Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: SUPERBOY!
The Concept and Characters: It’s been a couple of decades (and a half) since the young Clark Kent put on the super-tights and flew around Smallville as a boy. This relaunched series doesn’t return to those days, but, rather, sticks with the Modern Age Superboy, the former high-top-fate sportin’, leather jacket wearin’, asymmetrical strap stylin’ Conner Kent, the would-be Superman who sprung out of the famous “death” of his namesake back in 1992.
Presumably, in the new DC continuity launching this fall, Clark Kent will never have been Superboy, so Conner (aka Kon-El) will be the one and only guy to go by that name. That’s been the case ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths (other than a brief exception when a young Clark started hanging around with the Legion of Super-Heroes), and if you lost track of Conner Kent after Superman returned from his not-quite death, then you would have missed out on plenty of excellent stories involving the boy of steel. The character went from a Metropolis-based Poochie the Dog to a character with real heart and substance.
So much heart and substance that Geoff Johns killed him off in 2006’s Infinite Crisis, giving that series the tragedy it needed to resonate. But don’t worry, Conner was resurrected (as is the custom with superheroes), and went on to even greater heights, most recently in an Eisner-nominated series written by Jeff Lemire.
Conner has become integral to the Superman Family, and thanks to Geoff Johns, who made an earlier fan letter of his into canon during a Teen Titans run, Conner is officially a clone of Lex Luthor and Superman. The implicit conflict in that DNA scenario has been exploited more than once, but it’s a pretty great hook. He’s the literal embodiment of the two most powerful characters in Metropolis.
Relaunch writer Scott Lobdell is keeping that essential part of the character intact, but he’s beginning the story further back in Conner’s development. This, like many of the Superman-related books, will apparently be a stronger continuity reboot than many of the other big DC franchises. As Lobdell explains, regarding Conner, “He’s a work in progress, where the pre-September Superboy was more firmly established. Even when he was first introduced he was pretty much fully defined.” Lobdell emphasizes that he will be exploring how the character learns to first hone his powers, as he develops individually, and as part of the new Teen Titans series (which Lobdell will also be writing).
The Creative Team: In my post on the Red Hood and the Outlaws series, I didn’t give Scott Lobdell much credit as a writer. Everything I said back then is true for this series, though Lobdell has been saying all the right things about how he wants to approach the structure of the story. In the same interview where he talks about his characterization of Conner, he also says, “I want to try to usher in an age of storytelling where readers are going to put down their $2.99 and walk away with an issue that has a 20-page story in it, not the first 1/6 of a story.” He claims that he won’t write in story arcs, but rather in individualized installments with ongoing subplots. That’s unorthodox these days, though it was the norm for comics from the 1960s through the 1980s. It will certainly give Superboy a different sense of pacing than so many other comics this fall.
Joining Lobdell on the series is artist R. B. Silva, a relatively fresh face who has done his most notable work on the Nick Spenser-written Jimmy Olsen back-up feature in Action Comics last year. Silva has a clean line, and the ability to pack in the visual details and still keep everything looking crisp. He’s a good choice for a Superboy comic, and he’ll give it a youthful, energetic sheen.
Recommendation: Hmmm… this is a tough one. Scott Lobdell doesn’t have a history of writing great comics, and Silva’s not so amazing as to be worth a purchase all by himself. But the two of them together, combined with the single-issue storytelling with extended subplots makes this series somewhat appealing. Plus, the Conner Kent character is coming off the just-cancelled Superboy series that has been one of the best DC comics of the year, so he’s riding high right now. But Lobdell’s going to end up throwing out those stories as he restarts this new one from the ground up, and he’s unlikely to match the heights of Jeff Lemire or Geoff Johns. I say Skip It. It’s much more likely to be a stereotypical mix of action and melodrama rather than anything substantial.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.