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.

Comic Judgment: Titans, Together!

Teen Titans #88
Writer: J.T. Krul
Art: Nicola Scott, Doug Hazlewood (ink), Jason Wright (color), Adam Hughes (variant cover)
Letters: Sal Cipriano

Adam Hughes variant cover

When I got back into comics several years ago, I fell hard for Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans. I’d enjoyed the Wolfman/Perez stuff back in the day, and it seemed to me that Johns’ modern incarnation struck all the right notes. There was real chemistry among the characters, a good mix of the funny and the serious, and Johns never tried too hard to write “youth” dialogue. Mike McKone’s artwork? Wonderful.

I think you see where this is going. After a great run, the comic’s script quality dipped a few notches, and then, partly because of things taking place elsewhere in the DCU, it went over a cliff, exploded upon impact, and left a football field-sized patch of scorched earth in its wake. OK; that’s an exaggeration, but not a terribly big one. Suffice to say that many Teen Titans fans — me included — dropped it and never looked back.

Until now. DC has enlisted a new creative team, writer J.T. Krul and illustrator Nicola Scott, to pump new life into Teen Titans, beginning with issue #88. While this comic didn’t rock my world, it is solidly good and taps into the things that made TT work in the Johns era: an interesting team dynamic, witty banter, heavy action and boy-girl drama. They are teenagers, after all. (Mild spoilers ahead.)

Krul deserves a great deal of credit for making Cassie/Wonder Girl a less grating and more credible team leader. She seems to have really stepped up in Tim/Red Robin’s absence, and Scott, one of my favorite artists, draws her with an understated beauty and authority. Actually, that’s the way she draws everything in this book. There’s a lovely moment between Cassie and Conner/Superboy where she’s sitting on her bed, slumped forward with worry. And bless Scott for drawing heroines who look healthy and strong, not like blowup dolls.

But it wouldn’t be a party without Rose/Ravager, who is one kick-ass chick and the consummate antagonist. You want her on your team because she can take suckers down hard — but she also might take your man. I loved the panel where, after a workout, she throws her sweaty towel at Superboy and says, “I got a lot of energy.” All together now: Daaaaaamn!

There are a couple of nifty plot threads going on, too. The world’s sketchiest high school biology teacher has plans for a socially isolated student, and they’re not good. (Note to kids: Do not go into the darkened basement of an adult you barely know. But if you do, and you happen to see a gurney and mutants in cages, run like hell.) Dick/Batman 2 also decides that Damian needs to make some friends, and I’m a little nervous about adding him to the Titans community. He’s a tricky character to write, and casting him as a one-note jerk or a merry brat would be a mistake. Don’t do it, J.T.!

If you’ve missed the Titans, and I certainly have, issue #88 is a good excuse for a reunion. Don’t bust out the confetti just yet, but do keep a bag handy. Verdict: Well played.