore the names earlier; rounding out the team is Manchester Black who was very much an opponent for Superman as the leader of The Elite in a strikingly dark Superman storyline some years ago.
This new crew accompanies Superman to Warworld for what they all fear might be a suicide mission, but they are committed to helping Superman for various reasons and are confident of their own collective abilities. They were wrong. Arriving on Warworld, the team of heroes and the reader are faced with a Warworld that no one had ever seen – this is not some giant robo-planet of death, it is a living, breathing world with a deep-rooted culture of power, dominance, brutality and bloody violence. Our heroes arrive on-planet and are roundly defeated and scattered all over the planet with at least one fatality right out the gate and most (including Superman!) enslaved and put into chains. Presiding over their defeat is the newest holder of the title Mongul who has prepared for this and is on this world “He who holds all chains”.
The story then follows our surviving heroes as they are imprisoned in the bowels of Warworld and see the catacombs and depths below the surface. Johnson does a wonderful job building a world that is a haphazard amalgamation of worlds that it has consumed while retaining its brutal beating cultural heart. We see the way people fight to survive – often literally as in the giant bloody arena where gladiatorial combat happens and people earn links in the chains they wear to show their power and prowess, an arena in which Superman is thrown time and again and he becomes known as the Unblooded Sword and works above and below to try and win hearts and minds, all the while trying simply to stay alive as he gets weaker and weaker. Meanwhile, Midnighter is the only one that evaded capture but now is alone in this mad, bloody world, all the while angry at Superman for getting them all caught like this and working his own machinations to free Apollo and get whoever is left of the team out of the hell in which they find themselves.
It is a savage tale we read here and I did not get time to delve into the artwork without making this a hell of a long review – but suffice it to say that not only is the art as solid as it was in the last volume but in some spaces it is even better. Honestly, as much as the writing builds a deep and intriguing world for us, the artwork brings it all to life very effectively. All in all, I was enjoying this story just as a nice Superman story after a while, but this volume which amps things up to another level is what has me completely and totally hooked.
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