Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo keep their creative feet on the gas pedal in Superboy #4, moving the action and the plotlines forward. The book's multiple plot threads feel like a web ... each seem separate but together they form a mesh of craziness over the lazy country town of Smallville.
Of course, the key here is to keep Superboy sort of off center. He wanted to be in Smallville so he could experience what Superman did. But those peaceful days aren't going to happen for him. By throwing weirdness after weirdness at Conner, all while keeping the 'aw shucks' 'country store' background of Smallville, both Superboy and the reader are thrown off kilter.
Remember Morrison's JLA? That was the big seven in big stories but there was just enough Doom Patrol craziness in those stories to make them fresh. That's the sort of positive dissonance I am feeling here.
Last issue, Psionic Lad came back in time to get help from Superboy. Unfortunately, he was followed by an armored patrol hellbent on bringing him back to his right time. And these troops aren't lightweights. Their armor can be upgraded, including Kryptonite defense shields and stronger weapons.
Just when it looks like they might defeat Superboy, Simon arrives on the scene. At the same time, the 'hunting party' decides they need to beat a hasty retreat. The assumption is that there is something about Simon that is scaring them, making them leave. Does Simon have some power that he isn't aware of that they can sense? Do they recognize him?
I have always felt that Simon will eventually become evil. Maybe these guys know him from history and don't want to face off against a Luthor-equivalent. Or Simon's presence might be a red herring. Maybe it's Lori that frightens them.
That theory is more plausible when why Lori didn't get knocked out by Psionic Lad's psychic wake is explained. She has latent psychic powers!
I was thrilled when Geoff Johns reintroduced Lena Luthor to the DCU in Adventure Comics, even if it was tragedy. The Silver Age Lena had ESP. So it is a nice little homage to have Lori also have powers, even if they are untapped. Could a space brain appear in the title next?
Maybe it was Lori's abilities that scared off the time travelling police.
With the battle in the school over, Conner, Simon, and Psionic Lad leave the clean-up to the authorities.
Away from the school, Psionic Lad tries to explain his predicament but thinks it would be easier to simply share it telepathically.
I have to say that I raised an eyebrow here. Superboy's life hasn't exactly been a peaceful one like Clark's. There have been betrayals and lies and even death. You think he would need a little more proof that Psi-Lad was on the level before he let the telepath enter his mind. I am not saying that Superboy needs to be paranoid. But this complete trust just seemed fast.
Psionic Lad shows the near future to Con and Simon in a series of images. Smallville has become a fortress, ruled for decades by a super-villain who has enslaved the populace. Psionic Lad was one of a number of super-heroes who tried to defeat the overlord. Unfortunately all were killed except him. As a result, he fled to the past to be mentored by Conner.
One thing that stands out in this book are the page layouts, the panel construction. I thought this two page spread with the images floating around was very nice.
And is it me, or does that overlord seem Kryptonian? At least in fashion? Is that Superman? Conner? Their physiology could keep them alive that long.
After the tour of the future, Simon suggests that Psionic Lad help with the present. The telepath tries to read the mind of Farmer Gilliam, the man strapped to the device back in issue #2. Unfortunately, he is only able to get some fleeting moments although they do include the demonic looking Quakers that we have seen before. So no real new information on that mystery.
This was another great page layout with Gilliams face making up the background with these visions surrounding it.
Much of the rest of the issue is Conner and Lori talking about their relationship, which is sort of an odd one.
For one, Lori is upset that she was left behind when Conner, Simon, and Psionic Lad left. She was also part of that encounter.
Lori is shown smoking, is dressed provocatively, and seems angry. I think she is trying to find who she is. She certainly isn't the typical Smallville teenager. In some ways, she reminds me of Roxy Leech from the earliest Conner adventures.
They also try to address their growing feelings for each other. Even if he isn't with Cassie right now, Conner feels he shouldn't be with Lori. I'm completely with Conner on this one. He's "Luthor's Son". She's "Luthor's Niece". That's a little too close on the family tree for an amorous relationship, isn't it?
Lori doesn't think so.
And what's Krypto sniffing? There are too many panels showing that to make me think it is simply background.
And then my distrust of Psionic Lad turns out to be on the money. One of the alleged dead super-heroes from his time contacts him, asking him if the plan is moving forward: the plan to kill Superboy! I knew that guy was no good!
There certainly are a lot of moving parts in this book right now. Some threads are moving along quickly; others are simmering. But all of them make me think Smallville is a pretty strange town to live in despite the Norman Rockwell exterior. It's sort of like Leesburg in Peter David's Supergirl, the town situated over a bubbling chaos stream. My guess is the Quaker storyline is the long term story, with the smaller episodes like Psionic Lad sort of budding off of that. I know we are only 4 issues in but this book just feels right, a good mix of stright forward super-heroics with a twist of the bizarre.
Pier Gallo's art really shined this issue. Both the page layouts and the more standard panels really look sharp.