Superb Volume 1 trade paperback
“Life After the Fallout”
Writers: David F. Walker & Sheena C. Howard
Pencils: Ray-Anthony Height, Alitha Martinez & Eric Battle
Inks: Lebeau L. Underwood, Alitha Martinez, Eric Battle, Robin Riggs & Ray-Anthony Height
Colors: Chris Sotomayor & Veronica Gandini
Writers: Priest & Joseph Illidge
Artists: Marco Turini & Will Rosado
Colors: Jessica Kholinne
Letters: Andworld Design
Cover artist: Ray-Anthony Height
Editor: Joseph Illidge
Publisher: Lion Forge
Price: $14.99 US
I rather enjoyed the first Lion Forge book I sampled — Noble Vol. 1 — so I looked forward to delving into another collection of the relatively new publisher’s offerings. I didn’t do any reading about Superb before perusing its pages, which is too bad, as I might have enjoyed it a little more. As I made my way through the book, I thought I was getting some fairly typical super-hero genre fare. I was reminded of X-Men elements as well as some New Universe comics from the 1980s. I didn’t get a sense that I was finding anything new here at all. I was well into the book when I realized one of the main protagonists was unlike other super-powered teen heroes. Some missteps — from a script that was too subtle to exaggerated artwork that hid the hero’s disability — made this book seem ordinary when it could have stood out as something more. Ultimately, the inclusive and sensitive message at the heart of this book lives up to the book’s title, but the execution does not.
A year after meteors wreaked and literally rained havok on Youngstown, Ohio, some people — and teenagers specifically — have begun manifesting superhuman powers, and the Foresight Corp. is scrambling to keep a lip on the problem it had a hand in creating. Among the newly powered teens is one who’s adopted a costumed identity — Cosmosis — to help people, and an ambitious Foresight manager named Gomez is determined to capture him. Meanwhile, Kayla, a girl whose parents work for Foresight, laments that her family has moved back to the town, and she tries to protect her old friend Jonah, a teenager with Down syndrome, who feels his only friend abandoned him for a time.
The biggest problem with this book is the artwork. That isn’t to say the artists don’t perform well here. While I’m not familiar with the work of Ray-Anthony Height, I’ve seen Alitha Martinez’s and Eric Battle’s efforts on past projects, and they deliver the same sort of exaggerated, angular style one has come to expect from them. The problem is that their styles are a poor fit for this material. What sets this book apart is that one of the heroes is a kid with Down syndrome, but that’s far from apparent in the line art. After that became clearer to me from the script later in the book, looking back at the earlier pages, I can see Height’s efforts to convey that aspect of the character in his face. But since his style (and those of his other contributors) is so loose and exaggerated, it wasn’t obvious at all. Even the cover art isn’t clear enough about Jonah’s Down syndrome. The only artist involved with this series who really captures Jonah’s look effectively is John Cassaday, who provided a variant cover for the first issue. Artists with a more realistic style really would have served this story and these characters better.
Height’s and the others’ exaggerated approaches also makes for some inconsistent looks for the cast of characters. Cosmosis occasionally looks like a teen who’s small in stature, which works well with the plot, but at other times, he seems larger than life. Traditional tropes of super-hero storytelling keep infringing on the non-traditional elements for which the writers are striving here. The shift from one artist’s style to another also makes for some inconsistencies as one reads the book. I did appreciate that for the most part, the teenage characters actually looked like teenagers, not just slightly shorter adults; and the female characters are thankfully not sexualized. Some of the lettering later in the book is oddly askew, with the tops and bottoms of characters failing to line up.
This trade paperback also includes a backup story that delves into the actions of the Foresight Corp. and how it’s shaped the world into one where superhumans exist. Co-written by Priest, it’s an understandably dense, non-linear, challenging and interesting piece. Unfortunately, it’s material I’ve seen before — literally. This is the same backup story from the Noble trade paperback, and I was disappointed with the repetition.
The scripting in the main story is rather awkward as well. Given this was originally published in an episodic format, I get the need to revisit exposition from chapter to chapter, but after the first installment, the information is presented in a clunky and even inconsistent fashion. The script spells out some plot points in painfully redundant manner at times, which makes me wonder by another important component of the story more plainly.
While the art fails to communicate Jonah’s Down syndrome to the reader, the same can be said of the script in the first half of the book. Looking back, I see the hints early on, such as when a bully uses a slur against Jonah on the way to school, but the writers aren’t clear or overt enough about it. When Jonah’s father tells authority figures that his son has Down syndrome, I was so taken aback that I initially thought it might be a smokescreen to get rid of them.
Once I had that context for Jonah’s character, the story took on a much stronger significance. Instead of a derivative story of teen heroes on the run and fighting the good fight against an establishment seeking to exploit them, it became a tale about an overlooked boy, seeking as flawed and insignificant, who’s instead brave, resourceful and important to everyone’s future. It’s an incredibly empowering concept. I get that the writers were endeavoring not to make Down syndrome Jonah’s sole defining characteristic, but the effort to be sensitive and to present him as a fully rounded figure ends up obscuring that key element. 4/10