Action Comics #1049 really has everything that a Superman fan could both want and expect this week. It truly does feel like an entry in Superman: The Animated Series with the characters and writing. Phillip Kennedy Johnson continues to establish himself as one of the foremost Man of Steel writers of this year.
Steve Beach’s covers continue to be great Superman pieces overall that require little to no story or context to enjoy. He takes a break from illustrating Superman flying overhead in his trademark pose and brings us to the Fortress of Solitude with the Superfamily. Superman, Supergirl, Steel, Natalie Irons, Kenan Kong, and Krypto hovering outside the ice fields. Beach’s smooth textures are perfect for this image, making it look near photorealistic. The ice fields, the crystalized structure of the Fortress, and the gleaming sunlight are just perfect.
Nathan Szerdy also creates a beautiful non-story related and timeless cover with a realism approach like Beach. It’s a scene from the Superman story told thousands of times over – his arrival to Earth. This cover is cinematic with how dynamic it is, it can even pass as an official storyboard for an upcoming Superman film. A young Martha Kent watches from the window as the rocket that houses the infant Kal-El descends across the Smallville sky. From the wrinkles on her clothes to the lens of her glasses, every detail is textured and near photorealistic.
Another staple of Superman’s origin story is his time at Smallville high. In most iterations he played around on the football team as he learned how to safely handle those much frailer than him. Mario Foccillo revisits that time with his variant. Clark Kent playfully crosses into the n-zone with three defensive players literally on his back. Foccillo’s modern comic art style and shading breathe new light into this scene we still see in Superman’s origin to this day.
The month-long celebration of DC in the 90s continues with Roger Cruz’s variant. There are two things Superman was known for in the 90s – dying and the mullet he began sporting upon his return. So what better way to celebrate it than with a comedic hair-drying take? Krypto is there too for even more funny business with his flapping jowls. Superman’s appearance here doesn’t just include his mullet, but the enlarged emblem that covers nearly his whole chest and bold colors that would follow him into the early 2000s. This one is another winner in the 90s variant series.
The last time we left Superman, he was squaring off against both Orion and Kalibak outside the Metropolis Zoo. The New Gods came to Earth in pursuit of the Fire of Olgrun, a newly created cosmic power awakened by the end of Mongul’s reign on Warworld. This was revealed to be the refugee Osul-Ra that he had rescued from the slave world. There is also an entire colony of them off-world that Clark is keeping safe until he can find them a new world. At the same time, Lex Luthor continues his gambit with the imprisoned and broken Metallo – determined to show that the Man of Steel’s return must come his.
Action Comics #1049 focuses on Superman’s air-shaking scuffle with the New Gods relentless in their pursuit of the Fire of Olgrun and Lex’s ultimate attempt to goad John Corben out of prison and back in the field. Both of these are the highlights of the issue. They truly make you feel like you’re watching an episode of Superman: The Animated Series. You have Clark fending off big bad not in the name of winning the fight but in finding a better way to release the Fire of Olgrun from Osul.
Lex is also the scheming, super genius as he triumphantly sits back in the seat of the main antagonist. He even brings John Corben’s sister into it by letting her take the fall for the deaths of her boyfriend and drug dealer in what was a dispute between them. Metallo also shines, not in the literal sense, in this scene too. Every movement his decrepit body makes is labeled by a rustic onomatopoeia. It’s all true to his character as a victim doing what he must rather than an outright thug – at least at this point in his story.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson continues to flex his grasp on the Man of Steel since heading the series a little over a year ago. The Metropolis supporting cast member of Bibbo Bibbowski continues to grace the pages as he has done in the last issues as he helps move people to safety while Superman takes on the New Gods. He’s such a wholesome man who is just always inspired by him. Johnson’s scenes with Lex, Metallo, and Lex’s mystery ally revealed at the end make them out as the rogues they are makes the reader want more. He’s already written a great Mongul – let’s see how he tackles the rest.
Mike Perkins’ art continues to be charmingly rough almost like chicken scratches but still tangible as modern comic art. His handling of Superman vs. Orion and Kalibak is a mixture of choreographed fighting and single isolated action panels as it progresses. Every punch, dodge, and grapple is a dynamic pose showcasing every inch of him. His take on Luthor almost looks like Gene Hackman from the 1978 film – I think it’s all in the chin and head shape. His Metallo design continues to be a homage to the original appearance from Superman’s first solo issue. Lee Loughridge’s colors give everything a laminated feel that makes the characters rougher than the backgrounds which help them pop. This especially has a great effect on the action scenes with Orion and Kalibak.
Action Comics #1049 gives us nothing but prime Superman action, as loose ends from Warworld refuse to be tied and his greatest villains from Earth begin to come out of the cracks. With the next issue being a special anniversary one, we’ll be seeing something colossal.