Every life has a turning point. It's a bit of conventional wisdom that feels cliche in storytelling as, in reality, life is a series of turning points and any one of them can change and shape who we become. But while the idea of how any one moment can be a turning point is a bit cliche, in the hands of writers Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Si Spurrier in this week's Action Comics 2022 Annual it is one of both simplicity and power providing a solid foundation for what might be an all-time classic Superman tale.
In the issue, readers are taken back to childhood for both Clark Kent and the current Mongul. The two stories don't bother with any illusions; readers know from the jump that they are getting a straightforward comparison between the two men and how one formative experience set them on the path to becoming who they each are in the current Action Comics storyline. In Clark's story, he is dealing with a young bully, Caleb, while young Mongul is dealing with a genuine struggle to survive on the day of his culling. Both young men have their mothers to guide them—and it's no spoiler to suggest that the advice of their respective mothers is startlingly different.
What Johnson and Spurrier do so well with these stories is making the young versions of Clark and Mongul not quite what you'd expect them to be. Clark is eager to fight back against the bully and get childish revenge when his mother is slighted, while Mongul is a gentle soul who doesn't want to cause harm and, indeed, wants to protect. It's ultimately Clark who is counseled by his mother to be kind and compassionate while Mongul is made hard by his experiences. It's predictable, yes, but there's an elegance in how the stories are told, with Mongul's in particular bringing a bit of heartbreaking tragedy.
But perhaps what is done best in this issue is less directly about Clark and Mongul, but about Caleb instead. Mongul was never going to come out of childhood undamaged. Even if he had not hardened, he would have died while Clark, due largely to good parenting, was always going to become a good person. It's Caleb whose fate is less certain and it's his fate that speaks most to the idea of turning points, but more specifically to Superman—to Clark Kent's—real power: compassion.
Bolstering these well-crafted tales is some genuinely moving artwork. Dale Eaglesham and Ian Churchill build interesting worlds for both Clark and Mongul's youths and Lee Loughride's color simultaneously offers them a warmth and a coldness. There is real emotion in the images and colors on these pages, particularly in Mongul's portion of the story.
As a whole, Action Comics 2022 Annual employs the idea of how one moment in life can shape everything else in a way that, while not exactly groundbreaking, is so well-written and well-illustrated that it elevates an otherwise ordinary story to the level of a classic, offering new insight on a beloved character, fleshing out a newer foe, and reminding readers of the superpower we all have in the compassion and care we share with others.
Published by DC Comics
On May 31, 2022
Written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Si Spurrier
Art by Dale Eaglesham and Ian Churchill
Colors by Lee Loughridge
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Cover by Francesco Francavilla