Adventure Comics #6 marked the end of the Geoff Johns/Francis Manapul Superboy story. As I have said before I have been impressed with the arc and have enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
I have collected Teen Titans on and off throughout its current run but somehow missed all the key Conner story arcs involving his ancestry with Luthor. This story has been Conner's introspective look at himself as he wonders where he will head. Is his future the product of nature or the product of nurture? Which half of him will eventually win out ... Superman or Lex Luthor? I can understand why any adolescent would have these questions, let alone someone whose '2 fathers' are on such opposite ends of the moral spectrum.
The notebook checklist has been a nice little plot point throughout this story as Conner makes this mental checklist, hoping to sort this whole thing out.
The last issue ended with Luthor arriving at Lori's house wielding some Kryptonite as he tries to retrieve 'his property', Conner himself.
As we saw in the preview of the issue, it turns out that Lori's mother is none other than Lena Luthor (Thorul?). We saw a glimpse of her in Superman: Secret Origin but it is great to see her actually named.
Unlike the Silver Age Lena, this one has no apparent telepathic powers. Nor is she close enough in age to Supergirl to be a friend of Kara.
Unfortunately, she is afflicted with an unknown malady which has effected both her mind and body. Weakened and in a wheel chair, she seems confused and diminished.
Throughout this arc, we have heard Luthor talk about how it is the presence of Superman which has impeded mankind from growing, prevented Lex from doing more for his fellow man.
Superboy finally calls him on it. If he is capable of such greatness, why doesn't he help his own sister.
I thought this was a nice moment for Conner. Despite being incapacitated by Kryptonite, he is still think of others. But remember, he is trying to come to grips with his Luthor roots. He hopes that Lex has some goodness inside. If not, that means Superboy is somehow half monster.
In a movie I didn't initially understand, Lex agrees to help. He holds Lori at bay with a pistol (somehow pedestrian for someone like Luthor) and tells Superboy to gather the ingredients he will need to help Lena.
The first ingredient is a type of leaf from prehistoric time. It isn't needed for the cure. Luthor uses it to make tea to help him think. Only Luthor would think of such a thing.
Of course, seeing Superboy and Krypto running away from a T-Rex was worth this interlude.
The next few pages show Superboy gathering up the needed bits for Lex. His travels take him to Paradise Island (where a young Amazon calls him handsome ... nice touch). He goes to Atlantis. Those trips are all things Superman would do. But more than that, the task is something Superman would do ... going to great lengths to help someone.
The snippets of Conner's journey are intercut with Lori talking to her Uncle, asking why he left the family, left her mother the way he did. His answers come off as self-serving, selfish. It is that juxtaposition that clearly shows that Conner is not Lex.
But Luthor comes through! With one simple injection Lena is cured. She suddenly is aware of her surroundings and stands from her chair. That one simple word of clarity 'Lori' as she knowingly stares at her daughter for the first time in a while ... wonderful.
This will be another one of those panels I dissect a bit. I love the point of view from above. By looking down upon the scene, we really get the sense of the height of Lena. The perspective gives her simple standing a sense of more power and importance. But we also get a sense of how miraculous this is ... we are looking at this scene from above, a sort of angelic viewpoint.
This panel would not have the same power if this was shown from the side, from the eye level of the characters.
That viewpoint is suddenly sullied when Luthor he reminds everyone that he was responsible fomr the miracle. He sets himself up as a god.
And yet look at Conner as he contemplates the situation. "What does Lex Luthor do? Makes people walk again." Not like the other things he has written on that side of the ledger. And yet that is what Conner has been looking for, that spark of humanity.
The spark is extinguished when Luthor injects Lena with another solution, effectively reverting her to her prior condition.
Talk about cruel and deranged. There would be no reason to go through that set of events ... curing Lena then having her relapse ... except to crush hope, to show that you have the power and control, to further destroy your past.
I wonder if Luthor needed to do it to further distance himself from his roots, as if Lori's pointed questions to him exposed some minor weakness in him he felt he needed to eradicate. It is a clear break from the Silver Age Lex who went out of his way to protect Lena from his legacy, something I always felt humanized him back then.
Overwhelmed with anger, Conner comes close to emulating Luthor. It appears as if he would kill Luthor over this if Brainiac had not arrived to stop him.
Somehow the combination of Superboy, Krypto, and a gun wielding Lori are able to drive the villains away.
Luthor seems to revel in his act, asking Superboy to tell Superman what he has done here. It is as if this horrific act perpetrated on his own sister is a badge of honor, a demonstration that he is capable of anything. It is chilling.
But it finally answers the questions inside Conner.
"What did Superman do? Was Superboy." With that he burns the notebook he was keeping. It isn't needed any more. There is something purifying about those flames. He doesn't throw the book away, he burns it. Like he is cleansing himself of the worries that he will bed up like Luthor.
But the truth is he is neither Superman or Lex. He is Conner. But that person is closer to Clark than he is to Lex.
It was a fitting ending to this run. Words and art meshed seamlessly. Yes this was heavy on angst and feelings and short on action but it definitely worked for me. This was a tale of introspection. This was a battle in Conner's mind more than a brawl in Smallville. As I have said before, I have never been a huge fan of Superboy. But I cared about him here and that is the sign of a high quality book.
While I look forward to Levitz' Legion run here ... while I will probably sample Johns and Manapul of Flash, I will miss this book and this story.
Overall grade: A/B+
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