Superboy has been a a nice surprise of a title, working on several layers and making me care about Conner as a character more than I have since his inception. Between the darker elements like the 'Hollow Men' eerie farmers, the sci-fi elements of Psionic Boy's time travel, and the strained elements of the main characters relationships, this book has been chugging along without pause. But nicely intermixed with those heavier pieces are some humorous moments.
Superboy #5, done by creative team of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Pier Gallo, showcases all the sides of the book. Whereas the first 3 issues explored more of the Twin Peaks darker side of Smallville and last issue was almost all science fiction, this issue concentrated more on characterization while touching on the other ongoing plots of the book.
The event of the issue is the first Superboy/Kid Flash race, a race for charity to help with the damage done to Smallville recently. But the race seems secondary to the interplay between Conner and Bart. Lemire has really been juggling a lot of things with this book well. The high point here, for me, was the conversation between the two young heroes, which flowed nice and natural, really driving home that these two are friends.
The book opens with Lori Luthor sitting outside her house hoping Superboy will fly by. You can tell that she feels trapped by the small-town borders of Smallville, that she feels she is meant for bigger things. That point is driven home visually by her dress, by her smoking, by just not appearing like someone in a Norman Rockwell painting. But it is also eerily close to Lex' motivations when he was growing up in Smallville. She isn't satisfied here, so what will she do to achieve those goals? Will she go as far as Lex?
That said, I have never got the feeling that Lori is evil ... just conflicted a little. And she may harbor powers given the way the Science Police scattered last issue.
Conner seems as disjointed as Lori, talking about how stretched thin he has been recently. Some of this are the events happening around him ... the 'broken silo' mystery, the Parasite/Poison Ivy mystery, the Psionic Lad mystery. But a lot of it is his personal life as well. He has broken up with Cassie. He has feelings towards Lori (something which still sends a shiver of 'is that incest?' into me).
Another thing that I really have enjoyed with this book has been the different and fascinating page layouts. Here the page is set up like a puzzle, underscoring the different pieces of Conner's life which he has been trying to fit together into a framework, to make sense of things. Very nice!
It might seem a little angsty but I thought that Superboy's response to Wonder Girl's absence at the race made sense. Of course he would be a mix of angry and sad and embarrassed. Whether it is true or not, he thinks Raven feels pity for him.
I have to say I loved the Conner/Cassie reunion issue by Johns/Manapul in Adventure Comics so I am sort dismayed to see the relationship dissolve so quickly after that. I especially don't like it if the new romance is Lori.
The race between Conner and Bart is a fun read, watching the two of them pause to save people, defeat some super-villains and overall have fun with it.
But my favorite moment is when the two pause to chat in Egypt. First Bart tries a little white lie, telling Conner that Cassie was too busy to come. It is clearly a lie, even if well-intentioned, and Con sees right through it. Still, it is something that a friend would tell his hurting pal.
Then there is a mature moment where Con admits he is sad and Bart gives him some hope.
And before that can even sink in, Bart playfully says he might make a play for Wonder Girl now that she is available. It is a great funny moment perfectly defusing the depressing moment, getting Superboy to chuckle, and reigniting the fun of the race. That whole conversation unfolded so naturally, two old friends running a gamut of emotions so quickly and easily. This was definitely the high point of the book for me.
The rest of the plotlines are touched upon briefly, letting us know that Lemire know he has a lot on the table.
Psionic Lad, who vowed to kill Superboy last issue, is understated at the race, biding his time. But he sees something which scares him in the crowd. I don't know if this vision of an old man (who disappears in the next panel) is one of the hollow men? Or someone from the dystopian future?
And as the race nears its end in Smallville, Superboy is stunned to see The Phantom Stranger lingering around Lori's yard. But just as quickly as he appears, the Stranger is gone.
It is concerning that he is in Lori's yard. Is Lori the threat? Or her land? Or both? We saw the Stranger earlier in the book. It was good to see him again, knowing he is still looking in on Smallville.
Suffice it to say that the race ends in an unanticipated way.
Even if the race has been fun and money has been raised, the day is sort of marred by the Stranger's appearance. Raven knows that when the Stranger is seen trouble is nearby.
The actual race pages were a lot of fun though.
The Lori mystery deepens somewhat and her attitude becomes a bit darker at the issue's end. No longer will she wait outside hoping that Conner will take her away from all this. Instead, she'll take matters into her own hands. Now that sounds like Lex. That sounds like what he might say just before he cut his dad's brake lines.
And look at the rock at her feet. Same sort of glyphs as seen on the device the Hollow Men were using to scan Conner. Is the land cursed? Is Lori cursed? Or both? More than Simon, more than Conner even, Lori intrigues me. There is a lot of potential in her character, a lot of possibilities.
Pier Gallo continues to do solid work here, able to switch gears from the breezy fun race pages to the darker images of Lori to 2 page splash of the world with smaller inset panels showing the heroes racing at various points around the globe. It makes me hope that he will be back on the book at some point. The next two issues have been solicited with Marco Rudy art, a rough style that might not be best suited here.
I do wonder when all these divergent plots will end. Or will they converge at some point? Overlap? Still, there is no denying that Lemire and Gallo have hit the ground running with the book, giving us a different style of super-book. And the scene with Con and Bart was a big win.