Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson established himself as a creative force at DC starting in 2019 with the critically acclaimed DC Black Label series The Last God. While that series took place in an original fantasy environment, his follow-up was set distinctly in the DC Universe and starring one of its most famous heroes.
Johnson took on the Superman mythos earlier this year in Future State: Superman: Worlds of War, and continued with a run on both Action Comics and Superman, furthering the contemporary adventures of both Clark Kent and Jonathan Kent and bringing overtures of his futuristic story into the present day. In the current Action Comics arc “Warworld Rising,” a fleet of battleships from Warworld close in on Earth, as Superman’s powers start to fade. Fans who have been following all along can’t help but wonder—is the Future State status quo of Superman imprisoned by Mongul and forced into gladiatorial combat far behind?
Things start to shift further starting this month, with new series Superman: Son of Kal-El by Tom Talyor and John Timms launching in place of Superman, starring Jonathan Kent as the Man of Steel for the 21st Century. Naturally, that begs the question—what’s next for Clark Kent? And what does it have to do with the underwater kingdom of Atlantis? With the arrival of Action Comics #1033, illustrated by Daniel Sampere and out this week, DC Nation spoke to Johnson to uncover the answers to those questions.
Phillip, you’ve now had several months of Superman stories out on the stands between Future State and Infinite Frontier, and you’ve obviously been working behind the scenes for longer. What’s the experience been like for you to not only take on such an iconic character, but push him into some unconventional and unexpected directions?
Writing Superman has easily been one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had in comics. The huge and vocal readership, having so much contact with fans, feeling like the work I’m doing is really making a difference in DC continuity, but mostly just the work itself: getting to add events and characters and dialogue to the epic tapestry that is Superman, knowing it will always be there now. I think the worldbuilding we’re doing now in Action Comics will pay dividends for many years to come, and that makes the work so rewarding. It’s inspiring all of us to do our absolute best on every page.
By far the best part of writing Superman is having his voice in your head all the time, inspiring you to be more than you are. That’s what makes me want to write Superman as long as DC will let me—I never want to give up that feeling. But for me personally, tied for first place is getting to write Superman stories at a time when Superman has a son, and at a time when that relationship is hugely important to the events of the book. The issues with Phil Hester and Scott Godlewski have been unapologetic love letters to my son and I’m eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to tell stories that held such personal significance.
This month, Jonathan Kent strikes out on his own in new series Superman: Son of Kal-El. How does that development evolve the story you’re telling in Action Comics?
It actually kind of went the other way—the direction we’re going with Action Comics gave us an opportunity to see Jon step up. He’s going to take everything he’s learned from his parents and the Legion of Super-Heroes and realize his full potential as a character, and in the hands of an incredible creative team. But putting so much distance between Clark and his family will certainly impact the events of Action Comics and also the relationships that Clark forms and the trials he goes through while he’s away. I can’t really say more than that without spoilers, but Jon’s and Lois’ absence from Action Comics will be deeply felt.
Action Comics #1033 sees your ongoing story hit Atlantis. What’s exciting to you about exploring that territory and specifically bringing Superman there? And will we see some of DC’s famous Atlanteans?
Atlantis is one of those settings in DC comics that I can never see enough of, no matter how much we do see, and it’s the most crucial setting in the “Warworld Rising” story arc. Atlantis is always exciting because of how unlike other humans the Atlanteans are, both in their culture and in the way they perceive their place in the world. They’re an old, proud race that has suffered trespass after trespass, and I always love seeing them interact with us surfacers, Superman included.
The events of Action Comics will bring big, meaningful and permanent changes to Atlantis in ways that will bring them into conflict with other nations of Earth. Arthur has always been a character with a stake in both Atlantis and the surface world, and we’re about to see where his allegiances lie when the chips are down, and Superman’s also. Arthur Curry’s a terrific character and we’ll see a lot of him in this arc, along with his amazing supporting cast and a few surprise appearances.
Readers saw what artist Daniel Sampere brings to this book starting back in issue #1030. How have you enjoyed collaborating with him?
Daniel is a treasure, full stop. He takes his art so seriously, continues to grow with every project, puts everything he has into every page, and he loves Superman as much as I do, which I wouldn’t say lightly about anyone. It’s a joy, an honor and a privilege to work with him on this book in particular.
I’d jump at the chance to work with him on anything else, but Superman and Batman are where his heart lies, and this particular run of Action Comics is absolutely where he belongs right now.
This has been is a big month for Superman with both Superman: Son of Kal-El and Superman and the Authority launching. How do those books relate to Action Comics going forward?
As the arc title “Warworld Rising” suggests, and as we saw in Future State: Worlds of War, Clark Kent is about to do something off-world that’s extremely important to him. We’ll still be seeing plenty of Clark in the pages of Action Comics, but while he’s off-world, Earth’s going to get a Superman for a new era in Superman: Son of Kal-El, as told by Tom Taylor and John Timms. Jonathan Kent will be handling the Superman-level threats on Earth in his father’s absence, but not necessarily in the same way that Clark would have.
I think Jon is one of the most interesting characters in the DCU, in terms of his heritage, what he’s been through, and just his overall sheer potential. His identity has been almost entirely wrapped up in the concept of being Superman’s son, so I’m really excited for readers to see him step out of his dad’s shadow and become his own man, especially the way Tom is writing him. That’s what my issues in previous arcs are meant to set up—teaching Jonathan that he’s finally ready to be his own hero and that he’s more than just another man’s son.
Meanwhile, Grant Morrison and Mikel Janin’s Superman and the Authority directly sets up what Clark has planned in Action Comics, and in my opinion is the most ambitious Superman story Grant has ever written. I won’t spoil Grant’s and Mikel’s story, except to say that it’s everything you’d expect from these creators and these characters. It’s beyond crazy, in the best possible way.
You’ve been building the larger Warworld story since Future State. What kind of potential did you see in Warworld to become a key part of the DC Universe? And how have you enjoyed having the runway for this type of longer-term storytelling?
I’ve always seen a ton of potential in Warworld. We’ve seen the “entire planet devoted entirely to waging war” concept expressed in plenty of stories, but I think the potentially massive nature of that concept is often lost while we focus on a single aspect or a single character. When we learned that we had a chance to tell a long-form story in Warworld, my collaborators and I set out to make it a real place where every aspect of life revolves around the concept of dominance, much the way life on Frank Herbert’s Dune revolves around water scarcity. Religion, architecture, economy, language, music, clothing, it’s all about domination. That’s what makes the warzoons what they are, that’s why the Monguls have ruled there for centuries, and that’s what makes THIS particular Mongul the most dangerous who has ever lived.
By the time this story has reached its conclusion, what was once a tiny corner of the DC Universe will be blown out into a rich and meaningful world—one that feels real, poses a real threat to its enemies and is home to a cast of characters that feel as fleshed-out as the Justice League.
Action Comics #1033 by Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Daniel Sampere, Adriano Lucas and Dave Sharpe is now available in print and as a digital comic book.