by Jeff Lemire (writer), Pier Gallo (art), Jamie Grant (colors), and Sal Cipriano (letters)

The Story: Superboy teams up with Poison Ivy in order to figure out what is causing Smallville’s plant life to run amok.

What’s Good: This Superboy comic is delightfully weird.  There’s this wackiness that gives real life to the book throughout the story, from body-snatcher type aliens, to Parasite frogs, to people being physically attached to machines.  There’s a delightful kind of “weird science” to Jeff Lemire’s story, sort of like a slightly darker Back to the Future.  The tech looks home-made and zany and it adds a unique, almost Doom Patrol-like, taste to the comic, while also making the rural setting into something of a more surreal, rustic sandbox for Lemire to play in.

Lemire also continues to highlight Simon Valentine’s role in the comic.  On the one hand, Simon plays to the old literary tradition of being the guy who follows a great person, recording all of his mighty deeds.  This is, of course, complicated by Simon’s dissatisfaction of this state of affairs, and his strong desire to be a teammate as well.  Indeed, when Simon and Connor finally do team-up, it’s great fun and the two share a strong, and warm, dynamic.  How Simon comes to the rescue is also guaranteed to make you smile, as the kid in you will no doubt find it all kinds of awesome.

Poison Ivy is written very well.  Lemire does a very subtle job writing her; as you read the comic, you’ll constantly be distrusting her, even though you’ve no clear evidence for doing so.  Lemire also does a great job on her voice.  She’s arrogant, clearly feels superior, and many of her lines carry a distinct sexuality to their tone.  Yet, despite all of this, Lemire’s Ivy never chews the scenery or comes across as over the top, which makes her all the better of a read.

Pier Gallo’s art remains strong as well.  He delivers a comic that feels truly family friendly and, hence, likable.  Despite this, he also does a great job illustrating the machines, whether they’re made by Simon or the aliens.  I also felt that his framing was particularly strong.

Speaking of those aliens, I loved them in the couple of pages we saw them in.  From Gallo’s design to Lemire’s concept, they are simply brilliant.  The make the rural setting all the more weird, while functioning as a sort of call-back to old, black and white monster movies.  It’s body-snatching awesomeness and it makes me absolutely starved for Superboy #3.

What’s Not So Good: Not a lot.  I guess you don’t get as much reflection and thoughtfulness as last month and the insanity overrides the more contemplative stuff, but it’s still very fun, partially because of that.

Gallo also draws a couple of iffy faces, and his characters do look a little stiff at points.  Compared to how great the rest of his work is, it’s a little off-putting at some points.

Conclusion: Yup, no sophomore slump here.  Jeff Lemire is quickly establishing himself as a fresh new voice in superhero comics.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans

A Second Opionion

Story: Superboy reluctantly makes nice with Poison Ivy to save Smallville from an invasion of plants-gone-wild.  Still determined to reach sidekick status, boy-genius Simon Valentine figures out how mutant flesh and trained frogs can work together to fight evil.

The Review: Superboy has gone through a lot of changes since he first appeared during the War of the Supermen.  There was the cocky poser of the early years, then the fun-loving powerhouse of Young Justice.  With Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans he got a layer of angst dealing with his blood relation to Lex Luthor, right before dying to save the universe during Infinite Crisis.  After his return in Legion of Three Worlds, it seemed the benefits of a second life includes Zen confidence; he’s best friends with Krypto, planted roots with Ma Kent and Smallville, got back with Wonder Girl, and is among pals with the newest incarnation of the Teen Titans.  Things are looking up for ol’ Conner Kent.

Jeff Lemire aims to shake up Superboy’s life as part-time hero, part-time high-schooler from the sticks, by letting some unexpected antagonists run loose through Smallville.  Just like last issue’s run-in with Parasite, the appearance of Poison Ivy is a fun surprise, but doesn’t really reap the rewards of the odd pairing.  Ivy has become a much more complicated character since her days as a Batman rogue, and even more so under Paul Dini’s hand in Gotham City Sirens.  In this case, her part in Superboy seems like a step backward.  It’s actually an even shallower portrayal than her rogue days since Lemire scrubs the character of her eco-terrorist bent in favor of a power-hungry vixen.  Very disappointing for a writer generally so skilled in character work.

A comic strengthens with the quality of its supporting cast and as of right now the prospects are pretty bleak.  Only Simon Valentine gets page-time in this issue, and he comes across as little better than the cliché of a young science whiz—brilliant, astute, occasionally funny with his inventiveness (an army of radio-controlled frogs, “Patent pending”—good times), but mostly irritating by being such an “I told you so” know-it-all.  His interaction with Superboy so far lacks dynamic.  Thanks to every writer emphasizing how Valentine will be Superboy’s greatest enemy someday, it’s hard to put any trust or value in him as Superboy’s friend.

The weakness in character development includes the title’s star.  So far, Superboy’s been given very little to do except point out Smallville’s points and residents of interest.  You don’t really get a good bearing on his personality, even after two issues.  In terms of mannerisms, dialogue, and behavior, nothing has really set Superboy apart from a generic teenage jock who just happens to have super-powers.  This is troubling because even in real life, your average teenage jock still has some kind of quirk to separate him from his average teenage jock peers.  It even makes me miss Superboy when he was an arrogant prick of a kid—at least his personality was memorable.

The recent string of action Superboy’s been getting seems a bit disjointed, and a lot is left unexplained.  It’s not clear exactly which direction Lemire is taking this title, although there are hints that rather than a bunch of enemies suddenly ganging up on Smallville, it’s the nature of Superboy’s residence-of-choice that’s the source of all the weirdness taking place.  Some plot threads have been planted, foreshadowing bigger, more sinister challenges to come (creepy farmers never grow old).  Let’s hope the pay-off will be worth the wait.

Pier Gallo’s work is sound, and he really takes off when it comes to creating moody, supernatural atmosphere, as he does in the last few pages.  But overall, there’s flatness to his lines; background details are given less attention and action lacks the semblance of movement.  None of these things are helped by Jamie Grant’s uninspired colors.  It’s hard not to miss Francis Manapul’s youthful, vibrant, and kinetic work with Superboy when he was featured in Adventure Comics.  Maybe when the series leans away from standard superhero fare to more supernatural stuff, Gallo can work with his forte.

Conclusion: Considering the anticipation for the return of Superboy, it’s hard to dislike it now that it’s a reality.  But the plodding storyline, hampered with rather dull characterizations, makes this issue at least a tough sell.  The bar’s set pretty high with all the other strong teen-centric titles DC’s putting out—Batgirl, Red Robin, Supergirl—and it remains to be seen if Superboy can reach it in the long run.

Grade: C

Some Musings: – As a Red Cross-certified CPR trainee, let me tell all you folks at home: please don’t ever perform CPR on someone who has multiple open chest injuries–unless you’re in the business of finishing off the mortally wounded.

– The interiors may not be so hot, but the covers for Superboy, variant or otherwise, have so far been nothing short of stellar.  Kudos to Rafael Albuquerque, Phil Noto, and Guillem March.

– If Smallville is that sparsely populated, you’d think it’d be that much easier to notice, “Hey, after having Superboy rescue me a dozen times, it sure strikes me as odd how he has the exact same height, build, features, and haircut as Connor Kent.”  Does it really take a super-genius to figure that out?

– I really look forward to the day Conner ditches the casual get-up for an actual costume.  Because, you know, it might actually help out if you’re serious about the whole secret identity thing.

– Minhquan Nguyen