Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Superboy 15, originally released December 12th, 2012. This issue is part of the H’el on Earth crossover event. Click here for complete H’el on Earth coverage.
Drew: We’re pretty big fans of meta-commentary here at Retcon Punch. That is, the notion that the way a story is told can reflect the themes of the narrative itself (or vice versa), adding another level of meaning to the work, and often some kind of experiential element. This can happen when a character experiences time in an unusual way, or when our expectations for a title might be unreasonable, but we generally treat those moments as specifically designed by the creators to speak to our own experience of the title. Tom DeFalco isn’t responsible for the strange identity crisis Superboy (the series) has experienced in the New 52 (at least, not solely responsible), but issue 15 finds him tying that in beautifully to Kon’s own identity issues.
Curiously, the plot is entirely given away by the cover, which asks:
Never mind the weird font on “armor,” or the inexplicable emphasis on “life,” a question that out of left field has to be a “yes,” right? Kinda. Kon’s DNA is degenerating after his battle with H’el, and Clark thinks his Supersuit — er, Kryptonian Battle Armor — might be able to stabilize him. It works, but it also has bizarre side-effects that find Kon losing his TK abilities, and experiencing EVEN MORE super-strength than usual. He doesn’t like it, but it’s better than dying, so he makes his peace just as H’el arrives at the fortress of solitude to ruin some shit.
Last month, we complained about how closely everything was tied to the Young Justice group of titles, and this month finds the proceedings VERY closely tied to the other super titles. Indeed, in terms of simple point A to point B storytelling, this entire crossover seems to require everyone to be reading everything. This title has always occupied a strange no man’s land between the Young Justice and Superman groups, but it’s snapped so dramatically from extremely imbedded in the Young Justice mythology to extremely imbedded in the Superman mythology in these two issues, it’s actively distracting from the reading experience.
DeFalco acknowledges this directly, helped in no small measure by the fact that Kon himself is also the unholy combination of a bunch of unrelated heritages.
A consult with Cyborg confirms that one strand is human, one is Kryptonian, and the third is unknown. Never mind that that isn’t how DNA works (I’ll suppress my bio major rage for now), the fact that Kon draws his genetic makeup from so many radically different places is killing him is a pretty clear commentary on the state of affairs in Superboy. I chided DeFalco for being so nestled in the Young Justice mythology last month, but maybe he agrees that Superboy‘s relationship to so many titles is killing it.
What’s even better than this surprise realization that there might be something to sink my teeth into about Superboy, after all, is that DeFalco also seems to posit a possible solution in the form of Superman’s armor. Just like Kon, Superboy‘s only hope may lie in ensconcing itself in Supermandom. We knew this crossover might gain Superboy some new readers through Superman‘s reflected glow, but the thought that it might actually stick closer to the Superman mythos going forward might convince those readers to stick around.
While it is arguably just as thematically relevant, I was less pleased with the mixed-up genetics of this issue’s art. Ron Frenz handles breakdowns, but three artists are credited with finishes, and three more on colors, giving the issue a schizophrenic visual tone that never quite settles down, at times feeling like a horror comic and others like a classic superhero story.
I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy this issue as much as I did, so I’m dying to hear what you thought about it, Shelby. Was it any good? Did you find the meta-commentary charming, or a little too cheeky? Do you think that Kon’s reliance on Clark’s armor says anything about this title going forward, or am I just reading too much into that particular development?
Shelby: Drew, I think you’re being awfully generous with your read on this issue. What you see as meta-commentary on the messy nature of this title, I just see as a big ol’ mess. DeFalco doesn’t seem to know WHERE in the New 52 universe he wants this title to fit. There are 4 editor’s notes referring to 3 distinct titles: Superman, Action Comics, and Superboy. I’m generally not a fan of notes in general; they are really distracting, and honestly, I don’t need an editor’s note to remind me of something that happened in the last issue of the title I’m reading. The dialogue is rife with pedantic exposition; I understand the need for comic books to be more accessible to new readers, but I don’t need an explanation of Superman’s powers. I know that Superman has super-enhanced senses, I have no interest in reading a thought bubble which says, “There must be a way to track him, but my super-hearing detects a more immediate problem,” or “Maybe my microscopic vision can…” Also, this is one of the only books I’ve encountered that uses actual thought bubbles instead of voice over boxes; I don’t know why, but I hate them with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Superboy’s inner monologue is no better, as he marvels at Superman’s “incredible crystal palace.” I fully expected a “golly gee!” or something else equally out of touch.
Drew, your theory is DeFalco is trying to move this title out of Young Justice territory and into the Superman group. I think he’s trying too hard. He seems to think that the best way to craft this as a Superman title is by inundating us with well-known facts and referencing events from other Superman books. The thing I don’t understand is WHY DeFalco is trying so hard at this; he has a really easy in with the H’el crossover. The relationships we’re dealing with are pretty straightforward. Superman: Alien raised on Earth. Kara: Alien who just wants to go home. Kon: Alien/human/something clone who doesn’t really have a home. H’el: Wildcard villain. Personally, I think the fact that Kon is a clone of Superman is reason enough for this to be considered a Super title; DeFalco doesn’t need to go out of his way to convince me.
Also, was anyone else made uncomfortable by the weirdly predatory, sexual vibe between H’el and Kara back in her santuary?
Her sexy pose combined with confused face, his seeming nakedness, and Clark’s worry from the previous panel that she wasn’t safe all add up to a very distinct date-rape sort of atmosphere. I was really taken aback by it when I read through this the first time, did anyone else notice at all?
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?