Today, Spencer and Shane are discussing Convergence: Superboy 1, originally released April 15th, 2015. This issue is part of Convergence. For our conversations about the rest of Convergence last week, click here.
Spencer: If there’s one flaw to this second week of Convergence tie-ins that wasn’t present in the first, it’s the fact that these characters can’t really change or evolve. Since week one took place at the end of the Post-Crisis DC Universe, the creative teams could examine what an “ending” for their protagonists may look like (before cruelly snatching those endings away), but this week’s books have to keep their stars in a sort of suspended animation — unable to evolve or drift too far from their established fate, they’re more than ever defined by their most basic conflicts and character traits. This isn’t always a bad thing (it works out better for Parallax than, say, Azrael), but it is a bit of a tricky hurdle to leap. Do Fabian Nicieza and Karl Moline manage to succeed in crafting a compelling story for Superboy despite the limitations of the format? I’d say yes, but despite this impressive success, they do falter just a bit on some of the smaller details.
Convergence: Superboy 1 opens, as almost every Convergence tie-in does, with Superboy (a.k.a. Kon-El a.k.a. Cadmus’ teenaged clone of Superman) having lost his powers when Metropolis was sealed beneath an impenetrable dome, leaving Kon despondent and aimless. This is a sequence I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense that losing his powers would leave Superboy so low — this is a character who spent the first few years of his life without a name besides “Superboy.” More than almost any other superhero, Kon-El is defined by his powers and his ability to emulate Superman.
On the other hand, Kon-El isn’t the kind of character to mope around. He’s a kid who hides his pain and insecurities behind big talk, and we’ve already seen (in Superboy 75-79) that losing his abilities doesn’t mean that Kon-El will stop fighting crime. Why is this particular instance of losing his powers any different?
Of course, that’s all moot anyway, as Superboy’s abilities quickly return when the dome retracts and Telos pits Superboy against the heroes of Kingdom Come. This is a bit of an ingenious pairing — Kingdom Come not only provides Nicieza with a version of Superman for Superboy to fight, but with a version of Superman particularly wary of the kind of impulsiveness that so often defines Kon-El.
This provides a natural reason for these two characters to fight despite their shared heroism. Actually, Nicieza is quite smart in how he handles the Kingdom Come heroes in general — they move the fight away from civilians, and they don’t want to hurt Kon-El, just talk him down, allowing them to remain “heroic” despite being antagonists. Still, there’s just enough animosity here to cut through the two Kryptonians’ shared morality, and what I find interesting is that Kon-El’s beef comes not from Superman’s assumption that Superboy is impulsive or arrogant (only Dubbilex is aware of these feelings), but from something else entirely.
Superman’s ultimatum here hits on one of Kon-El’s biggest insecurities: can he ever really become Superman, like he was created to be? Can he live up to the righteous example Superman set? In many ways, this may be the defining conflict of this incarnation of Superboy, and one of the only character traits that remained intact when Geoff Johns revamped the character in 2003 (in mean, really, “Conner Kent” and “Kon-El” might as well be different characters entirely). This conflict was never fully resolved before the old DC Universe came to an end, so I’m curious to see how explicitly Nicieza will be able to address it next month.
In the meantime, though, I find Kon’s answer to be quite compelling in its own right. It seems like he has two options when it comes to proving that he’s worthy to be Superman: follow Superman’s path as closely as possible (something he, as Connor Kent, will eventually attempt), or blaze his own path entirely. Superboy’s “let’s find out” clearly implies his embracing the latter option, and as a fan of Kon-El’s more “in your face” 90’s attitude, I’m quite excited to see that aspect of his personality played up.
That’s why I was a bit disappointed to see it so downplayed throughout the rest of the issue in favor of a more sullen Superboy. Kon-El is a bit of a non-stop mouth in a similar vein to Spider-Man (which is why they were paired off in one of the Marvel vs. DC crossovers), and while he gets in more than a few snappy quips, this is still a much more low-key version of Kon-El than I prefer. There’s also a bit of iffy continuity here — maybe we can chalk it up to the solar energy Dubbilex pumps him full of, but Superboy has access to powers he won’t gain for a decade, and while the time-line at the end of the issue is technically correct, the events depicted all take place a good 30 issues prior to the run Convergence: Superboy 1 is based on.
I’ve got similarly conflicted feelings about Karl Moline’s pencils. His style is a nice fit for Superboy’s energetic, youthful feel, and he’s got a great take on Superboy himself:
Moline’s Kon is clearly still a teenager — complete with baby fat! — and he can depict his sullen moods just as adeptly as his snarkier moments. Still, Moline has a few rough patches — when the camera zooms out his characters tend to lose detail, many of the action beats (such as Kon using his “Super Breath”) lack weight, and on at least one occasion he draws Kon as a hulked-out adult instead of a teen.
In both story and art Convergence: Superboy 1 has far more good points than bad, but its off moments are just prominent enough to stick in my head and keep this issue from quite living up to its lofty potential. What’s your take, Shane? And were you as happy to hear the words “Tactile Telekinesis” again as I was? It’s been too long.
Shane: Tactile telekinesis was always one of the most fascinating power-sets to me, simply because of how unusual it was — but after Superboy’s solo series wrapped, it seemed to vanish, and during the few times writers remembered that was the basis for Superboy’s power, they treated it much more like traditional telekinesis. There are plenty of telekinetics in comics! So yeah, Spencer, I loved hearing the words again — and I loved seeing them used properly. When Kon touched the ground and blasted concrete up into the air, I got all happy inside.
It’s that level of faithfulness to Superboy’s history that really made this issue sing for me. I’m obviously a bit of a continuity nut, and although I do believe that continuity comes second to the needs of the story, I’ll be most pleased when a writer manages to make both work, and for this issue, I think it did (aside, of course, from the aforementioned glitches about his powers.) We had plenty of references, whether overt or subtle, to the character’s history — as you mentioned, Spencer, his entire life purpose was to replace Superman, and that remained his driving motivation here, but I think it was one specific quiet moment that really sold that for me.
Bringing the statue into the story was a stroke of brilliance on multiple levels. Readers familiar with Superman’s history will get an instant flashback to the events that led to Superboy’s “birth” in the first place, as this statue was once Superman’s gravesite after he fell to Doomsday. More immediately, though, the statue reinforces Superboy’s sense of ennui while inside the dome, and given how it’s framed by Karl Moline — with the statue so large in comparison — it’s clear that Superboy feels small, and not just literally.
I understand your issues with Moline’s art, Spencer, as things can get a little uneven, but I’ve enjoyed this artist for awhile, ever since his work on Joss Whedon’s Fray — he may not portray the world’s most consistent characters or backgrounds, but generally, I find that his action sequences “sing”. There’s something beautiful about them… but I didn’t find that to be as true in this issue, which makes me wonder if perhaps he was the wrong choice for this assignment — or maybe Fabian Nicieza didn’t write the issue to his strengths? That can sometimes be the case when a writer and artist are new to working with each other, and these two-issue Convergence tie-ins don’t give creative teams a chance to really work out the kinks.
Despite a little iffiness on the art, though, I was really happy to read this issue. There’s a lot I could talk about, like how Serling Roquette’s return — complete with her iconic smiley-face vest — made me cheer, and about how good it is to see Dubbilex alive again after the events of New Krypton several years back. And I could gab about how these two-page summaries at the end of the issue are so often inconsistent with what’s actually portrayed in the issue, talking about events that are completely irrelevant to the actual comic we just read (Superboy’s life in Hawaii was (sadly) not even hinted at in this issue!), and how, yeah, the continuity issues with Kon’s powers and the details of his heritage (as far as we knew back during his solo series, he wasn’t Kryptonian at all!) made the longtime fan in me cringe.
But I’m not going to do any of that… at least, not any more than I just did! Instead I’m just going to be content that, for the moment, The Kid is back!
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