Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Superboy #2

Superboy #2 came out this week and built nicely upon the momentum of the first issue. In many ways, I felt that the first issue was simply setting up the environment of the book ... the idea of Smallville, the camaraderie of Simon and Conner, the personal evolution that Superboy is going through. It was a nice foundation ending with a decent hook - the arrival of Poison Ivy. If I could subtract the perplexing defeat of the Parasite (taken down by a cloud of wheat kernels) from the issue, it would have been great.

With the first issue behind us and the basics of the title established, writer Jeff Lemire can crank up the intrigue, spinning a pretty satisfying quasi 'one and done' story that teases at some of the bigger storylines planned.

Moreover, Pier Gallo's art in this issue is crisp, especially his rendition of Poison Ivy. The one detraction from the art is the 'there/not there/there but in color only' thigh high boots she is wearing. In some panels they are delineated. In others, they aren't there. It was minimally distracting, the only downside to the art throughout.

With the Parasite defeated, Superboy and his friends find themselves entangled in giant wheat stalks. As if on cue, Poison Ivy arrives. Superboy assumes that she is behind this plant-life assault. Ivy claims that she was drawn to Smallville by 'shift' within the Green. Her powers are gone. And she is here to try to stop whatever is effecting the plant elementals worldwide.

In a classic comic moment, she actually tells Superboy that the two of them need to team up.

Yes, this is a dramatic butt shot of Ivy (and there are several of them throughout the book), but to be honest one of the things I liked about Gallo's art was his otherwise understated and sultry Ivy. There is no doubt she is sexy, part of her character, but she isn't put in senselessly provocative poses.

For example, this panel with the cascading hair tendrils and smoky eyes shows a very sensual Ivy. We don't need more that that. We don't need her to be in a 'broke back' position to accomplish what the art does alone.

Ivy again reiterates that currently she is powerless. If she had her powers, wouldn't she simply use them to get hypnotic control of Superboy to do her bidding. You can't knock the logic so the two indeed team-up. Ivy can sense the source of the power and can lead Conner to it.

Superboy asks Simon to stay behind and Simon begrudgingly agrees. Alone with the Parasite, Simon grabs some of the super-villains's tissue and runs to his lab.

The two fight their way through walls of enormous vegetation as Ivy leads Superboy to the epicenter of the plant disturbance.

You can sense Ivy trying to slowly seduce Conner, making him 'save' her from the plants, touching his body, speaking provocatively of needing to go just a bit further. Lemire clearly has a good sense of Ivy's voice, her power over the baser needs of men. Impressively, Superboy wants no part of it, shunning her advances.

The focal point of this disaster is a local farm. The scene inside is pretty disturbing as old farmer Mr. Gilliam is attached to some sort of odd device - what appears to be farm equipment linked to some central more sinister looking globe, apparently with a timer counting down.

I always find images like this creepy. I mean, there are a bunch of machine coils embedded in this guy's chest and he is awake and begging for help, raving about a 'broken silo'. I don't think Lemire is always going to have Conner fight your standard super-villains and bank robbers. This is more twisted.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised but it turns out that Ivy was faking. She did have her powers. She rips the coils from Farmer Gilliam's chest, potentially killing him. Then she turns on her mind-control powers, attempting to hypnotize Conner and claim the machine for herself.

See how we aren't seeing the tops of her boots here? Still, she is very fetching in an understated sort of way.

And here, again, no boots. A small complaint ... the only complaint I have about Gallo's stuff here.

Just as Superboy is about to succumb to Ivy's power, Simon shows up with the remarkably swift results of his experiments ... Parasite frogs! Simon sends his amphibian army at Ivy, draining her, overpowering her. Suddenly Conner is free.

I hope Simon doesn't become an easy science answer out of every problem in this book. I hope he doesn't have an invention that saves the day all the time. I worry about him becoming a deus ex macina. Regardless of his brilliance, it was a bit quick for him to merge frog/Parasite genetics and create a frog mind control device.

And I wonder how much Pier Gallo likes having to draw a bunch of frogs in Parasite togs.

While Ivy is incapacitated, the device, unfortunately, continues to count down. Without knowing exactly what it will do, Superboy grabs the globe and flies it away from Smallville.

Surprisingly, it isn't a bomb. At time zero, it seems to simply flash. It doesn't apparently harm Superboy. And once that happens, the weirdness around town disappears. The machine dissolves; the giant plants recede. Even the Parasite seems to disappear.

Heading back to the farm, Superboy is happy to see that somehow Farmer Gilliam is alive (after some timely CPR by Simon).

But more importantly, a chunk of the machine has remained intact, inscribed with some odd language. Hey I recognize that symbol in the center! Isn't that the magical symbol of Arion, Lord of Atlantis?

Arion has gone through all sorts of incarnations in the DCU, some more evil than others. He has had some interesting interactions with Superman so maybe we will be seeing some ancient Atlantean badness here.

All along, I have wondered if Simon is destined to somehow be Conner's version of Luthor. Or maybe it is supposed to show what would have happened if the Clark Superboy befriended Lex.

Anyways, this scene makes me wonder if we might be seeing the beginning of a rift. Superboy doesn't want to expose Simon to any danger. Conner thinks Smallville is his to defend. He needs to trust Simon.

And while Simon says the right things now, you could see how he might get aggravated by Conner's words. Smallville isn't just Conner's.

The issue ends with another great hook. It turns out the machine's purpose was to scan Superboy's physiology. And it seems some cabal of  weird Quaker-like farmers was behind the attack on Smallville. Man, these guys also look creepy.

I have said it before, there is a definite David Lynch feel to this book, that sense of some bizarre world existing under the shiny idyllic Smallville exterior.

I really felt that this was a pretty dramatic upgrade from the first issue of Superboy, an issue I enjoyed. But that first issue felt like Lemire was dipping his toes in the water and here he was swimming. I liked how there was a clear story here that ended (threat of the machine on Smallville) but with building blocks for bigger arcs too. And it works on two levels - a fun level with Parasite frogs and flash bombs and a darker level with farmers hooked up to machines and weird farmers.

I have raved about Gallo's art enough but I thought it really was slick here.

I did think Simon's frog experiment was a bit too quick and Ivy's boots detracted just a touch. But those are garnishes next to an otherwise tasty steak.

Overall grade: A-


Jason said...

Interesting story, indeed, it looks like. Of course, I see the Arion symbol and think of Power Girl and the mess DC made of her by trying to intertwine her post-Crisis origins with his.

Rnndy said...

Having Poison Ivy being defeated by a bunch of frogs is probably the most insulting capture she has suffered. I wish they had shown her being cuffed and taken away. Otherwise a great story and a nice review.