Superboy #16 came out last Wednesday and was a fun issue and a decent chapter in the otherwise underwhelmed H'El on Earth crossover. The overall feel of this issue was of a more classic super-hero comic but within that punch-em-up feel were a couple of small moments and lines that added a lot of subtle depth to the characters here.
But the thing that sort of stuck out here was the slow evolution of Superboy into a hero. He is on the hero's journey too and should be growing towards something. Of course the beginning of his journey is a muddy mess of cloning, implanted memories over subliminal horrors, a strong sense of independence that initially manifested as being an isolated bratty bank robber, and being used in other comics as a plot point rather than a character. He hasn't been an easy guy to like as some of my prior reviews have shown. But in this issue, even if he continues to talk a good fight about being an angst-driven loner, his actions speak a lot louder as he heroes up and does what's right. Congratulations to writer Tom DeFalco for scrubbing some of the mud off of Kon and bringing him a little more into the light. I actually like Kon in this issue. I haven't always been able to say that.
In fact, the one glaring down side to this issue was ... not surprisingly ... the characterization of Supergirl who is just being played as the patsy here, someone gullible and emotionally distraught, easily swayed and hardly strong.
The art for the issue is done by the team of Iban Coello and Amilcar Pinna. It is bright and dynamic in most places, great in some other.
This is a great opening splash, drawing you right into the story as you see a great image of a powerful Wonder Woman ripping robots to shreds.
But the opening monologue is solid as well. Yes, there is the usual 'I am a weapon that others use' droning, that self-pitying, almost self-loathing speech we have seen almost every issue. Except ... we get that last box that shows that he might be a bit more inspired being surrounded by someone as good as Diana. It is a glimmer of something in the dark prose.
And even if he describes himself as a weapon, this is his choice to be here. He isn't a tool for someone to use. He has decided to do good.
And another thing that I really liked here was the return of true tactile telekinesis.
Now I don't know exactly why the Kryptonian armor is altering things but I like the change. The powers he was using before was frankly simple telekinesis. I always thought the 'tactile' part made his powers a bit more unique and interesting in the old universe. So this is a welcome change.
We the flash back to how the team got there. Meeting in Professor Veritas' lab, Superman reveals that H'El has broken in. No big surprise, Batman has come up with a way to get in, using Superboy's telekinesis to rip apart the force field H'El has erected. Once inside, Superman thinks a shard of Green K he keeps there can be used against H'El. Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superboy will lead a main charge. Superman and Cyborg will work the back entrance. And the Flash will speed in alone.
In some ways, this reminded me of early Justice League issues when the team would split up and try to fight a threat on many angles. There is a Gardner Fox feel here that is comforting.
Alas, Supergirl continues to be the patsy here. Inside the Fortress, H'El uses his powers to show Kara an idyllic scene of Kryptonians lounging on grass, enjoying a spring day ... that is until he shows her the same scene in the context of the planet's destruction. Shaken by this, Kara swears she will do whatever is necessary for H'El to succeed.
As I said, the Flash is on a solo mission and has to use every ounce of his speed and power to slowly work his way through the dense Kryptonian crystal.
I did like that his mission is a simple one ... rescue Supergirl. At least Superman has the fate and well being of his cousin on his mind. I thought that was a nice touch here.
Too bad Kara is quite happy with H'El and doesn't need to be 'rescued'.
With the force field down, the Batman team storm the Fortress. I thought this was also a very nice moment. With an army of K-Drones trying to stop them, Diana draws the line. She tells Superboy and Batman to move on while she stops the assault.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as a 'none shall pass' moment. Glad to see Diana get some time to shine.
Inside, Cyborg and Superman have a hard time fighting off killer droids and weapons that Superman has stashed in the Fortress.
Superboy and Batman discover that the Kryptonite is already gone. H'El has taken it.
And here is a nice Batman moment. When Superboy asks about plan B, Batman says he is already into the double letter plans. That Batman, always prepared. He says it so matter-of-factly. Perfect.
Another thing I liked is Superboy spotting Space Arks in the Fortress. Maybe Superman has a plan already set should Earth ever be nearing an end like Krypton. His space ark fleet is already built.
So we have had a good Flash moment, a good Wonder Woman moment, and a good Batman moment.
As I said above, I liked Superboy's characterization throughout this book as he really acted like a hero in joining this group. But here was his moment to shine. With Superman being teleported through a never-ending run of pocket dimensions by a Fortress weapon, Superboy potentially sacrifices himself by jumping into the ray as well. He does it to try to save Superman because 'he is needed'.
This isn't the bank robber. This isn't the 'kill maim destroy' pawn in Legion Lost. This isn't the kid fed memories telling him to kill Superman.
This is a hero doing what needs to be done. Nice. Finally.
We know that H'El on Earth ends with the arrival of The Oracle, whatever that is. Now we see that some of the Stormwatch stuff that has been worked into the Superman book before. This issue ends with a couple of pages showing the re-arrival of the hornblower we saw way back in the Superman book near the beginning of the New 52. How does all that work into this mess.
So overall, this was the first Superboy issue in a long time that I can say I truly enjoyed. It had an old school JLA feel. It had some very nice moments for the JLA members. There was definitely a Silver Age sort of vibe here and I didn't mind that. It had Superman worrying about Kara enough to send the Flash in on a rescue mission. It had Superboy stepping up and becoming a hero. Even the glimpses into this new Fortress was fun.
In fact it had everything except a decent Supergirl. I really think that H'El on Earth is going to slow down the character momentum that Mike Johnson was building in her book.
Overall grade: B+