Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Superboy #17

"Lost Cause!"

Tom DeFalco • Writer
R.B. Silva • Penciller
Rob Lean • Inker
Richard and Tanya Horie • Colorists
Travis Lanham • Letterer
Chris Conroy • Editor

The cover is by R.B. Silva with Java Tartaglia, and there is something off about it, which I think has to do with the coloring. For whatever reason, it looks like Superboy is about 100 feet in front of the Herald. If they're supposed to be fighting, then why does the Herald look so far away? Plus, these two really don't fight in the story. They have a somewhat contentious confrontation, but I wouldn't go as far as to call it a fight. Also, I didn't really like Superboy's face here. He kinda looks constipated. All in all, an extremely disappointing cover for Superboy's final chapter in the H'el on Earth storyline.

Our story begins at a NASA research facility at John F. Kennedy Space Center, where scientists are observing the effects of H'el activating his Star Chamber. Solar flares are extending millions of miles beyond their usual diameters and global temperatures are rising, playing havoc with weather patterns. One scientist even says they're facing a catastrophe of biblical proportions. They know something is going on at the North Pole, but they're not exactly sure what.

Just outside the Fortress of Solitude, Superman tells the others they need to find a way to destroy the Star Chamber, but Flash then calls them from the satellite headquarters of the Justice League, the Watchtower. Although he's been removed from the battle with H'el, Flash has taken an active role in monitoring the widespread destruction being caused on Earth, and he requests Batman and Cyborg to join him in protecting what remains of the planet they have.

Batman actually agrees with Flash, and he and Cyborg leave Superman, Superboy and Wonder Woman to take down H'el and Supergirl. Supergirl, meanwhile, is happy to see the shard of Kryptonite is doing its job of directing the sun's energy into the Star Chamber's fuel cells, but she's worried about what effect this will have on the sun. H'el again assures her that everything will be alright, and he leaves her to take care of one final task.

H'el teleports in front of our heroes and says he can't leave Earth knowing the clone — the abomination of Superboy died wearing the family armor of the house of El. He takes the armor off him and sends the boy flying away. He then puts the armor back on Superman to grant him one last dignity before his death. Wonder Woman tries to help, but Superman sends her to protect Superboy.

Superboy is severely weakened after losing the armor, but he gathers the strength to fly toward the Star Chamber. On his way, he meets the Herald, who tells him that if he survives, he could come to shape the destinies of world without number. The Herald then leaves and has a "conversation" with the Oracle, and he mentions five anomalies on the world that could disrupt the delicate cosmic balance. An editor's note reminds us that he originally blew his horn in Superman #1. So I picked it up for fun, and the main story revolves around Superman fighting a fire monster, but there is one random page that shows the Herald blowing his horn in the Himalayas. An editor's note from there sends us to Stormwatch, but in hindsight, that was probably an overly-ambitious error. I haven't read everything, but it seems like the Herald and Oracle have played no part in the story in Stormwatch.

We cut back to Superboy, who is having to dodge a lot of mini-black holes that have begun to appear as the Star Chamber opens up the time stream. Supergirl then shows up to stop him, and she openly speaks of how she hates him for being a clone. An editor's note sends us to Superboy #0, in which we learn the villain Harvest has somehow learned of a Kryptonian legend of servant clones rising up in rebellion against their makers. Harvest implanted images of this in Superboy's subconscious to give him deep-seeded feelings of animosity toward heroes and Superman in particular. The clone uprising supposedly occurred hundreds of years before Kara was born, so it is likely that she grew up hearing scary stories of the evil clones. She know believes that Superboy is trying to stop her because like the clones before him, he hates Krypton.

Supergirl then proceeds to beat the living snot out of Superboy, and he tells her that H'el is destroying the solar system. Supergirl refuses to believe him, but she does begin to doubt a little bit. However, it seems these conflicting feelings only make her angrier, and she probably would have killed Superboy had Wonder Woman not showed up just then. This provides Superboy the opportunity to gather himself together and make one last courageous run at the Star Chamber.

The Good:

The story. Tom DeFalco and R.B. Silva have a great weakness for telling instead of showing, and this issue had that problem, too. Instead of giving us scientists telling us about the Earth's problems, they could have shown us that. We also had a whole page of Superboy lying on the ground with a lot of different captions telling us how beat up he was and how hard it was for him to stand. I think they could've done a couple of small panels of him rising to his feet, falling, then getting back up and trying again. However, despite this problem, the story was still very exciting. We're building up toward the final climax, and it was great. Supergirl beat the crap out of Superboy, which was logical and probably deserved, and seeds were sown for a great Supergirl-Wonder Woman fight and the climatic H'el-Superman fight. This issue accomplished its main goal of making me want to immediately read the next issue.

Editor's notes. This issue sent me back to pick up two more issues, which actually weren't that bad. Superman #1 didn't add anything to the story, but Superboy #0 did explain a lot of Kryptonian culture and help us to see where Kara was coming from. Comics are more accessible than ever today thanks to Comixology, and more editors should be taking advantage of this by referring to more past and current issues. There always is the risk they'll refer to a non-applicable issue, like Stormwatch, but I prefer erring on the side of more references rather than less. I like to be reminded that all these characters inhabit the same universe and that something that happened a year and a half ago could have implications on what's happening today.

The Bad:

Little to no Flash. I was happy to see him start to do something again instead of just appearing in flashbacks, but I wish we could have seen a little bit of him actually saving some people on the planet Earth. This goes back to the whole show vs. tell thing. Having someone sit at a computer screen is an efficient way to tell the story, but a more engaging way would have been to have him communicating with the Justice League while he's redirecting a tidal wave or something like that.

Unnecessary tricks and vagueness. My biggest problem of this issue was having Superman and Superboy return to their main costumes. H'el did give an OK explanation for why he did this, but I couldn't help feeling that the creators simply wanted the characters to end this crossover in their proper outfits. But I don't think they needed to do that at all. I love Superman's T-shirt and jeans look, and I really don't care for Superboy's black-and-red Tron suit. I also never felt one ounce of concern for Superboy's safety once the armor was removed. The other unnecessary plot point was the meeting with the Herald. He spoke so vaguely that he essentially said absolutely nothing, eating up pages that could have shown the destruction of Earth. I know the goal here was to pique our curiosity and keep coming back next month to hopefully learn these mysterious secrets, but I think they went a little overboard with the Herald and Oracle here. Just save them for the final chapter of the story and build the tension through other areas.

The art. In this issue, Silva decided to try to emulate Kenneth Rocafort's style of nontraditional page layouts and sharp, angular panels surrounded by small colored boxes. It didn't work here. Only Rocafort can do what Rocafort does, and even then, he sometimes fails. That style requires an architect-level of precision that Silva simply lacks. I sympathize with the desire to makes all the books in this story look similar, especially for the collected trade, but if you can't pull something off, then don't do it. I was also incredibly disappointed with the Oracle here. In Superman, the Oracle looked intimidating and impressive. Here, he was downright laughable. It looked like he was made of ice and the three orbs on his chest did not resemble the mini-galaxies he had in past issues.

On a whole, this comic book had a lot of potential. The basic story was incredible and exciting — all the elements were there — just the execution was lacking. A few simple changes would have made this a standout comic. But it ends up just below average.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time: Supergirl #17

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