There was a feel of momentum building with the Superboy comic in the last couple of months and I was enjoying this book more than I had in quite some time. With the over-arching and overbearing Harvest/Culling storyline in the past and by purposefully forgetting about the Jon Lane Kent debacle, as well as enjoying writer Justin Jordan's less grim and often humorous stories, I thought this book was turning something of a corner. Unfortunately, it was recently announced that Justin Jordan was leaving the book. (I shouldn't be surprised about creative turnover at DC.)
Superboy #22 came this week and the issue felt sort of flat. Maybe it was because I knew that Jordan's time was limited, or maybe it was because the art by Gui Balbi was rather rough, or maybe it was because the plot (Superboy going undercover in high school) seemed to be more forced or cliched than I have been used to, but this issue fell a bit short of the recent mark.
To add to that, I have to say I am getting pretty bored with blood-soaked and grim covers on this book. Sure, maybe there isn't any blood here. But do I need to hear that Superboy might have to KILL PEOPLE! Sigh. Enough DC. Not every book needs to be an ultra-violent gore fest.
The underlying story of Superboy teaming up with Dr. Psycho to undermine H.I.V.E.'s efforts continues here.
But first we are reminded of one Jocelyn Lure, the Science Police Officer from the future, thinks that somehow Superboy has altered the timeline such that things are changing before her eyes.But when she breaks into Superboy's apartment, she finds everything draped and packed. He isn't there.
It's funny, even though this particular storyline was started by Jordan, it feels passe. It feels like part of the earlier stories. And the Dr. Psycho/H.I.V.E. arc feels more and more like a soft reboot. To be honest, I had completely forgotten this plotline was happening.
Superboy isn't there because he has gone undercover in high school. Psycho has felt a psionic disturbance there, something big enough to attract H.I.V.E.'s attention. In the recent past, several students have gone psychotic without a clear reason.
There is some fun stuff here. The school is McDuffie High School, a nice nod to the late great Dwayne McDuffie. And it is nice to see Superboy called Conner Kent ... or is it Connor Kent? Two spellings in one panel?? And how did he get the Kent last name?
But Jordan then has the school sort of boil down to stereotypes. There is the preppy girl, the punk girl Eliza, the enraged jock. And while everyone initially flocks to Conner because of his good looks, they just as quickly ostracize him when he confronts the popular boy in school. Jordan really makes high school seem like a crucible, something to survive, something horrible.
Again, there are some nice bits sprinkled throughout. I like Conner's discussion of his prior schooling. He has never been to 'school'. He was 'home schooled'. He has no parents. All true given his creation. He questions what the teachers are teaching, working his way up the discipline ladder from guidance counselor to principal to superintendent. While amusing, it is hard to imagine the school dealing with just him and not some sort of guardian.
Anyways, I have read comics enough to know that this nameless girl who is smiling in the first panel and then depressed in the next is going to have some role in this story. She is probably the psionic, someone who feels so alone she lashes out. Why have her star in this panel otherwise.
Early on in the book, Conner looks at other students and sees monsters in their place, presumably the psionic attack. Now the popular kid from earlier in the book seems to suffer the same attack, lashing out at everyone in fear.
Conner ends his attacks by knocking him out. Surprisingly, even though he just 'saved' people, Conner is labeled a 'freak' and falls further down the high school pecking order. And is he wearing a S-shield shirt? Hide in plain sight?
Eliza, Conner's one friend, really voices the downbeat sentiment about high school. She seems to dislike everyone and hates the whole social experience. She would seem to be the obvious choice for the embedded psionic. But I know better.
Now Dr. Psycho and Krypto are around for the ride, hiding in the school storage shed and ready to help.
When the popular boy is carted away, Superboy and Psycho spell out the situation. Psycho can't figure out who is behind the attacks, but it is powerful. H.I.V.E. will be closing in soon unless they stop the attacker.
One of the things I have liked in the last few issues is the banter between Psycho and Superboy. There simply wasn't enough of that in this issue as Psycho only appears in a handful of panels.
Eliza continues her rant against humanity. She has no compassion for those who have been carted away. She says 'either you're a cool kid, a weird kid, or just one of the kids no one sees. Kids are monsters, including you. Including me.'
And after that rant, Superboy seems to be attacked, suddenly seeing everyone in the school as monsters. Hmmm, maybe Eliza IS the psionic. Superboy touches her shoulder right before this splash.
I don't know. Maybe I am too far removed from High School to remember whether it was that horrific. I certainly wasn't popular ... but I had friends. I didn't think everyone was awful.
It looks as if everyone is effected. Even Krypto. Of course, nothing is as it seems with psionic attacks. This all has to be an illusion, a way to make Superboy unwittingly attack everyone thinking they are creatures. This isn't real.
I suppose if you are one of the disenfranchised, if you feel that you are alone and everyone else is horrible, and if you have super-powers, then you might blast into everyone's mind and have them see the world as you do.
But after a couple of lighter issues in this title, this issue felt relentlessly depressing. Add to that some pedestrian art and this issue felt like a baby step backwards.