Monday, January 10, 2011

Review: Superboy #3

Superboy #3 was released last week, graced with a very nice Phil Noto cover, and continued a very strong beginning for this title.

Things have been happening at a pretty breakneck pace in the title so far. There has barely been a chance to pause and catch your breath as one crisis after another just seems to be descending on Smallville. My guess is that all these things are eventually going to come together and become some sort of over-arching plot. But for now they seem to be individual craziness drawn to this lazy little midwest town.

Despite these threats, writer Jeff Lemire inserts short but powerful scenes that continue to build upon the characters and their motivations.

In this issue, for example, we see the Lori and Simon subplots all advanced. But Lemire keeps the pressure on by telling the story in a nonlinear pattern. The main plot of the issue is an occurrence within the high school. But Lemire puts flashbacks of calmer times throughout. These character building moments all occurred before the crisis in the school. Had the issue been told chronologically we would have had a nice period of calm high school interactions followed by headier action sequences. By instead showing us the psychic attack on the students on nearly every other page, I felt like I was sitting on the edge of my seat the whole read. So that sense of insane pacing felt maintained despite these intermittent quieter moments. I often wonder why some authors tell their stories in nonlinear ways. Here, by doing so, Lemire kept the pressure on. (Hopefully this paragraph makes as much sense written as it does in my mind.)

The issue starts with Krypto waking up Ma and Conner in the wee hours of the morning. The super-dog is clearly spooked by something as he howls at the night. Conner scans the town but doesn't see any obvious problems.

The last issue ended with creepy farmers overjoyed with their scan of Superboy. Clearly something ominous is percolating under the serene surface of Smallville. This small touch of Krypto sensing something isn't right added the perfect twinge of unease.

Like many young heroes, Superboy worries if he is doing things correctly, if he is a magnet for problems. He worries that the destruction the Parasite left in his wake might bankrupt some of Smallville's farmers.

Ma assures him that Smallville folks are made of sturdy stuff and have always found a way to survive.

I especially liked this panel arrangement with Ma holding her 'World's Greatest Mother' mug, the picture of Pa in the background. It was an effective way of grounding all she said as real rather than just optimism. She is wise and her and Pa lived through worse than this.

But the real action in the story is happening in the high school where everyone suddenly suffers massive head pain and collapse unconscious. Superboy thinks he is the only one who withstood the mental assault (albeit as Conner) and gets into his costume to do some super-heroic heavy lifting.

Surprisingly, Lori seems completely unaffected by the attack. And she catches sight of Conner changing. Just like that she knows his secret identity.

But why would Lori not be effected? That's the more interesting question for me. I wonder if she has some sort of latent mental powers that would shield her. Remember, she is Lena Luthor's daughter. In the Silver Age, Lena had ESP after exposure to an alien brain. While it was never established that *this* Lena had powers, could Lori have some vestigial power too?

As I said before, this event at the school runs through the book. As Conner walks through the hallways littered with unconscious students, as he talks to Lori, we are shown events from earlier in the day.

We see Conner start to arrange a race between him and Kid Flash, a race for charity to help out those in Smallville who need some financial help. I like the playful exchange between friends ... especially Bart who thinks it won't be much of a race. We know this race is happening in an upcoming issue.

We also see Simon get pushed away a bit more by Conner.

Concerned about his secret identity, Conner realizes that Simon can't hang out with both 'Conner' and 'Superboy'. It would be too suspicious. So Conner tells Simon they can't be friends anymore in the High School setting.

Simon is clearly devastated. Conner is his only friend at school. He'll be isolated. But Con is adamant; their visible friendship in school is over. Even though he says they will still hang out after school, Conner just doesn't see how much this hurts Simon. Nice use of empty space in this panel to show how alone Simon feels now.

All along I have felt that Simon is a 'Lex-in-waiting'. Pushing him like this is a surefire way to make that a reality.

And then we see how the event at the school happened with everyone suddenly dropping and Superboy getting a crushing headache.

Again, the nonlinear way this story unrolled kept me interested, concerned, and made me feel  unsettled, adding to my concern for the characters.

At last the nexus of this problem manifests in the school when a portal opens up in the hallways.

I like how Conner's first thoughts are for Lori's safety.

And then out of the portal comes 'Psionic Lad', an apparent superhero from the near future, 2216 to be exact. His powers cause psychic ripples, explaining the sudden collapse of the school.

And, of course, he has come to Smallville because he needs Superboy's help.

One line I loved was Superboy asking Psionic Lad if his codename was 'Thought Balloon Boy". Funny.

Before he can explain why he needs Superboy's help, another crew of time-travelers come through another rift. These guys are armed and armored, and are trying to stop Psionic Lad from interacting with Conner. Almost immediately they fire on Superboy, incapacitating him.

And just like that the issue ends. Nice hook for next issue.

Because of the frenetic pacing of the main storyline, the threat at the school, the issue seemed to end almost too quickly. It is a nice compliment to Lemire that he was able to slide in these smaller scenes, the more character driven ones, into the issue without slowing down the overall feel of the issue. In fact, this series seems to be building momentum each issue like a snowball rolling down a mountain. I don't think I have any sense of exactly what is happening in Smallville but things feel like they are whizzing around me faster and faster. And yet we also see the bucolic life of Smallville too!

It really has that feeling of David Lynch's Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks. And that is high praise.

One thing I would bet on is Simon being tempted by whoever is after Superboy, coaxed into betraying his friend.

Pier Gallo's art is solid here as well. He is able to pull off both parts of the book as well.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

It was a good story, a very enjoyable read. This title has gotten off to a nice start.

I hope they let Lori change her clothes once in awhile. She was wearing a purple and green sleeveless strap-top, purplish black capri pants, and green flats in issue #1. Maybe she gets a volume discount.

Unless of course it's a hint. It seems like a lot of Batman and Superman's villains wear purple and green. In fact it's Lex's favorite colors when he's wearing a power suit. So maybe she's the villain in the wings rather than Simon.

Anj said...

Hmm, good thought. She is a Luthor after all!

Anonymous said...

I keep getting confused as to what the difference is between a psychic and a psionic. I know both deal with the mind in some sort of way but..what's the difference?-ealperin