“Smallville Attacks! Part Two”
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Pier Gallo
Colors: Jamie Grant
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Cover artists: Phil Noto/Guillem March (variant)
Editor: Matt Idelson
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 us
While I enjoyed the first issue of this series (and thoroughly enjoyed the Geoff Johns/Francis Manapul stories in Adventure Comics that led up to this new title), I wasn’t sure I’d be following the book on a monthly basis. Like many other comics readers, I’m trying to rein in my weekly spending on comics, and comics that are merely “good” aren’t making the cut anymore. Well, this second issue cemented Superboy on my pull list for a while to come. Lemire’s take on small-town super-heroics is a lot of fun, but more importantly, he’s doing some excellent work in developing the character of Simon Valentine, the title character’s new friend and sidekick who has the potential to become his arch-nemesis a la Lex Luthor. Simon’s character is so much fun, I’m reminded of earlier appearances of Marvel’s Amadeus Cho, another boy genius who’s been fostered into a fan favorite in another shared super-hero universe.
A weird energy is emanating from Smallville, and Gotham plant goddess/terrorist has come to track it to its source. Bearing the proverbial olive branch (even though she could probably generate a genuine one), she asks for Superboy’s help to track the source of the energy and Smallville’s apparent botanical woes — accelerated plant growth that’s decimating the community. With the help of Ivy and his new best friend Simon Valentine, Superboy finds a barn full of alien weirdness and an old farmer who’s fallen victim to some weird technology. Where it came from, what it means and the true nature of Ivy’s intent are all mysteries… at first.
There’s something unusual about Pier Gallo’s thick-lined style that I find enticing. He works to ensure that the title character’s youth shines through, and it works (even though the juxtaposition with the slighter, younger-looking Simon and the confidence the hero exhibits in this story threaten to make him seem more grown up). I think my favorite visuals in the book are those of the structures of Smallville. From the barn when the action explodes to the vine-plagued Main Street, Gallo captures the small-town backdrop nicely. That’s important, because the setting helps to set this book apart from other super-hero comics. Jamie Grant, perhaps best known for his digital inks and colors on the landmark All Star Superman, handles the coloring chores on this book, and it shows. There’s a vibrant energy in each panel. The crisp blue of the Smallville sky, the pinkish glow in Superboy’s skin tone and the powerful purple of… well, I’ll get to that later — these colors all really pop and reinforce the sense of fun and imagination growing out of the script.
Poison Ivy’s role in this story is really negligible. She’s more of a distraction, moreso visually than anything else. I was initially a bit irked at her inclusion in this story, as she seemed only to add gratuitous T&A shots to the book (such as the one on the splash panel on page 2), but it occurred to me that Lemire, intentionally or otherwise, had managed to show just how much the title character has grown over the past couple of decades of DC comics. Actually, in many ways, this 21st century iteration of Superboy is a completely different character than the one that was revealed in the 1990s in the wake of the Death of Superman event. There was a time when all of the character’s dialogue in a story such as this one would be devoted to comments about Poison Ivy’s physical attributes. Instead, he’s distrustful and even put off by her. “Sorry, Ivy, I’m not buying it,” he says in this issue. He’s no longer the annoying horndog he used to be, and that makes him a much more palatable character.
Right in the middle of this comic book, Simon unleashes a sci-fi surprise that saves his super-pal’s skin. I don’t want to spoil it completely here, the purple power that literally leaps from the page, through panels, but it absolutely mad, cute and wonderful. If the image of this plot element had appeared on the cover, DC would have sold thousands more copies. It’s irreverent and clearly indicates that despite the serious tone the hero takes and the darker epilogue, there’s a Silver Age sentimentality and sense of fun to be enjoyed.
The real plot point that has my attention, though, is the burgeoning friendship between Boy of Steel and the Boy Genius. We really haven’t had a chance to get to know Simon all that well, but he comes off as so earnest in his desire to help and befriend Conner Kent. And his knowledge of the hero’s secret identity finally gives the title character a logical reason to allow this odd figure into his life. It mirrors the Silver Age friendship between a teenage Kal-El and Lex Luthor, but that friendship was never explored in any depth. That’s what Jeff Lemire is doing here, at least in part, though some of the fun is discovering whether or not he’s going to take Simon down the exact same path as his Silver Age mirror self. 8/10
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