Review: Action Comics #1040
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writers: Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Shawn Aldridge
Art: Riccardo Federici and Adriana Melo
Colors: Lee Loughridge and Hi-Fi
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
John Carter, er… Superman takes a stand in the arena and sets in motion a retaliation by Mongul. It doesn’t get any easier for the Man of Steel.
You may recall the variant cover for Action Comics #1039 which I christened, “Clark Kent, Warlord of Mars.” With Action Comics #1040, the story inside has gone full on John Carter of Mars. Superman is a captive fighting in the Warworld arena and he is a symbol of hope to those imprisoned with him including Phaelosians whom he has come to free. However, not all of them seem to want his help, but after an impassioned speech some of them seem to be coming around. For anyone’s who’s read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books, this should be very familiar. One can only assume that Phillip Kennedy Johnson knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s a fair statement that John Carter was an inspiration to Siegel and Shuster when they created Superman. A quick look at Superman’s original power set is essentially that of John Carter in Burroughs’ novels.
You may recall that Superman in his earliest appearances, Superman cannot fly- he can ‘leap an 1/8th of a mile. John Carter travels similarly as the lesser gravity on Mars allows his Earthborn muscles to carry him much farther than the natives. It also gives him increased strength. If one changed the names “to protect the innocent” in Action Comics #1040, you’d have a John Carter story. And the Warzoons of Warworld just look like a typo that should’ve been, “Warhoon,” one of the tribes of Green Martians in the John Carter stories. They are a particularly nasty lot that has no feelings whatsoever and has no patience of any kind of weakness- sound familiar? Interestingly, the more it feels like a John Carter story the better it gets. From the standpoint of hopefulness, nothing was ever more present in John Carter than his catchphrase, “I still live.” He never gave up as long as there was a breath of life in him, no matter what the odds. Sounds like a Big Blue Boyscout we know, doesn’t it?
Get your Google search engine ready for the Marian Manhunter second feature. We’ve already seen an updated Zook in this series so far, and in Action Comics #1040 Shawn Aldridge touches on even more past history of J’onn J’onzz. Anyone remember Vulture and Marco Xavier? Bronze Wraith anyone? Well, Aldridge does, or at least he’s done his homework. As this story progresses it really feels like a tale designed to reintroduce and reacquaint readers with the Marian Manhunter. His profile has certainly been lowered since he lost his founding member status of the Justice League at the beginning of “The New 52.” Usually the perennial standard bearer for the League, J’onn hasn’t had the presence he did before Flashpoint.
Once again Riccardo Federici is the artist on the main feature and his work is absolutely exquisite. The painted appearance is gorgeous. It’s also worth mentioning that Julian Totino Tedesco again has a brilliant variant cover. While it doesn’t echo any of the content in the issue, it’s a “story” I’d like to read.
If there’s a negative, it’s got to be the fact that its distance from the feel of a Superman story and the lack of connective tissue to the overall storyline is what elevates it. Previous issues have devoted more page space to connect it all to the big picture. Take that how you will, but for me, it points out that some of the aspects of the larger story just aren’t working, whereas when it’s boiled down to the John Carter riffing, it’s fantastic. It makes you want to read a John Carter comic.
The “Warworld Saga,” has been a rollercoaster, with more valleys than peaks, but Action Comics #1040, which almost feels like a one-off issue is a remarkable homage to John Carter of Mars. Indeed much of the “Warworld Saga” owes something to John Carter, but this issue, in particular, evokes nostalgia while also doubling down on those aspects that are common to both the Warlord of Mars and the Man of Steel.