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For months now, readers of Action Comics have been reading along as writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artists including Daniel Sampere and Miguel Mendonca have put the pieces in place for the epic "Warworld Saga," a story that's taken Superman out of the picture on Earth as he heads off to liberate Mongul's world and defeat the tyrant once and for all. This week, in the pages of Action Comics #1037, it all finally came to a head as Superman and his new version of The Authority faced Mongul, his Champions, and a hostile planet that may or may not want the Man of Steel to save it.
What followed was a truly devastating issue that changes the status quo of the saga to come. So, if you're reading issue #1037, and you're ready to hear about why it all went down the way it did, and what's coming next, read on.
SPOILERS for Action Comics #1037 below!
After setting the stage for the Warworld clash with Mongul in issue #1036, Johnson and Mendonca wasted no time in #1037 getting the super-team down to the planet's surface, where a host of gruesome new warriors dubbed Mongul's Champions were waiting for them. The stage was all set for what seemed like another classic case of a team of heroes taking down their rivals and showing them what real warriors look like, but this is Warworld we're talking about, and Warworld was not so easily taken. What followed was a shocking series of setbacks, wounds, and outright defeats that left The Authority licking its wounds, and it's all part of the grander plan for lies ahead in the "Warworld Saga."
"Simply put, Action #1037 is the fight we've been waiting for all year," Johnson told SYFY WIRE. "Since Mongul took power, he's been watching Superman, and ever since he saw him get radiation poisoned in Action Comics #1029, he's been making big moves to lure him up there. And now he's there, and #1037 is about showing readers that this new Mongul is a greater threat than anything we've seen from his forebears."
At first, it looks like The Authority might have the upper hand, as the team jumps into action and Enchantress seems to make quick work of one of Mongul's champions. When the tide turns, though, it turns quickly. Apollo is seriously wounded, leaving Midnighter vulnerable, and while Manchester Black seems to be holding his own, one of the team --- Lightray -- doesn't even make it out of the issue alive. Then, of course, there's the problem of Superman himself.
Facing a new status quo that's constantly draining his powers, leaving him more vulnerable than ever, Superman tries to put up a solid front against Mongul, but the ruler of Warworld as the Man of Tomorrow's number from the beginning. He understands not just Superman's weakened state, but how he can use the true nature of Warworld to his advantage. Narratively, it all drives home a key point that Johnson's been slowly establishing for months: This is a new, far deadlier Mongul, and what he does here is only the beginning of his plans.
"On the surface he wanted to prove himself as a worthy successor, to be the rightful heir to Warworld like all of his forebears did," Johnson said. "But with this [Mongul] it goes deeper than that. I mean, a big part of defeating Superman was about just proving himself and showing that he could do what his predecessors never could. But as he's gathered his crew, he's also learned more about Warworld than his predecessors knew. He knows more about the truth of Warworld's origins, about this crazy mythology that Warworld is a part of, that the old Mongul never knew about. And as he's learned more about what Warworld really is, he has much bigger designs for what he is going to do next, as we'll see in future issues."
As part of that deeper exploration of Warworld's origins, makeup, and mythology, Johnson also teased that Action Comics #1040 will mark the beginning of a new series of backup stories in the book, each devoted to a different aspect of Mongul, his champions, and Warworld itself.
"It's going to make you much more invested in those characters, and invested in where Action will go in the future," Johnson said. "So we'll learn a lot more about where Mongul came from, what he wants, how his champions are a part of it."
Another key player we'll learn more about in the coming issues: Thaaros, the newly elected Premier of the United Planets, who's been largely on the sidelines of the conflict on Warworld so far, but who clearly has a vested interest in the Warworld refugees known as the Phaelsoians (one of which, it's important to remember, is still alive on Earth) and in Superman's own victory or defeat against Mongul.
"Premier Thaaros is a hugely important character in the overarching Warworld Saga," Johnson said. "He's not directly related to what we're seeing on Warworld, of course, but very soon we're going to see what role he played in Warworld becoming what it is, in Mongul becoming who he is, the role that he played in the Phaelosians' enslavement, and why it's in his best interest that Superman not come home."
But of course, before readers get to all of that, they'll likely spend the next month haunted by the biggest moment of the issue: The moment when Mongul not only drops Superman in a one-on-one fight, but full-on impales him, devastating the Man of Steel just as his campaign to liberate Warworld is beginning.
For Johnson, who noted that the moment has been a key part of the Warworld Saga grand plan from the beginning, the moment wasn't an attempt to kill Superman, but an attempt to offer a definitive low point right at the beginning of the liberation campaign, which helps set up the struggle to come.
"I wanted it to be a decisive end to the fight," Johnson said. "We think that we've seen the end of the fight now. We've seen Superman and the Authority come up here to free this whole planet, and at this moment they have definitively lost. And that is not the end, or the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning, and now we get to see what the Warworld Saga really will be going forward."
Superman's defeat was also, importantly, a moment in which Mongul gets to underline what he believes Superman's true weakness to be: His constant determination to care for every living being. To Mongul, that's a classic Achilles heel. To Superman, it's a chance to constantly prove himself, something he'll have to do all over again as he recovers from this loss.
"There's always this debate about what makes Superman," Johnsons said. "Why is he Superman? Is it his powers? Is it [something else]? And [Action Comics] #1038 is where we start to see if he can continue to be Superman at his lowest and weakest. Is he still that aspirational figure when he's in chains, getting dragged through the mud? When we see him utterly defeated, does he still give us those same chills as readers? Can he still do this? Can he still save these people without his powers? And that's where that question begins to be answered. We see the impact that he has not only on the Phaelosians, not only on the rest of the Authority, but on the Warzoons as well. And I can't wait to show you."
Action Comics #1038 is in stores December 28.