Sunday Slugfest: Adventure Comics #2 / #505

A comic review article by: Thom Young
After all that has happened, Conner Kent is nervous about seeing Cassie Sandsmark again, but Ma Kent knows best. In the backup story, Mekt Ranzz has asked for a prison visit from his brother Garth.

Shawn Hill:
Jason Sacks:
Thom Young:

Shawn Hill

Francis Manapul's art continues to be lovely, with a new soft and painterly effect that fits the Smallville vibe while incorporating current styles and flashier costumes as needed. Based on his aborted Legion of Super-Heroes run, I knew he was talented, but I'm blown away here. Sure, everyone's a bit skinny, but the subtle interaction of Conner Kent and Cassie Sandsmark as they have a mature, frank, and intimately complicated discussion is a joy to behold.

Story wise, Geoff Johns is continuing his unsubtle hammering home of Conner's most basic existential dilemma: Which of DNA "fathers" is more akin to--Lex Luthor or Kal-El? However, I just don't think this is the most interesting question.

How about what it feels like to have two dads and no mom?

How about being grown in a vat?

I think Johns is getting around to saying that, genes aside, life is about the choices we make. The problem is that Conner has already been through enough to have more perspective than he shows here.

Johns does address the obvious road that he has already gone down before--having Luthor "flip a switch" and turn Conner into an evil killing machine, which happened in Teen Titans. Cassie doesn't blame Conner for that; she's more concerned about an imagined transgression of her own.

In a charming sequence, these two kids deal with their conflicted feelings better than most adults--and it seems that despite the plot mechanics that made their love seem doomed long ago, hope remains after all.

In the Legion backup tale, Clayton Henry draws very bulky thighs and very tiny noses, but otherwise his heroes are depicted with good spatial dynamics and are set in a convincingly futuristic world. Johns (with Michael Shoemaker as co-writer) is focusing for now on the core team of Garth, Rokk, and Imra--and that's fine for a next direction since they defeated the false Justice League in Action Comics.

Johns has also come up with a twist on the Mekt angle that I can't recall having been done before, so I'm intrigued. He's continuing his characterizations from "The Lightning Saga," so Garth is almost as hot-headed as his evil brother.

Overall, I continue to enjoy Johns's take on the future heroes--especially as they now are Superman's colleagues and friends again. However, a lot of the work Johns is doing here may soon be moot as Levitz is coming in to write the Legion in the wake of DC's managerial shakeup last week. I wonder if he'll take over the whole book or just the second feature.

Regardless, with art like this from Manapul and Henry, and the prospect of only better stories on the way, I'm sticking around for the duration.

Jason Sacks:

Love and romance are so complicated. How often does it happen that you meet a girl that you like, and you hit it off? The two of you hang out; talk, text and chat a lot; start to get romantic; and then something happens that forces you apart.

You know what I mean. Her parents force the family to move, or she runs out of money and has to leave college and go home, or an old boyfriend comes around, or you get killed. That kind of thing can really hurt a romance.

While it's easier than ever to keep a romance going when your girl lives hundreds or thousands of miles away, when you're dead . . . well, that's just a real bummer.

Fortunately, if you're a superhero and your lover is killed, you gotta believe it's just a matter of time till they come back. Most of the time that strategy works. Occasionally, though, it doesn't--and the lover is trapped on the other side or, worse yet, has fallen out of favor by the fanboy community so that his (or her) continued existence is in doubt.

So what do you do? Part of you can stay loyal, but it's not like staying loyal at college knowing that you'll be able to go home and see your paramour either on weekends or over the summer. I mean, the guy's dead, and while dead in comics is nothing like dead in the real world, it still can feel pretty damn permanent.

You do what you can do under the circumstances. You move on, start hanging with a new person. Life moves on and you can just imagine the kinds of hormones that teenagers have--especially among the super-power crowd. If you think teens are excited after their senior prom, just imagine how they must feel after defeating Trigon and saving the world.

This issue of Adventure Comics is mostly about Conner Kent (who was dead but has now gotten better) reconciling with his old sweetie, Cassie Sandsmark, who was the one left on our side of the mortal plane. This isn't the most intensely plotted comic ever--it's mostly a conversation between Conner and Cassie--but because the comic centers on the relationship between these two characters as people rather than costumes, I think it works. It's a nice little comic.

It works because the reunion is a logical step in the lives of both characters, and because Conner's actions before his death are well explained. Though I never read the original stories to which Johns refers, I could easily fill in the gaps in my head.

This issue also works due to the gorgeous artwork by Francis Manapul. It's striking how many images feel iconic and interesting. There's a sweet scene with the couple walking from the Kent house that looks like a picture postcard, and another scene of the couple silhouetted against the moon that is clever and interesting. However, Manapul is also effective in the other half of the main story--an intense action scene featuring Lex Luthor and Briainiac.

Yet, one weakness in this comic is that Johns has such a strong firewall between the Luthor/Brainiac and Conner/Cassie stories. Of course, we have the sense that Luthor and Brainiac are scheming to come up with an incredibly evil scheme to attack our heroes, but the stories are told entirely separately in this issue, which seems a bit awkward. However, when Johns's arc is collected in the inevitable hardcover volume, I think the separate elements in this chapter will read better.

The Legion of Super-Heroes backup story is well written by Johns and Michael Shoemaker, and well-drawn by Clayton Henry. However, the story seems poorly informed.

The Doom Patrol, Aquaman, and Hawkman notwithstanding, the Legion might be the most-retconned franchise in the DC Universe--and, after reading this story, I had no sense of who the characters depicted in this story are. Based on their costumes--especially the massively ugly costume worn by Lightning Lad--it would appear that these are yet another new group of Legionnaires, which seems a terribly odd decision given the fact that they're exiled to a puny ten-page back-up.

Ten pages is nowhere enough space to get readers up to speed on a universe as complicated as the Legion's; I was so lost by all the very specific call-outs that were undefined that I completely struggled my way through the story.

It also feels awfully premature to do a story around Lightning Lad's family issues since there's no way for those issues to have resonance for any readers. We may be familiar with family issues on Lightning Lad's home planet of Winath, but for those issues to have resonance they need to be worked into this universe--and readers have to be given a feeling of a stake in the matter. Instead, the plot here just feels very arbitrary.

So . . . I'm happy that Cassie and Conner are back together, but I don't care at all that the Ranzz family, who shoot lightning from their fingertips, are having troubles.

Thom Young:

I've mentioned it many times in past reviews, but I haven't done so in the last five months--not since my review of Ignition City #1 for the Sunday Slugfest of April 12--so I'm going to mention it again here.

My all-time favorite film is My Dinner with Andre--which is almost entirely about two men sitting at a table in an upscale New York restaurant and talking to each other for nearly two hours. The only non-dining "action" in that film is of Wallace Shawn taking a subway to the restaurant and then taking a taxicab home at the end.

In Adventure Comics #2, Geoff Johns gives us a story that is almost entirely about two people sitting at a picnic table on a Kansas farm and talking to each other for what seems like two hours (it only took me about 10 or 15 minutes to read the story, but it seemed like two hours). The only non-dining "action" in the lead feature is of Lex Luthor and Brainiac breaking out of prison and killing a bunch of people and then discussing the conquest of Earth--which, of course, is more exciting than watching Wallace Shawn ride on a subway and in a taxicab, but it isn't more interesting.

My Dinner with Andre is a film that people either love or hate; there is rarely anyone who takes a middle position about that movie. Obviously, since it's my favorite film, I'm not opposed to a story in which nothing much happens in terms of action. However, there must be something happening in terms of ideas--and Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory discuss some profound concepts with a great deal of insight and passion in that Louis Malle-directed movie.

Of course, the entire film is not all profundity, perceptiveness, and passion. The dinner conversation is a nice blend of mundane small talk at the beginning that eventually leads to exceptional explorations of reality and the meaning of life by the end.

Unfortunately, in Adventure Comics #2, we have a story in which mundane small talk at the beginning leads to clich├ęd pronouncements of awkward teenage love and feelings of unfaithfulness because . . . gasp . . . Wonder Girl III kissed Robin IV during a time when she thought Superboy III was dead.* Rather than profundity, Johns gives us banal superficiality.

To be fair, though, I suppose people who have followed the adventures of Wonder Girl III and Superboy III throughout their respective superhero careers might get something of value of this story--something akin to the comfort of knowing two of your close friends had a bump in their relationship and got over it.

It's probably because I grew up moving from town to town every two years (on the average) from the age of 11 to 19, but I've never been someone who feels that deeply toward my acquaintances to care if they are getting along well with each other. However, I realize other people have such emotional attachments to longtime friends--as well as a need to know that "all is right in the world." I suppose this story provides that type of comfort for the fans of the Wonder Girl III and Superboy III relationship.

The Luthor and Brainiac relationship at the beginning of the story was slightly more interesting to me--but not by much.

There were references to events that I'm not up on--stuff happening in the main Superman titles, I assume--and that I'm also not that interested in. To tell you the truth, while I liked the first issue of this new/rebooted series (or the main feature of the first issue, actually), I was really expecting the All-New/Return-to-the-Old Adventure Comics to feature "Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes" instead of "Superboy" and "The Legion of Super-Heroes."

I really don't care about Superboy III enough to follow his adventures, and while I've long been a fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes, there hasn't been anything in the backup feature of the first two issues that interests me. In fact, I'll be rather disappointed if the plot point that is announced at the end of this issue's "Legion of Super-Heroes" feature turns out to be true.

If it is "true," it will change the nature of Mekt "Lightning Lord" Ranzz by significantly altering his personal history that was established as far back as the late 1970s to mid 1980s.

I'm not opposed to changes in the Legion mythos that add complexity to their history, as that's exactly what either Paul Levitz or Jim Shooter did when he added to the Legion mythos decades ago in establishing Winath as a planet in which dizygotic (fraternal) twins are the norm--presumably because Winathian women produce two eggs during their ovulation period--thus making Mekt Ranzz a psychologically damaged character for cultural reasons.

Undoing that decades-old rich addition to the mythos by revealing that Mekt actually does have a long lost dizygotic twin doesn't sit right with me. Nevertheless, this new plot twist could work if it's executed well--so I'll give it a chance to win me over (if, indeed, it turns out to be "true" and not just some machination of Mekt's to manipulate his brother).

Before closing, I want to point out that I believe my colleague (and boss) Jason Sacks is incorrect in claiming that the Legion in this backup story is yet another new incarnation of the team. I actually flirted with that possibility, too, while I was reading the story. However, I believe this version of the team is supposed to be the same "Paul Levitz Legion" that Johns used in Action Comics #858-63 and in the Legion of 3 Worlds miniseries.

All in all, the only thing that prevented me from giving this issue an even lower bullet ranking than I have given it is the work of Francis Manapul--which Jason and Shawn Hill have rightly praised already. After completing this issue, my primary thought was, "How long until Paul Levitz takes over this title and gives us interesting stories about 'Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes'"?

It can't be too soon for me.

* Superboy I was the young Clark Kent who is now Superman, Superboy II is also known as Superboy-Prime (an unfortunate name), and Superboy III is Conner Kent.

Wonder Girl I was the young Princess Diana (as first seen in Wonder Woman #105 cover dated April 1959), Wonder Girl II was Donna Troy, and Wonder Girl III is Cassie Sandsmark.

Robin I was Dick Grayson of Earth-Two, Robin II was Dick Grayson of Earth-One (confusing, ain't it?), Robin III was Jason Todd, Robin IV was Tim Drake-Wayne (unless we count future Robins in old stories--it really is confusing, isn't it?).

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