I know I am woefully behind the times with my Smallville reviews. For one, Smallville is a 'digital first' comic and I have yet to embrace that media. So by the time the print version comes out, fans are weeks ahead of me. And, for some reason, Smallville usually ends up being the last book that I review the week it comes out. And so, quite late, here is my Smallville #9 review.
I have applauded Bryan Q. Miller's work as writer on the book, the sort of perfect mix of old school Superman heroics, great Lois/Clark interactions, and a great sprinkling of humor. But above and beyond that, Miller has been able to get me interested in the ancillary characters of the show ... particularly the ghostly Tess and even Chloe.
This issue starts the Haunted story arc and the title works on a couple of levels. One is that Tess subplot. I have really loved that particular story as a possessed Lex tries to deal with his sister running around in his head. He is truly haunted. But we also have Impulse in this arc and judging by the last scene there is a good reason for his story to be haunted too.
Jorge Jimenez comes on board as art and his style has a fine-lined slick feel to it.
The book opens inside Lex's mind, a sort of nightmarish realm of bad memories and old orphanages. This part has a very eerie feel to it which is a nice way to open up something called 'Haunted'.
But the thing I loved about this is how the Tess/Lex dynamic, two minds sharing one body, is becoming something of a cat-and-mouse game. For the first 2 arcs, Tess has really had something of an upper hand. She has been lurking in Lex's mind ... initially undiscovered but then slowly gaining some control over his body.
Now that Lex knows that Tess is possessing him, he turns the table. The hunted becomes the hunter as he chases the spirit of Tess through the hallways of his mind hoping to drain her of all her knowledge (which includes a lot of information about Superman). I just think this works especially given the horror title. It just feels like a suspense film.
Lex's mind dive is interrupted by an attack on the LexCorp tower by Psimon. Superman is doing his best to hold the psionic at bay when Lex shows himself.
Psimon is looking for revenge given that Lex experimented on him, making him a freak. So this 'new Lex' is being haunted by decisions made by the 'old Lex'. These skeletons in Lex's closet are going to keep showing up looking for their pound of flesh.
And playing innocent by claiming amnesia has made him a new man isn't going to work for Lex. Those wounds are deep and can't be covered by a bandaid. Here, Psimon still tries to pulp Lex only to have Superman fly him to safety.
Luckily for Superman, Impulse shows up and uses his raw speed to outmaneuver Psimon's attacks. A flurry of super-speed punches defeats the villain.
But this phrase about needing to snack because speed is a 'killer' is too loaded of a statement to take solely as snappy banter. This was nice foreshadowing for the end of the issue.
As I have said before, Smallville is were I go when I need my Lois-fix. In this book she is smart, spunky, sexy, and indefatigable. She does her best to worm some information about Psimon out of Otis before he shows her in. She is formidable.
But what I loved here is that Otis' full name is Otis Berg. Remember in the first Donner Superman movie when Lex describes the cities in his 'new' West Coast, one of the cities is Otisberg. Okay, it is a small Easter Egg joke ... but funny!
Now when the issue started I was worried that Lex might be just the domineering persona within his body, that Tess was going to be reduced to a frightened girl spirit cowering the dusty corners of his mind.
Those fears were allayed pretty quickly. While talking to Lois about trying to make amends for past indiscretions, Lex ... unknowingly ... writes a note to Lois that says 'help'. It is clear that Tess is behind this, literally standing behind Lex. She has more control over him now. So she seems like she isn't quite as helpless as that early scene made out.
So who is the cat and who is the mouse here?
Meanwhile, Clark and Bart catch up by racing around the world and reminiscing.
It is unclear just why Bart has surfaced. But this was a nice scene where the two talk about what they mean to each other.
Despite being threatened by Psimon, Lex actually thinks the telepath can help him. Maybe Psimon's abilities can restore some of Lex's memories. Luthor asks Psimon to scan him and in return he'll help Psimon as much as he can.
The brief scan from Psimon reveals Tess' presence. I love her holding her finger to her lips as Psimon looks on, asking him to be quiet about knowing her possession. She is sly and I think is playing with Lex. Maybe that opening scene was to make Lex feel more confident about being able to control her presence.
But what I love here is that Psimon's hatred for Lex is greater than his desire to get help (albeit from Lex). He keeps Tess' presence under wraps knowing that she can harm Lex more easily than he can.
I really love this plotline. Just intriguing.
The issue ends with a nice super-hero fight. Superman and Impulse battle Monsieur Mallah, The Brain, and a troop of armed monkeys.
I love that Miller riffs on Mallah and The Brain's romantic relationship. The last time we saw that was way back in Morrison's Doom Patrol run.
And now another meaning of Haunted comes out. While Superman eliminates Mallah (and that is great panel construction by Jimenez), Bart runs at superspeed to pluck all the bullets out of the air. But that run gets the attention of something ... the Black Flash, here an almost animalistic dark beast hissing out words. When running, Bart is haunted by this thing.
But what is it?
It has to be ....HAS TO BE ... the Flash from Earth 2 trying to warn this world's Impulse about the upcoming Crisis. Look at that body. Doesn't it have the feel of the decaying Flash from Crisis on Infinite Earths? Wouldn't it make sense that they could communicate only when plugged into the speed? I think I am on to something here.
And adding Impulse to Batman as guest stars sounds like a League is being formed to fight that huge upcoming threat.
I enjoyed this issue a lot, thinking it a nice opening chapter for this arc mixing in the usual action, humor, characterization, as well as a sort of sci-fi ghost story. It all works!