Inside, there’s also Psionic Lad, would-be assassin turned pal. Together they help the Phantom Stranger see off black magician Tannarak and his Hollow Men, reuniting the people of Smallville with their souls. That’s not bad for 20 pages.
Not that it’s easy – Lori and Simon must fight off the Parasite inside the barn while Hollow Men, primitive clones, try to get in from the outside. Superboy can’t begin to free Phantom Stranger from a mystic trap until he and Krypto beat off their own batch of Hollow Men. And Psionic Lad is unconscious.
But good overcomes all, and while the immortal Tannarak escapes to spell-cast another day, the Phantom Stranger is in hot pursuit; he’ll have him any epoch now. The book ends with an echo of the first issue’s opening narration, but rather than yearning for a ‘normal’ life, Superboy is embracing the extraordinary one he’s found – he’s a super-powered clone whose best mates are a genius frog wrangler, the slightly psychic niece of his evil half-father and a future boy with massive ESP gifts. Oh, and that dog from Krypton.
While the way Superboy helps Phantom Stranger escape is rather convenient, it’s probably fair enough for a super-ghost. And the quibble is made up for by a fighting mad Dog of Steel, the call-out to the Dark Circle of the 31st century and the knowledge that Pete Ross teaches JSA history at Smallville High.
The signs aren’t good, but I hope the new Superboy title finds room for the supporting cast writer Jeff Lemire has built up over the past year. They’re an interesting bunch and have barely begun to interact with Conner Kent and one another. Plus, Psionic Lad has yet to face up to his murderous handlers, who aren’t likely to give up on their plot to kill the Teen of Steel. Superboy doesn’t know the reality of his mission into the past. And it’s obvious Simon distrusts him.
If we never see Conner’s new friends again (it’s a pretty safe bet Krypto will be around), at least we’ve had an engrossing 11-issue story. A full collection would be longer than the average trade, but DC really should print the whole thing in one fat volume so that the bookends are in, you know, a single book.
Also gathered would be the attractive artwork Pier Gallo has provided for the majority of this run. He’s been growing, experimenting with layouts and finishes, while keeping the characters consistent. I’ll miss seeing his careful, detailed work on this strip, but hope to see him somewhere in the new DC Universe.
I’ll also miss the sunshine colours of Jamie Grant and Dom Regan – seldom has comic book Kansas looked so inviting, rampaging husk people and all. And Travis Lanham provides a thoroughly professional lettering job and spooky title font.