In the tumultuous months leading up to the New 52 several great books suffered and were cut short. One of these unfortunate casualties is the Eisner nominated “Superboy” by Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo. From the ashes of its short life, DC granted readers a fantastic collection of all 11 issues of the series. If you let this one slip by in the hustle and bustle of the time, I urge you to go back and give it a shot.
Picking up after Geoff John’s even shorter stint on the character in “Adventure Comics,” “Smallville Attacks” is the story of Connor Kent adjusting to life in a small rural town. I can’t think of anyone better to write a comic about small town life than Jeff Lemire, the mastermind behind “Essex County” and more recently, “Underwater Welder.” While “Superboy” isn’t half as emotionally packed as those works, Lemire applies that same grounded storytelling approach to the fast paced brawls and mad science of super hero comics.
I’m going to admit, I was a huge fan of the Smallville T.V. series. Like any good teen drama, it had a good deal of angst, spurned affections, self discovery, and unbridled optimism. “Smallville Attacks” has all of that, but dodges most of the inherent hokiness Smallville fell victim to. Lemire excels in giving Superboy a diverse and well developed supporting cast, which at times is even more interesting than Connor himself. Simon Valentine is a young Lex Luthor with innocence intact, a brilliant science type with limitless potential for good or evil. Lori Luthor is the girl next door/love interest, who also happens to be Lex’s niece (making her Connor’s…cousin?). Finally, there’s Psionic Lad, a hero from the future with a mysterious mission. Each of these characters mirrors qualities of Superman’s supporting cast, without coming off as unoriginal or overly archetypal. This is not just a “Superboy in Superman’s shoes” story. Rather, it’s about Superboy coming into his own, out from under the shadows of his cloned fathers, which was a defining aspect of the character for much of the 2000’s.
These newer characters aren’t the only ones that help Superboy out along the way. Fellow Teen Titans Tim Drake (Red Robin) and Bart Allen (Kid Flash) feature prominently. Superboy’s relationship with Ma Kent is explored, and of course Krypto is a constant presence. Other DC characters pop up throughout the course of the run, including Poison Ivy, Phantom Stranger, and Ray Palmer, giving the book a lived in feel not present in the current “Superboy” series (or many New 52 books for that matter).
Much like Scott Snyder has recently done with Gotham City in “Batman,” Lemire builds a deeper mythology around the history of Smallville, involving western lawmen and European necromancers. If you think that sounds similar to Cullen Bunn’s “Sixth Gun,” you wouldn’t be far off, as “Superboy” takes a similar tone and quality. It’s great to see Smallville get this kind of care and attention, which is usually only reserved for bigger cities in DC’s fictional world. Lemire makes great use of the supernatural elements of the DC Universe, flexing muscles he’s now using a lot in books like “Animal Man” and “Justice League Dark.”
Pier Gallo is the primary artist for much of the run, with Marco Rudy pitching in on a handful of issues. Gallo was relatively new to the comic book scene when Superboy began, and as such the art is a little rough at times, particularly when it comes to character’s faces and anatomy. Gallo covers many of his flaws through sheer creativity, breaking up pages in fun and interesting ways, such as the puzzle board at the beginning of issue #5. His depiction of Smallville is gorgeous, and his work improves continually over the course of the run. Rudy’s issues, however, are always spectacular. In “Superboy,” the artist experiments with the unconventional panel layouts he has since used in “Swamp Thing.” Shaking things up even more, Rudy’s pages utilize a mix of digital coloring and watercolor paints to differentiate between parallel stories. Colorist Jamie Grant, of All Star Superman fame, handles the coloring for most of the run, giving the series a clean, defined look.
While there are clearly a few hiccups in the run, such as the Doomsday crossover issue that is resolved in another book entirely or the truncated nature of a couple subplots “Smallville Attacks” is an extremely satisfying read. If you miss the “Old Not 52,” this is a great place to get your fix.