Secrets can really mess things up, you know? They can also make a story that much more fun. Superboy #1 is a massive web of people keeping secrets from each other. Definitely not a bad way to start off a book chock full of crazy big sci-fi ideas.
This issue is only 20 pages long, but Scott Lobdell and RB Silva have crammed in enough ideas to fill out at least the first arc of your average sci-fi comic. They even do this while playing in the well-worm field of the “clone stuck in a tube” story. Yes, when I opened up Superboy and the first thing I saw was a clone floating in a tube, I got a bit nervous. We’ve all been there, we’ve all seen that. But hey, even the opening narration was enough to get me hooked. Suitably ominous, equal parts friendly and impersonal. “They call me Superboy. I have no idea why.” It kind of echoes in your head, doesn’t it?
Every time I thought I had figured out what this book was throwing at me, I got a change-up instead of a fastball. It was just enough to keep me guessing, but not enough to keep me waiting for a twist. Clever and tightly plotted, this book has been the biggest surprise of DC’s New 52 initiative so far.
Long story short, there’s some scientists growing a kryptonian-human hybrid in an underground laboratory and everybody knows something the others don’t. Dr. White knows who the human DNA comes from. “Red” thinks she knows more about Superboy’s world than he does. He knows different. There’s a mole in the heart of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. with connections to a fan favorite DC character who could bring the whole operation to its knees, but he just can’t pull the trigger. Everyone is keeping something from someone else and half of the fun in this book is watching the layers pile up. Plus, did anybody notice that Superboy’s tank is marked with a big ol’ number 2. Makes you wonder where number 1 is.
The moment I realized Superboy was aware of what was going on outside his pleasant little Smallville stand-in was when everything clicked for me in this issue. It comes off as a little sinister. A little dark. Honestly, even a little scary. And it’s all due to a beautiful sci-fi concept. It turns out that Superboy’s consciousness isn’t limited to his brain. It extends throughout his entire body, giving him a fairly unique way of, ahem, seeing the world, as it were.
Lobdell spins a lot of fun moments off of this concept and even uses it to re-introduce the rather hard to explain power of tactile telekinesis back into the Superboy mythos. This is a creature who experiences the world in a totally different way and that is readily apparent throughout the whole issue. It’s fascinating.
The development of Superboy’s voice throughout the issue was another highlight for me. It goes from “alien experiment” to “teenager finding his way in the world” in a matter of pages. At first, I thought the teenage voice seemed inauthentic, but then it became readily apparent that the tinge of otherworldliness never quite leaves his dialogue. It simultaneously provides some much needed warmth to the character while keeping everything grounded in the crazy sci-fi that the series is based on. It’s a nice subtle touch by Lobdell that I really appreciated.
There’s an absolutely bizarre moment that includes a lapse of moral judgement and apathy that I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t read it yet. I have to commend the entire creative team for selling the moment. When I first read it, it couldn’t have seemed more out of place and confusing, but by the end of the book it starts to make sense and I’ve got to say it definitely has me asking all of the questions I should be asking about a character like this. The developing relationship between Superboy and “Red” ought to be very interesting over the next couple of months. Here’s hoping, anyway.
I can’t believe I’ve gone this far in this review without talking about R.B. Silva. Can we get a hand for this guy? I once called him a rockstar in my review for the wonderful free graphic novel Vision Machine and I’m sticking to that description. The guy’s a monster. Whether he’s capturing the chaos of an exploding super-science lab or a simple conversation between two employees there isn’t a single mediocre page in this book. I’ve had my eye on Silva since he was doing that Jimmy Olson backup with Nick Spencer and I couldn’t be more excited to see him on one of the New 52 as a regular artist. He’s a talent that obviously deserves as much exposure as he can get.
Silva’s lines are clean. His faces are loaded with personality. There will never be a question of what a character is feeling on an R.B. Silva page. Ever. For an issue where most of the characters are wearing the exact same uniform, he strives to give everyone their own personality and pulls it off with flying colors. Silva just gets better and better and I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for the rest of his tenure on this title. I don’t even think he’s begun to stretch his legs on this book. Look, I even like the Tron suit when Silva’s drawing it. I think that says something.
There really wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this book and I’m just as surprised as anyone. Issue 2 can’t get here fast enough. It’s even got me considering picking up Teen Titans when it comes out, which when the new 52 got announced was an almost automatic and emphatic “No thank you.”
You really can’t go wrong with an intricate web of lies, far-out sci-fi concepts, and amazing art. This is how you do a first issue. It’s got me asking a ton of questions that I can’t wait to see the answers to. These are the kind of books I was hoping to get from DC’s New 52 and I’m glad that Superboy #1 turned out to be a pleasant surprise.