Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Superboy #8

Here I am about to review Superboy #8, the first review since the big announcement about DC's reboot in September.And I am suffering from some ennui.

Should I do an in depth review and analysis of this issue? What impact will this story have in September? Will there be this creative team? This take on Superboy? Will there be this Conner? Will there be any Conner? Uncertainty breeds a sort of malaise. Why should I be invested in this character if it all might be gone 90 days from now? Why should I invest the time to write this?

That said, I also just review 2 ludicrous Superman Family stories. So not everything needs to be chiseled into continuity.

And more importantly, I just had a diatribe asking for good stories. And frankly, Superboy as a comic has been a good story. It deserves some publicity. Buried in all the hype is that 25% of creative teams will remain intact. Are Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo going to be here in September? I hope so because this warped view of Smallville has been very good, making me care for a character I didn't care about before.

This issue was much more heavy on exposition than the prior issues have been, as if Lemire realized he has a lot to explain and line up before the August finish line. And this issue also had a lack of the page layout flair that I have come to enjoy in this book.

Pier Gallo's look seems to fit this comic as he is able to straddle both the primary colored world of super-heroes and the grungier darker corners of the DC Universe. His work on the Car-Vex back-up story in New Krypton was much the same.

This comic has a number of plotlines running concurrently. The Phantom Stranger knows that the events he warned Conner about before are coming to fruition and suddenly appears on the outskirts of town.

Simon Valentine is working on a Weather Wizard device, an experiment disrupted by the Stranger (who travels these days by turning into a murder of crows).

And Psionic Lad is still around. His teammates from the future are angry that he has not killed the Prime Hunter. But the hero has some second thoughts. Maybe he can change history and put the Hunter on the right path. At first I thought that Superboy might be the Hunter. But now I think it is Simon. Between his feelings of isolation and the chilling scene with Ray Palmer a couple of issues ago, he could easily become the villain.

But that more standard super-hero future storyline is really the background plot in this book; the main plot is that of the creepy farmers and darker underbelly of the current Smallville.

And we learn a lot about those farmers when Superboy runs into the creepy old man he met in Superboy #1. Remember the creepy guy whittling and talking about Smallville's history? Well he tells Superboy all about the Took family and the broken silo.

Back in the 1800's Nate Kent and Albert Valentine were sheriff and deputy of the town. I like how Simon's ancestor was a friend of a Kent, a sidekick, and a good guy. Another Kent/Valentine team-up fighting the bad guy's in Smallville. It really adds some historical resonance. Makes me wonder if this is some destiny for Conner and Simon to be working together.

One of the town's biggest family is the Took family, led by surgeon and purported occultist Eben Took. When a missing boy turns up with runes carved into his skin and his body operated on, Kent leads a posse to the Took farm. Despite his pleas for calmness, the posse becomes a mob, killing the Tooks and burning the farm.

During that time, Kent discovers the patriarch Took in a 'broken silo' performing some dark ritual on a stone table. The silo goes up in flames, supposedly killing Took in the process.

That is pretty grisly stuff to be happening in the quaint small town of Smallville. This darker layer, unseen and unknown to most, is what makes this comic so interesting. Putting a standard 'super-hero' into a conflict with magic and bizarreness like this makes this fresh.

And, based on solicits for August, I was right in my assessment that the symbols of the Hollow Men are Ancient Atlantean runes. I called that all the way back here in my review of Superboy #2:

I know ... even a broken clock is right twice a day.

But during this exposition, the old man somehow becomes possessed by the Phantom Stranger. And the Stranger adds some cryptic information. One, she (presumably Lori) is in danger. Two, a friend is not a friend (both Psionic Lad and Simon could fit the bill). And lastly, the next time Superboy sees the Stranger it won't be the Stranger. Let's tuck that one away.

I don't recall ever seeing the Phantom Stranger possess people like Deadman like this.

And after that detail, the clouds darken and the townspeople go into a trance. The only people still awake are Superboy, Psionic Lad, and Simon ... all in the same vicinity because some minor events by the Stranger earlier in the issue have brought them together. And all awake, because Psionic Lad has protected them.

Darkening skies, town-wide trances, dark sorcery origins ... even Superboy knows can sense it all is connected to the Broken Silo. He needs to go to the source of the problem.

The Smallville records show the Luthor house is on the Took farmland. Suddenly, 'she is in danger' becomes an urgent issue.

The heroes arrive and are joined by the Stranger who not only shows them the Silo's sacrificial table, but also the pathways beneath.

Except ... we know that the 'real' Stranger told Superboy that the next time he was seen it wouldn't be the Stranger. So who is this? It has to be a Took.

But this whole scene is pretty creepy, especially knowing that we saw bits of human on that very table back in the 1800's. Not exactly the story or feel I would usually associate with a hero like Superboy. His prior adventures usually were light-hearted, joke filled stories.

And it gets even creepier. Below that table is a tunnel leading deep below Smallville. And there, it appears that the Tooks have been living Gollum-like in an underground town filled with zombie like field workers.

Brrrr ... is this some big massive inbred city? Are they like mole men? Are they animated by dark magic?

So this issue took a big step in the plot with Superboy learning of the villain and finding where the Tooks are hiding. It happened mostly via exposition, but I was fine with that. I am still on board with Lemire's vision and I am hoping that Superboy undergoes a soft reboot. I want to read more of this book and hope I am able to in September.

It's funny. I think that Superboy and Supergirl are right where they should be. I don't want them to be rebooted ... at least I don't want them dramatically rebooted. Maybe DC recognizes what they have there. But I also realize that fans of Zatanna, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, Secret Six all probably think the same way about those books. I can imagine that fans of  Oracle, Steph Brown, Firestorm are all thinking similarly about those characters. In the end, somebody ... maybe everybody ... is going to be unhappy.

Overall grade: B


valerie21601 said...

Well from what I understand from the latest news on the Superman Lawsuit.

It appears someone at a law firm deliberately pitted and manipulated the heirs of Siegel and Shuster against DC Comics/Warner Brothers on purpose. Going as far as poisoning the relationships between them and the companies for their own ends.

If this is proven, this may help mend the troubles between all of the parties involved in the Superman Lawsuit. Remove the poison pen writer and most of the time the problems will mend themselves, eventually.

Dave Mullen said...

Be positive - there will always be a Supergirl and as I've said before at 65 issues old or whatever the current series is actually an old book by modern standards, it's done very well indeed and like other books oof this age a reboot was always on the cards in my view.
Now having heard the talent on Superman and Superboy I'm optimistic about what's to come, I think it's silly to reboot Superboy so early on in this books run sure but the acid test on the new era will be how well it gels the Superman universe together and whether DC and the creators assigned to it can do at least six straight issues... Looking at fan reaction to the announcements and measuring my own experiences in defending JM Stracynski last year only for him to walk off two minutes into his run I can definitly confirm and empathise with the wariness and streak of cynicism being spread around right now. It is unfortunate DC have a notorious track record with revamps and 'second comings' to the extent that can expect nothing else but deep caution from its readers.

But myself I'm optimistically looking forward to this for the most part, the Superman books have been stagnant for years and need something like this, and whereas Supergirl is fine as is a relaunch can do nothing but good as it gives a springboard for new readers and writers to be in on the ground floor so to speak.
DC (not for the first or second time) have a superb opportunity to really make this franchise great again, I just hope they can match the courage of their intention and make this stick. Plus keep the quality and consistency high on the books of course.