Review: Action Comics #1038
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writers: Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Shawn Aldridge
Art: Miguel Mendonça and Adriana Melo
Colors: Adriano Lucas and Hi-Fi
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
Superman and his allies suffer at the hands of Mongul, and the Martian Manhunter meets a new/old friend as he follows up a lead.
The Martian Manhunter second feature in Action Comics #1038 is a fun chapter that tips its hat very deeply to the Silver Age and the origins of the character. It’s not entirely clear when this story takes place, but J’onn references moments in his past that he’s being reminded of. Someone has put out a hit on MM and it leads J’onn to think about things in his past. On the last page, he runs into a character with a name that should be familiar to longtime comic readers. Everyone remembers J’onn’s former partner, Zook? Uh…right?
This version of Zook doesn’t look exactly like the refugee from a parallel world that first appeared in Detective Comics #311, but she is clearly inspired by the original. This appears to be a bit of an update similar to what Gail Simone and Adriana Melo did with Plastic Man and Woozy Winks in the Plastic Man mini-series from 2018. The new character Pado Swakatoon seemed to take Woozy’s traditional role whilst also wearing green-hued duds. Melo (yes, she’s drawing this MM story as well) and writer Shawn Aldridge build just enough mystery and channel the right amount of Silver Age nostalgia in chapter 2 that maintains reader interest. It’s not always easy with a shorter page count in a story behind the main tale.
Superman is of course the star of Action Comics #1038, but unfortunately, the tongue-wagging of Mongul in the lead story is no more interesting than this chapter is inspiring. There are a couple of things that stand out, however. Miguel Mendonca draws a great issue! I mean, wow! His shot of Mongul’s lackey on page two is just incredible. It’s that way for the rest of the issue, as well.
When Superman cradles Lia’s lifeless form in his arms and soliloquizes over the nature of life after death, it comes across as a bit of a meta-moment as if he’s trying to reassure her (still lifeless) that she will live on in future stories when some other writer “resurrects” her. It could also be a reference to her light powers. However, he’s looking right at the reader in the last panel of his speech.
Julian Totino Tedesco delivers another amazing variant cover to this issue. Like the two previous ones, it needs a story. This one reminds me of an actual issue from the ’80’s – Superman #417. I’m calling this one “Clark Kent, Warlord of Mars.”
Superman certainly seems to have blundered onto Warworld subsequently causing the death of one (or two?) of his teammates and Midnighter rightly calls him on it. His response about hope is certainly in keeping with Superman’s mindset, but the issue doesn’t feel hopeful. The reader doesn’t really get what some of the Phaelosians perhaps get out of it.
The Phaelosians, one of the most interesting aspects of Johnson’s run on Superman are still relegated to the background. This story doesn’t really make a tangible connection between Superman and these characters. We could’ve done with a lot less Mongul and a lot more of Superman interacting with the Phaelosians in a meaningful way instead of mumbling and bleeding on the floor. It’s almost as if Johnson’s got Superman’s heart right, but his mind is all wrong. Although, it was nice to hear him reference his son as a 12-year-old. If only it were believable that this would lead to a story getting Jon back to his proper age. DC has too much invested in Jon as a burgeoning adult, even if the idea of Lois and Clark raising their biological child is far more interesting with more potential than the aged-up Jon will ever have. At least Superman seems to know the TRUTH!
Buy this one for Tedesco’s variant cover and the Marian Manhunter second feature. Action Comics #1038 isn’t without merit, it’s just probably not the merit you were banking on. It’s still a difficult time for Superman, but it’s nice that there’s more to this title than the lead Superman story.