Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: Superboy #6

Superboy #6 was released last week, another chapter in the Reign of Doomsday story arc which is weaving it's way through the super-books. So far Jeff Lemire has done a great job on this book, dealing with eerie horror elements, fantastic time travel stories, and very solid characterization. With Doomsday plodding into the title, I didn't expect to see too much movement on these fronts. We have been through this drill before in Steel, the Outsiders, and Justice League. I was expecting to see Doomsday fight Conner, absorb and use Conner's powers against him, and eventually defeat Superboy in battle. I got what I was expecting.

I also got continued solid characterization.

I also got innovative and solid art composition, something which has become something of a staple of the book. I love it when art and words mesh in comics and we see a lot of that here.

And I feel I owe Marco Rudy something of an apology. I was less than thrilled with the work he did on the Supergirl Annual #2 or Action Comics Annual #13. But here, his art isn't as chaotic as it was in those books. In fact, in a couple of places it reminded me of some masters. Better to discuss that with the appropriate panels.

The book starts out with a conversation between Conner and Tim while sitting on the roof of Titans' tower.

I was never a big fan of Conner's before. But the struggle he has been going through to find himself has been very interesting to read. From Geoff John's early Adventure Comics issues into this book, we have seen Superboy trying to come to grips with who he is and where he fits in the world.

Here I liked that he wonders of Smallville is too ... well ... too small for him. Sure, he went there to try to emulate Superman and get some grounding (I guess the S-shield group needs to be grounded a lot). But he is someone on the verge of adulthood. He wonders if it is time to go out on his own. It seems very natural for Superboy to question if he is following too closely in Superman's path. Is that who he is?

Drake's response is the right one. Conner is comfortable now and seems at ease with himself. He should stay.

Here is a good example of Marco's art on this issue. The second panel reminds me a bit of Steve Bisette's early Swamp Thing stuff, with numerous lines used to convey contours. That is high praise.

Something else I enjoyed in this conversation was an acknowledgment of Conner's earlier and more cocky days in Hawaii. Nice for Drake to jab him about the sunglasses and fade haircut. That's what friends do.

These early pages use a 12 panel grid. It's a nice contrast to the big panels during the Doomsday fight, showing small quiet moments vs. big loud ones.

Meanwhile, Ray Palmer is meeting with Simon, trying to convince the Smallville whiz kid to join him at University to study 'advanced meta-science studies'.

This is one of those words/art moments I love. Here, as Simon talks about working alone, his face is cast half in shadow, a way to show that Simon has a darker side. I have been calling him 'Luthor in waiting' for a while.

But more than just shadow half his face, the panel construction splits him, half-light, half-dark. It makes it much more visually compelling. That is comic book art and story at their best. This was my second favorite art moment in the book.

Palmer must sense the dark side because he says part of his desire in making the studies was to keep young brilliant scientists on the right path.

As expected, Superboy is attacked by Doomsday as he is heading home to Smallville. Here their battle leads them into an underground tunnel connecting Detroit and Canada. With the walls breached, water from the Great Lakes begins flooding the tunnel. Suddenly Conner has to deal with Doomsday and save the people.

I suppose this carries a little more gravitas than the punch-em-up in Outsiders. But doesn't meet the emotional depth of the Supergirl moments in the recent Superman/Batman Annual.

Of course, we know that Superboy is going to lose because we know that there is a reckoning awaiting in Action Comics. So the real challenge for Lemire and Rudy is to keep readers who know the end of the story engaged and happy.

One way to do that is to invoke Jim Steranko during battle scenes. Just a great Steranko-esque panel there.

Another is to continue to build the mystery of just who is this Doomsday. As Conner can tell, he is more calculating than the force of nature we are used to seeing.

And as expected, Doomsday does eventually develop and use Conner's tactile TK.

I don't think I can express just how great I think Rudy's art works here, in contrast to the rougher images in Supergirl Annual #2 and too trippy layouts in the Action Comics Annual #13. You can the Conner's confusion on Conner's face.

Another recurring theme in the Doomsday arc has been the surrogate Supermen knowing that death appears imminent and wondering if Clark felt the same way as he was about to die at the hands of this monster. Cyborg Superman said it a couple of weeks ago. Conner says it here.

Again, the blood soaked images here reminded me of Steve Bissette drawing Matt Cable in his car wreck from way back in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing.

The outcome was known from the beginning. In a two page spread, so different from the dialogue filled small panels from the beginning, we see Doomsday defeat Conner.

Again that difference in page layout only added to the power of this moment.

But this is my favorite moment from the book.

Sure we have seen a number of homages of the classic shot from Superman #75, the torn cape resting on a pole after Superman died at the hands of Doomsday. Here Lemire and Rudy tweak it just enough to make it completely fresh. Conner's S-shield is fluttering, a clear sign he is defeated. But here, it floats between panels, the panel separation looking like a pole from which it flutters.

I don't know if I read into these things too much. But this worked.

With Superboy defeated, Doomsday activates some sort of teleporter and takes Conner to a ship in space. So who is controlling Doomsday?

Overall, I think these Doomsday issues could have been sort of a Michael Bay movie ... a lot of explosions and action with little story, a lot of sizzle with no steak. But the Superman/Batman Annual and Superboy #6 added enough character points and plot progressions (as well as stunning art) to keep me interested enough to not simply skim. That isn't easy when I know before I buy the book how it is going to end.

Superboy as a title really has been an unexpected treat. I'll be glad when we get back to Smallville and see what is going on there.

Overall grade: B+/B


Dave Mullen said...

Great review as always, Weird how closely we think alike concerning this issue ;)
The inks in places as you say do conjure the spirit of Steve Bissette/John Totleben's Swamp Thing but while I was very impressed with the panel layout and action sequences the art did seem to wander a bit in style. From the loose facials and raw 'Totleben' inking of the initial pages we shift to heavy shading for the Doomsday segment, by the end as Conner is pulped it was reminiscent of Frank Miller...!
Nontheless I loved it. There's been some healthy new faces stepping into the Superman stable artwise and I dont mind big brawls like this so long as they are well choreographed as this was, the last two installments of Reign have been excellent in this regard and I am a very satisfied customer.

I think what's making this arc work now is the endpages over the last two chapters, revealing just enough of a mystery to get the reader interested and very curious as to what's going on here.
I dont know if this is coincidence or design but these endpages are reminiscent of the gradual introduction of Doomsday in the opening pages before we actually get to see him proper and DoS came down. It makes for a nice irony and bookend if this current technique is indeed intended as so.

Dave Mullen said...

Sommething else I really have to commend this issues, and the series as a whole so far, is the coloring. Jamie Grant and Dominic Regan are the colorists and I was just looking at this issue again for example and the tones and usage of Primary color (orange in particular) contrasted with grays is visually very effective indeed - take another look and see what i mean!

A lot of the atmosphere of Superboy so far is being genrated by the subplot with the Hollow Men and odd goings on and I sense there is a very deliberate strategy in terms of the coloring in this series - Smallville is a sunny war place on the surface but Dark forces are gathering....

Saranga said...

I really liked the art in this. It was very touching and emotional I thought.

Anj said...

I dont know if this is coincidence or design but these endpages are reminiscent of the gradual introduction of Doomsday in the opening pages before we actually get to see him proper and DoS came down. It makes for a nice irony and bookend if this current technique is indeed intended as so.

Glad my Bissette reference wasn't too antiquated!

And interesting thought above about the end pages of this Doomsday story.

I wonder who is driving that spaceship.