Several weeks I ago I was critical of the Lex Luthor Unauthorized Biography comic, and ever since I reviewed it, I was hoping to swing back around and review another book I read once that also touches a bit on Lex Luthor’s home life and childhood.
You know what? This seems like as good of a time as any!
TITLE: Superboy: The Boy of Steel
Writer and Artist: Geoff Johns and Francis Manapaul
Antagonists: Lex Luthor
I tend to harp on the idea of “If I like an underexposed character, I will buy anything I can get with that character in it” a lot, but here I go again: I am a huge Superboy fan. I’m actually a fan of the entire Young Justice/Teen Titans core quartet (Tim Drake, Superboy, Cassie Sandsmark, and Impulse), and I tend to pick up whatever I find with them, including this minor Geoff Johns miniseries featuring the story of Superboy looking at his life and trying to determine if he is on the road to becoming Superman… or Lex Luthor. Hey, how long has it been since I reviewed a book with Jubilee in it? Hmmm…
This is a really grounded work with the recently returned (as in, from the dead) Conner Kent trying to ease back into his life by resuming his secret identity of Clark Kent’s relative and a student in Smallville. There could be a lot of big Superman-level action smashing about, but instead we get the story of Kon-El keeping a diary of what he does day-to-day and whether they are the things a young Superman would do… or a young Lex Luthor would do. It’s such a small touch even though it comes up a lot in the series, but it really gives you a definitive sense of who Conner is and what he had been struggling with since Teen Titans, where he discovered his entire parentage. It’s honestly one of my favorite devices I’d seen in a comic in a while.
Along the way, he is given his own correlatives to Lana Lang (Lori Luthor, who Superboy goes to school with, so he should have known her full name, making an eventual reveal less surprising. They could have given her her father’s last name to hide that, but no…) and Lex Luthor (Simon Valentine), though only Lori is important in this book. He doesn’t have a full-on Lana Lang-style relationship with Lori here, but they do have some flirtation and get close. She is obviously important because of her name, but give me a few paragraphs here.
Between working on his own personal character study and schoolwork, he finds time to meet up with his former Titans teammates in two really great issues that further exemplify why I love these characters. He has a date night with Wonder Girl where they work out their issues over his death and her kissing Robin (and credit to Johns for having Superboy go with a calm, realistic response instead of jumping to predictable, drama-forcing anger at this reveal), and it helps the pair feel like their emotions for each other are real. Shortly thereafter, he finds a globe-trotting Robin and seeks his assistance finding Lex Luthor. Tim at this point has abandoned his life and is searching the world for a way to prove Bruce Wayne is still alive, but Conner gets through to them and they have an enjoyable reunion, as well. Johns did a lot for these characters back in the Teen Titans, and I had a blast seeing him build on what he established there.
So the story builds to Superboy taking Lori to her house one night and finding out the tragic story of her extremely ill mother. This culminates in Lex arriving to find his erstwhile “son” in his sister and niece’s house. Avoiding a direct conflict, Superboy instead challenges Luthor to prove his supposed intellect by curing his sister of her ailment. Obviously Lex’s ego won’t allow this challenge to stand unanswered, so he sends Conner on an errand through time and space to get the ingredients he needs (neatly handled in a quick montage), and the villain succeeds. He cures his sister. Of course, this being Lex, he pretty much immediately then injects her with s serum that makes her worse off than she already was. Hey! Wait a minute! Where was this sister character in that Lex Luthor Biography story I read before? God damn discrepancies in backstories! I guess Johns just decided she could have been around somewhere the whole time? Who knows?
A fight starts to brew at that point, but Lex bails with the help of Brainiac, and Kon-El realizes he doesn’t need to keep score any longer… he’d never be the kind of person Luthor is. The Titans come together to support him at the end (and Tim uses his Bat wealth to get Lori’s mom the care she needs), and despite the fact that he essentially took an L here, Superboy comes out the other side feeling whole again.
Absolutely tremendous art in this series by Francis Manapul, who I’d never heard of before. His bibliography on Wikipedia is much too small for an artist of this caliber. Good facial emotions, decent action and movement in his art, and there is his almost “rough sketch” quality to his work that makes me the book feel… I don’t know how to say it… fresh? Unpolished? Like he just sketched it at a show and gave it to me? It’s hard to elaborate upon, but it’s a style that I really dug. It just felt different from some of the art you see in a lot of books, and it’s a case of different being good here.
Talking Point: There have been a bunch of iterations of the Teen Titans over the years, and it’s a book I have almost constantly enjoyed. Which of the non-JLA DC teams are your favorites?
I really like Superboy. I really enjoy Geoff Johns (especially on more single-hero-based, grounded work like this). I was happy to see Cassie and Tim make appearances. And I was a fan of the Smallville world building. This was a solid read for me. Check it out.