Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Smallville #5

You know what has been a pleasant surprise in my comic book life? The Smallville comic.

I was hardly a big fan of the show. I stopped watching it after the third season only to be brought back into the fold when Supergirl started to make appearances. And while Kara was treated fairly well there, they also had to make her take a back seat to the 'not Superman' Clark.

So when Smallville:Season Eleven was solicited, I thought I would probably sample it but not get it long term and that initial prognosis was done despite having a great creative team of writer Bryan Q. Miller and artist Pere Perez.

And yet, here I am enjoying the book immensely. Maybe it is that Clark 'The Blur' Kent has finally become Superman. Maybe it is because there elements in this book which are missing in the DCnU, a Superman comfortable with being a hero, a Superman who is embraced as a hero by people, and (most importantly for me) a Superman/Clark who has a great relationship with Lois.  Maybe it is because Miller is just bringing it, adding the right mix of super-heroics, characterization, and humor to the book. It is probably all of it.

Smallville #5 came out last week and added a new wrinkle to the storylines, Batman and Nightwing. And, as usual, I liked the issue.

As I said, perhaps the thing that I miss the most about the DCnU is the Clark/Lois relationship. And Smallville shows us just how great a couple they can be.

Here in the Fortress, shielded so that Lex cannot trace the special radiation he sprayed Superman with, Clark and Lois enjoy a little down time. This scene is a couple of pages long, showing how ludicrous the science of comics can sound to a 'normal' person, how deep the love between Lois and Clark is, and how perfectly Lois' personality works with the more staid Superman.

Smallville shows you that, when done right, Lois and Clark works.

Perhaps the biggest story about this issue was the inclusion of Batman and Nightwing. Of course, Nightwing was initially solicited to be Steph Brown and then was changed to Barbara when it was felt the most 'iconic' versions of characters should be represented here.

And yet, throughout this whole issue, the Nightwing character reads like Steph. After having some fun taking down some bad guys, she is chastised by Batman for showboating. This happy-go-lucky Nightwing doesn't read like Babs at all. If anything she would be more Carrie Kelly. That's two female sidekicks she sounds more like than Barbara.

The plot thickens when the gun runners state that their Metropolis connection is Joe Chill. There is a nice montage shot of small panels highlighting Batman's tragic origin including the famous 'falling pearls' image from Dark Knight Returns. Chill as the Wayne's murderer is a nice piece of DC lore to include here.

Another of the plots I love here is the 'Tess is inside Lex' thread. Last issue we saw her starting to exert some control over Lex' body. Here Luthor's flunky Otis finds him asleep at his desk. I doubt Lex would ever be found like that. He is too in control to ever let himself be caught off guard, to lose control of himself and his body like that.

I think Tess took his body for a stroll and left him there.

Of course, now that Superman can always be tracked by Lex, he can't be Clark Kent anymore. Instead he is Superman 24/7. That means he is performing a lot more super-deeds and helping out a lot more people.

I love that Lois tries to persuade people to look elsewhere for news. Heck, didn't a Luthor shuttle just explode days earlier. Aren't there bigger stories to cover. Maybe she wants to give Clark a little space so he won't burn out.

Lois just shines in this book.

As I said before, another thing I like about this book is that the public likes Superman and thinks he is a hero. This isn't the alienated person we have seen in some of the DCnU books.

We see that inspiration played out in this scene. When a terrorist with a teleportation vest takes a school bus hostage, one of the students decides to play the part of Superman ripping open his shirt to show the red S underneath. This shows how Superman as an idea can inspire even the littlest of us to do good.

Thankfully the real Superman arrives, stops the teleporter, and traces his vest-tech back to LexCorp.

I said before that Nightwing reads like Steph.

This was perhaps my favorite scene in the book, mostly because it oozes Steph-ness. She and Bruce go to Metropolis to investigate Intergang and Chill. Bruce is taken aback by the brightness of the city of tomorrow. And Nightwing teases him about how he needs the dark dank corners of Gotham to feel at home even when when they might include 'penguins that are trained to kill'.

Look at that last panel. Would Barbara ever talk like that to Bruce? Even a Smallville version of Barbara? And is this character like the 'iconic' Babs?

This is Steph.

As for that Lex-tech on the terrorist, Luthor denies knowing anything about it leading Superman to try to figure out who else could whip up such a device. The Toyman could be someone but he has been under tight supervision.

Except ...

Now we know there are (at least) two Earths. Maybe this Toyman didn't make the vest. Maybe the E2 Toyman did here on our Earth. That's my guess.

In the end, Batman decides to interrogate Intergang imprisoned boss Bruno Manheim about Joe Chill. Batman breaks into Stryker's Island and tries to beat information out of Manheim without success.

Turns out Manheim is now an acolyte of the Bible of Crime. His faith is such that he won't talk.

One of the few things that sprung from the 52 Aftermath was the Crime Bible mini-series. So I was thrilled to see that concept still existing somewhere. And to see the fanaticism in Manheim was interesting. Even Batman couldn't scare him. That's creepy.

Of course, Superman doesn't know why Batman is in the prison or why he is throttling prisoners. He tries to stop Batman leading to the rather formulaic fight between heroes when they first meet. Still, those are some pretty cool red sun gloves he has there.

So let's see - Lois and Clark, Joe Chill, a Steph-like Nightwing, and a heroic Superman embraced by the people of Metropolis. Check, check, check, check, and check. Nothing to complain about here.

Add to that Chris Cross' art on the issue which is stylized enough to be engaging but not warped enough to be off putting and you have another winning issue.

Kudos to Miller for showing how a more classic interpretation of Superman can still be a gripping story.
Now where is Kara and the Legion? I need Supergirl and "Steph" to team up again!

Overall grade: A


Gene said...

I agree with you Anj. This was Stephanie Brown with red hair. DC needs to stop insulting the intelligence of its readers.

Kyronic said...

Yeah, somehow I like the idea of Stephanie Brown being Nightwing more than Barbara Gordon as Nightwing.