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Superman: Phillip Kennedy Johnson unpacks the Man of Steel’s homecoming return to Earth

As Superman returns to Earth in the pages of Action Comics, Phillip Kennedy Johnson unpacks the latest developments for the Man of Steel and his family set to alter the course of Superman mythos.

After a lengthy campaign on Warworld, leading the Authority to helm a resistance movement against Mongul’s dictatorial rule on the faraway planet, Superman is officially back to Earth in the pages of Action Comics. Written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson, the monthly comic book series launches into a new storyline with 'Kal-El Returns,' though the impact behind Warworld’s liberation extends far beyond the fires of 'The Warworld Saga.' Superman may be reunited with his family and back to saving the day on his adopted home world but the presence of the liberated Warworld in Earth’s orbit has put the Man of Tomorrow at odds with several governments on the planet as uncertainty literally fills the air.

Action Comics

More than just facing political blowback, Superman’s greatest enemies are rallying in the shadows, prepared to upgrade themselves for their next eventual confrontation with their Kryptonian nemesis. And with Kal-El back on Earth, developments in other Superman titles are sure to cross-pollinate into the pages of Action Comics as a bold, new future for the Man of Steel and his family begins to take shape. Starting in September’s Action Comics #1047, Johnson is joined by artist Riccardo Federici, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Dave Sharpe as 'Kal-El Returns' opens with a bang.

In an interview with Popverse, Johnson unpacks the consequences of 'The Warworld Saga' as Superman returns to Earth, explains the joyous circumstances behind Kal-El’s homecoming, and teases the return of several major supervillains with their own vendetta to resume against Clark Kent.

Popverse: It's good seeing Superman back down to Earth! It's clear that the legacy of his time on Warworld has come back home with him. What was it about having Warworld loom -- literally -- over Superman upon his return?

Action Comics

Phillip Kennedy Johnson: Warworld has definitely had a massive impact on Superman personally, and on the Super-Family going forward. After everything they’ve been through together, the newly-established 'Free People of Warworld' regard Superman as their leader, and Superman didn’t have the luxury of just handing them the keys and going home... he has a responsibility to help them find their homes again, and to protect them from Mongul’s loyalists in the meantime. Bringing Warworld to Earth was a way for Superman, the Authority, and the Super-Family to continue protecting the Warworlders until he gets them home.

This is the first time we've seen the Superman family back together again in a long while. What was important about leading off with this reunion in Action Comics #1047?

Coming off of a storyline as heavy as 'The Warworld Saga,' I wanted to give readers as many powerful, feel-good experiences as we could in Superman’s first issue home. I wanted the entire Super-Family reunion, Superman stopping the bad guys and flying a family to safety, the 'seatbelt' moment with the kid (that I hoped would be reminiscent of the best Christopher Reeve moments), and of course Lois and Clark’s alone time in the clouds, keeping their eye on the kids while they take some time for themselves in Sunrise Point. I want readers to read Action Comics, close the cover and just feel amazing for a while.

Lex Luthor has come back in a big way over in Tom Taylor's Superman: Son of Kal-El. How is it getting to bring Kal-El's arch-nemesis back into the spotlight and challenge the Man of Tomorrow?

Action Comics

I think I have a different view of Luthor than some. Luthor has this commanding intelligence as well as powerful gravitas, and he makes the most sense to me when he’s plotting Superman’s defeat from the shadows, pulling the strings of others as he plots and plans five steps in advance. In 'Kal-El Returns,' I wanted readers to see Luthor in that capacity… hanging on every word Superman says, investigating Warworld, looking for any weapon he can use to undermine Superman’s plans and ensure Metropolis remains in his control. We have big, big plans for Luthor in 2023, so stay tuned for that.

There's a great moment of symmetry here -- Lois and Clark had an intimate moment in the skies before he left for Warworld and they have another one shortly after he comes back. What is it about touching on their relationship in this way amidst all the superhero derring-do?

Lois and Clark in the skies together is an iconic visual that we’ve seen in a lot of different ways over the years. In the context of Action Comics #1035, when Superman was about to leave Earth for who-knows-how-long, it was a moment that made a lot of sense and I thought it would mean a lot to any Clois fan, myself included.

Action Comics

I’ve also had this idea for 'Sunrise Point,' a place in the sky where Superman and Lois get the perfect view of Metropolis, the landscape beyond, and the ocean. It’s their favorite place, and of course nobody else gets to see this exact vista because it’s thousands of feet in the air. It’s a place that belongs to them alone. In my headcanon, it’s a place they’ve been going for late-night rendezvous throughout their long and storied relationship. We see them use it again in Action Comics #1047.

And I mean, come on. Batman isn’t the only superhero who gets to have sex. If you could do it at 5,000 feet, wouldn’t you?

Ahem.

I love Riccardo Federici's artwork, he really knows when to dial up the tension and dread and shift to warmer, more dream-like sequences. How has it been working with him?

Following our time together on The Last God, and all the DC work we’ve been able to do since then, Riccardo is probably the collaborator whose work I know the best. I know how lucky I am to be able to say that. He’s a genius, full stop. I’ve learned exactly how to write for him, and he knows exactly what liberties to take in order to do his best work. One thing I’m always looking for in Riccardo scripts is opportunities for new designs, whether it be monsters, sci-fi tech, armor or costumes, anything, the wilder the better. Every epic design I ask him for always turns out ten times cooler than it looks in my head.

How is it working with Dave Lapham and Trish Mulvihill on this big, colorful tale of the Authority's return?

Action Comics

It’s such an honor working with those two. Dave Lapham is sincerely one of my heroes in comics. He created one of my favorite comics of all time, Stray Bullets, and I jumped at the chance to work with him in Metropolis. He brings such a fun style to all these classic characters, such a clear and fun contrast with the other stories in the issue, and Trish knows exactly how to accentuate the classic feel-good style he’s bringing. They’re an amazing team, and I’m loving every minute of our time together.

What can you tease as 'Kal-El Returns' over the course of Action Comics?

Johnson: Readers of 'The Warworld Saga' know that some big, impactful stuff went down in that arc, especially the ending. In 'Kal-El Returns,' we’re going to see the repercussions of Superman’s actions, what they mean for his family AND for the rest of the DC Universe. We’ll see Superman in an unexpected rematch against a character he hasn’t fought in many years, one I can promise readers won’t see coming.

And finally, we’ll see Metallo, on his way to becoming his most powerful by far... and it’s Superman’s fault. 'Kal-El Returns' is a celebration of everything Superman is, and leads directly to Action Comics #1050, an issue readers will be talking about for years to come. Don’t miss it!

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About the Author
Sam Stone avatar

Sam Stone

Contributing writer

Sam Stone is an entertainment journalist based out of the Washington, D.C. area that has been working in the industry since 2016. Starting out as a columnist for the Image Comics preview magazine Image+, Sam also translated the Eisner Award nominated-Beowulf for the publisher. Sam has since written for CBR, Looper, and Marvel.com, with a penchant for Star Trek, Nintendo, and martial arts movies.

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