Convergence: Superboy 2

superboy 2 conv

Today, Shane and Spencer are discussing Convergence: Superboy 2, originally released May 13th, 2015. This issue is part of Convergence. For our conversations about the rest of Convergence last week, click here.

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Shane: Once upon a time, I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. There wasn’t anything in particular driving this dream, I just knew that I wanted to be an actor, and I made that pretty well known to anyone around me. My parents, to their credit, did what they could to further that dream, enrolling me in acting clubs, community plays, and the like. This passion helped define me as a child, expressing itself in a general sense of theatricality that still, in some ways, exists in my personality. In a similar (albeit more extreme) vein, Superboy’s desire to become Superman that defines him, instilled in him from “birth” as his sole purpose in life. A driving force in virtually every Superboy story, it remains prominent in this Convergence miniseries set so early in his life. As he goes up against heroes from the Kingdom Come universe, he battles with all of his power, even against all odds.

have to win

Make no mistake, of course: Superboy is outmatched. Although he would eventually get some Kryptonian power-upgrades (a few of which seem to have manifested themselves in the Convergence-dome), he was never Superman’s equal, and if it came to an actual fight, it would be over in an instant. And here, he’s up against not just Superman (an older, more experienced version, even), but a couple of his highly-skilled superhero colleagues. There’s little chance of him winning, but he fights on, because he knows Superman would never give up, and therefore, neither can he. It’s an admirable attitude, but one that ends up causing more trouble than it’s worth: Superboy fights recklessly, risking the destruction of Metropolis and eventually hurting the one person Superman cares for most: Lois Lane. It’s a moment that seems to shake Kon-El to his core, and when the Kingdom Come heroes explain that someone needs to win to get closer to who’s running this Convergence battle royale, and they’re in a better position to do so…he once again looks to Superman for an example, and is willing to do whatever it takes.

do i have to die

At first glance, it’s a powerful panel, as we see an incredibly vulnerable side of Kon: he may act tough, but deep down, he’s still essentially a kid, and not emotionally able to handle the idea of dying, but he’s also a hero, first and foremost. If his death is what it takes to solve this, he’s willing (but perhaps not ready) to accept that. In historical context, though, it becomes even more fascinating: remember, this is a Superboy who hasn’t been around for that long. The Death of Superman isn’t that far in the past for him, and he was literally born because Superman gave his own life to stop Doomsday. For him, Superman dying is the ultimate example of what being the world’s greatest hero might mean, and he’s ready to take that step. It’s not necessary, of course: simply getting knocked unconscious will suffice, but the fact that he’s ready to take that steps shows us just how important it is for him to do what Superman would.

As a longtime Superboy fan, I loved this story: it had everything. Attitude, heart, and the inventive use of tactile telekinesis. I’ll admit, for awhile I was wondering what the point of using Dubbilex and Serling Roquette was: they had effectively no role in the plot of this miniseries at all. Although they may feel like callbacks to the Superboy of this era, we talked last month about how they actually weren’t — a more accurate supporting cast for the Zero Hour-era Superboy would involve his makeshift family on Hawaii, not his friends from Cadmus. But after thinking about it for a moment, I realized that it wasn’t their involvement in the plot that mattered: it was their ability to deliver exposition about Superboy, the Kingdom Come heroes, and the entire situation, without it seeming too forced. They added a personal element to what would otherwise be monotonal narration, and that’s just smart writing. Not just to credit Fabian Nicieza, of course: Karl Moline manages to deliver some fantastic work in this issue, much more consistent than the last, including a great moment where the Flash lets loose.

thapthapthap

I know that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Flash’s superspeed translated into inventive comic book panels, but I really appreciate just how much energy is in this page. From how the lightning feeds into itself to form borders, to how the panel overlays emphasize the frenetic pace of the Flash’s punches, you can really get the sense of just how overwhelming that must have been for Superboy. Even if he says it doesn’t hurt (and admittedly, given the laws of physics, a punch from the Flash should be pretty painful, even for someone with moderate invulnerability), it still threw him completely off balance, and that’s a feat on its own.

I wrote last month about how much I loved seeing that The Kid was back, and this month just reinforced that, because it’s exactly the sort of “last story” I’d love to see for this version of Superboy, because if there was ever an era where his dream of becoming Superman was most important, it was in the early years. I may never have succeeded in becoming an actor — to be honest, that dream died fairly early as I changed gears towards other passions — but that sense of theatricality, that stayed with me. Similarly, Superboy may not have been the hero he wanted to be: ultimately, he did lose the battle against the Kingdom Come heroes. But it’s his willingness to sacrifice everything for the greater good that makes him a worthy successor of Superman, and for me, that’s all I wanted for him: to meet his destiny, but in his own way. Given that we talked last time about whether or not he would fit into the mold of Superman or strike out on his own path, I’m really curious, Spencer: how does this compromise work for you?

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Spencer: I think it works out about as well as we could possibly hope for, Shane. Kon-El is too much of an individual to ever become Superman by following anyone’s path but his own, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of making the same kinds of hard decisions as Superman. Both Kon’s choice at the end of the issue and his emotions throughout the act ring absolutely true to me, and those last few pages are just phenomenal work from everybody involved.

What I find frustrating, though, are the plans and actions of Kingdom Come Superman. Now don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate how devoted Superman and his partners are to eliminating civilian casualties and resolving this conflict at least relatively peacefully — it’s certainly a civilness not granted to Kingdom Come Wonder Woman and her crew over in Convergence: Justice League International — but I can’t help but feel like Superman is being needlessly stubborn, and perhaps even antagonizing Kon-El.

I guess what grinds my gears here is how unnecessarily authoritarian, “my way or the high way” Superman is being. I mean, as far as Superman knows, the loser’s city is going to be destroyed by Telos. If his plan is to fight against Telos, why play along with his ruse at all? Why not skip the fight completely and team up with Kon from the start — as many other heroes, including alternate Supermen, have done? Foregoing the fight and teaming up with Kon would put both their cities at risk, and apparently Superman isn’t willing to make the kinds of sacrifices Superboy is. There’s just something slightly hypocritical and very condescending about Superman’s insistence on being the winner, and Kon is right to call him on it.

Dad

Why shouldn’t Superman validate himself here? Kon doesn’t know him from Adam, and it’s not like there aren’t evil Supermen out there in the multiverse. Validating his claims would probably be the prudent move, and would probably save everybody a lot of heartbreak.

Now, I’m not saying that Kon would’ve immediately played along even if Superman did everything right — it’s very likely that Kon would’ve still distrusted him, and I can’t necessarily blame him — but it feels really arrogant of Superman not to even try for a truce, and arrogance is not a trait I typically associate with Superman. It’s a strange dichotomy, as the narrative clearly tries to paint Superman as unequivocally being in the right even as his actions contradict that — nowhere is that dichotomy more apparent than in the opening spread:

It's a plane!

In case you can’t quite make it out, the caption here reads “…is Superboy going to destroy Metropolis?” Yet, the image is of Superman beating Superboy over the head with a plane. There’s a pretty big dissonance between the words and the pictures here, or perhaps between what Nicieza wants us to think about Superman and what he’s actually showing us. I can’t fully buy Kon as the issue’s threat when Superman just storms into his city demanding that people he doesn’t know follow his orders, then starts throwing punches when he doesn’t get his way. And I know Kon made the first move, but we also know that he can’t really hurt Superman — so why fight back at all? Wouldn’t holding back from attacking help prove Superman’s point to Kon better than ten pages of punches and counterattacks? By fighting back at all, Superman is needlessly provoking Kon — that wouldn’t be so bad if he got called out on it, but instead Nicieza uses Superman’s frustrating actions and attitudes to paint Superboy as the bad guy, when Superman is the one who isn’t practicing what he preaches.

Of course, I’m not trying to glaze over Superboy’s faults. He definitely should have stopped fighting far sooner than he did, and he absolutely made the right decision to surrender (even if, ultimately, it was really the only decision he could have made). My problem is that, thanks to Kingdom Come Superman’s attitude, Superboy’s decision feels less like a triumphant victory and more like him giving in to a bully or a domineering father. In that sense, it’s not as satisfying as it should be.

Yet, as frustrating as I find Superman here, his actions also help elevate Superboy’s decision in a way. I know, I’m not making much sense yet, but bear with me for a moment. Heroic sacrifices are a dime a dozen in comics. I don’t mean to undermine the enormity of Kon’s decision, but there are a lot of heroes who’d be willing to make the same choice. Moreover, Shane mentioned that Superboy was born from the aftermath of Superman’s death, and this means that heroic sacrifice is practically a part of Superboy’s DNA. That doesn’t make it an easy decision for him, but it’s an aspect of being Superman that he’s been aware of his entire life.

So instead I want to ask you all: what is Superboy’s greatest weakness? If you answered “his ego,” you’re a winner! To me, that’s what makes Kon’s decision so satisfying. Here’s this character who’s stubborn and never listens to anybody, yet he’s willing to submit to Superman even when Superman isn’t totally in the right. The ability to put ego aside and apologize or admit to being wrong even when you aren’t is a vital peacekeeping skill and something the real Superman is no doubt quite good at, but also a skill that runs contrary to Kon-El’s entire personality — so for Kon to do so under such trying circumstances is absolutely momentous. Intentionally or not, Nicieza and Moline have tapped into all of the most important conflicts in Kon-El’s life, and it makes this mini-series feel like an essential part of his development as a character despite him not having existed as a character for quite some time now. That’s impressive no matter how you cut it, and it’s what elevates this mini to the top-tier of Convergence tie-ins in my eyes, no matter what issues I may have with Superman himself.

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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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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