Adventure Comics #1/Adventure Comics #504
“Superboy, The Boy of Steel, Part One” and “Long Live the Legion”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Francis Manapul & Clayton Henry
Colors: Brian Buccellato & Brian Reber
Letters: Steve Wands & Sal Ciprinao
Cover artist: Francis Manapul
Editor: Elisabeth V. Gehrlein
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Ever since the character debuted in 1993, I’ve never been terribly enamored of the new Superboy. I always found him to be rather obnoxious, but some talent creators have told stories using him over the years as well. He’s been the center of some contrived plots in recent years, not the least of which was his recent anti-climactic resurrection in the pages of Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. Here, writer Geoff Johns takes a two-pronged to the character. On the one hand, he’s crafting a coming-of-age story; he may be a super-hero, but Superboy’s also a teenager, and as such, he’s struggling like other teens to figure out who he is. Secondly, Johns is also clearly trying to tell a new story in an old tradition, as he mirrors Silver Age Superboy stories while also modernizing them. He’s also established a strong link between the main Superboy feature and the Legion of Super-Heroes backup story. While the Legion piece isn’t the most accessible of plots, Johns does hold out the promise of payoff of a super-hero mystery plot that’s been hinted at in DC titles for a couple of years.
Conner Kent, AKA Superboy, has opted to make his home once again in Smallville, moving in with Clark Kent’s mother, Martha. He enrolls in high school, works on the Kent farm and re-established his membership in and friendships with the Teen Titans. He’s trying to emulate the man in whose image he was made — Superman — and he seems quite happy. But what those closest to him don’t realize is that Connor also fears that he might be destined to follow in the footsteps of the man whose DNA runs through his veins: Lex Luthor. Meanwhile, Starman makes contact with another member of the 31st-century Legion of Super-Heroes who’s hiding in the present as well in furtherance of a plan in which Superboy will factor heavily.
Francis Manapul’s art for the main feature strikes me as a significant departure from his past work. His art on the most recent Legion of Super-Heroes series featured much slicker, smoother lines, with an inker providing the final polish. Here, he’s flying solo on the line art, and there’s a looser approach at play that instills a hazy, dream-like atmosphere. That’s in keeping with the happy, simpler and traditional tone that’s integral to the plot. Brian Buccellato’s soft colors further enhance the effect. The only page that disappointed in terms of visuals was the splash page featuring Superboy rushing to a girl’s rescue. The lack of backgrounds and simpler approach to the lone figure made for a flat image that didn’t merit the full-page treatment.
There’s a heartening, wholesome tone to Johns’s Superboy script that feels truly comforting. Outside of titles aimed directly at younger readers, such a brighter tone is rather rare in super-hero comics, especially in ones penned by Geoff Johns. It’s my hope that his future Superboy stories maintain this traditional, warm approach rather than turning to darker, nastier elements. Now, Johns tempers that schmaltzy, Small-Town USA charm with a touch of teen angst, and again, I hope that more reflective tone is maintained as well. Conner’s sense of being stuck in the shadows of two extraordinary yet diametrically opposed men is an understandable character trait, and I hope Johns’s long-term plans for the character is an eventual discovery that he’s not Superman and not Luthor, but rather that he’s something and someone else altogether different.
Johns’s Legion story, focusing on the mentally ill Starman, is even lighter in tone that the main feature. While I’m still uncomfortable with some writers’ penchant for playing up the character’s schizophrenia for laughs, I did enjoy his portrayal as something of an innocent adventurer. The backup feature reveals the identity of a mysterious, seemingly monstrous figure that turns up in the main story, and creating a solid link between the two features in this ongoing series makes a lot of sense.
Clayton Henry’s wide-eyed, cartoony art suits the lighter tone of the super-hero adventure strip, and he really captures the color, hope and idealism that the Legion has represented over the decades. He handles the comedic moments of the Starman scenes nicely, especially the unique physical slapstick that one could only find in a story featuring a hero with a flight ring, gravity powers and an unhealthy interest in bowling.
Johns’s is following up on plot threads left hanging after such stories as 2007’s “The Lightning Saga” from Justice League of America and Justice Society of America as well as from the recently completed Legion of Three Worlds. There’s a real sense of an epic story taking shape, and as a longtime Legion fan, I must admit to enjoying those references and mysteries. Still, I can’t help but wonder how obstructive such elements must be to newer readers. Johns tries to jam a lot of exposition into this short feature, and that makes for some unwieldy dialogue at times. The double-page spread establishing the Legion’s membership is a nice touch and a makes for a striking visual, but I was distracted by the fact that it misidentifies two members (Shadow Lass and Night Girl, for the record).
Another element that might confuse newer readers is the dual numbering for this issue. The cover lists this as both the first issue and the 504th. The small print at the back of the comic states the same as well. Adventure Comics had a long run beginning in the Golden Age of comics, and while it featured a diverse array of DC heroes, it ultimately became known as a Legion title and ended as such as a series of digests reprinting classic DC stories, including Legion tales. I have the last one of those Adventure Comics digests, so it was a treat to see the title’s previous history acknowledged. 7/10
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