(w) Sholly Fisch
(w) Max Landis (Back-Up)
(p) Cully Hammer
(p) Ryan Sook (Back-Up)
While reading this issue of Action Comics, I was reminded of the age-old question pondered by superheroes and frat boys the world 'round: if I went crazy then would you still call me Superman? It's a really, really bad song and the line itself is awful, but it actually has a meaning. It hearkens to the unyielding need to be loved no matter what and the subsequent madness that comes from trying to attain said love. In the case of Clay Ramsay, that need manifests itself as the Kryptonite Man, or K-Man. Action Comics Annual #1 is a full-out awesome comic book good time. That's right -- I used six adjectives in a row to describe a single issue. It's that good. I don't want to make it sound like I haven't been enjoying Grant Morrison's run on the series, but Sholly Fisch plays the story with flare instead of poignance. For a series heavily embroiled in mythology and thick narrative, Action Comics Annual #1 is lighter and more easily enjoyable, even considering the circumstances of the issue's events.
Clay Ramsay -- the man a young Supes stopped after years of beating his wife -- is still bitter with rage at the Man of Steel for destroying his life. Ramsay signs up for a "government" program that will give him powers beyond Superman's by way of kryptonite. This is the first time kryptonite has been used in the 'New 52', and Fisch does an amazing job introducing the xenomaterial (as an substance from outer space is to be known now, I guess) while not immediately making it evident that it can affect Superman so aversely. The battle between Superman and K-Man is a total page-turner, with each panel more engaging than the last. It's difficult to convey enlightenment, but the point when Ramsay recognizes that the kryptonite radiation is a force unto itself against Superman is so spot-on that I found myself literally smiling.
The inclusion of John Henry Irons and his extended tale is a major plus for Action Comics Annual #1. Irons was last seen helping out in Metropolis when Superman went off to battle the Collector of Worlds up in space. His return here is not only welcome, but completely organic and fluid -- in no way does his presence feel forced or stressed at all. Fisch uses Irons as a metaphor for how superheroes really affect humanity; they inspire hope in people, and for us to strive to be our best. After aiding in the clean-up of Metropolis, Irons decides to spread his knowledge across the globe in the form of a "socially responsible tech company" called SteelWorks. Fisch understands that in the modern day, a man like Irons wouldn't take a moniker and become a superhero in the same fashion as the Justice League (he even has Irons explain it to Superman).
Action Comics Annual #1 is an example of how 'Annual' issues should play out; a fun story, great character writing, and fantastic cultural insight.