Two old Superman villains make their DC New 52 debuts in this bumper issue. First up is the Kryptonite Man, whose deal is pretty similar to the already introduced Metallo – angry guy exuding deadly energy. The difference is that while the former has a Kryptonite heart, the latter glows from every orifice – right down to his nostrils. Lovely. Styling himself K-Man, Clay Ramsay gives Superman a hard time, with a personal grudge behind the blows. It’s only the aid offered by John Henry Irons, in his Steel suit, that stops Superman succumbing to the green radiation.
Truth be told, the battle is pretty standard, as is K-Man’s origin – he’s transformed into an anti-Superman ‘defence’ by a mysterious scientist. What adds interest is writer Sholly Fisch’s treatment of the characters: everyone convinces. There’s General Sam Lane, obsessed with protecting the world from an alien he doesn’t trust; Ramsay, fixated on his lost wife; and Superman and Irons, on the way to becoming friends. Fisch really gets what Superman is about, using Irons as his mouthpiece: ‘… maybe that’s the mark of a superhero. Not just incredible powers or saving the day, but the effect you have on other people.’ While over in the Superman title the world can’t decide if he’s saviour or threat, this book emphasises what generations know – he’s a friend. Superman even holds a rescue pose long enough for Jimmy Olsen to take a cracking photo.
‘Vulnerable’ wanders back and forth over the course of a few days, a storytelling bugbear of mine, but Fisch’s script keeps things transparent. And Cully Hamner’s artwork is a treat, with standout panels aplenty and expressive people abounding. Especially gladdening is that Superman is allowed to smile, sincerely and broadly. The only disappointment is K-Man’s costume, a generic jumpsuit with glowing lines … I say let him make the most of his threat level, and go naked next time.
Or better still, dump him and bring in the classic Kryptonite Man – an alien imbued with Kryptonite energy who even had a Kryptonite dog for Krypto to fight. Put a non-human on the table and comparisons with Metallo recede.
Hamner’s open style leaves plenty of room for colourist Val Staples to weave his magic, with clever bits of business including Irons holding up a green-gloved hand as he’s assuring Superman that they’re on the same side. Letterer Steve Wands completes the core creative team, presenting the script in attractive fonts.
There’s nothing for a letterer to do in the back-up strip by filmmaker Max Landis (Chronicle) and artist Ryan Sook. It’s a wordless short allowing Sook to show his storytelling chops as a scientist transforms into the Atomic Skull. We get the broad strokes – accident, power, exile, acceptance, resolve – but actual detail would be helpful. For example, there’s one page in which the unnamed protagonist eats a boar cooked by his new atomic blast vision and, well, click on the image to enlarge and you tell me …
Atomic belching? Transformation into a Star Sapphire? Knowing that Ryan Sook would be supplying both gorgeous illustrations and colour, I see a writer’s temptation to let the artist do the talking – but it’s Action Comics, not Action Storyboards. By the end we have yet another glowing villain – albeit one with a more grabby visual than K-Man – but no particular reason to care. A few well-chosen and placed words could have rectified that. Oh well, if Landis does more DC work, he’s gotten this particular gimmick out of his system. At least, I hope he has.
All in all, this is a decent superhero comic, but missable. Despite a well-crafted story, K-Man fails to fascinate, while the Atomic Skull is one energy baddie too many for this issue – a detailed origin elsewhere would serve him better.