REVIEW: Action Comics 2023 Annual #1

Action Comics Annual 2023 is here and is one of the most important Superman title annuals we’ve seen in a long time. Almost four years ago Future State gave us a look at the Warworld Saga, now Phillip Kennedy Johnson brings his saga of Action Comics to an end in the form of the House of El vs. the Al-Ghul Dynasty. A truly bittersweet moment for Superman comic book fans.

Rafa Sandoval has been a superb recurring artist for the last year and a half for Action Comics. We have so many great pieces featuring the new Superman family and this is one of the best with the whole cast charging against the forces of Earth Al Ghul (much more on that later!). When Ras Al Ghul attacks Gotham City, it’s a job for Batman and his family but when Earth Al Ghul attacks it’s one for Superman and his family. The uniform costumes have been another great staple of this Action Comics era. Colors are done by Matt Herms.

Action Comics 2023 Annual

Lucio Parrillo’s variant is hard in every sense of the word with a battle-ready Superman braving a storm like a weatherproof airplane. The multi-colored lighting based on where it’s hitting him on his suit is a really sick touch. Parrillo’s photoreal textures give it a very Man of Steel-like feel. A cover this fierce is actually the norm for him with his work on Red Sonja and other barbarian-and-swords titles.

Action Comics 2023 Annual

Jon Bogdanove goes full Darwyn Cook for his variant and also features Beppo. Beppo is a character that only could’ve come out of the Silver Age and Bogdanove perfectly captures that aesthetic. With Superman looking like he did back then and Beppo as less of a bulky chimpanzee and more of the little, long-tailed monkey he was during his debut, it’s a wholesome blast from the past.

Action Comics 2023 Annual

Other great variants are done by Dave Wilkins and Sweeney Boo. 

Otho has been taken by Norah Stone, revealed as Janan Al Ghul, to Earth Al Ghul where the Lazarus Planet event had taken place. It’s a place straight out of the Dark Multiverse wherein the Al Ghul family has been leaching Kryptonian strength for years and harbored an army of Manbats to rule their world. Now they have eyes on Earth-Zero and Otho’s power makes her an ideal vessel for Janan.

But might and magic combine as Superman, Etrigan, and Bloodwynd (a hero originating from the Lazarus Planet event) lead a three-man war against her forces in order to rescue Otho, thwart the Empire of Shadows, and keep them at bay. Meanwhile below in Metropolis, the rest of the Superfamily have the Blue Earth movement to contend with while a literal invasion force looms ahead.

Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s farewell issue to Action Comics, Superman, and the House of El is one of Superman’s most mystical battles in the modern era of comics as most battles tend to be more cosmic or partly based in science. We’ve seen Superman as a gladiator and as the leader of a house in this era of Action Comics and we’ll be sure to never forget it. But Johnson reveals in this issue that the story has always been about Otho and Osul as their true origin story as heroes ends. They’ve gone a long way from Phaelosian prisoners on Warworld who were rescued by Superman and discovered they had powers themselves. Now, the time has finally come for Otho to choose how she’ll use her powers. Letters are done by Dave Sharpe.

Max Raynor, the visual creator of Bloodwynd, draws this issue and gives everyone a shot in action in this grand finale issue. Bloodwynd and Etrigan seem like such a Brave and the Bold-like team up for Superman and help him break into Janan’s fortress while fighting all her forces. The characters original to the series like her and the Otho have their powers showcased the most, some have absolutely underestimated them in terms of power. Even though Lazarus Planet seems like a prequel to this, we still see no electric blue powers from Jon in his small appearances in this issue. You can bet that lasers of almost every color are blasted too. Colors are done by Matt Herms.

It’s an explosive end of an era in Action Comics Annual 2023 and the most significant annual of the series in recent years because of it. It’s an end, but also as Johnson finishes his incredible run on Action Comics, he tells it as a new beginning as is the case with all Superman stories.

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