Comic Judgment: Superboy #1

Superboy #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Art: Pier Gallo, Jamie Grant (colors), Rafael Albuquerque (cover)
Letters: John J. Hill

Nice shirt.

You needn’t be invested in Conner Kent to enjoy Superboy #1, and it’s a good thing, because I wasn’t. There’s no pretense or hyperbole in this inaugural issue; just an enjoyable story, attractively presented. That isn’t intended as damning with faint praise. There are plenty of middling titles on comic shelves, so when an issue is pleasantly diverting and pleasing to the eye, I consider it a success. Not everything has to be Ex-Machina.

Superboy #1 is lucky to have writer Jeff Lemire, who makes Conner realistically likable. Conner’s origin as a test-tube experiment would make anyone a tad confused and angst-ridden, but in comics past, I found him grating at best. The character grew on me in the first several issues of Adventure Comics, and it’s charming to see him all peaceful and Zen here, looking out on an endless Kansas wheat field with his ace, Krypto. (For the record, I think everybody should have a flying dog with a red cape.) He’s very much at home in Smallville, the town he once scorned, and he dotes on his caretaker, the unflappable Ma Kent. There’s even a nice girl at Smallville High who’s sweet on him (Lori Luthor!), and a funny, brainy sidekick with a Dragonball Z-inspired hairdo.

Lemire doesn’t belabor the introduction, but he neatly defines Conner’s character for the uninitiated. The Phantom Stranger nearly steals the show early on, appearing out of nowhere to (of course) bring ominous tidings. After a startled Conner addresses him in classic teen-speak, TPS responds with hilarious formality: “What is ‘up,’ is that I have traveled very far to see you … Here … Today.”

Illustrator Pier Gallo is such a good pick for this title and its wide-open spaces setting. Enhanced by Jamie Grant’s subtle coloring, Gallo’s style is fresh and detailed without being too fussy, and the opening visuals are instantly inviting. There’s also a cool showdown with Parasite, and the way Conner handles this threat is both clever and impressively executed. Who knew a single grain of wheat could be so mesmerizing … and powerful?

Superboy #1 is undeniably appealing, but is it worth buying if your pull list, like mine, is already out of control? I’d say this first issue earns its keep with the stunning Rafael Albuquerque cover alone, but I’m undecided about whether to add it to the wallet-draining, monthly pile. However, if you’re jonesing for a sincere, highly readable superhero comic, you could do a whole lot worse.