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Sunday Slugfest: Adventure Comics #1

Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2009
By: Thom Young

Geoff Johns and Alex Ross
Francis Manapul (Superboy) and Clayton Henry (Legion)
DC Comics
It's the return of one of DC's longest-running titles along with the return of the use of the name of one of DC's greatest heroes--Superboy! Furthermore, in the back-up feature, the Legion of Super-Heroes returns to the title that launched the group's success 50 years ago.

Shawn Hill:
Christopher Power:
Thom Young:




Shawn Hill

The cover of Adventure Comics #1 is a hopeful one. Sure, there's a portion in shadow (with Lex pondering a shard of Kryptonite), but that big red S and the connection between Superman and Superboy is where the real emphasis lies. He's back! Conner's gotten what everyone dreams of, a second chance to do things right.

Francis Manapul seems to have grown in leaps and bounds from his Legion of Superheroes work. I don't know if the painterly (not really painted) quality to this issue is due to him or the colorist, but it's a pleasant and clean looking way to depict life in Smallville--one that strikes a balance between maturity and cartoonishness (which, I guess, is where Conner's at right now, too.

Conner plans to learn from the master, but he's still too young to know that slavish imitation isn't really his path. He and the other recently revived hero, Bart "Kid Flash" Allen, destroy their memorial statues at Titans headquarters--not in an act of violence but more like a celebration of the real live boys being alive again.

In this issue, Conner also saves a girl... and plays with his dog... and bonds with Ma Kent. However, none of that stops him from seeking out Lex's childhood home. Conner is in the strange position of having two dads--made worse by the fact that one is evil and they're mortal enemies of each other. Geoff Johns began exploring this dichotomy years ago in Titans, but it's still unresolved as the character's development was waylaid by several seasons of plot mechanics. It looks like we're finally going to get going on figuring out his dual nature in earnest--and next issue, the other dropped thread: Wonder Girl!

The Legion backup in this issue is a bit spottier and more inconsistent than the main story. Not only are Night Girl and Shadow Lass incorrectly labeled in the double-page roll call spread, but brain-addled Starman isn't so cute anymore. It's great to see Tellus show up to try and fix him, but the task proves too daunting even for the alien telepath. At this point I don't recall how Starman got this way, but I hope somebody can fix him soon.

The issue ends with a series of slices of future portents (which I think is how one crisis or another ended a few years back), and a lot of it looks quite promising. However, my major interest in the backup tale is that it affirms that Johns will be writing the Levitz-era Legion (more or less)--having consigned Legion Lost and Legion-Prime to other realms--and that's the best news of all.




Christopher Power:

Conner Kent is back in the (fictional) world of the living! Hooray!

I will start my review by saying that I am likely quite biased. Very biased in fact. Young Justice remains one of my very fondly held memories of comics reading (and I was already old when I read it). Similarly, I was quite pleased with the shift of Conner Kent during Geoff Johns's Teen Titans from being a character with a relatively small history, to having a deep and rich back story that is connected to the broader Superman mythos. Indeed, I would say that Conner Kent became one of my favourite characters in the DCU--right after Power Girl and the Big S.

Then DC decided that they would systematically tear apart the crew that made up Young Justice, and I threw my hands up in despair. I understand that change in comics must happen, but the way it was done, and how poorly the aftermath was handled, left me feeling pretty disillusioned with DC books. Indeed, until recently, there was very little I wanted to read in their stable of books.

Now, all sins are forgiven and we are given another chance to enjoy these characters.*

So, how is the first issue of Conner Kent's own book?

Well, let me tell you, I really enjoyed it. Indeed, I think I would put it up among one of the better books I have read this year. It is simple, straightforward, and sets the scene for the story to come--which appears to be focussed on the legacy Conner must eventually fulfill. Most importantly, it is gorgeously drawn and coloured.

I'm going to start with the art.

This is the second time this weekend I have stated in a review that I do not know the work of this artist, but will now be looking for his art (see the Blackest Night Slugfest). Francis Manapul does a fantastic job on anatomy and, in particular, the movement of that anatomy.

When Conner is flying, it is dynamic, and realistic looking. He also uses all of the different iconic flight poses instead of sticking to just one or two boring images.

Manapul also does an excellent job of giving depth to a scene with only a minimal amount of detail to the background visuals, but giving deep detail to the objects in focus. By doing this, he draws the eyes to the objects that are central to the scene--like the breaking bridge. It is rickety, and broken down, and you can tell that immediately from his pencils.

Brian Buccelato also deserves a ton of credit for colouring the scenes appropriately. Examples of gorgeous backgrounds include the farm at Smallville, and the scenes in the swamp. They are entirely different in their colouring, and each gives the reader a feeling of warmth and the chills, respectively.

On to the story, Johns returns to the story that he started back in Teen Titans--with Conner Kent attempting to understand his lineage. What does it mean to be Superman? What does it mean to wear the "S" shield? How can you reach those heights?

I always thought this story addressing these questions was left undone in Teen Titans, with Conner never really finding answers. Given that Conner is coming at it from a positive attitude in this issue--as opposed to the moping, angst-filled dialogue that we have seen in the past--I'm hoping that the pursuit of answers will lead to an interesting story.

In this issue, the story is fairly basic--introducing the key players in Conner's life, his current situation, and his understanding that there are threats big and small to deal with in Smallville. The appearance of Superman later in the story harkens back to the first issues of Teen Titans and echoes those scenes nicely. My only criticism of that scene is that there is the hint of great dialogue, and large exploration of the Nature vs. Nurture debate between Conner and Clark. However, Johns shies away from it in the end. Something about the way the dialogue flowed in that scene felt as if it was being rushed past for lack of pages--or fear to tread down that path.

Moving on to the backup story about the Legion of Superheroes, I should start out by saying that I am a newcomer to the Legion. It was a couple of years ago that I was indoctrinated into Legion history, and I'm still confused.

I have been reading old Levitz-era Legion stories, but I have a long way to go before I understand all of the history. However, I have enjoyed what I have read, and have become a big fan of the Legion--in all of its forms. I was particularly disappointed that DC cancelled the recent Legion series in favour of these backup stories.

The backup feature is well drawn, with a different style from the main story. It looks much like the recent Justice Society of America issues. However, the pencils and colours are quite nice. The return of classic Legion costumes is nice, too--but I am not keen on Shadow Lass's outfit.**

The story doesn't go very far, which is part of the reason I would prefer a full Legion issue. What's here, though, is quite entertaining--once again returning to a Johns story from the past, this time Starman's mental illness. We will have to see what happens, but I'm happy to see in the previews on the final page that we will see a Green Lantern finally join the Legion.

I've added Adventure to my pull list, and I recommend this book to everyone. Much like the Green Lanterns, Johns has a passion for Kon-El and the Legion--that in itself may lead to interesting, well-written stories.

*Hopefully someone has let Tim Drake--who is rampaging in Madrid, in part because his friends are all dead--know that his buddies are back among the living (although I doubt it).

**Note for Legion newcomers, there is an error in the lettering. Shadow Lass is labeled as Night Girl, and vice versa.




Thom Young:

I recently read somewhere online (I forget where, and I don't want to search for it at the moment) that Francis Manapul suggested using an illustration style for his work on the Superboy feature in Adventure Comics that was different from the one he used in the recently canceled Legion of Super-Heroes series he was doing with Jim Shooter. I'm not certain what name we could give to the style he was using in Legion, but he referred to his style in Adventure as "Americana."

I've never known Americana to be used as the name of an art style before--only as the name of the subject being depicted in Americana works of art. However, I understood what Manapul meant.

Superman (and Superboy) is a part of Americana. The character is as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet (or Ford). To a large extent, the feeling of Americana in the art work is due to the colors by Brian Buccellao--which, I'm assuming, Manapul directed to some degree. The double-page spread on pages 2 and 3 vividly depict the idea of Americana. It's sort of a Grant Wood setting as rendered and colored by Andrew Wyeth.

It really is some of Manapul's best work--and Buccellao deserves a great deal of the credit, too. Additionally, while that double-page spread is the first real eye-catcher, each page of the story evokes that same Wood-Wyeth style of Americana. Rural Smallville has never looked so appropriate to either its supposed physical setting or its place within the Superman mythos. It's certainly much better than the geography of British Columbia that is so often noticeable in the Smallville television show.

The story by Geoff Johns matches perfectly the art by Manapul and Buccellao. It's the story of Conner "New Superboy" Kent keeping a diary in which he's listed "What did Superman do?" However, the list is not actually things that "Superman" did. I referred to Conner Kent as the "New Superboy" for good reason--because this issue (both features) clearly indicates that Clark Kent was once the Original Superboy.

Finally, after 23 years and one month, Clark Kent's childhood is once again that of "Superboy." I was disappointed with John Byrne's ret-con of the Superman mythos that began in 1986 with Man of Steel, and I'm glad to see this particular aspect--i.e., Clark was never Superboy--being dismantled by Johns. It gives me hope that his upcoming Origin of Superman with Gary Frank is going to return Krypton to the Art Deco and Futurism style that was so gloriously depicted by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson in 1974 in Superman--Limited Collectors' Edition #C-31.

Anyway, Conner imitates and checks off each item that Clark Kent did when he was a youth growing up in Smallville decades ago. Conner obviously thinks that the way to become like Superman is to go through experiences that are like those that Superman has undergone. I guess he's an Empiricist at heart.

Ominously, though, after the checklist of things that Superman did as a boy, Conner has one item on a list of things that Lex Luthor has done--and he checks that one off as well. However, considering what Conner did to fulfill that Luthor item, I'm not certain if it's actually an indication that Conner is torn between his two "fathers." After all, Bruce Wayne could probably check off that same item--and for essentially the same reason that Conner is able to check it off.

If this first issue is any indication of the approach that Johns is planning to take with the Superboy feature in Adventure Comics, then I'll be with this title for the long haul. I'm slightly disappointed that the "official" numbering didn't pick up where the original Adventure Comics left off in 1983 (with #503, which included the four digest reprints that ended the run). Still, I'm just glad to see the return of the title, the return of the Superboy history to the Clark Kent mythos, and the return of the Legion of Super-Heroes to the title in which they began more than 50 years ago.

Speaking of the Legion . . .

The back-up feature here is a bit of a disappointment in several ways.

First, as both Shawn and Chris mentioned, Night Girl and Shadow Lass are incorrectly labeled on the double-page spread of the Legion roster (and Clark "Superboy" Kent is incorrectly labeled as "Superman"). It would appear that letterer Sal Cipriano believed the girl with the dark blue skin must be "Night Girl." Cipriano also seems to have not noticed that the first page of this back-up feature clearly has the Legion recruiting Clark "Superboy" Kent.

On the other hand, perhaps this feature will be depicting an adult Legion in which Superman is a regular member--though that seems unlikely. Besides, if that were the case, then I would think that Night Girl (she of the original "Hooters" t-shirt costume, albeit black rather than white) should be "Night Woman." She should also be flying next to Rokk "Cosmic Boy" Krinn--unless those two aren't getting along as well as they once did.

Additionally, the captions on the second page of that double-page roll call spread didn't print correctly--at least not on my copy. Shawn and Chris didn't mention it in their reviews, but of the ten caption boxes on that page, six of them are blurred to the point of being illegible while the other four are mostly blurry. However, the illustrations on that page are fine; it's just the caption boxes that didn't print correctly.

Weird.

For the most part, this back-up story is a six-page Star Boy tale that ends with a psychological cliffhanger. It follows one page of exposition that informs us the Clark Kent was Superboy, that he inspired the Legion of Super-Heroes, and that they recruited him as a member. Then there is the double-page roll call spread with the blurry captions on the second page.

After the six-page Star Boy tale, there is the one page of "Coming Soon" highlights that look intriguing but that I could have done without. I think of the trailer as something that should be free--not as something that is part of the content for which I paid money.

As for the six-page Star Boy story . . .

Well, first of all, it's Starman now--not Star Boy (so perhaps Night Girl should have been labeled "Night Woman" rather than "Shadow Lass"--and Imra Ardeen-Ranzz should be "Saturn Woman," et cetera). Of course, I prefer that these be the adventures of the youthful Legion of Super-Heroes, so he will always be "Star Boy" to me.

Anyway, like Shawn, I wish someone would just send Star Boy's 31st-century medicine back in time so that his schizophrenia (or whatever the condition is) will be cleared up and we can get away from the goofiness of having him throw bowling balls through walls and mini-vans and yelling "Touchdown" when he does so.

I do like how this back-up feature ties into a two-page subplot of the main feature by showing us who the monster is that dwells in Bruin Lake just outside of Smallville. It further intrigues me about the role that the character Simon Valentine is going to play in Conner Kent's life. As far as I know, Simon Valentine is a new character to the DC universe, and the revelation by the "monster" in Bruin Lake has me interested in learning more.

On the whole, despite the goofiness of the Star Boy story, Adventure Comics #1 is one of the best efforts I've seen from Geoff Johns--I was going to state "in a long time," but I think the Superboy feature may be the best writing I've seen from him ever.

If he can maintain this quality, this will be a series to keep reading for a long time to come.



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