It’s been a long road back to prominence for Conner Kent. Born in the wake of the Death of Superman event, he had his own comic through the Nineties, managing a hundred issues. He spent time as a Teen Titan, then wound up dead for awhile, before being revived to star in the equally revived Adventure Comics. His success there has propelled him back into his own title back after years as a secondary, but much-loved, character.
OK, so this isn’t exactly the original – it’s meant to be, but the cocky clone spliced from the DNA of Superman and Cadmus director Paul Westfield bears little resemblance to the gentle giant of today, whose new origin has his ‘fathers’ as Superman and Lex Luthor. Geoff Johns and Mike McKone gave Conner one heck of a makeover when they put him into the Titans, arguably making him easier to like. Certainly today’s Superboy is a better fit for Smallville than Classic Conner would have been.
We see just how comfortable he is with the place in ‘Smallville attacks’, which opens with our hero ruminating on the childhood he never had. But he’s not full of teen angst, far from it – he’s come to terms with his beginnings and is simply enjoying the present, hanging out with superdog Krypto, helping Ma Kent out on her one-woman farm and going to Smallville High. Writer Jeff Lemire and artist Pier Gallo get the message across with a splendidly constructed scene that pays off later in the issue, as Conner takes on a visiting Parasite.
The purple people eater has been growing progressively more disgusting, physically, over the last few years and the trend continues here, with Parasite little more than a wrinkly blob. The remains of his animal victims – emaciated, the life sucked out of them – conveys the fact that this is one creepy, scary guy.
Another creepy guy shows up this issue, but he’s not so scary. Well, unless you take the pitch perfect Phantom Stranger’s words of warning to heart. He has a message of doom for Smallville (the dialogue hints at a Darkseid link) and while Ma Kent tells Conner to pay no attention, by the end of this book it looks like he has a point.
This issue also reintroduces us to Conner’s school pals, potential girlfriend Lori Luthor and best pal Simon Valentine, who has a surprise for Clark which makes perfect sense given his status as local genius. Throw in a mysterious senior carving fat chickens out of potatoes (or something), and the arrival of a big name Bat-villain on the final page, and you have a packed story.
Chock full of incident as the story is, where the script really shines is in the characterisation. Conner’s narration leaves no doubt as to what kind of young man he is, while also illuminating those around him; there’s an especially fine description of Martha Kent’s qualities which also serves to show the closeness of Conner to (sort of dad, but more like) ‘big brother’ Clark.
The wheatfields around Smallville and the town itself come alive in the pencils of Gallo, while his citizens are full of heart. There’s a real sweetness in his version of Conner, even though the specs on the end of the nose thing is a mite annoying – give that boy some duct tape. The layouts are happily straightforward, with the tricksiest being a page designed to get across the sunniness of the Kent Farm. It works very well, as we discover that Krypto generally waters the houseplants – let’s not think about that too closely …
Colourist Jamie Grant brings an All-Star Superman vibe with his beautifully naturalistic tones – no one does better skies – adds a nice effect for Conner’s x-ray vision and gives him the perfect backpack, while calligrapher John J Hill never puts a letter wrong.
The cover, illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque is ‘designy’, but not great for a first issue. We need a clear shot of the hero, and a look at his logo (which I expect will be the iconic Superman telescopic design – oh, for the return of the iconic SuperBOY logo, my arched childhood friend). But that’s a tiny complaint about a superhero comic which pleases from start to finish, establishing its own tone and so justifying its existence in a crowded market. I hope for at least 99 more issues.