Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Superboy #1

Superboy #1 came out this week and if it weren't for the unclear vision of the upcoming Supergirl book, I would probably be talking more about my concerns for the 'new' direction of Conner in the upcoming DCnU. We knew from preliminary information that Superboy was captured, his mind wiped clean; we know he has been programmed to kill. He (at least initially) is wearing a Tron-like body suit. From afar, it really felt like DC was trying to align the comic Superboy with the one in the cartoon Young Justice. It might be that the company wants to streamline just who he is.

That preliminary stuff sounded very different from Jeff Lemire's recent Superboy book. There Conner seemed to want to slow down, get some introspection, all while dealing with the weirdness bubbling under the surface of Smallville. I liked that comic a lot, somewhat surprising since I have never been a big Conner fan outside of his earliest stories.

So I was ready to be ambivalent about this Superboy #1.

Now I am not ready to say that I love the book. And I might be more accepting of what is going on here because I don't have a 'concrete' feel for who Conner is. But one thing I will say is that the book certainly has laid a pretty interesting foundation, somewhat mysterious, maybe even a bit dark. Writer Scott Lobdell has made me curious about how Superboy got where he is, what is going to happen in the future, and what is going to happen to the people around him (some of them which look very familiar). When an old time reader like me becomes curious about where things are heading, it's a good thing.

The book is also very easy on the eyes thanks to the very clean and slick art by RB Silva. Silva is able to switch gears nicely from action to calm, from sci-fi to country settings, all smoothly and slickly.

Now I am not saying that I think this book is revolutionary or fantastic. And there are no guarantees that I will be reading this book long term. But if the success of a first issue is based on whether or not I want to read more, then I would say this was a win.

The book opens with Superboy floating in a tube, apparently brain dead, but self-aware enough to think that he has only been alive for 3 months or so.

The scientists at N.O.W.H.E.R.E. experimenting on him can't register any brain wave activity at all. But Superboy is aware and learning. He has been absorbing all the knowledge around him. And in the most interesting reveal, Superboy says that his consciousness isn't confined to his brain but instead diffusely spread through each cell in his body. In some ways that makes him more than human ... or less than human. This is more alien then simply being half-Kryptonian and half-human. If part of Lobdell's goal is to make Conner something 'other' then this was a good opening volley.

Despite the protests of 'Red', the bespectacled young woman scientist involved in the Superboy project, the word has come down that Superboy is to be euthanized and dissected.

As the cyanide solution is being injected, 'Red' internally begs Superboy to 'fight'. Somehow Conner is able to telepathically pick up on her thoughts as he feels the pain of the poison and violently escapes from his tube. And while in this berserker mode, he apparently pulps a number of people, including Dr. White, the man running the lab.

Now it has been all over the web so I don't think I need to 'spoiler alert' who the redhead scientist is ... but consider yourself warned. Her first name is Caitlyn, she's a brilliant genetic scientist ... as revealed by many, it has to be Fairchild from Gen13.

I think it is a nice little plot twist that she isn't aware that Superboy is half-Luthor. If she knew that, would she be as willing to try to save him? Or would she consider him an 'it' like White did.

Caitlyn vows to help Superboy and the next scene we see is Conner in a Smallville-like setting. He goes to class. He flirts with his 'hot' classmate Rose Wilson. He lives at the Helpworth farm and does his chores. He finds it all very boring. (Is this an indictment of Johns' and Lemire's Superboy stories?)

But he also blindly walks past a woman in a burning building.

Does this mean he is evil? Still adjusting? Oblivious? I don't need another 'non-hero' in the Super-family.

Luckily it turns out that this has been a VR world set up by 'Red' to help Superboy.

She really has no idea who he is. She wonders why he is obsessed with feeling alone, needing to fit in, why he would live in Kansas. She doesn't know that is who he was.

She also wonders why he walked by the burning woman. Only a complete pathological narcissist (Luthor) would do that.

So it is clear that at least some of Superboy's history still exists. Since he remembers Smallville and his quest to be 'normal' I have to figure the last couple of years, in some form, are still there. Maybe this lab just doesn't realize he was based in Smallville. Unless this is all a curve ball and Superboy really is only 3 months old. Which is it? Hmmm ...

As a Ravager fan, I was glad to see Rose Wilson in the DCnU ... with two eyes no less! I never did like her goring out her own eye. It is clear she is a mercenary in this universe, as she states she kills for money.

I always like small flourishes in art. So I thought it was great that Rose wears Ravager-style boots while everyone else seems to be wearing company-issue moon boots. It gives us just a smidge of insight, a bit of the old in this new world.

One of the scientists, Dr. Umber (I guess they all have color names like in Reservoir Dogs ... Red, White, Umber) decides that N.O.W.H.E.R.E. has to be up to no good and decides to leak any and all information he has. And who better to divulge that to than to Lois Lane.

We've only seen a little of Lois in the DCnU and I already like her. It seems her 'Lois-ness' has not been lost in this relaunch. I guess I have to see how she is treated in Perez' Superman before being 100% sure. Still, it's good to see her still being the best investigative journalist she can be. We'll have to see where this goes.

Now I am going to bet that Umber dies by flames. Get it ... then he'll be 'burnt Umber'.

Alas, even Red's experiments aren't going fast enough for N.O.W.H.E.R.E.

A higher-up in the organization, Zaniel Templar takes over. He decides that Superboy is a 'weapon' that can be used to solve some of N.O.W.H.E.R.E.'s problems. He decides to free Superboy and point him in the right direction.

Now that really sounds like the Superboy in the Young Justice. There he was 'the weapon', a blank slate on which Cadmus wrote memories.

And so we have Superboy, agent of N.O.W.H.E.R.E., finally freed and ready to help out this organization in their mission (nefarious or not). At least Superboy realizes that it is really his freedom he is looking for and if that means playing along for a little bit with Templar, so be it.

So there certainly is a lot to digest in this issue. Is Superboy really a new clone, only 3 months old? Or is he the old Superboy, captured and mind-wiped? Will 'Red' become Fairchild? Will Rose become Ravager? Will Superboy be a tool for evil? Will the Luthor side of him surge to the forefront? Or will he rebel from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., the Superman side of him being dominant? Will he always be in the Sark-like Tron uniform?

This is certainly a break from what has come before in Conner's history. This isn't the cocky girl-crazy Hawaiian dude. This isn't the leader of the Titans. And this isn't the introspective, concerned young man we just read about last month. And maybe it is that lack of a unifying idea of who Superboy is, that lack of long-standing interest on my part, that makes this reboot a little more palatable. I don't know if I want to read years worth of him working for the bad guys. Heck, I might not read more than the first arc. But this issue at least asked some interesting questions ... enough to make me keep this on the short term list.

And Silva's art is wonderful.

Overall grade: B/B+


Heath Edwards said...

i do like your idea that 'red' may be caitlin fairchild. i really loved the old gen13 series :)... the other possibility that i've heard is the she is lena luthor, lex's niece...

Anonymous said...

Not bad choices at all, Heath! Either way, it looks like we'll find out soon!

Catlin's a possibility. So's Lena. Even Nasthalthia "Nasty" Luthor's a possibility, here, too.* ;)

*Just found out that Nasty's actually an old foe of Supergirl. Whoops! ^_^ -ealperin

Hal Jordan said...

This issue really grabbed me. I wasn't 100% sold on whether or not I would be getting "Superboy" frankly. But after just one issue, I'm in.

The art was wonderful, and I really enjoyed the inner monologue, showing just how alone Superboy is, but how he also is able to understand so much of what is going on around him.

It will definitely be fascinating to see how this develops as each month brings a new piece of the puzzle. Can't wait!

The League said...

I think I read this a bit differently. I'm taking this as the first appearance of a Superboy clone, and that we more or less have to forget anything about the previous Superboy from that past 20 years, and that this is a 3-month old clone. Any residual memories of Smallville are being extracted from the material from which he was cloned (ie: Superman and possibly Luthor). Which is why I think we're seeing him with the Superman-like background in a Smallville setting, but the Lex in him is ignoring the fire as he pursues Rose.

I may be wrong, but I thought DC was just relaunching Superman more or less from scratch, so we'll see new versions of old favorites in general.

The one thing that bugged me that wasn't really story related: why were the scientists in armor? And why was "Red' in armor with a skirt?

That just seemed silly.

Anj said...

On rereading the issue, I agree with you that this is probably a brand spanking new Superboy and the prior 'never existed'.

Anonymous said...

According to what Lobdell said, Superboy's history with appearing during the Reign of the Supermen and all that jazz happened. And maybe components of his old ongoing. But he was captured by N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and stripped of his memories. Red is indeed Caitlin Fairchild, it's confirmed inside the comic. And the whole VR thing is just Clark and Luthor's memories coming through.