Friday, October 16, 2009

Review: Adventure Comics #3

Adventure Comics #3 and came out this week and continued to be one of the better comics that I read each month. The story so far is Superboy's look inward now that he has returned from the dead.

These first 3 issues have been rather short on action and long on dialogue. And it makes sense that after spending some time dead, after coming back to a world that has changed a bit, a person would become introspective ... would begin looking inwards to see if they like what they see, if there are things that can be changed. Whether you are super or not, you would probably want to reconnect with the people most important to you.

Since this is a book about Superboy, we get to see all the things rattling around in his brain and all the people he wants to befriend again. The first issue it was his mentor Superman. The second issue it was his love Wonder Girl. Here in the third issue it is his best friend Tim Drake.

I think the key thing here is quality. As I said before this title came out I have had little interest with Conner in the past (outside of the earliest issues of his solo title). If the first issues are going to be almost exclusively character driven, they better be of the utmost quality or people on the fringe of the title will drop it. So far Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul have delivered. The truth is that I have been enjoying this book far more than I anticipated.

That ongoing theme of self-evaluation continues with Conner keeping his 'What did Superman do?' and 'What did Luthor do?' checklists. As I said before it is a nice and easy way to gauge Conner's feelings.

Conner still seems to be struggling with the concepts of good and evil. He has the odd makeup of having the mixed genetic makeup of the world's greatest hero and villain. And he just seems to wonder on what side of the family tree he is sprouting from.

So Superman died and returned. And Conner did the same. But that doesn't make him Superman.

Conner continues his thoughts on the nature/nurture debate over human behavior in science class as he talks to Simon Valentine.

When Conner wonders why classmate Lori is always asleep in science lab. Simon retorts that maybe she is simply a bad person. When pushed by Conner, Simon states that he falls in the nature camp. Good and evil behavior is purely genetic. So genetic that he thinks he could define some moral code in DNA if given a sample of the world's greatest hero and villain.

Seems like an overly simplified idea but Simon is being played up as the next Luthor. Maybe he can pull it off.

It does strike me as interesting that Conner is so worried about his Luthor heritage. When in his right mind, he clearly is a hero to the point of sacrificing himself for the universe. Still, this is his time of internal reflection. Maybe he worries he will eventually bend towards a more diabolical ethical standard as dictated by his genes.

But as the two talk about life and death and good and evil, Superboy sees something out the window he needs to handle. He flies away from Valentine while he is in mid-sentence. Immediately Conner makes a mental note of something to put on the Luthor side of the ledger; Luthor alienated friends.

The threat he needed to handle? Krypto.

Even Krypto can tell that Superboy is out of sorts emotionally and could use a little pick me up. The super-dog has brought Conner a pile of his oldest rogues from the very earliest issues of Superboy's career in Hawaii. I love how expressive Krypto is here. When Conner arrives, Krypto has this happy expression as if he is saying 'let's play fetch with Silver Sword'!

But Conner doesn't have time to play. He continues his search for Luthor hoping Krypto can sniff out the villain. When that fails, Conner decides to turn to the best detective he knows, Tim Drake, who is acting as Red Robin in Paris.

In Paris, Conner is immediately brought up to speed on Tim's current mission. Bruce was struck by Darkseid's omega beams. But that doesn't mean he is dead. Tim is searching for Bruce.

In this instance, that means capturing the Funky Flashman who has a broken mother box. (I love how the mother box doesn't 'ping ping ping' but instead goes 'ping pang pong'. A nice touch to show it is indeed broken.) Tim hopes that the box will somehow help him in his search. I think it speaks volumes that Tim says he won't give up on Bruce the way he 'gave up' on Conner. Tim is still grieving.

With Mother Box in hand, the two head to an underground lair of Luthor's. As they enter, Conner and Superboy begin to catch up in earnest. Conner is somewhat put off by Tim's patronizing tone.

It is no surprise that Johns has such a great handle on these characters since he wrote the Teen Titans comic. I really think it is great that Conner immediately confesses to Conner about his kiss with Cassie. Remember Cassie did the same thing. It can't be easy but it shows how mature these Titans are. And even better is Conner shrugging it off like he did with Cassie last window. It is these small moments that make this comic so wonderful.

Still, Tim's dark personality, the Red Robin outfit, everything is off-putting to Conner. This isn't the Tim Drake he knew in the past. Better yet, Conner calls him on it.

Conner knows something about guilt and emotional burden. He knows that this whole thing is self-flagellation by Drake, a self-imposed punishment because he feels guilty about all the loss that has happened around him. And it is true ... I don't know much about Tim Drake but I know that since Identity Crisis he has lost his father, Conner, Bart, and Bruce. All people close to him who maybe he thinks he should have protected. Maybe there is even a little bit of survivor's guilt in him too.

That seems to open the floodgates for the two of them. They begin to talk openly and honestly about their current issues.

Tim admits that he at one point intended to re-clone Conner even though he knew it might be an abomination.

I love Conner's frank response. Yes Conner, it was a suck-ass year without you.

In what I think is the best moment in the book, Tim finally breaks down a bit saying he is screwed up. It totally humanizes the character. I can only imagine how stressful and heavy his life feels right now. To see that weariness on him was just powerful.

But more importantly to me, this was the first time that I felt some repercussion from Final Crisis in the DCU. This is the first time that a character honestly responded to something from Final Crisis. It seems sometimes that there were no changes to the DCU from Final Crisis. And I didn't feel this from Hal's rants in Cry For Justice. No, it was this quiet moment of grief and fatigue from a character I don't follow that struck me. Really wonderful.
As powerful as that moment was, it is followed by an equally strong one from Conner. He tells Tim about his impossible mission ... to see if any good exists inside Luthor. He even tells Drake about his notebook checklists. The two Titans are carrying a heavy emotional burden right now.

So when Conner tells Tim that he believes him, that he believes Bruce is alive, it is a great moment. Conner is able to cross something off the Luthor list; he does not alienate friends. In fact that small affirmation might ease the load on Red Robin's back.

I always talk about how the art impacts the feelings of the words in comic. Look at this panel, the two heroes small and in one corner of a large panel, amidst the refuse of a broken and crumbling lab. Can't you feel just how small the two heroes feel right now. This panel could have been a close up of the tow of them. But by pulling back and putting them off center, you get that sense they don't feel powerful and in control right now. They are struggling with the detritus of their lives, they are off kilter. (Maybe I read too much into these things.)

As much as Conner is looking for Luthor, Luthor is looking for Conner. I love how Luthor talks about him like he is an intellectual property. He isn't searching for his lost son. He wants his plaything back.

The back-up Legion story was adequate. It feels like Johns is doing small self-contained stories to introduce the more classic Legion characters to people who may not know them. Here we have the confident Sun Boy wooing women. I don't know if I like Polar Boy being portrayed as a fun loving goofball. He was always so serious in the Legion before. Still there are some nice moments as we see Polar Boy dealing with his own insecurities as they chase a cold-based villain from his home world.

But the real pull of this book is the Superboy stuff. Not one punch was thrown in this issue. This was another story long on character development and short on action. But that's okay. This opening arc seems to be all about Conner's re-emergence into the DCU as he comes to grips with his own issues. And it is just done so well. If I want fisticuffs and gore, I can read other comics.

And the tenor of the comic is matched so wonderfully by Francis Manapul's art. It is both simple and complex, characters feelings shown with an economy of lines.

Perhaps the one downside is that we know that the Johns/Manapul team is only here for a couple of more issues. Is someone else going to pick up this introspective storyline? Is Johns going to finish it? And do I really need to suffer through 2 issues of Superboy Prime?

I originally planned on buying this title for the Legion component. I am now lamenting the loss of the Superboy piece. That is the highest praise I can give.

Overall grade: B+ (although Superboy part is A+ )


TalOs said...

The only high lights for me come this issue were the hint to the 31st Century Legion member Dreamgirl having traveled back in time and acting as an undercover high schooler in Smallville High, Krypto gathering some of Conner's rouge gallery from all parts of the world, Tim calling Conner on his lack of costume (ABOUT FRICKIN' TIME!), Luthor's true feelings about Conner being revealed and finally the mysterious hint from the LOSH back up regarding some mysterious 31st Century business being dealt with in the 21st Century instead.

In conclusion, since reading that Geoff Johns apparently wants nothing more to do with Superman Family titles post-Secret Origin (in an interview given at CBR) I just think he's unfairly left Rucka, Robinson and Stirling the chore of carrying on what HE started in the first place come New Krypton and has me seriously considering dropping main Superman and Action Comics tiles yet keeping Supergirl, Secret Origin, WONK and Adventure Comics for I'm just not interested in buying ALL things New Krypton if the man who started it himself can't be bothered to finish what he started.

Anj said...

In conclusion, since reading that Geoff Johns apparently wants nothing more to do with Superman Family titles post-Secret Origin (in an interview given at CBR) I just think he's unfairly left Rucka, Robinson and Stirling the chore of carrying on what HE started in the first place come New Krypton

I didn't like hearing that Johns was off Superman titles either. He seemed to know the right mix of Silver age and new material. It was just solid stuff.

So now the question is who is writing Action after the Flamebird/Nightwing story ends? Does Rucka stay on? I thought I read somewhere that Michael Staczynski was humming the Superman theme at some convention?

It will be hard to match the stuff that Johns produced.

TalOs said...

Honestly Anj, I'm just over the whole New Krypton situation itself at this point and with all due respect couldn't care less if Staczynski takes over now.