Monday, March 21, 2011

March Madness – Get happy. Read Superboy. March 21, 2011

SUPERBOY #5  (DC Comics, May 2011)  “The Superboy / Kid Flash  Race”                                      Jeff Lemire, Writer.  Pier Gallo, Artist.  Jamie Grant, Colorist.  John J. Hill, Letterer.

I have previously written several favorable reviews about SUPERBOY on this site.  Almost every month I’ve had good reason to do so - - as each issue seems to provide further evidence that this is becoming a great superhero book, and one that should be added to your pull list. SUPERBOY is one for all the ages.  Every comic reader can find something to enjoy and appreciate here.  Even more so, it’s one of those books (like the revived Crossgen SIGIL at Marvel)  that seems to be the best hope of attracting the attention of those young middle-school aged readers in their most formative years. It is without doubt the one book that I would recommend without hesitation to those younger readers.  If you have been following my reviews of SUPERBOY and are curious to see what the fuss is all about  - - there is no better time than now, with Issue #5.  Everything I love about this book is in ample evidence here - - and it’s a stand-alone story.  It’s not continued to the nextSuperboy 5 issue and you don’t need to read any prior issues to follow everything that’s happening here.  It’s about a globe-spanning race between Superboy and Kid Flash - - and it is every bit as cool as it sounds. 

Writer Jeff Lemire re-caps the previous four issues in just four pages and in a very entertaining fashion that won’t bore anyone who’s followed the story so far.  Lemire is a master at bringing that sense of  small town / home town simplicity, tight-knitted families and communities, social responsibility, and honest values and principles to everything that he writes.  Smallville has never seemed so appealing as it does here.  It reminds me of my first introduction to Superboy and ADVENTURE COMICS back in my youth, and that sense of warmth and comfort with these characters - - stories that usually were complete in one issue, featured situations and conflicts that were compelling without being complex, with noble heroes that were publicly appreciated and rarely featured any “dark” aspects or situations.  Lemire has brought those more innocent and family-friendly sensibilities of yesteryear to SUPERBOY but given it a modern update.  The world is more complex.  There are “dark” aspects and situations.  He just acknowledges this in his script without permitting it to dominate or foreshadow the story at the root of this title - - - a young person approaching the world with a firm sense of optimism but still somewhat troubled by situations that seem uncontrollable and not perfectly right.  Couple that with the normal teen anxiety over developing romantic and loving relationships and you have the template for a long series of captivating adventures.  Artist Pier Gallo seems to be in sync with Lemire’s outline for this title and his drawings here perfectly captures and enhances the feeling and moods that Lemire is working hard to evoke.  The rest of the art team help paint the vivid picture.  This is a rich book to look at.

This Superboy is the hero with a deep sense of responsibility for his actions, who often agonizes that “truth is, the damage left behind afterward is worse than the fights themselves.”   Three issues later, Superboy is still trying  in his own way to help Smallville recover from the damage done by battle with The Parasite , which was followed by a rapidly growing outburst of vines and kudzu.  He thought that was caused by Poison Ivy and her control over plants, but it was traced to a poor farmer turned into “a pawn in some larger game” that still has more details to be revealed.  Long after other writers would have ignored or downplayed these issues and simply moved on, Lemire continues to milk this vein for everything it’s worth.  It’s the premise behind this issue - - - a fund-raising race between Superboy and Kid Flash to help support “the farmers and small business owners of Smallville affected in the recent super villain attacks.”

During the opening pages, Superboy flies into town to begin the race as his thought captions share with us the details of everything that has led up to this point.  His worries about Smallville and his part in the damage move on to his indecision on how to proceed in his stalled relationship with Lori Luthor and regrets over his breakup with Cassie (Wonder Girl). By page three his concerns and worries have escalated to the point that they occupy a full, one-page panel where overtop of the flying Superboy is transposed the outline of a jigsaw puzzle with one big whited-out missing piece in the center of the page. Cut to the next page where just the missing blank jigsaw piece is seen hovering over the town, with the approaching Superboy in the center.  Maybe he’s starting to figure out some of the puzzles in his life and finding the right pieces - - one of them being this benefit race.  It’s a clever mechanism to quickly indicate many conflicts and a single but beginning resolution without tons of thought balloons.  I’m always finding clever and neat touches like that in this book.

I’m not going to spoil anything by providing the details of that race here or tip you off to the outcome - - but there is a lot of fun in store for you if you decide to read this.  Some of the things that occur during the race are very clever and the back and forth banter between Superboy and Kid Flash is good fun reading.  This is the DC super-hero book to recommend to everyone.

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