Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: Superboy #3

Superboy #3
"The New Adventures of Psionic Lad, Part One"
Written by Jeff Lemire; art by Pier Gallo; colours by Jamie Grant; cover by Phil Noto; DC

I like that Jeff Lemire seems to be focusing on short story arcs, while gradually setting up clues to a larger story. I know that this is how most ongoing series work, but I think Lemire is doing a particularly good job of interweaving the immediate story with long-term concerns. In this issue, Superboy is dealing with the aftermath of the conflict from the first two-issue story arc. His proposed solution - a race between Superboy and Kid Flash to raise money for the farmers who lost their crops - sets up the story that's been solicited for issue #5 in March. Meanwhile, Conner's personal drama with classmates Lori and Simon continues to unfold, all of which is wrapped around the main plot of this issue, which is the arrival of Psionic Lad.

Psionic Lad is a kid from the future who shows up through a time portal in Smallville High. As far as I know, he's a completely new character. We only get a few pages of dialogue with him before the issue ends on a cliffhanger, so I'm not sure what his deal is yet. He seems like a pretty likable character, though, so I look forward to finding out more about him next month. I was also glad to see a new non-white face in the DCU. His real name is Sajan Mehra and he I'm guessing he is of Indian descent. I wonder how old he is, as he looks much younger and smaller than any of the high school kids.

A couple of criticisms about the script: First, I'm not sure how well the back and forth between "then" and "now" works in the issue. Lemire (or the editor?) probably decided to structure the story that way for pacing, as otherwise all the action and excitement would be stacked at the end of the book. Personally, I think I might have kept the first page as foreshadowing, but then told the rest of the story in chronological order leading up to the fight at the end. I don't know, maybe that says more about my own tastes than what's best for the story. I don't need to be "entertained" with a little bit of action in between each dialogue-driven scene in order to maintain my interest in a comic. 

Second, I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that only three issues into the series, two of Connor's classmates have already figured out his secret identity. It's already asking a lot of readers to stretch suspension of disbelief and ignore how obvious it is that Connor is Superboy. I mean, Superboy doesn't even wear a costume! I'm pretty sure that wearing a different T-shirt doesn't affect people's ability to recognize you. But, whatever, that's just part of the deal and readers have learned to accept it. The problem is that having two characters figure it out just draws attention to the implausibility of the conceit. Not to mention that having Connor change into his costume in plain view at the school just moments after bitching at Simon for not being discreet enough makes him seem like a bit of an ass.

These are two fairly minor points, though, easily ignored when the story is good enough, which it is.

The art in this series seems to be the biggest point of contention among fans. At least, that's the impression I get from the comments and reviews that I've read so far online. Personally, I like Pier Gallo's art. His layouts are neat and used to great effect in the service of the story. For example, at the end of the scene where Connor tells Simon they can't be friends at school if they're going to be seen together when he is Superboy, Gallo draws a huge panel of Simon taking this in, alone in the empty washroom. Since Lemire is a great artist himself with a very distinct style and a great sense of layout, I always find myself wondering how much of visual elements are present in the script and how much of it is left to Gallo to come up with.

My only real complaint with the art is that Gallo has a tendency to draw Connor/Superboy sort of on the chubby side. He often looks like he has a lot of baby fat, reminding me a bit of Brian Wilson. A more likely influence is of course Frank Quitely's All Star Superman (also coloured by Jamie Grant). But in ASS, this look worked because it added humour and pathos to the character, especially as Clark Kent. I'm not sure this gentle roundness works as well on Connor. It doesn't seem to match his personality as well, not to mention that he's supposed to be a hot young athletic teenager (see Phil Noto's gorgeous cover for comparison).

Speaking of the Jamie Grant's colouring, I noticed that everyone's teeth are yellow in this book! It was very noticeable on that first page of this issue, so I flipped through the rest of book and even looked at the first two issues, and it seems this is a consistent artistic choice throughout. Weird.


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