Today, Drew and (special guest writer) Nick Idell are discussing Superboy 0, originally released September 12, 2012. Superboy 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Drew: I’ve never been a big fan of origin stories. They tend to be overly plotty, displacing more telling character moments in favor of unwieldy exposition. In short, I see them as a necessary evil we often need to get out of the way before the real story can begin. It’s unfortunate, then, that I live in an age where superhero origin stories are so ubiquitous, every third Spider-Man movie needs to revisit that well. We’ve fetishized origins, pushing them to ever-increasing complexity, straining the very limits of pre-title copy that attempts to explain it all. “The Supergirl and Robin of Earth-2 are trapped on Earth-1” sounds relatively snappy, but likely requires an explanation of what the fuck Earth-2 is, and how exactly they get trapped in the first place. These baroque origins relay details, which requires more space to properly explore, resulting even more bloated exposition. “Scientists clone Superman” is such a clean, self-contained idea, but Superboy 0 finds writer Tom DeFalco ladling on the details, buddying the message into an inexplicable hash.
The issue begins with Lord Harvest giving Omen a little lecture on Kryptonian history. Who are these characters? The issue has curiously no interest in explaining this, but makes it clear that they are pulling the strings behind the project to create Superboy, and that they are evil. We know this because Lord Harvest is ugly (he’s also wearing a dark robe and insists on being called “lord,” as though he owns an estate in Yorkshire) and because Omen is bleeding out of her eyes for the duration of the issue (a good guy would probably bother to have that shit checked out).
Never mind how Harvest got this info, but he explains how Kryptonians got lazy, cloning themselves a slave race to do all of their menial labor. Those clones then rebelled, wreaking havoc on Krypton, potentially leading to its eventual destruction. The clones’ leader was called Kon, which sounds a lot like Connor, for those of you uninterested in sounding this out. Harvest explains that the violent history of Kryptonian clones is why he’s so excited for the project. Meanwhile, Connor wakes up, causes some damage, and freaks out Dr. Fairchild when his psych tests suggest that he’s a sociopath. This is, of course, exactly what Harvest wants, suggesting that everything we’ve seen Connor do up until now may be part of the plan to use Superboy as a weapon.
What a weird issue. So much space is given over to Harvest’s story, you’d expect it to mean something, but it’s really not clear if it does. His plan essentially comes down to “some clones went crazy once” as a reason to believe this clone will go crazy, but almost none of his story makes sense. First of all, do we buy that the highly enlightened society of Krypton would enslave clones just because? Our society can’t even agree on the morality of mass-producing chicken breasts, so it’s hard for me to imagine a society as advanced as Krypton being cool with slavery as long as the slave was born in a test-tube. Beyond that, I’m not sure I agree with the assessment that Kon must have been mentally unstable to lead a rebellion against the notion of slavery. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I thought most sane people also objected to slavery and/or being slaves. If all Harvest wanted was a Superman that is against slavery, he could have just called it a day before he even got started.
There are other details about the genetic defects that don’t exactly hold up to even the loosest scrutiny, but the biggest crime of Harvest’s story is the sheer pointlessness of it all. He mostly just spouts exposition because somebody had to. He doesn’t even give a clear answer when Omen asks him about how the fuck he knows all this stuff, evading it with a limp “don’t ask.” Harvest kind of suggests that the rebellion may have led to the eventual destruction of Krypton, but the connection is too tenuous and half-hearted to have much impact. DeFalco makes a point of mentioning that Kon’s body was never found, suggesting that he might reappear at some point (or that Connor is somehow cloned from him — Superman is never explicitly mentioned as the cell donor here), but again, he plays it too coy for it to feel revelatory.
DeFalco does tease some mysteries and drop clues about future issues, which I imagine would be more impactful if I’d been following this title. I assume that prior knowledge would also cue me in to just who Lord Harvest is, and would make the loosely-sketched relationship between Connor and Dr. Fairchild more satisfying. I’ll leave those assessments to you, Nick, but for somebody who hasn’t been following this title, this was a bit convoluted. Maybe all of what I’m reading as question marks have already been explained elsewhere, and everything that strikes me as dumb is actually working to tie-up/foreshadow things going on in the series. Not having read it, I have no idea. To get a little more seasoned perspective, I’d like to turn things over to guest writer Nick Idell, purveyer of all things nerdy at Shelby’s LCS, AlleyCat Comics. Is this issue just sloppy, or does it read any clearer if you already know what’s going on?
Nick: To be honest Drew, I only read the first couple issues of Superboy and stopped. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, it just seems that the story was moving at a pace that would suit me much better in trade paperback form (which seems to be what most comics nowadays are doing). Then there was that whole The Culling crossover storyline and I got lost. There’s only so many hours in the day and way more comics than that. The few issues that I did read were basically along the same lines as issue 0. We don’t know much about Superboy other then he is a half-human, half-Kryptonian clone that might go all bat shit one day and destroy the planet. But I have liked the character for a very long time and I’m curious to see what they do with him. That’s why I would have to say that I quite liked this issue. I think that this is exactly what a 0 issue is all about, a good mixture of exposition and enough vague intrigue to get me to pick up the series and go.
Right off the bat, I can tell that this isn’t the Superboy I grew up with. This isn’t the biker jacket clad kid that picked up the S mantel after the death of Superman. There is something else here. In previous continuity, Conner always had a difficult time dealing with the fact that he was made from both Superman and Lex Luthor’s DNA. He was never quite sure which side of him would prevail the good or the evil. Superman showed Connor that he could be the person that he wanted to be, dispute who’s DNA he had. But it’s seems that DeFalco is trying to go even further with that internal struggle and I like it. Conner might not have a choice in the matter of good and evil, it might be a genetic flaw that he has no control over. As Lord Harvest goes into the in-depth Kryptonian history lesson (where did he get this info, I’m sure we’ll find out in the months to come… hopefully) we see that this might be another case of history repeating itself, or at least that’s what it seems that Harvest wants. I would have to agree with you on what you said about the Kryptonian’s judgement on creating life to exploit it for manual labor, but we are talking about the same people that chose to not heed the words of one of their greatest minds (Jor-el) and suffered mass extinction because of it. Well, we all make mistakes.
I’m not sure if they have explained who Lord Harvest or Omen are, but I’ve never been the one to ruin movies with my friends by yelling “Who’s that?”, “What are they doing?”…it’s a comic book, it’s 22 pages long, there is a reason they are monthly, they want you to keep reading, so that one day (hopefully) you’ll find out. But I did look into it and I believe that Harvest is also in The Ravagers #0, which is the team lead by Superboy at the moment, if I’m not mistaken. So I’m sure he is going to be some sort of Buffy-style big bad that threatens humanity and we’ll have to pick up every issue of some five title crossover to find out what happens… oh goodie! But for now I’m content with knowing that there is some maniacal badass with dinosaur teeth out there plotting the end of the world and he plans on using a confused and possibly extremely dangerous member of the Superman family to do it. ‘Cause let’s be honest everybody, the only time anyone gives two shits or a fuck about the Superman family is when one of them goes rogue and starts busting the place up… am I right?
I do think that this is a great jumping on point for people that are interested in the character. I might start reading it more frequently myself… oh wait, it’s Fall, there are so many shows starting back up again. I guess I’ll wait for the trade.
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?
I don’t mind so much not understanding the details of a story in a title I’m not reading, but I definitely struggled with the heavy-handed exposition storytelling. The entire story is told by Harvest and Omen as they observe Superboy; since their environment never changes, the passage of time is denoted by stating there has been a passage of time. “Boy, things sure have changed since last week,” is not a particularly interesting way to advance a story.
Yeah, Nick calls me out pretty soundly for my impatience here. I maintain that this is needlessly convoluted, so kind of fails the “easy entry point” test that these zeroes were ostensibly designed for. This issue demonstrates that this title way more interested in plot than character, to such a degree that it just has a mysterious figure explain everything to us with no indication of who he is or how he knows this. It’s enough to scare me off.
If the point is to make Harvest out to be a looming evil presence, then having him spout DENSE ASS EXPOSITION is not the way to establish that. You don’t want a detailed history on the guy, you want a character moment. That’s not asking too much.
I’ve been reading this title from the start and aside from one very good issue it’s pretty much garbage. It very much places importance on the plot. Unfortunately, the plot isn’t very good leaving one to wonder why the hell I still read this book. The answer, of course, is that I love Superboy…more importantly I love the character that he used to be. The younger heroes have always been my favorite and ever since the New 52 I’ve felt like an overbearing parent watching his kids turn into insufferable little snots. What I’ve been getting from Teen Titans and Superboy is certainly not something I’m used to but, more importantly, it’s not any good either. Lobdell reimagined these characters with an “extreme” 90’s mentality that just doesn’t suit them. These characters are supposed to represent the next generation of heroes so shouldn’t their writing style reflect that in some way?
With all of that said, this title has improved somewhat since Superboy has fled his creators and started to build his civilian life. I’m hoping this trend continues and that a writer with more modern sensibilities takes over soon. I know that Tom DeFalco is a fan favorite for some, but he built that reputation with Marvel’s Spider-Girl which is a book that came into prominence in the 90’s so I’m not expecting too much of a change with this book under his control.
Man, it’s stories like these that make me grateful that Batman is featured in so many titles. Sure, some of them are terrible, but more titles means more chances at being good. I don’t look forward to the day when a character I care about ends up in a title this bad.
Wait long enough and it’ll happen. Batman was in two terrible titles this past year! Fortunately, he has enough good titles to go around that you can completely ignore them and not feel the terrible sting of bad writing. Fortunately, there is no such thing as bad characters, just bad writers (or writers not suited for particular characters). That’s why I’m still hopeful for Conner. I imagine another year of this nonsense until a writer better suited for our teen heroes comes on board to fix this mess.
Kryptonian History – I don’t care about it. Every time it comes up, it looks goofy as shit, is stuffed to the gills with jargon and centers on characters who are long gone. Can anyone recommend a story or title that could possibly change my mind about it? (That’s Alan Moore story “For the Man Who Has Everything” only partially counts because a. it’s a fantasy and b. Superman is a character on Krypton and c. it’s still only okay)
For The Man Who Has Everything is ONLY OKAY?!?!?!?! WHAAAAAAAAAT
It’s a fine story, but I just don’t find it revelatory or anything.
You know you love the idea of Superman having a teleporter so that alien races can send him birthday presents – you love that! The Dave Gibbons Mongul cover alone makes that one of the best 3 bucks I ever invested into my collection, never mind the following 48 pages of art 🙂
…and then there was silence. LOL, I’m hoping the humor was implied there… perhaps I went a little too “get offa my lawn!” 🙂
No, no, no. Not at all. Sometimes day jobs prevent me from arguing about comics all day. Obviously that’s unacceptable.
I do like FTMWHE – I should never have put myself in a position to defend not-loving it. I read it in the What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow trade, and all the surrounding stories outshone it (in my opinion).
Also, you definitely don’t ever need to worry about offending me with tastes that differ from my own. You and I can disagree on the quality of whatever books we read and as long as we can agree that the dialog is valuable (and it is), then we’ll be good.
I’m actually in the middle of reading Ready Player One so I’m taking extra joy in debating geek canon this week, its the way we bond! But I would have a difficult time arguing your point since the issue of AC and the issue of Superman that make up Whatever Happened… are my 2 favorite comics of all time. I am an *enormous* Curt Swan fan, 2 of his pages are the only pieces of original art I own. I do, however, much prefer FTMWHE to The Jungle Line (which I enjoy greatly none-the-less). Even if I weren’t a total Superman dork then Dave Gibbons over Rick Veitch would be an easy deciding factor for me 🙂
Oh, and to answer your original question, The World Of Krypton by John Byrne and Mike Mignola is decent but largely you are correct about there not being any real solid Kyrptonian history stories. The New Krypton saga is kind of a different thing entirely, but it was alright
I agree. The “science-y” Superman rubs me the wrong way. I dunno. GL is space science, Flash is chemistry and lab science, Cyborg is a living iPad app, and Batman is detective science (among MANY others he dabbles in) with all of these guys doing that stuff I don’t think Kal El needs to be rooted in a super science based Kryptonian history.
This series makes me long for the t-shirt and jeans wearing Boy of Steel from days prior. When Kon wasn’t a term of such harshness but name bestowed as a gift.
Huh. I wonder how much of the changes here were designed to distinguish Superboy from the t-shirt-and-jeans-wearing Superman over in Action Comics.
Oh, I think that may be entirely the case. Editorial may have seen Grant’s designs and said “keep the boy in the lights suit”. Brett Booth has stated numerous times he had tried pitching other designs for Conner to change into following the NOWHERE arc but the boys upstairs favor the Tron look.
Something curious to mull over as well: http://nerdreactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/superboy-15.jpg Superman back in his own jeans and shirt with a House of El blue being washed over Superboy’s Tron suit.
I’m wondering if he is finally going to be more involved in actual Super-family events and things after the H’el arc. That would be nice, and maybe infuse a little of that lost Conner Kent personality back into this new Kon-El Conner.
Haven’t they shown in a recent Giffen or Jurgens issue of Superman that he still rocks the T-shirt by default and the armor is Kryptonian bio-tech on some kind of Iron Man: Extremis trip that materializes around him when he needs it? It’s something to that effect… let me go pull out the issue and I’ll try to confirm, although I may be too lazy to read the whole thing if it requires as much
Yep we see him still rocking the T-shirt under his work suit in Superman #11 when he rips the overcoat off and the combat armor materializes around him. This dude has impenetrable skin, he doesn’t need combat armor… I wish his current suit was just Kryptonian formal wear with industructible fabrics. They are stressing the alien/sci-fi in Superman too much these days for my blood… I prefer a mix of fantastic elements and americana when it comes to Supes. The occasional sci-fi foray is okay (Exiled, for instance) but they are just over-doing it now
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I bought the first TP of Lemire’s Superboy because I love his current run on Animal Man.
I really liked his version of the character: each issue I read was filled with a lot of slice – of – life moments (Superboy hanging around his small town, Superboy meeting the girl he likes at their school, and so on), and all those moments were simply lovely.
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