Max Landis and Atomic Skull Steal The Show
Sholly Fisch has not exactly been doing a great job on the Action Comics Co-Features. The overall quality has been, at best, inconsistent. There were one or two, maybe three stories that were actually very touching, and connected well to the issue they were in. But for the most part they've just been random so-so Superman tales, one or two managing to reach close to greatness, but shoot themselves in the foot in the end. They're a cash grab, justifying adding an extra dollar to a series they KNOW people will buy. Though at least they do SOMETHING to justify it as opposed to Marvel who will just add an extra dollar to popular series for no justified reason other than profit. So I did not have high hopes for this, especially with such a boring and generic cover.
So this issue ended up being a good bit better than I expected. Starting credit has to go to the nice consistent artwork of Cully Hamner. He's a damn fine artist, and his work is solid all throughout the issue. He has a style that lends itself well to a lot of general superhero stuff, and so the art looks good in this issue no matter what the current tone or scene is. The fight scenes aren't the best, but they really aren't bad at all.
The story is something I'm a bit in the middle on. There's a lot that happens in this issue that feels like it's just going through the motions to fill in early years of superman. Lex Luthor discovers kryptonite and its effect on Superman, an experiment goes wrong, a man has a grudge against Superman, the government wants to have a weapon against Superman just in case, etc. I DO think it's a nice touch that The Kryptonite Man is, for all intensive purposes, the abusive husband from the original Action Comics #1, it's a VERY clever throwback.
But then the whole issue is kind of built around that, and stretches itself kind of thin as it jumps around with the mood. We go from a lengthy intro to The Kryptonite Man, essentially with him as the main character for a bit, and then we swing over to Superman and then to Steel. As soon as the true origin story of K-Man is revealed, as clever a tie as it is, all sympathy is lost for him. He's a stupid delusional bully and I don't care if I never see him again. His clever throwback ends up nothing more than a gimmick, but we're set up to see him return.
And then when the battle is over, ending for disappointingly convenient reasons, we're suddenly thrown back into John Henry Irons' perspective as he travels the world, and ponders over what it means to be a hero. It retreads some of the ground from a previous co-feature, but with slightly more tact and intrigue. But it still makes this Annual feel more like a handful of co-features stitched together, especially when Luthor reveals HIS part in this, and General Lane starts up with his own machinations. And the dialogue wasn't always bad, but sometimes it got pretty bland.
The real show stealer is the actual co-feature, courtesy of Max Landis. I REALLY need to see Chronicle, because this story was EXCELLENT. In 8 pages, Landis rewrites the origin of Atomic Skull without a single line of dialogue, and leaves me utterly ravenous for more. Ryan Sook's artwork DEFINITELY helped, but it still takes a lot of writing talent to pull off a dialogue-free script even half as compelling as this was. It was INTENSE and haunting, with actual twists and tension. Landis NEEDS to be the one doing the co-features for Action Comics, because this is hands down the best one we've had yet.
In Conclusion: 3.5/5
My god, if this Landis Co-Feature was attached to any of Morrison's main issues, that would've rocketed it to a perfect score (unless it was one of the less amazing issues of course.) Sholly Fisch is generally one of the things holding Action Comics back with the weak secondary stories being a tough pill to swallow for an extra dollar, and having Fisch write an entire Annual left me very hesitant, but Fisch was definitely on a better day, but still not one of the best. It's solid at the very least, but nothing even close to memorable. This is exactly the kind of Annual that made Annuals forgettable, where we get a side story that doesn't have much 'oomph' to it. But this one will hold a spot in the back of my mind for the amazing co-feature. PLEASE DC, put Landis on the Action Comics Co-Features.