Bit of a surprise, this. A relaunch of a long-dead anthology title, being essentially used as the new lead book for a character (Superboy) with a bizarre and chequered recent history (essentially, killed off because of a copyright dispute, and abruptly resurrected when said dispute was apparently resolved), written by the hit-and-miss Geoff Johns, and with a numbering system that seems specifically designed to infuriate (it’s numbered as both #1 and #504 on the cover, apparently so as to suck up the sales and attention both from being a new #1 AND from being a continuation of an old series).
And yet it’s not bad at all. Conner Kent’s always been something of a “nothing” character – at least, since he ditched the amusingly bad “teen speak” and sunglasses look and became someone with very few distinguishing characteristics – but Johns, as he did in his Teen Titans run, chooses to focus on the one angle that makes him in any way interesting: the fact that he is, essentially, a cross between Superman and Lex Luthor. It means that we get a fairly reflective story that sees Conner comparing his own life with the young life of Clark, before a closing-page twist that throws everything prior to it into a new perspective. There’s foundations laid for the introduction of a new, Smallville-based supporting cast – and I have to say, the idea of having Superboy stories set there, with an entirely original set of support characters (rather than simply having his life revolve around the Titans) is an idea I can get behind. Although I do wish he’d get round to changing that costume – or, you know, actually having one.
It’s actually the details of Clark’s earlier life, though, that make for the biggest problem with the story – we’re told, almost without warning, that it’s now “official” continuity once more that Clark was once Superboy, and joined the Legion of Super-Heroes as a teenager. Now, I know that this is Johns laying groundwork for what will be fully explained in the upcoming Superman : Secret Origin – but I don’t like having retcons foisted upon me until said origin has actually been told properly. I, and many other comics readers, have grown up with the notion that Superman’s identity only comes about in adult life (with his powers manifesting as a teenager), and some three years on from the establishment of “New Earth”, such major changes can’t be snuck in under the radar simply because Johns feels like it – they have to be set up properly.
Still, though, this is a nice little story, aided by some lovely artwork from Francis Manapul. Meanwhile, the Legion backup, while appropriate given the title of the comic, feels a little superfluous – first, we get a two-page introduction to the current version of the team (and it’s hard not to roll one’s eyes and say “Yeah, okay, whatever” when confronted with a two page spread of yet another set of slightly redesigned and tweaked Legionnaires), before a brief and largely confusing encounter with the Thom Kallor version of Starman. The bowling alley scene is actually pretty amusing (“Touchdown!”) but I can’t help but feel that, essentially, I’m being made to laugh at something (schizophrenia) that I shouldn’t be – and that’s why this interpretation of the character has always felt slightly off to me. But DC’s current slate of backup strips are being used in such a way that while the strong ones (Metal Men, Blue Beetle) can have as much value as the lead features, they can get away with feeling inessential if the lead is strong. And Adventure Comics doesn’t set the world on fire, but it’s pleasant enough, and promises to have a sense of gentle fun at odds with much of the current DCU output. So, we’ll see.