Superboy #19 came out this week, an issue with a lot of surprises, perhaps most importantly that the writer was Scott Lobdell. The book is scheduled to have Justin Jordan take over the book shortly and it seems as if Lobdell needed to stir the pot one last time.
The truth is I have had something of a hard time with Superboy in general because it seems to be a book always in flux. There hasn't exactly been a solid foundation for the character over this first year and a half. First he was a clone for N.O.W.H.E.R.E. being fed Smallville memories to try to get him under control. Then he was a pawn of Harvest being fed subliminal subliminal messages to attack Superman. Then he was a bank-robbing loner who was living it up with the social scene. Then he was the unlikely hero of H'El on Earth, realizing Superman is an inspiration and trying to fall in line. Whew ...
Well, Lobdell has decided to make things even murkier and in some ways even less palatable than the bank-robbing Kon I so disliked earlier in the book. I have decided that Lobdell is something of a provocateur, someone who simply is trying to get a rise out of people. And this issue's 'WTF' reveal that Superboy is the mix of Superman and Lois DNA feels just like that. While it has some short term shock value, there is little long term thought to this. And given that a lot of on-line criticism of Lobdell has been his treatment of Lois in Superman, this seems like a further needling of that faction of fans. I can imagine him thinking "You don't like how I treat Lois huh ... let me make her son be a killer ... how do you like that??"
The Superman/Luthor genetic mix made sense given the edgier feel of Kon, a sort of nature/nurture tug-of-war. Even last issue's cliffhanger of Luthor being around on an even deeper level of Kon's psyche, made me think that the reveal of Luthor as the half-father was imminent.
The art is split between Diogenes Neves and RB Silva.
This issue is really as much an origin issue for Harvest as it is another origin issue for Superboy.
The book starts in a dystopian future. In the 30th century, humans have organized to kill all the meta-humans on the planet. And Harvest, then a colonel in the human army, was one of the better killers. He justified his murdering as a way to protect his son Venn.
One night, his son is kidnapped and killed by some metas. And as a result, this colonel decides he must take matters into his own hands. If he cannot stop the metas in his time, he will go back in time to stop them, killing them in their infancy.
Now who wants to bet that we discover later on that the 'kidnapper' isn't a meta? There has to be one more layer of irony upcoming.
Harvest breaks into an early Time Institute and allows his body to be bombarded with 'unstable chronal energy' which allows him to travel back in time. Harvest wants to stop the very first metas and the face of that generation is Superman. And thus he is there when we see this joyous event, Superman and Lois in love, together, and the proud parents of a new baby boy Jon Lane Kent.
Now I will give Lobdell some kudos. Since born on a yellow sun world, the baby develops new powers, things Superman doesn't, including apparently telekinesis. It is, at the very least, a slight explanation for Superboy's tactile TK.
But the baby ends up going comatose, seemingly dead but more in a chrysalis stage.
While Superman and Lois grieve, somehow ... and it isn't really explained ... Harvest is able to abscond with the baby and use his knowledge and technology he has encountered in his travels to save him. And thus, Harvest will use his enemy Superman's son as a weapon against him.
Now my problem with this is how Superman would ever allow his son, placed in a shrine of some sort, to be kidnapped without much of a response.
And doesn't it seem like a move to provoke a response and agitate fandom? Ooohhh ... Superman and Lois' child is a cold-hearted killer!
This being a 'grim and gritty' comic, this original Superboy becomes the perfect killing machine for Harvest. He is raised by Harvest to hate heroes and uses his immense powers to kill as many metas that he can. Ironically, one of the character we see him kill is Steel ... who isn't a metan at all!
While the more classic Superboy costume is a nice Easter egg, I am sick of images like this - the 'hero' maniacally sitting on his throne.
Now I have to assume that this Superboy is simply raised by Harvest at that time meaning that Superman and Lois are probably around. But again, we don't see them.
Unfortunately, the same genetic disturbance that effected this Superboy as a toddler effects him again. Once more he goes comatose. Harvest has somehow developed paternal feelings for this Superboy and decides he must save him. How delicious will it be for his enemy's son to be the ultimate revenge, especially since it was the loss of Harvest's son that started this.
Despite losing more of his body, becoming more monstrous, with each trip through time, Harvest takes the original Superboy back to the first days of Superman. He needs to get DNA from Lois and Superman to recreate an offspring and see if he can stop the genetic instability.
Again, I will give Lobdell kudos when warranted. Superman's blood was free-flowing at this moment in Action Comics so it makes sense that Harvest would head to this moment to get some Kryptonian DNA. We are never told how he gets Lois'.
And that is why 'our' Superboy is created. So Harvest can study him to see if he can learn to help the 'original' Superboy.
Unfortunately, this whole storyline seems to fly in the face of stuff that has been happening since the first issue. Heck, it undoes the cliffhanger from the last issue.
Realizing he has to explain the image of Luthor that Dr. Psycho sees, Harvest gives us some exposition saying that Luthor placed that image there.
Seems to me we were about to learn that Luthor was the other half of Kon's DNA when Lobdell decided to do a switcheroo.
At least we get a reference to Kon having his DNA unraveled by H'El. Remember this part of that story, that Kon was dying? It hasn't been rectified or explained since the end of that story. How is Kon not dying now? How did he get cured?
Well, we don't get an answer here either. But this attack by H'El has given Harvest the answer he needs to revive the 'original' Superboy. Isn't that convenient.
After all, how else can we get Clark and Lois' killer son alive in the DCnU?
Oooohh ... soooo cooolll ... Superman and Lois' child is a murdering villain! Sigh.
It seems that every time I think there is a glimmer of optimism in this New 52, it is quickly taken away. I was really enjoying the turn that Superboy was making, becoming more of a hero and head out on his own. I even thought that the Luthor reveal was timed perfectly. How ironic that just when Superboy is at his most heroic, he discovers he has villainous Luthor DNA.
That all seems to be swept away. Instead we get this new new new origin and a Superboy made from Superman and Lois DNA. The pulse of this character was that he was edgier and that the Superman/Luthor origin made it interesting. Remember the Geoff Johns' Adventure arc where that Conner writes lists 'what would Superman do?' and 'what would Luthor do?' That worked well. How can I explain the edginess of this character when the DNA is Lois and Clark? I suppose I can ... but it won't have the same juice as the Luthor reveal.
But the bigger thing is that this is one more ripple in the Superboy book. I can't easily explain this book to other people. And just when I thought things had steadied, Lobdell pulls the carpet out from under. I can only hope that the more positive feel of Kon isn't erased because of this plot.
Like many reveals in this DCnU, this one feels like it being done for a short term buzz rather than a long term foundation for a character. A universe can't survive like this.