Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Superboy Annual #1

Superboy Annual #1 came out this week, a sort of ancillary chapter to the H'El On Earth storyline.

There is a lot to talk about in regards to this annual, unfortunately not much of it revolves around the story. This is an annual, a bigger issue than the standard monthly book, but the story seems small. It feels like this could have easily been told in 20 pages (or less) but instead we have a sort of retread of scenes and even dialogue within the issue itself. As the two heroes battle monsters in several 'dimensions', Superboy states he is snarky many times, he says Superman lectures several times, Superman denies lecturing but then wonders if he does twice. Superboy says "egocentric much" and "paranoid much" within a 3 panel sequence.

So even though there are some nice scenes where Superman and Superboy are getting to know each other, revealing some of their backgrounds to each other, and maybe appreciating each others' viewpoint a little, the problem is these scenes seem to repeat themselves here, as if the story needed to be stretched to fill the page count.

And I don't think I am wrong in my guess that there were some last minute rewrites and finagling of this book. For one, look at that art list. Could some of these artists be brought in last minute to redraw some pages to fit the new script?

And let's not forget the original cover and solicit  for this book.

Written by TOM DeFALCO

• As the battle to stop H’El rages on, Superman learns the truth about just what Superboy is...But is it the whole truth?
• Rose Wilson of The Ravagers crashes back into Superboy’s life — and she’s got some dangerous new ideas about his destiny!
• And if you thought the drama between Superboy and Superman was intense...Just wait until Rose’s father enters the mix!

While Rose appears in one flashback panel, there is no Deathstroke to be seen here. Now there is a man/woman pair within the story that might just be placeholders for the Deathstroke/Ravager spots in the original story.

So what we get is a book which only touches on H'El on Earth tangentially. It is a muddled story. And in the end, this feeling that things aren't quite right here takes away from some interesting introspection by Superboy.

I'll also add that Tom DeFalco's script has Superboy talk in some places like an older guy trying to sound like a young kid. The slang and sarcasm seems forced in some places.

As for the art, you can't get that many artists on one book without it feeling disjointed in some places.

I'll try to focus on the highlights.

We open up with a warped Superboy realizing that he has done something important. He has made a choice, on his own, to do something good ... to do something for someone else.

I think about Superboy right now as a sort of character in a Philip K. Dick novel. He is trying to figure out is he a human or is he an automaton, is he in control or being controlled, is he 'real' or not. And so these critical moments where he takes a stand, breaks out of his 'I am a weapon' speeches show some growth.

Superman reveals this place is a prison used by a space pirate named Garso, someplace he could send his enemies. And, the conversation is being observed by someone from afar.

Now why this first dimension had to have warped physics, stretching the characters like taffy, I don't know. It doesn't seem to impact things other than to let the artists have some fun with perspective. Because soon after landing here, they end up in another dimension.

I think I have mentioned in some places that Supergirl is being treated shabbily in this arc.

Even here she wonders out loud why Superman would be against the resurrection of Superman. You would think she would want to ask him his reasons. You would think she might ask H'El how he is going to save things.

And the irony of her constantly talking about how the fate of a world is in the balance knowing that it is the fate of Earth not Krypton just makes her sound that much more doltish.

I want an intelligent and strong Supergirl. Someone taken in so quickly by a stranger is neither.

Leaving the warped dimension, the two heroes end up in something more Kansas-like. However, the soil itself comes alive and attacks them. And here is the first of the 'lecturing' back and forth.

What is nice is that Superman reveals his background, growing up on a farm, living his whole life on Earth. In return, Superboy reveals his clone origins, N.O.W.H.E.R.E., and the subliminals he was raised on.

Superman, naturally, has questions about how his DNA got taken and who Superboy is supposed to kill. So I thought these interactions were good as the two seem to be engaging in some camaraderie, Superboy taking in the good things about Superman and Superman listening to how he is perceived. But it is weighed down by some fairly stilted dialogue.

"Paranoid much" just sounds forced, especially one panel away from 'egocentric much'. And this leads Superman to talk about how snarky Superboy is.

This whole aspect of Superboy becoming more independent and recognizing his self-worth is probably the thing I am most intrigued about with his character.

Throughout his stay in this place he feels echoes of pain and sorrow which turn out to be from the place itself. Originally built to be something good (a hospital) she has been corrupted by the pirates into a 'murdering prison', basically weaponized. Of course Superboy is going to feel that this place is a kindred spirit. And of course he is going to want to help her if only to give himself hope.

I don't know how I feel about him having latent telepathy though. This weird version of tactile TK still confuses me.

But those moments seem lost in this rushed and repetitive narrative.

Even simple things like Kara's s-shield being backwards just stand out as this being a rush job.

When it becomes clear that Superboy can communicate with the planetary entity, the two criminals who were peeping decide to show up, hoping Superboy can free them.

Now it is a man and a woman, Garso's brother and his consort, who have been trapped there for years.

Could this pair have been Deathstroke and Rose in some prior incarnation of the script? Could that have been part of the rewrite?

Luckily Superboy can still communicate with this thing and together they send the two criminals away, marooned on some distant asteroid. With them gone, this place can begin to heal and become a healing place again. And now in control of its functions, the planet spits the Supers out, back on Earth just a couple of minutes after they were sucked in.

In the end, it is sort of a 'whatever' moment. We don't know these villains. We don't know this place. It is unlikely we will ever see them again. And the two Supers are back too soon for their disappearance to really effect things.

So does a couple of good character moments between Superboy and Superman save this book? Does Superboy helping someone in his predicament reach independence elevate this? No matter how good those moments are, I just don't think so. There are too many repetitive scenes, too much disconnects in the art flow, too much that makes this just read like a rush job.

And, most of all, it just doesn't progress H'El on Earth at all.

Still, Superboy seems to be moving along on his hero's journey while Supergirl is taking some steps back.

Overall grade: C


tony said...

Gottta say that was a terrible review are caught up in things that you dont let what this issue was about standout at all.this annual wasnt about aliens or different dimensions,it was about two things,superboy and superman relating to each other,and two it was to show that kon is a guy who cares deeply,actually humble,quick on his feet,and never gives up when he feels the cause is right.
The art wasnt bad anywhere kn this book,sure there was many different artists,but it wasnt jarring,and it was actually decent,which isnt always the case.
Defalco might have hokey dialogue,and the enviromemt and plot might be cliche,but it wasnt about that,this was a character piece,and SBs character grew and shined here.

Ive been trying to explain his TTK to you for awhile now,but you still act like its so hard to understand when its not.nuTTK-kryptonian power level TK with a tactile sensitivity that works like a antenna,which allows him to receive all forms of signals,thats why he can sense consciousnesses,auras,sounds,and scan for things on the other side of islands or microscopic things in drinks.he isnt a telepath,but he can sense telepathic messages,thats why he communicating in this issue,but probably also how he fought off Kiva awhile back.

Anj said...

I think we actually agree about this issue Tony. I also thought that the Superman/Superboy stuff ... revealing, learning, growing ... was all very good.

And maybe that made the rest of it sort of stick out. I couldn't help but feel that this could have been told in 20 pages, not an annual, and that it was rushed. And that was disappointing.

I suppose that makes me glass half empty.

tony said...

No doubt it didnt have to be in a 38 page annual,and i think they could have been doing anything in this issue and still got the same result.kon was shown intelligent,humble,he just came off like a lead hero here finally,but he did it his way,not supermans,which i think is where many complain about SB in this issue.sure he was a lil overboard with supes,like a regular kid stuck with someone they cant stand.i think the points that SB made about superman here is somewhat how ppl who dont like superman see him,and defalco was using kon as their voice was really nice how defalco showed how much kon actually cared about the machines AI here,i think this issue showed more aspects of who kon was,and helped with those who say he has been nothing but a hollow robot so far in the reboot,not anymore now.

Gear said...

I think I liked this one a bit more than you did ANJ if only because we got to see some development between the two main characters, something this arc and the Super books in general have been lacking.  But the obvious rework that was done with both story and art really affected the overall quality.  But I think I like what DeFalco is doing a lot more than the rest of this arc.

Dave Mullen said...

I'd love to know who makes these decisions to redo an issue at the 11th hour and why.
They did the same thing with the Superman Annual, instead on an intergalactic Hunger Games yarn we got a very patchy Helspont story with fill-in artists of wildly varying ability.

Superboy Annual wasn't bad, just unnecessary. I do like the character work and rebelliousness of Kon-el here, overcompensating and trying to assert his own identity over Superman's. I agree with the criticism of his tactile TK, the way it was originally presented was very intriguing but as time has passed and now with the damage of H'el on Earth it has become a very murky power. It's rules and method need to be re-emphasised before it turns into pure plot device mechanics.

Anj said...

Thanks again for the posts.

While this didn't move H'El on Earth forward, it did move the relationship between Kal and Kon forward. And yes, Superboy acting on his own and empathizing with the prison was good. But again, this just felt rushed.

I do think this arc has made Superboy closer to heroic and farther away from bank robber. Too bad Kara looks so bad at the same time.

tony said...

Dave what makes his TTK murky? He has TK,either touch or no touch that lets him sense everything around him,be it Pandora,sounds,breakdown of weapons and drinks,to scanning entire bldg or islands,and auras and consciousness,.why are you not complaining when captain atom was sending mental messages to his scientists friend in his book,but kon only senses a consciousness and communicates with it and its over the type? Everything gives off energy,be it a actual object or a action,he senses these energies,simple as that.

Martin Gray said...

Thanks Anj, I never knew about the massive disparity between the solicits and what we got, though I had been told Rose and Slade Yawn-Wilson were due at one poi t (thanks PRGIrl1294!). For what it was, I enjoyed the book a lot - shifting art, yes, but some of it very good, especially towards the end. And as you say, there was real movement in the Superman/Superboy relationship. And I thought some of the banter was great.

But yeah, it did feel very padded. And poor Kara.