Action Comics is leading the way when it comes to establishing a new direction for the Superman franchise. With DC Comics having a renewed focus on establishing the entire Superman Family they are turning Action Comics into an anthology series, similar to Batman: Urban Legends. This new direction looks to give the spotlight to all the Superman Family members rather than just the two current Supermen in Clark and Jon Kent. How will this new direction for Action Comics turn out for DC Comics? Let’s find out with Action Comics #1051
Writers: Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Speeding Bullets); Dan Jurgens (Home Again); Leah Williams (Power Girl: Head Like A Whole)
Artists: Rafa Sandoval (Speeding Bullets); Lee Week (Home Again); Marguerite Sauvage (Power Girl: Head Like A Whole)
Colorists: Matt Herms (Speeding Bullets); Elizabeth Breitweiser (Home Again)
Letterers: Dave Sharpe (Speeding Bullets); Rob Leigh (Home Again); Becca Carey (Power Girl: Head Like A Whole)
After watching the Superman Family (Clark Kent, Jon Kent, Kara Zor-El, John Henry Irons, Natasha Irons, Conner Kent, and Kong Kenan) stop a pair of terrorists from attacking protesters Metallo is given a new mission by Lex Luthor.
At the Kent apartment, Clark Kent talks with everyone about how the John and Natasha Irons-led Steelworks Tower will set the foundation of how they will show everyone the Superman Family will not only protect the Earth and the Multiverse but lead people into the future.
Clark then reveals that he and Lois have adopted Otho-Ra and Osul-Ra (the Super-Twins’ former Warworld slave gladiators that are Phaelosians, who are descendants of exiled Kryptonians thousands of years before Krypton exploded) much to Jon’s surprise.
The next day with Superman (Jon Kent), Supergirl, Superboy, Super-Man, and the Super-Twins standing guard John and Natasha announce the new Steelworks Tower with Clark and Lois covering the press conference.
As that happens Metallo infiltrates the top floor of Steelworks Tower and sets off an explosion. The Superman Family quickly works to contain all of the falling debris and keep the tower from completely collapsing.
When Superman (Clark Kent) arrives and finds Superboy already defeated by Metallo, who states he is going to kill Superman. End of the main story.
Action Comics #1051 largely gets it right. Specifically, in the Superman Family main story and Power Girl backup story, we get a strong foundation built for the direction of the Superman franchise. This is definitely what was needed after what has felt like the Superman franchise struggling to find a good foundation that works for all its characters since the New 52.
The opening to “Speeding Bullets” was not the best first impression. On one hand, the opening narration did not create any sort of momentum for the story. That could’ve easily been changed if Lois Lane was positioned as the narrator of the opening scene. Instead, Phillip Kennedy Johnson came across as the one talking directly to the reader. It made it so the story really didn’t find a good flow. It is not the best way to get the reader to buy into this new direction.
Johnson’s writing was saved in this opening with how the Superman Family ended up showing up to save the day. Rafa Sandoval deserves a lot of credit for how the turnaround for this opening. Sandoval did an excellent job at presenting the entire Superman Family as difference-makers. At the same time, he didn’t go all the way in simply having a Godly presence. The focus was on the Superman Family being presented as superheroes who will protect others. In the process, the art enhanced the final lines of narration Johnson wrote for this opening.
This opening was also important in establishing the fact the Superman Family will be working as a unit together. That is not to say that they are a new superhero team. Rather, similar to how we’ve seen the Batman Family operate since DC Rebirth, the Superman Family will have a line of communication built on the fact they are a family. Furthermore, when big things do happen like John and Natasha Irons announcing their new Steelworks Tower they will all be there to support one another in multiple ways. That is such a key thing to get the reader to naturally buy into this united Superman Family.
The scene in the Kent family apartment was a great way to quickly showcase the chemistry between Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jon Kent, Kara Zor-El, John Henry Irons, Natasha Irons, Conner Kent, Kong Kenan, Otho-Ra, and Osul-Ra. What worked best is that Johnson made each interaction tell the story of each of the Superman Family’s personalities. We have the heads of the family in Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Then we have Kara, John, and Natasha as the older, experienced members. And finally, there is Jon, Conner, Kong, Otho-Ra, and Osul-Ra who are the younger, next-generation members of the family. Johnson accomplishes this character work very quickly.
This allowed the transition into Clark’s two big announcements to work even better within the context of the story. First, establishing a greater mission statement for the Superman Family was certainly needed. Johnson did a great job working in previous continuity to show how Clark and Jon’s respective recent experiences as Superman have shown them that they need to show not just the world but the Multiverse they are about protecting and leading. That instantly makes the entire Superman Family important as Clark is clear he needs everyone to accomplish this. Having John and Natasha’s Steelworks Tower as the starting point for this new direction also added natural importance to the Steelworks series coming out in June for Superman fans.
With all of this work done on the Superman side of the franchise, it all creates questions about how Superman’s rogues’ gallery will fit into things. We get some answers to this on the Lex Luthor side of the equation. With the way, Lex had Metallo do his dirty work for him it does appear we will see Lex return to his manipulations being a key focal point for the franchise. As Superman’s greatest villain returning Lex to full-time evil mastermind is the best role for him. The way Lex spoke to Metallo does indicate that he will likely gather other Superman villains to do damage to what the Superman Family is going to try to accomplish.
The two backup stories in Action Comics #1051 were more of a mixed bag. The first backup story by Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks in particular just never clicked the way intended. The major factor is that getting a story from back when Jon was still a young kid being raised by Clark and Lois doesn’t give the impression of new, fresh storytelling. The entire time it just felt like Jurgens was trying to tap into the sense of nostalgia fans have for the Superman Rebirth Kent Family vibe. Unfortunately, it just never works as Jurgens can’t get past telling a story that relies on nostalgia. At no point does this feel like a new story.
Another reason for this flashback story falling flat is that we already have enough comics with Clark and Jon as the series leads. In fact, the two other Superman titles in this new direction star Clark and Jon. It would’ve been much better if instead Jurgens and the editors chose to highlight another member of the Superman Family. This would’ve been a prime spot for Kara, Conner, or Kong to show how recent stories involving the three merges into what this new Superman direction was. And even better for the main story, this spot should’ve gone to tell a one-shot style story that gives readers details on Otho-Ra and Osul-Ra since these are new characters that many picking up Action Comics #1051 aren’t familiar with their Warworld history.
The only thing that really works for the “Home Again” backup was Lee Weeks’ artwork for the story. Weeks does a great job of giving a flashback tone to the story. With the focus being on the Kent family rather than big superhero adventures Weeks does a great job capturing the character moments of this story. The joy on young Jon’s face when he sees that he and his parents are back to living on a farm was a great reminder of how fondly this time is looked back on.
The second backup, “Head Like A Whole,” which spotlights Power Girl works so much better. For one, we get a focus on Power Girl, who has long been forgotten for a long time and anthology series like Action Comics has been turned into gets a big benefit from this type of spotlight. Leah Williams does a great job at reestablishing Power Girl’s voice as we are quickly reminded of her as one of the best DC Comics characters. Pairing Power Girl up with Omen was also another great use of a highly underutilized character that Karen has immediate chemistry with.
The only thing from Power Girl’s presentation that doesn’t work is that this takes place after the Lazarus Planet event that just started. Because of that, it forces Williams and Marguerite Sauvage to catch the reader up on what Power Girl experienced during an event that hasn’t finished as of Action Comics #1051 release. You can tell this weighed heavily on this story as the rushed exposition-heavy page came across as more of a spoiler than meaningful character work. It does make you question if the editors should’ve held off on telling this Power Girl story until March’s Action Comics issue when Lazarus Planet ended and given this spot to another Superman Family character to get a one-shot or two-part story.
That odd choice aside, Williams does a good job at using both Lazarus Planet and Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths to get over Power Girl’s new psychic powers. This worked to get over how Power Girl and Omen have set up a new superhero psychic therapy business. Already the way Omen led Beast Boy’s therapy session showed how this is a much better way of helping superheroes through trauma than what we saw with Sanctuary during Heroes In Crisis.
Beast Boy as the first patient also works with how Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths had much more of an impact than just bringing the Multiverse back. Our heroes went through truly challenging and traumatic events that aren’t easy to come back to. Nightwing mentioning how once Beast Boy’s adrenaline from wanting revenge on Deathstroke ended he retreated to a cow form and stop talking made sense. It also goes to show how important of a friend Beast Boy is as the Titans actively want to help him rather than just letting him deal with it on his own with hopes he will get over it.
It also allows Power Girl to get a much better handle on her new psychic powers as she has a focus on using them rather than just working to strengthen the power without a direction. Williams and Sauvage show how Omen’s training is already paying off as Power Girl is able to have a good handle on operating in the Astral Plane. Even though it is not perfect we can see that Omen didn’t simply throw Power Girl to the wolves by entering Beast Boy’s Astral Plane alone. Omen trusted the training she did with Power Girl was enough to help get the job done.
Power Girl being able to help get Beast Boy back to his normal form works well to tell a complete story. At the same time, Williams and Sauvage set up how the next part of this story will showcase the other ways Omen and Power Girl look to help their fellow superheroes.
Action Comics #1051 is a strong start to the new anthology direction for this series. The main story got over what the foundation for the new Superman Family direction will be. The Power Girl backup story in this issue did its job of getting over how this anthology direction is a major positive for the Superman franchise. This is definitely a comic book all DC Comics fans should buy.
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10