by Geoff Johns (writer), Francis Manapul (art), Brian Buccellato (colors), and Steve Wands (letters)

The Story: Conner Kent returns to life in Smallville, trying to understand and relive the experiences of both Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.

What’s Good: If there were ever a wholesome, family comic, this is it. This really is a kid-friendly comic, but I don’t mean that in a disparaging or simplifying sense that should put off any more wizened fans. Adventure Comics is kid-friendly in the way that the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm manned Batman animated series was kid-friendly. It’s comfort food certainly, but it doesn’t condescend, leading to an awesome comic for younger readers and a fun, relaxing read for the more wizened.

This entire issue serves merely as a prelude of things to come and certainly opens promising doorways. I enjoyed the characterization of Superboy, a character as much trying to find his place in this world as he is attempting to negotiate his lineage, recognizing both Luthor and Kal-El as his parents, leading to a very effective ending…  And of course, there’s Krypto– only the most heartless of readers can despise Krypto, who has a scene this month that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The damned mutt is adorable, thanks in no small part to Manapul.

Speaking of Francis Manapul, the man’s work is a thing of beauty. His work carries that same warm, lovable tone as the writing, truly capturing the sparse grandness of the American heartland. Manapul makes Smallville look like a place that’s impossible not to embrace, while many of his frames carry a kind “flashback” feel, thanks to the pseudo-painted style to run parallel to the warmth and vitality of the young characters.

What’s Not So Good: Unfortunately, plot-wise, there’s not a whole lot going on. I said that this month functions mostly as a prelude, and really, one can’t help at times to feel that this issue is nothing but a giant preview. Characters of future importance are given the barest glimpse, Superboy begins to establish his life in Smallville, and well, that’s pretty much it. It is done fairly masterfully so that it isn’t blaringly obvious, but in hindsight, there’s only the slightest bit of forward momentum, and that comes from the ending. If this weren’t a full-sized issue, I’d be tempted to call this Adventure Comics #0 if there wasn’t one already.  There’s no sign of clear direction and no real development of any of the supporting characters.

Also, the back-up is a complete mess and an utter waste of time. Despite being advertised as a Starman story, you’re getting one page recapping Superboy’s history with the Legion, a double-page spread detailing all the Legion’s members, and a final page of teasers for things to come. That means the actual story is all of four pages. Those four pages feature a babbling insane Starman, playing an albeit amusing game of bowling, before having an encounter/revelation that’ll probably only be of any worth if you’re fairly familiar with the character. There’s just nothing here.

Conclusion: A lead feature that goes down easy, yet it is unfortunately paired with a weak back-up…  Make no mistake, the main is good and expertly executed, but it’s just a preview.

Grade: B-

-Alex Evans