Writer: Phillip Kennedy Johnson & Si Spurrier
Artists: Dale Eaglesham & Ian Churchill
Color Artist: Lee Loughridge
Cover Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Publisher: DC Comics
Superman and Mongul are two titans of DC Comics’ literal universe who are now clashing on the planet Warworld. But how did they become the larger than life men that they are? In Action Comics 2022 Annual #1, see how their lives were shaped at such a young age into becoming the powerful men of hope and tyranny that we know them as today.
This annual for the current run on Action Comics is something, I’ll give it that. It’s good, not great, and it’s a fulfilling story for Superman’s side of things but not so for Mongul. However, lets start with the good things in this comic before covering the bad. The good thing about this comic is everything that Phillip Kennedy Johnson writes for Superman. As the cover says, this comic explores the origins of both Superman and Mongul in their younger years, the one getting the most coverage being a young Clark Kent.
In this story we see Clark learn about the importance of how the smallest actions can lead to big results given time from his mother. For those who say that Superman can’t be written as a relatable character while still being the paragon hero that he is, this comic proves all of them wrong. Here we see young Clark Kent deal with how using his powers even in the smallest ways can lead to big impacts in other people’s lives, not just because of his powers but also his empathy and self-control when dealing with hostile people.
Kennedy writes lil’ Clark like a good kid who’s conflicted on how to deal with a bully. On the one hand, he wants to teach him a big lesson for picking on him and others, but on the other hand his mother tells him that using his powers like that isn’t going to really solve anything, only make it worse and that he shouldn’t let things like that keep him down. This comes through in the dialogue for sure, as Clark is written like a believable sweet kid who just wants to give a bully some payback but learns quite the surprising lesson from his experience. The bully in question is actually written like a believable bully who’s seemingly out to get Clark but has his own problems back home and taking them out on him. If you read between the lines, the young bully’s life is a lot more darker than expected, which makes the conclusion between them more heartwarming.
The dynamic between Clark and his mother is also sweet, and Martha Kent, or Ma Kent herself is written like a sweet yet stern mother just trying to raise her boy right. She’s depicted as a positive role model for Clark and shown as a moral anchor throughout this comic, never too tough or too sweet but a good mixture. This is shown through the art as her facial expressions convey these mixture of emotions and feelings pretty well without feeling like they were lost in translation from pen to paper.
Dale Eaglesham and Ian Churchill’s art do a great job in contrasting to the lead characters and their lives very well. For young Clark, we get a more warm, inviting, and grounded depiction of Smallville and the people within it. Whereas Warwrold is shown to be red, tough, riddled with ruins, war-torn lands, and filled with savage creatures and warriors. Both of which show how these two characters really do come from two different worlds on every level and that’s conveyed in their appearances and environments’ designs.
Now, on to the bad. So, readers can tell that a major part of this annual is exploring the relationships that Superman and Mongul have with their mothers. Specifically, how both of their mothers played a significant role in their upbringing into becoming the men that they are in the present day. While Superman’s side of the story was pretty good, Mongul’s was underwhelming to put it nicely. As expected, Mongul was raised on Warworld in the brutal culture of his people the Warzoons, and his relationship with his mother was less than stellar by their standards. It’s very over-the-top with how cruel, merciless, and punishing it is, the kind of place you’d expect to birth someone like Mongul. However, P.K. Johnson takes things into a different direction for Mongul’s depiction.
He writes Mongul to be a more soft-hearted young man who slowly but surely turns into the cruel warlord we know him today. The thing is, this origin isn’t all that satisfying and leaves me conflicted. See, the idea of showing how this world built on the foundations of cruelty, barbarism, and warmongering combined with the cruel upbringing of his mother turns this young man into a power-hungry tyrant works on paper. And I’m sure there’s some basis for it in real-life. But it just doesn’t scream Mongul, if that makes any sense. Either way, it’s up to the fans whether or not this is a good origin story for the current Mongul, but at least they can enjoy a nice Superman story in his younger years.
There is a bit of a retcon here for Ma Kent, and I have no idea how to feel about it. The retcon is that she had cancer while Clark was young. On the one hand, it’s a total retcon that’s serviceable only to this story, but it also adds to Clark’s emotional development as it’s used to show him react like how most good sons would when someone picks on their ailing mother. It’s also weird considering that Ma and Pa Kent are alive in the current DC mainstream continuity, but this has never come up. For now, I’m treating it like an isolated development that has no influence outside of this annual’s story. Either way, the young Superman story is pretty fun, emotionally believable, and shows how human and heroic Superman was even at such young age.
Action Comics Annual 2022 #1 provides a shared origin story for Superman and Mongul and shows how their mothers played a major role in their upbringings. Superman’s side of the comic shows just how human and heroic Superman is even at such a young age in a believable manner, while Mongul’s story shows how the brutality of Warworld shaped him into the cruel warlord he is in the present. Superman’s story is more uplifting and satisfying while Mongul’s is underwhelming, but this comic offers a nice break in the Warworld Saga.