"Action Comics Annual" #1 may not be the greatest Superman story ever told, but it is certainly one of the more entertaining and enjoyable Superman stories I've read in the year-plus of the relaunched DC Universe. Sholly Fisch and Max Landis bring about the (relative) first appearances of Kryptonite Man and the Atomic Skull and have a pair of fascinatingly fun artists working with them on the stories in this issue.
Less a continuation of the work Grant Morrison is doing in "Action Comics," this issue celebrates Superman by examining the Superman mythos, from Lex Luthor to General Sam Lane. As Fisch has been writing adventures of John Henry Irons in "Action Comics," it makes sense to include more from that character here as well. Fisch balances everything that readers (and non-comic-reading fans) know of Superman quite nicely while concocting a true threat for the Man of Steel without resorting to unimpressive ideas. Fisch instead helps rebuild the adversarial crew facing Superman by connecting dots between Kryptonite Man and another foe of the Last Son of Krypton. While the Kryptonite Man delivers a beating to Superman, at no point does Fisch surprise the reader with a legitimate threat to Superman's life and chooses instead to celebrate Superman's inspirational qualities. That results in the lead story essentially having two chapters, but those two chapters wonderfully share plot and further the grander narrative.
While Cully Hamner and Ryan Sook are accomplished, wonderfully original artists, the coloring for this issue really sells the visuals. As Superman fights Kryptonite Man, Val Staples provides cues to the onset of illness, progressively changing the shading of Superman's skin to a sickly green hue. Around those shades of green, Staples delivers honest, comic book worthy colors. Sook matches those colors in the backup tale, but rather than celebrate green, purple is the dominant tone for Atomic Skull's origin tale. Sure, there are other colors, but purple is the one leaving a lasting impression.
Hamner's visuals in the lead story are impressive, clean and crisp. The artist provides plenty of detail, but implies so much more through his strong storytelling. His work isn't ornately decorated with shards and random shapes, but rather presented in traditional sense, with outlined panels intelligently composed throughout the issue. Hamner does play around with the orientation and composition of those panels, adding action and energy to his drawings. Sook, likewise, provides a masterfully composed story that needs no wording to transmit its message. With these two artists on board, the Superman brand is looking good and worth checking out. I just hope we don't have to wait another year for a Superman story to be this enjoyable.