by Paul Cornell (writer), Marco Rudy & Ed Benes (art), Val Staples & Jason Wright (colors), and John J. Hill (letters)

The Story: A young Lex Luthor finds himself the unwilling “employee” of Darkseid and, in the back-up, the disciple of Ra’s Al-Ghul.

What’s Good: First things first: this issue is $4.99, but it’s a big, quality package that ultimately earns that price tag.  That being said, this isn’t just a double-sized issue of Paul Cornell’s Action Comics.  It has Lex Luthor, sure, but this is something different, something that allows for Cornell to show his range as a writer.

Cornell does a fantastic and very subtly nuanced job of writing the young Lex Luthor.  It is most definitely Lex, but it’s a Lex that’s more brash, fearless, and arrogant.  He’s like the first LP of your favourite band: more raw with both his flaws and strengths more readily apparent.  Sure he’s brave to the point of lunacy, but he also has a near pathological hatred of being dismissed – his inferiority complex is never clearer.  All told, young Lex makes for a compelling protagonist.

The main feature is all kinds of kooky, having a tone not unlike the old, sci-fi/cosmic adventures of the past.  It’s a kind of pure, wacky sci-fi that makes for a distinctly different read.  Helping this along is Cornell’s Darkseid, which is all kinds of awesome.  Cornell clearly has the time of his life writing the character, who is a classically bombastic “muhuhahaha” villain.  This makes for a fantastic adversary for Lex, one who clearly functions at a different level.

The generally fun artwork of Marco Rudy is a perfect fit for this story, playing up the goofy retro tone while drawing one hell of an Apokolips.  His work is a sort of noir acid trip and it ends up being quite a bit of fun.

The Ra’s Al-Ghul story is also fairly strong, though a very big change of pace.  It’s a narrated story without dialogue, but the narration is done in a poetic voice that shows off Cornell’s chops.  It’s a clever take on the old Adam and Eve story, but in a demented turn, God is the vengeful, mass-murdering Ra’s Al-Ghul.  The end result is a story that is both epic and twisted and certainly very fun.

What’s Not So Good: The only thing that bugged me a bit were some of Marco Rudy’s layouts, which were at times a little confusing or unnatural.  A lot of the time, this is due to the left and right page looking as though they’re meant to be treated as one page, even though they’re not.

Some of Rudy’s action scenes are similarly hard-going, again partially due to the layouts.  Things are a bit hard to follow or overly close up.

Conclusion: The best DC annual that I’ve read in some time.  I wish DC would do this more often for the Annuals: use them as an excuse for the title’s usual creative team to do something different instead of calling up some B or C list creative team to do something underwhelming and unrelated.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans