The origin of Vandal Savage forms the backbone of this annual. Longtime DC fans know a meteor turned a caveman into the immortal villain, and that's still the story. What's new in this retelling is that the rock which empowered him with immortality originates in the Krypton system.
This extra-length story alternates vignettes from Savage's long life with the current-day Clark Kent's struggles to be a Superman with reduced abilities.
Vandal wants power to conquer, to build 'the strongest clan'. When he learns the meteor is one of many, and they pass Earth every few generations, he becomes obsessed with intercepting one, and becoming stronger still.
Superman wants his full range of abilities back simply to serve and protect the people of his adopted planet. Something John Henry Irons is working on gives him hope, but his mood is dashed as he sees how thoroughly Lex Luthor is locking him out of Justice League business.
A rescue in which he inspires the people around him to be heroes convinces Superman that perhaps he can be happy as a different kind of hero - until the dark ambition of Vandal Savage hits home with tragic results.
The contrast between hero and villain could be heavy handed, the mass of creators on this jam issue might have made it a mess - but everything works. The episodic nature of the narrative makes the different artists a plus, while all the writers are on excellent form. Apart from Dan Jurgens, none of the illustrators are Superman regulars, but all capture his world with elan. The epic moments are truly big, the smaller scenes character filled - the Lois, Lana and John we get here are the best in quite awhile. And Savage is one scary guy, moving through the ages, snapping from sophisticate to murderous brute whenever he doesn't get his way. With Ben Oliver, Bill Sienkiewicz and Rafa Sandoval on board alongside the always strong Jurgens, there's a real moodiness to much of the art that suits the story by Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder, Gene Yang and Peter Tomasi. The pencil and ink artwork is enhanced by colourists Trish Mulvihill, Lee Loughridge, Tomeu Morey and Oliver. A Larger World Studios handles all the lettering and does a fine job, while the talented Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes and Ulises Areola provide the cover, one that's more thematic than literal. Editors Andrew Marino and Eddie Berganza deserve credit for some smart talent wrangling.
The issue is full of satisfying moments, with Lex's belittling of Superman and the truck rescue among the best. The voices of the alternating narrators are sharp, convincing. And the pacing of a scene in which Superman checks in on his Daily Planet friends bodes well for the future of the Lois/Clark relationship. I like that someone remembers Savage was a member of the past-set Demon Knights team, while a World War Two partnership with Captain Nazi is tinged with black humour.
Vandal Savage has popped in and out of the Truth sequence threading through the Superman line this year, manipulating other villains. This annual's close suggests the end of the road is near, the final confrontation is coming. And if the quality matches what we have here, we're in for a treat.