Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Francis Manapul
Publisher: DC Comics
Not regularly reading any DC books means that it is pretty difficult to keep track of the different iterations of key characters that seem to reappear regularly within DC’s central universe. Yes, of course I’ve heard of Superboy (or at least some of his incarnations) and his canine companion, who are the stars of this newly-re-launched Adventure Comics series, but I was looking forward to learn more about them as re-imagined heroes for the contemporary comics reader.
Geoff Johns is quite rightly regarded as one of DC’s writing stars, and he has the talent to handle a wide range of superhero stories and characters, so no doubt he was the obvious choice to launch this book. In many ways, Johns does not disappoint; he does a exceptional job of capturing the charm and essence of the first Superman movie as Superboy tries to relive the early adventures of his predecessor in his home town of Smallville. There is some nice snappy dialogue throughout which grounds the action within the mentality of a young hero searching for his place in the world, and everything seems to flow naturally, culminating in his brief meeting with Superman towards the end of the issue.
But the real star of this issue is Francis Manapul. His artwork is bold and powerful without being overpowering, creating the feel of a teen superhero comic book perfectly, with a few hints of Manga all skilfully blended with a very modern, US-comics style. The lush colouring also deserves special mention, keeping the action light while creating a rather nostalgic feel for the Smallville backdrop.
But the overarching problem for a reader like me that knows very little of the back-story of the central protagonist is that… well, at the end of this 22 pages of story, I still know nothing about him. Yes, I understand some of his motivations and the ideas that drive him, but this is not enough to hold my interest. Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t like excessive exposition in my comic books; at $3.99 these things are too expensive these days to lose 3 pages of dialogue just to get new readers like me up to scratch. But in this instance, would a brief recap page be out of the question? I think DC have really missed a trick here – I can see quite a lot of people speculatively picking this book up because of the attractive artwork, only to be confronted by a book that fails to entice the reader into its world.
Without the necessary back-story, this first issue just doesn’t have a lot to it. Yes, it is accessible in the sense that there are no giant interweaving plot points, but at the same time there is also no establishment of Superboy’s history. For long time fans of the characters and the overall DC universe this probably won’t be too much of a problem, but for the casual reader it certainly is. The book looks great and is tightly written, with some nice interesting ideas emerging towards the end which suggests some intriguing potential conflict brewing between Kal-El and Conner Kent. But in general terms, as a first issue, it just feels lightweight, failing to create a strong attachment to the story’s hero or a necessary investment in his ongoing Adventures.
Oh, and there is also a back-up story featuring the Legion of Superheroes, which, while linked to the central character of the main story, is even more bizarre and incomprehensible. Again, I’m sure it will have its fans, but it doesn’t look like that is going to include me. Over time, this story might have space to develop into something more interesting, but eight pages just really isn’t enough space to build up any sort of initial momentum, especially with the convoluted continuity history of the Legion.