The Action Comics 2023 Annual features the newest version of the Superman Family doing what they do best - defending the Earth against what would otherwise be insurmountable odds. The finale to the five-part "New Worlds" story was initiated in issue #1057. The story unapologetically barrels to its conclusion, barely allowing the reader to catch their breath - and that's a good thing. From the first page, the annual establishes that it is everything fans should expect of a story featuring the Man of Steel, establishing its stakes early on and featuring beats as heartfelt as action-packed. Additionally, the issue bucks the trend of many annuals by delivering a single story as opposed to several, and that one tale is well worth the price of admission, firing on all cylinders from the very first panel.
While the story is certainly filled with superhero action worthy of the series' title, the annual still never forgets who Superman and his family are, with the Man of Steel not only going the extra mile to help others but also taking the time to be what he was always meant to be: a symbol of hope. In the early part of the story, the iconic hero takes a moment to not only save an entire family but also inspire them as only he can, and this spirit is reflected in the actions various members of his extended family take in not only fighting the enemy but saving the world. Superman's heroic cue is subsequently adopted by the various members of his family as the issue continues, with two heroes, in particular, proving to be just as inspiring to their antagonists later in the story.
Since the "New Worlds" story arc began in Action Comics #1057, writer Philip Kennedy Johnson has delivered a story filled with exciting twists and turns. From the reveal of the true identity of the story's villain (and their connection to other firmly established DC characters) to Superman's stint as a true "Man of Steel," the story has delivered a narrative that is sure to please any fan while offering a great pay-off to readers who have followed Johnson's sure-to-be classic run. The only perceivable shortcoming in the tale comes in the form of said villain, with their motivations feeling somewhat trite, resulting in them coming across as a sneering, "one note" antagonist.
Regardless, the issue shines more than suffers, as Johnson gives longtime readers a dose of nostalgia with the return of a forgotten member of the Justice League, best remembered for his time spent in the league of the early '90s and the "Task Force" iteration of the team. Details and additions like this highlight how much Johnson knows and respects both classic characters and the interesting additions he has made to the book, such as the introduction of the Super-Twins.
Although Max Raynor has been absent from Action Comics for the duration of "New Worlds," the venerable artist returns for the annual, presenting a visual style that evokes excitement. Raynor's style makes the story's heroes look like figures of legend both in and out of battle and makes it easy to understand why Superman is held in such high esteem even when he encounters people who have never seen or heard of him.
The colors of Matt Herms complement Raynor's artwork perfectly, making the illustrations stand out and nearly leap from the page in a single bound. As the regular colorist on Action Comics, Herms is no stranger to making the heroes actually look heroic, with bright colors that shine and present the individual members of the Superman Family as they should appear - like wholly iconic characters who are as kindhearted and morally upstanding as they are powerful. This aspect of their characters comes to light in an integral way as the story continues, with the lighting effects showcasing a particular hero's struggle against their darker nature.
Although readers who have not followed Action Comics may not fully appreciate the intricacies of the story, any fan of superhero comics as a whole will no doubt enjoy seeing one of the greatest of them all doing what he does best. The annual wastes no time and spares no expense in highlighting one of DC's greatest icons, simultaneously exemplifying the elements that make him (and his family members) a hero.