Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Superboy #9

Superboy #9 came out last week, another weird chapter by Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo ... and when I say 'weird' I mean it in a very good way. That creative team is sprinting to the finish line, stuffing three issues into two months so this arc can be done before the DCnU upheaval.

And there is a lot to cover in this time. Lemire has done a great job in creating a multi-layered universe here for Conner. There are the supporting characters Lori Luthor and Simon Valentine and their evolution. There is the creepier and more supernatural feeling to the Hollow Men storyline. And there is the science fiction element of an alternate future with Psionic Lad. My intuition tells me that Lemire wanted some of this stuff to slowly build to a conclusion, especially the supporting characters' arcs, but needed to wrap it up in a hurry.

For me, this was an offbeat look at the Superman Family. Lemire was mixing in a lot of different genres here but it was a great mix. And, much like Supergirl, there was a bit of freedom here as Superboy is linked to but not necessarily defined by Superman or his mythos. I am going to miss this. As I have said before, outside of his initial appearance, I have never been a huge fan of Conner until now.

One of the other things that I have loved about this book have been the artistic flourishes, unique panel shapes, page layouts, or transitions. But none of those were in this issue. I wonder if time and the need to fit in so much story here made some of that harder to squeeze in.

Last issue ended with Superboy, the Phantom Stranger, Simon, and Psionic Lad burrowing under Smallville and discovering the existence of Hollowville. We have learned about how the Took family dabbled in the dark arts and disappeared when a Kent ancestor brought a posse to the farm.

There is a quick explanation about how this city escaped the notice of Superman during his years living in Smallville. There is some magic to this place. But there is also some technology, no matter how rudimentary, here as well. This is the group that hooked up a farmer to a magic device cobbled from a wheat thresher earlier in the series. There is some odd appearing factory. I always get a bit more concerned when science and sorcery are mixed. As Baron Winters once said ... it is an explosive combination.

Almost immediately, the Phantom Stranger recommend that the heroes split up. Both he and Psionic Lad can shield the heroes' presence from the hive mind of the Hollow Men. Simon and Psionic Lad can rescue Lori. The Stranger and Superboy can stop the big threat.

Splitting up is never a good idea, even Superboy knows that. But before he can finish voicing his opposition to the idea, the Stranger teleports them away.

Now last issue, Superboy heard from a Phantom Stranger that the next 'Stranger visit' would not really be him. I guess Superboy forgot that because he seems to be trusting this guy. Of course, maybe the first Stranger was the phony. And with all his cryptic talk, who can really understand what The Phantom Stranger is trying to say?

And the Stranger takes Conner to the heart of the town. There he reveals there is more to this threat than just the Tooks. Tannarak, an old Phantom Stranger villain, a sorceror who vowed to never die, is behind much of this threat.

I have to say, my favorite Tannarak moment is when he plays a nightclub owner in the second issue of Neil Gaiman's great Books Of Magic mini-series. He has always seemed like a joke to me, so the fact he is behind something huge like this is impressive.

But this was my favorite moment in the book. I have been up and down in my like of Simon Valentine as a character. But I have decided I am going to miss him because I doubt he will be in the DCnU.

Simon is trying to do what's right but throughout this book you can sense that he is struggling to stay on the path of good. Whether it is from feeling isolated or superior or shunned, he has seemed like a burgeoning villain at times. Here he is angry when Lori asks about Superboy when it is Simon who is saving her. That has to be frustrating. It is that feeling of being overlooked that might nudge him further down the dark path.

As a result, he is a Lex-equivalent here. Lemire could really have played this out as a 'what if' storyline ... what if the Lex/Clark relationship was different? Would Lex still be a villain? Will the friendship of Conner keep Simon on the straight and narrow ... or push him farther from the light. This could have been a long long arc as we wait for the other shoe to finally drop and Simon finally becomes evil.

And we finally learn that the Prime Hunter, the villain from Psionic Lad's future is Simon! That is who Psionic Lad is supposed to kill.  For some time I wondered if it was Superboy who was the Hunter; he is half Lex after all.

But this revelation makes the Simon character even more interesting. We now know that in one timeline he does go evil. Could Superboy keep him off that path in this timeline.

Regardless, Psionic Lad refuses to kill Simon here. He sees some goodness in his new friend and wonders if he can change things here in the past. It is soooo Flashpoint.

Still the Simon/Conner friendship would have been good to watch under the microscope.

As I have said before, the mix of horror and science fiction in this book makes it a novel Superman Family book.

I thought this was a nice mix of both. The Stranger and Superboy enter the factory in Hollowville and discover a Matrix-style collection of humans in pods. But even weirder, and more shocking, they are all Conner. Superboy surmises that somehow the device from way back in Superboy #2 scanned him, making this cloning possible.

This must be chilling to Superboy. One of the subtle themes throughout Conner's history has been his trying to define who or what he is. What defines him? To be reminded that he was manufactured can't be easy on him.

As I said earlier, I feel that Lemire was building a big arc here. We haven't seen the Parasite in this book since he was defeated by a storm of wheat (one of the odder and weaker moments in the series). And yet, here he is in Hollowville.

What role does he play in this? Is he working for Tannarak? Or is he just drawn to the power of this place like a moth to a flame?

Then, the Phantom Stranger starts talking like he knows a bit too much about this plot.

He tells Superboy that these Conner clones are empty, waiting for the souls of Smallville to be sucked into them. What will that do? Will they be super-powered slaves? Sacrifices? Batteries like in the Matrix, powering these infernal machines? There is more to learn about this 'thousand year plan'.

I wonder if this reminds Superboy of his own creation. Is he also soulless? There could be a lot of introspection by Conner after this.

Of course, we learn this isn't the Stranger. Is it Tannarak in disguise? The real Phantom Stranger is shown trapped inside.

And then Krypto and Superboy get trashed by Ebenezer Took and his cronies. There is definitely some magic here. Just what role does Superboy play here. He must be needed to complete this plan from happening. Why else bring him down to this place? I am hoping that explanations of just what is happening here is coming soon.

So we move much closer to the finish line here as all the plot lines seem to be converging deep underground. But this issue, while more standard comic book fare than I usually see in this title, reminded me of all the things that I have liked about Lemire's take here. He is exploring Superboy's persona. We are seeing some arcs that ripple with similarity to part of Superman's mythos. And it is all done with a Twin Peaks sense of weirdness. Two more issues and that all goes away.

Overall grade: B+/B

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