Cover date: December 2012
Writer: Sholly Fisch
Artist: Cully Hamner
Writer: Max Landis
Artist: Ryan Sook
Reviewed by: Michael Bailey
Two Weeks Ago
Doctor Abernathy interviews a man named Ramsey. Ramsey is being screened to be a test subject in an experiment to try and find a defense against Superman in case the worst should happen. It turns out Ramsey hates Superman and doesn't care if he dies as a result of the experiment.
Three Days Ago
Superman stops by the lab of Dr. John Henry Irons, which confuses Irons. There is some initial tension but soon Irons realizes that Superman is there to figure out if he has anything to worry about as far as Irons is concerned. John Henry lets out a hearty laugh and invites the Man of Steel to have some coffee.
Two Days Ago
General Sam Lane revokes Lex Luthor's security clearance. Lane is justifiably mad that Luthor tried to sell out the human race to an alien menace. Luthor is unconcerned and as the MPs escort him off the base he tells the General that they'll need him one day, at a new consulting fee naturally.
One Day Ago
Dr. Abernathy explains to Mr. Ramsey that they are going to use a substance known as Kryptonite to irradiate his cells which will super charge his body. The process goes sideways in a hurry, though, and the Kryptonite proves to be too powerful. Abernathy tries to shut the machines down but it doesn't work and the side of the lab is blown away in a giant explosion.
Fifteen Minutes Ago
Superman saves a man on a collapsing crane as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen watch from the ground. Suddenly Ramsey shows up and sucker punches the Man of Steel. Ramsey ignores Superman's concern for the people below and pounds on the Last Son of Krypton, who quickly discovers that his powers seem to be fading. He and Ramsey talk about Ramsey's beef with Superman, which stems from the time Superman stopped Ramsey from beating his wife. Ramsey continues to pound on Superman and demands to know where his wife is. Superman refuses to tell him and just when Ramsey is about to deliver another, possibly fatal blow John Henry Irons arrives on the scene in his armor. He distracts Ramsey long enough for Superman to get into a protective suit, which will shield him from the radiation Ramsey is giving off. Superman rejoins the fight and even though it isn't easy the Man of Steel brings Ramsey down. Afterwards he and John talk about John becoming a super-hero. John rejects the idea and talks about his start-up company; the Steelworks. He wonders how Ramsey became infused with the Kryptonite. Superman isn't sure but he knows just the person to do the digging.
Six Months From Now
John Henry writes a letter to his niece from a village in Australia. He is helping to outfit the village with solar panels and discusses how the work he does will have a ripple effect down the line, but in a way the ripple goes back to the man that inspired him; Superman.
Two Days From Now
Dr. Abernathy retrieves the Kryptonite sample from the damaged lab just as Lex Luthor arrives. Turns out that Lex not only stole two Kryptonite samples from the project he had been working on but he was also responsible for the creation of the K-Man. Abernathy is excited about the possibilities the Kryptonite create, especially if they shift the wavelength of the radiation into other parts of the visible spectrum. Lex is more concerned with the fact that they discovered a substance that can hurt, maybe even kill Superman.
One Day From Now
General Lane visits Ramsey in his specially designed cell. Ramsey can sense Kryptonite in the building and states that he needs it. Lane makes him a deal; he can have more Kryptonite if Ramsey will train to be the military's weapon against Superman. Ramsey is interested but has one condition; Lane will have to help him find his wife.
Story - 5: I. Loved. This. Story.
Deep down I know that the main reason I liked this story so much is that it has a much more "classic" Superman feel to it then I have gotten from most of the New 52 Superman stories I have read over the past year. So this is a somewhat biased feeling and part of me wonders if it is fair to judge the current stories based on what I consider to be the "right" version of Superman since I have long said that unless they turned Superman into a child murderer that most interpretations are valid. Then I realized that I am going to bring my own baggage to any Superman story I read and when one rings "true" and I enjoy it because it does stray closer to what I really want out of a Superman story that it is okay to feel that way.
Anyway, Sholly Fisch did an incredible job writing this story. I have sung his praises quite often in my reviews of his back-up stories and wondered what it would be like if he was given a straight ahead Superman story to tell. He did not disappoint and gave us a good mix of action and character as well as Superman acting like I think Superman should.
The best thing about "Vulnerable" to me was the introduction of the new K-Man. The Kryptonite Man has never been my favorite of Superman rogues in any of the incarnations I have seen. To be honest I thought his Silver and Bronze age iterations were a tad on the silly side and I wasn't a huge fan of the version that popped up on the ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY series. When Kurt Busiek brought him back after INFINITE CRISIS (he was named Abernathy, in case you didn't know) I thought it was a neat idea but again it just didn't do a whole lot for me. This version clicks. Maybe it is because Fisch tied him all the way back to ACTION COMICS #1 (the 1938 version) and basically had the nameless man that Superman threw around for being a wife beater turn into a potentially heavy hitter. While there is the potential that Ramsey could turn into a one note villain whose only desires are to kill Superman and get back with his wife for the moment I am happy with what we have been given.
Superman was great throughout the issue as well. I was a little wary of him visiting John Henry at the beginning of the issue because it felt very much like the "edgy" Superman we've seen in the New 52 but for the rest of the issue he was classic Man of Steel. He even seemed to be enjoying himself as he was saving the man on the crane as evidenced by the fact that he was smiling. Fisch also made sure that he was concerned with the innocent bystanders when the K-Man started the fight, which had me grinning ear to ear. It would have been nice to see him dealing with the fact that there is now a substance that can hurt him but overall I really liked how Fisch handled the Man of Steel.
Speaking of men with Steel in their name it was also great to see John Henry put the suit on again. Sure Fisch made it pretty clear that Irons wasn't into the whole day-to-day super-hero thing and that his talents are better served and that works for Irons as a character. His epilogue, for lack of a better term, showed that even though he isn't fighting crime that John Henry is still trying to do right by his fellow man. I liked that we got to see how Superman could influence someone for the better. To me Superman is many things but high on the list of his most important attributes is to serve as a source of inspiration. Here is a man with great power that is using that power towards noble ends so John Henry wants to use his "powers" to help mankind as well. The current thinking with Superman seems to be that a good number of people are afraid of him, which is valid but every once in a while you should remind the reader that some people actually see him as a positive force in the world.
It was nice seeing Lex Luthor make a return to the book. This Lex was more in line with how I would like to see the character played rather than the distracted, almost cowardly version Morrison gave us through the course of the first big arc. I absolutely loved that his actions did have consequences which was shown when General Lane fired him and had him thrown off the base. It didn't stop him from causing trouble but it was great to see that his actions during the whole Brainiac incident weren't swept under the rug just because he's really smart and/or rich. The revelation at the end that he not only stole two samples of Kryptonite but was responsible for the K-Man placed him firmly back into the villain role, which made me a very happy reader.
Speaking of General Lane, it was great to see him again too. It would have been easy to forget or dismiss the character but Fisch made him feel more developed and three dimensional by having him fire Lex Luthor. Sure he is still paranoid about Superman but it seems to not blind him to the potential viper in his midst. Having said that if K-Man does show up again and Lane did help him find his wife then everything I just wrote is out the window because it would cast Lane as a man that would potentially let a woman be brutalized by an abusive husband just because he doesn't trust Superman. That wouldn't speak well for Lane as a character. So hopefully that won't happen.
In summation I really liked this annual. With the exception of Clark Kent it had everything I could want from a Superman story and more. The villain was solid. The supporting cast was solid. The characterization was solid. The action was solid. It fired on all eight cylinders and as I have written in the past I would love to see Fisch get a crack at Superman full time.
Art - 5: Cully Hamner's art in this story was exceptionable. I have been a fan of his for some time now and in an odd bit of happenstance one of the few original pieces of art I own is a John Henry Irons page from a SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS story Hamner drew over a decade ago. The action was well paced. The storytelling was clear. He put a lot of emotion into the characters and Superman looked great even though I still hate the black S on his cape. My only real quibble, oddly enough, was the way John Henry looked in his armor but I can't quite put my finger on why that is. Other than that the art really sold the emotion and drama of the piece and I wouldn't mind seeing Hamner draw some more Superman in the future.
A STAR Labs researcher is forced to abandon the experimental sub he was on when an accident not only leaks radiation into the sub but causes it to sink as well. As he floats in the ocean he thinks of a fellow researcher; a woman he loved but ultimately murdered in a jealous rage. He finds land and is nearly killed by a tiger when he discovers that the radiation has mutated him. He hits and kills the tiger with a blast of radiation that emanates from his mouth. He does the same to a wild pig and eventually the radiation mutates him further. He pulls the skin off of his face and sits on the beach with his head glowing purple surrounded by the words, "Go Away" and "Anchiale".
Story - 4: For those of you that might be curious Anchiale was the Titan goddess of the warming heat of fire. Her brother Prometheus stole that fire and gave it to mankind. So if you didn't know beforehand (like me because I had to Google it) now you do.
Anyway, this was a tough one to review on two fronts. First, it's written by Max Landis and I really didn't care for his Death of Superman video. So I had some baggage going into this thing because of that. Also, it is a "silent" story and those, for some reason, are harder to review because so much of what happens is left up to the reader. It's not the extra "work" I had to do that makes it harder. It's just out of the norm of what I usually review.
Despite those hurdles I rather enjoyed the story. I know that will come as a surprise to some of you but I did. This was an interesting take on a classic Superman villain. I like the Atomic Skull quite a bit actually in both his Bronze Age and Post Crisis iterations with the Bronze Age version winning out slightly because I prefer that costume design. This new Atomic Skull seems more in line visually with the one that was introduced in 1991 and frankly he looks to be damaged goods emotionally. Through the course of the story we see him with a woman, who I am assuming was a fellow researcher at STAR Labs that he was either engaged or married to. Apparently this new Skull had a jealous streak and when she leaves him he exposes her to something and kills her. Or maybe whatever he exposed her to caused her death. In any case, he killed her and then set out on the research mission, which is compelling and fits very well into the DC of the past decade or so. The only problem I could see down the road when we see more of this character is that like the K-Man from the previous story this new Atomic Skull could become very one dimensional as a villain. If future writers do nothing to play up his jealous nature the character could become one note and clichéd.
All of that has nothing to do with the piece Landis wrote for this issue. While I still have my issues with Landis and his video the story that was presented here was engaging and has me curious about how this new Skull is going to get off the island. One of my chief complaints of the New 52 is that Superman's rogues gallery has been largely ignored. Between the K-Man in the Sholly Fisch story and the new Atomic Skull as conceived by Max Landis things seem to be turning around on that front.
Art - 5: I have to hand it to Ryan Sook. He made this story work. Everything I got about the new Atomic Skull as a character came from his art. The page layouts were innovative and exciting and while I did have to work as a reader to figure out what was going on the art was so clear in places that the work was easy to do. The scene where the new Skull rips the skin off of his face was creepy and that last page was haunting. I have no complaints about the art on this one.
Cover Art - 5: It is really weird to not have to write three different reviews for the cover. Frankly I was shocked that there weren't variants but I am not going to complain.
This was a really great cover. Superman looked good. The K-Man looked good. The composition was strong and the colors popped. Like the rest of the issue I liked this cover quite a bit and can't find anything to complain about, which is a nice feeling.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2012.