Today, Drew and Mikyzptlk are discussing Superboy 14, originally released November 14, 2012. This issue is part of the H’el on Earth crossover event. Click here for complete H’el on Earth coverage.
Drew: We read a lot of comics at Retcon Punch. One of the best thing about reading so many comics (besides, you know, reading so many comics) is that when we do pick up the odd issue of a title we’re not reading — usually for a crossover event — we still kind of know what’s going on. We may not get every reference to what has happened before, but because we’ve seen glimpses of, say, the Red Lanterns in Green Lantern: New Guardians, we kind of know what’s going on with them when we pick up Red Lanterns 13. This works well enough for stories set in Gotham or Oa, where our coverage of related titles is relatively robust, but it breaks down if crossovers are happening in our blind spots. The Superman and Young Justice groups happen to both be blind-spots for me, which makes jumping into a title like Superboy at issue 14 a particularly disorienting experience.
The plot is straightforward enough — Superboy is attacked and kidnapped by H’el, while the Teen Titans try and fail to save him — but it’s so mired in references to issues of titles I’m not reading, the thought of actually understanding what’s going on here is pretty daunting. Curiously, I’m not sure all of the context I think I’m missing is even written yet, as the issue opens with Superboy in a mood after the events of Legion Lost 14-16. The references to that are appropriately vague, so I didn’t really feel lost, but then we’re hit with more editor’s notes, instructing us to check out Ravagers 4-7 AND the entirety of the Culling crossover event. Writer Tom DeFalco does his best to cram all of that story into exposition, but that’s nine issues of event being crammed into a few pages — of course it’s going to be a little confusing.
I wouldn’t normally hold my own ignorance against an issue, but it’s the way DeFalco deploys the exposition that really bugs me. To help illustrate what I mean, lets look at a moment where DeFalco does this well: the conversation between Kid Flash and Wonder Girl.
Simply and naturally, DeFalco brings us up to speed on how these two characters feel about each other, as well as both of their thoughts on Superboy, all without an editor’s note filling us in about Wonder Girl’s armor — everything we need to know is right there on the page.
Unfortunately, much of the exposition in the issue isn’t handled nearly so elegantly. All of the conflict, from Superboy’s internal struggles over being a living weapon to his reluctance to turn to the Teen Titans for help (and their own reluctance to help him) has to be explained, which fails to generate any kind of emotion around them. Other times, DeFalco intentionally doesn’t explain things, which leaves moments like this one completely indecipherable to newcomers:
Hahaha, what? I guess we don’t need specifics on what she saw (though seriously, was it his alien wiener?), but I have no idea what to make of the idea that other meta-humans have been harassing her. Is this something we all know (including Superboy), or is this an important reveal? Without any more information, this feels like a total waste of space.
Mik, I know you’ve been following this title from the start, so I imagine you’re less confused with this issue (though who knows? Maybe Legion Lost 18 is the Rosetta stone that this issue needs to make any sense at all), but then I imagine you’re upset with the clunky exposition crowding the pages. If it’s not going to orient new readers, why include it at all — especially if that would have left more room for a more genuine moment between Superboy and Bunker.
I suspect essentially none of this stuff will matter as we move further into the crossover, which actually makes the inclusion of it all here way more frustrating. This event is about Kryptonians, and while it sounds like Superboy and Kara have some familiarity with one another, he has not yet met Clark. This crossover should be an easy entry-point for the character, but instead it’s as dense and uninviting as they come. Mik, am I being too impatient, or was this issue as messy as I’m making it out to be? I’ll defer to your expertise on this one.
Mikyzptlk: I can almost see Tom Defalco sweat as he tries to cram all of the myriad events that have been going on outside of his own book. Even though he gives us that “previously on” page that sums up the events of 2 other books, I’m left unsatisfied with the thought that I’m not fully up to date with what is going on with Con—I mean Kon. Drew, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. I’ve read every issue of this title and Teen Titans. That said, I’m SO tired of feeling like I’m missing a part of story while reading the “Young Justice” line of books. There always seems to be some kind of crossover “event” that I’m really not interested in following. All of these titles do it, but Superboy seems to be the worst offender of the bunch.
This issue opens with a reference to some kind of event that took place in 2 issues of Legion Lost. The problem is that I don’t read or like that book. The other problem is that I really don’t like Superboy that much either or ANY of the “YJ” books for that matter. However, because I love Tim Drake and Conner Kent so much, I feel COMPELLED to read these books no matter how much they have disappointed me in the past. Still, this compulsion does not lead to my enjoyment of these books and because this issue opens in the way it does, it destroys any confidence I have that I’m up to date with this character and completely compromises my expectations for enjoying this issue. This is a HUGE problem as I’m only on page ONE of this issue!
That said, I always try to keep an open mind while reading these books as I desperately try to enjoy them. Even though DeFalco clumsily crams in a summary of the many things going on outside Superboy, I at least have SOME sense of whats going on in them that pertains to Superboy. That summary, however, takes up a lot of space in this issue that DeFalco could have used to continue his own story. For example, Drew, you mentioned Dallas Sorrentino. As a reader of this series I know exactly what is going on here. She witnessed her friend Kon transform into Superboy as a result of an attack he suffered in the previous issue. She freaked out because she is being stalked by other meta-humans and now fears that Kon is, um, conning her. Dallas is a character that has NOTHING to do with “The Culling,” “H’el on Earth” or any other event going on outside of DeFalco’s Superboy book. This is simply an attempt to make sure that the story he is telling is still moving forward in some way. It seems that he just doesn’t have room to fully explain to new readers who she is and it’s sad that the writer isn’t given enough space IN HIS OWN BOOK to fully explore what he wants to. No writer deserves that.
With that, I think that an important part of this book is the journey that Kon-El is taking to become more human. I can see him starting to realize that the stuff he’s doing with the Titans is because he cares for the team. That is certainly the right direction to go with the character.
Even though I think that the “YJ” books are suffering from too much connective tissue, I don’t mind Superboy and Teen Titans being close knit since I think his involvement with that team is pushing his characterization forward in a positive direction. The problem is that they are overextending the character by having him join forces with the cast of The Ravagers and Legion Lost. As a comic fan (with a bit of a collector mentality), I’m frustrated to think that I’m missing parts of his adventures but I’m glad that Superboy and the Teen Titans are growing as characters. Even though I don’t feel that their characterizations are spot on just yet, it is comforting to know that their character growth is a concern for the writers involved in these books.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?