Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review: Superboy #1

Superboy #1 came out last week and was a decent first issue for a new series. Perhaps I have a more critical eye because I have decided to collect the series regardless. But I always hope that a first issue of a book will be a real eye-opener. Something spectacular with a definite hook to keep the casual reader interested in coming back for more. I don't know if this book reached that level.

Now, to be sure, there were definite flashes of brilliance. And the idea of something sinister bubbling under a small town facade is a decent underlying theme in the book (seen in many David Lynch movies, the Peter David Leesburg, etc).

One thing that I think is compelling about this book is the character of Conner. When he was introduced back in the Reign of the Supermen, he was cocky and brash and had a huge libido. That aspect of him was toned down as he became a Titan and matured a bit, culminating with his heroic death in Infinite Crisis.

Now, back from the dead, he is doing some self-analysis, trying to figure out who he is now and dealing with his resurrection. We saw a lot of this in the Johns/Manapul issues of Adventure Comics and writer Jeff Lemire picks up right where those issues left off. In fact the issue starts with Conner wondering who he would be if he had a childhood. In the end, he realizes he needs to concentrate on the small things in life and get settled. It is almost a 180 degree turn from his original characterization and that makes it that much more interesting for me.

But life in Smallville is never really dull. As Superboy contemplates his new life, he is accosted by The Phantom Stranger who warns Conner that Smallville is far from the idyllic place it seems to be. Below the surface is something sinister, something Conner must face, and something that will effect someone very close to him. The Phantom Stranger is a bit out of place in Smallville which makes this feel fresh. I wonder if there will be a mystical or metaphysical feel to the threats that Superboy needs to face.

I did like Superboy's response, asking the Stranger to drop the cryptic schtick and just tell him the threat outright. Every so often you still see some of that brash Superboy leak through. I thought that was a nice bit of characterization.

The Stranger says the first place Superboy needs to go to is his home. Luckily, Conner arrives to catch Ma Kent as she is falling from a ladder.

In the best page in the book, Superboy talks about how the Kent Farm and Ma Kent are the center of his life. Conveying that artistically, the panels of the page encircle a center image of the farm, wrapping around that foundation of Conner's life. I thought that was a very nice melding of words and images.

But before the giant threat appears, the small things need to be dealt with.

One of those things is Lori Thorul, Lex Luthor's niece living in Smallville. In the Adventure Comics issues, Lori was shown to be something of a 'bad girl' but really was having a hard time dealing with her mother's chronic debilitating illness.

At first, it looked like Lori might be being set up as a romantic interest for Conner. But I guess her heritage would make her and Conner kissing cousins. Now it seems like Conner just wants to avoid her. He certainly is stammering a bit as he tries to explain why he hasn't been around for her recently. The internal monologue, screaming 'You're Lex Luthor's niece!' was a nice contrast to his fumbling dialogue.

And while Conner attends school, the Parasite is cutting a swath through Smallville's fields, leaving a trail of desiccated livestock and withered crops in his wake.

Now why is The Parasite there? Was he drawn to Smallville by whatever this underlying evil is?

In perhaps the most 'Twin Peaks' moment of the book, Conner meets an elderly man in town. The man is whittling tiny little monsters and speaking about how it is Smallville's birthday, the 154th anniversary of the town.

There has to be more to this man and that event than meets the eye. The man comes off as something of the town nut, a little creepy but maybe harmless. But it is these small moments that have the most dread. What is up with this guy?

And, addressing my concern from the Superboy preview from a couple of months ago, Simon (the next Lex Luthor I am sure) let's Conner know that he has figured out his secret.

This will be another good plot to follow. I am assuming that Simon is being set up to evolve into a super-villain. There is too much similarity between Clark/Lex and Conner/Simon to think otherwise. But this might also end up being a sort of 'What if?' version of the Clark/Lex relationship. What if Clark and Lex were friends and what if Clark let Lex know his secret. Maybe the whole point of this relationship is that they aren't destined to be enemies.

I don't know how I feel about Simon yet.

Before Conner can process that reveal, the Parasite attacks him. The Parasite says he is there to drain Superboy to then use that power to kill Superman. It seems a bit too easy of an explanation for why the Parasite would be there so I am hoping that there is more to it than simple revenge.

Conner realizes he needs to get off Main Street to minimize any damage the Parasite can do. Using the last of his strength as he is being drained, Conner flings both him and the Parasite into the fields.

In what I think is the weakest moment of the book, the drained Superboy uses his only remaining power, his telekinesis, to engulf the Parasite in wheat kernels. Somehow ... and don't ask me how ... being smothered in grain defeats the Parasite. I don't know if I quite understand how or why that happens.

I will say that these panels did remind me of Frank Miller's Ronin with all the beads of matter that seemed to dominate every panel of that series. That is high praise.

With the Parasite defeated, the wheat field swirls into chaos, the waves of grain growing to gargantuan proportions. And who is at the center? Poison Ivy! And she thinks she is too late to save Smallville. Why is she there. It is clear, as the Stranger said, that something big is happening here ... somehow calling to these super-beings. That is a decent hook to keep me interested. Who else will be drawn to the town.

Well, we get a sense of that on the last page which includes some 'coming soon' panels. Can Poison Ivy seduce Superboy to her way of thinking the way Knockout almost did in his original series?

I like the Superboy/Kid Flash race ... a riff on the classic Superman/Flash races of the DCU.

And the last panel is very interesting. Is that and female Elongated Man? And the Earth-2 Robin sporting the look he had waayyy back in the original Justice League #55? And a Hawkworld-looking Hawkman? It looks like we'll be going through some different timelines and dimensions. I live for that sort of stuff.

So overall, the issue itself was fine, with a couple of really fantastic elements. But the potential that I see in the future issues was more than the product itself. Jeff Lemire seems to have a nice grasp of who Conner is. And his dialogue seems right on. I am definitely on board for more.

Pier Gallo's art has a very polished look in the book, almost too polished for material that is leaning towards some darkness. I do wonder if that was on purpose, to show the glittering veneer of Smallville. I wonder if when things do turn dark if he will become more scratchy and chaotic (as he did in the Car-Vex back story during New Krypton). His otherwise looked very good here.

And Rafael Alburquerque's cover is a nice striking image.

Overall grade: B


Saranga said...

i hadn't thought that simon might be evil. i don't want that to happen - i see him in more of a chloe from smallville role.

jeff Caproizzo said...

great cover on this issue

Lisa said...

The last two characters on the right in that panel with the odd Robin and odd Hawkman are Rita and Larry from the original Doom Patrol.

I wonder if we're seriously going to be getting yet another Robin. Pretty soon, they can just have their own Robin League.

LJ said...

Can you believe it took me almost 5 readings of Blackest Night:Superman to realice that Simon had a cameo there?
Now, I like Simon, he seems kinda nice, although I hope they don't turn up to be enemies...maybe for a while, but then realice that they are better off like friends.
I too thought that Lori would be a romantic interest...don't know how they can do that, although if I liked Nightwing/Flamebird in Action Comics I guess they can make them a couple...in a couple of years, when they do something about the whole Lex Luthor thing.
I love your blog btw, read it every day.

Anonymous said...

If he is a boy, they should make him look more like a boy. His body is way too muscular and should look more realistic. Give him some zits and make him scrawnier. Also, his costume is way too tight. I know we live in the Twilight era where the young male body is exploited for the enjoyment of females young and old, but come on. They need to stop appealing to the basest of comic fans and not make this "boy" a sexual object to be gawked at by hypocrites.

Anj said...

The last two characters on the right in that panel with the odd Robin and odd Hawkman are Rita and Larry from the original Doom Patrol.

Over on the Superman Homepage, Lemire did an interview and said this:

"And as for the mysterious "New Titans" I won't tell you what their story is yet, but the characters are as follows: Hawklad, Negative Lad, Elongated-Lass and The Bat-Man. Oh and one of them is Tim Drake!"

Sounds pretty cool!

Anj said...

Now, I like Simon, he seems kinda nice, although I hope they don't turn up to be enemies...maybe for a while, but then realice that they are better off like friends.

I love your blog btw, read it every day.

Simon will be interesting to watch. He is cut from the Lex mold but seems much more likeable. I wonder which direction he is going.

And thanks for the kind words.

Anj said...

great cover on this issue

Alburquerque rules.