Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Superboy #15

Superboy #15 came out last week, the next chapter in the H'El on Earth storyline. I have yet to be floored by this crossover yet. The opening prologue with the Kryptonian dragon was a decent hook. The Supergirl issue was a good character driven chapter. The Superman issue was loud and brash but was so different from the Supergirl issue that if felt off.

And now we have Superboy #15. And like this entire arc there are some good things and some bad things about this issue. This is the first prolonged meeting between Superboy and Superman and that carries some weight and importance. And, for the most part, Superman is treated nicely here, doing whatever he needs to do to help. As for Superboy, he also has some nice moments, suppressing his brainwashing and dealing with some bad news. And Supergirl makes a brief appearance which has creepy overtones. Still, despite that, this whole issue had an uneven feel to it. And I don't know if it necessarily moved the big story forward that much.

Perhaps adding to that is the artwork of the issue. There is no RB Silva here. Instead we get a hodge podge of artists: Ron Frenz on breakdowns, Roger Robinson on finished work, with a hand from Iban Coello and Amilcar Pinna. We go from murky thick-lined shadow art, to fine-lined precise, to somewhere in the middle.

The issue picks up in the aftermath of Superman #14. There is a fair amount of property damage from the battle with H'El. Superboy is dying on the street. And Superman is still engaged with H'El.

As I said, one of the high points in this issue is the characterization of Superman. This is pretty over the top dialogue, but it is still good to hear Superman say that no one threatens his planet.

It's funny but I don't know if H'El has threatened us per se. He definitely thinks Earth is below Krypton. But maybe his plan is actualized in a lab. Anyways, Superman is here to help. And not only help the big picture, but individuals as well. His super-senses tell him Superboy is dying.

Here is the one mini-misstep in how Superman was portrayed.

As he is trying to whisk Superboy away for medical attention, a crusty sort of Harvey Bullock-type cop tells him that he can't remove a 'suspect' from the scene. Perhaps the old Superman would have got a 'thanks for taking him away for us Superman!' But not here.

And instead of Superman replying, 'I am taking him for medical attention and will return him if warranted' he menacingly glares at the cop. Yeah ... that's a nice way to foster trust and teamwork.

I suppose one view would be this humanizes Superman. How else to respond to a jerk trying to stop you from doing the right thing. But I want Superman to be the model.

I still don't quite get the overall stance on Superman in this DCnU. And Superboy's thoughts don't help matters. As he is being whisked to the Fortress for medical care, Superboy calls him arrogant and reckless. Superman ... arrogant?

He also says some people think that Superman is the point person of an alien invasion. So after 5 years of heroics and not leading an alien armada to take over, there is a segment of people who still think him as a vanguard. I don't get that either.

At least we get 'some people consider him the world's greatest hero'. Some people. And they consider it.

Look, I get that in the current world people would naturally have some trust issues with someone like Superman. But here is the deal, I read comics to escape the current world. Can't there be some heroes in this universe?

In the Fortress, Superman scans Superboy in discovers that his DNA is a three stranded model that is disintegrating. Three strands ... interesting. And more on this later.

One thing that I did like here is that Superman's first thought are for the well-being of his cousin. It is bad enough that H'El has duped and kidnapped her. Now we know he has the power to unmake her. Again, I will stress how nice it was to read this especially coming off of Lobdell's

As for Supergirl, she is back in Sanctuary with H'El.

There is something oily about this whole scene starting with the rather coquettish and vulnerable position she is in. But then the cringe factor gets dialed up when H'El cradles her head in his hand, looking her in the eyes, and talks about how she will always be protected by him. Does H'El have romantic aspirations too? Yeesh. It just continues to foster this feeling that Supergirl is the patsy in all this.

Luckily, Supergirl looks a little creeped out by the whole thing as H'El teleports away.  I also thought it was nice that Supergirl couldn't believe that Superman would say the horrible things said last issue (by a transfigured H'El).

Superman's scanning of Superboy gets a helping hand from Cyborg and Professor Veritas. The three strands of DNA are human, Kryptonian, and something else, something unidentifiable. So the mystery of Superboy gets some new information. I guess if it unidentifiable it might be something new. So guesses like DNA from the Saturnians on Titan (to explain telepathy/telekinesis) are probably wrong.

Since at least 1/3 of Superboy is Kryptonian, Superman theorizes that his Kryptonian armor, a genetic based nanotech, might help. Not a bad idea I suppose.

I am on the fence about Dr. Veritas' provocative comment that Kryptonian DNA might mean Superman was 'busy'. I suppose she has shown some attraction to Superman so this might be some flirting.

The armor works in a sense. Superboy is suddenly feeling better. His strength is augmented. But it completely cuts off his tactile telekinesis.  It is so jarring that Superboy initially can't stand the feeling and rips off the armor. Of course, that means eventual death so he eventually puts it back on.

My guess is the armor suppresses the other genetic strands and only augments the Kryptonian part of him.

But this was one of the weakest panels of the book. Superman says the armor is 'concentrating and condensing' his telekinesis. He then immediately says 'don't ask me where that came from'. When a character apologizes for the dialogue he just said, the writer should know it isn't right to have them say it. I don't know where that came from either.

The bottom line is Superboy is stable.

And then, a nice moment which hopefully will help Superboy deal with his brainwashing. Superman extends a hand of help and decides to team-up with Superboy to fight H'El. There is a simplicity to Superman's plan. Track H'El and defeat him. Again, for the most part, the characterization of Superman was very good here and that might influence Superboy tremendously.

It won't be easy. H'El shows up in the Fortress and tosses the two heroes out.

So this is a decent issue. I have some worries about Supergirl (I always do). And some of the dialogue seemed off. More importantly, there wasn't much progress on the storyline itself. Plus the art was so mishmash it was a bit rattling. But the mystery of Superboy deepened a bit. And Superman proved himself to Superboy as a force of good. That part was solid.

I hope we get RB Silva back soon.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

I'm OK with H'el being creepy towards Kara - he's a creepy guy called H'el. It'll propel her out of his orbit all the quicker.

That comment by Dr Veritas went right over my head ...

It is weird, this business of people not trusting Superman. Has anyone at DC said publicly why it's meant to be a good thing? If they really want to set something like this up as a storytelling engine, they could wait until J'onn J'onzz goes public, and have him be mistrusted. But as you emphasis, Superman is Superman - he is the one hero people should never doubt.

Dave Mullen said...

I liked this issue, Superboy has been a hard book to like for the last few issues and the art was patchwork and rough in pages here, but I fully accept Tom DeFalco has been given a very tough job with this book as Superboy isn't an easy concept to write for given he's a character who literally stepped fully formed from out of a Lab experiement and has no past or family. He just is.
What I'm hoping for now though thanks to this well constructed issue is that his newfound friendship with Superman gives him that vital anchor which will allow his personality to develop at a pace and allow the readers to accept him as a legitimate member of the Superman family. This H'el on Earth event was hinted at as Superboy's big story, this issue seems to support that, and deservedly so as he's past due the meeting with Superman.
I really did like the presentation of his fear of Superman and how he would respond to his being a clone, Superman's reaction is typical of him as being a clone/alien or criminal is beside the point for him - his first and oly instinct is to help the boy.
So seeing Superboy having to work out how he should feel about this and accept that Superman was genuine was a rather wonderful bit of character work from DeFalco. It felt real.

The downside to the story so far though is that Supergirl is not coming out of this well at all, there has been a negative conflict within this character ever since she was introduced and with her apathy/dislike for all things Earth now capped by her choosing to side with a weirdo who drops in from space and setting out to reshape earth in Kryptons image there are strong similarities with the Legion of Super-Heroes Andromeda in the mid 90s to be had.

I can certainly see and appreciate that this is probobly all one big character arc for Supergirl, a learning process where she will have to make choices both good & bad and grow up the hard way, but DC have made some enourmous errors of judgement elsewhere in the New 52 revamp that has seen some characters crash in the market and bomb in terms of critical reaction. Indeed some have been seriously damaged by the extent of those creative choices and the lack of thought gone into it - Superboy being one arguable example. Firestorm & Hawkman definitely another.
What worries me is that Supergirl is becoming a victim of those same forces, by marketing her a certain way - an ultra aggressive way - the audience perception is ultimately of a nasty selfish unpleasant character. A character not very heroic, nor someone the reader can necessarily empathise with.
In a team book this would be a perfectly acceptable longterm path to take with a character, but Supergirl isn't Andromeda. She's a major character and title holder, and as such the expectation is for a heroic figure and possible role model for the reader, going the xenophobe route like this is a bad bad idea for such a prominent character and after a full fifteen months since launching. Time to put it to bed.

Kim said...

"and with her apathy/dislike for all things Earth now capped by her choosing to side with a weirdo who drops in from space and setting out to reshape earth in Kryptons image"

But so far that's not what's happened; all Kara knows is that H'el wants to save Krypton. She's not aware of any anti-earth things yet.

But heh... Do the characterizations of Kara and Kal swing WILDLY between the books...

Anonymous said...

Just once I'd like to see Superman be the dupe who needs a "teachable moment", and not have that meme CONSTANTLY imposed on his pretty blonde cousin.
Just that so much to ask?



Anj said...

Thanks for all the great comments. So much for me to digest!

Mart: Good point that H'El's creepiness will probably shake some sense into Supergirl, making her realize he's a nut.

Dave: You are so right that marketing an unlikeable character seems like a losing proposition. My concern is that none of these stories are ever 'Supergirl' stories the way this is a 'Superboy' one. Only New Krypton seemed to focus equally on Kal and Kara.

Kim: It is these wild swings in characterization that will make this a tougher story to read in one sitting. Imagine reading this as a trade?

John: Of course, after decades of being a fan, I would love to see that!!

Martin Gray said...

‘Just once I’d like to see Superman be the dupe who needs a “teachable moment”, and not have that meme CONSTANTLY imposed on his pretty blonde cousin.
Just that so much to ask?’

Have we seen such a think since, ooh, DC Comics Presents #28, when Kara pointed outthe importance of the big picture to Kal?