REVIEW: Superb #1 Fills Catalyst Prime Universe with Character

The first issue of Superb sets a cast of believable characters into an interesting and oppressive environment, but lacks the spark to truly ignite the plot into something explosive or unpredictable.

The third release from Lion Forge’s burgeoning "Catalyst Prime" superhero universe, Superb is told by writers David F. Walker and Sheena C. Howard from the perspective of high-schoolers who are still dealing with the aftermath of the Catalyst event itself, which, one year ago, changed their world forever and made it possible for people to develop superpowers. To the book’s benefit, it only touches lightly on the shared universe it fully inhabits, instead ensuring at every turn that the feeling of inter-connectivity never becomes a burden or distraction from the new characters and themes being introduced through the course of the story.

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The comic aims at a younger readership, but without speaking down to them at any point. Some of the twists are heavily choreographed, but not to the detriment of the final issue -- and in fact, at several points of foreshadowing add to the enjoyment of the issue, such as the somewhat obvious identity of the unnamed superhero who shows up at the start and end of the story. Much like Valiant’s Faith, there is a strong feeling of familiarity in the obvious trappings of the superhero genre which the book happily indulges in, but the creative team also offer a different perspective and voice to their characters, which offers variety and a welcome level of unpredictability.

Artist Ray-Anthony Height’s greatest asset is his sense of design, with the children all demonstrating personality from their clothes, body language, and self-image, just as much as they do from their dialogue or actions within the comic. The expressions feel exaggerated -- he is prone to high melodrama at times, which is warranted by the script but can be a little overbearing -- but in doing so center the teenage perspective throughout, with an off-kilter tone in the sequencing which accentuates the feeling of childishness. Their eyes are as full as life as the adults who show up seem bored and distracted.

The main issue that the comic faces is the page count. The last page comes somewhat abruptly, and feels more like a forced pause on the story rather than a natural point to introduce a cliffhanger. And it’s preceded by a notable lack of tension during the final half of the issue, when things are meant to be tightening up and getting more interesting. The superheroing-about is noticeably less interesting than the schoolyard dynamics which dominate the opening of the comic as a whole, which will interest some and dissuade others. A first issue is always going to struggle in getting everything across at once, however, and it’s probably a positive that the action sequences come second to the development of the main characters.

The talking point of the comic is that this features a teenage superhero with Down’s Syndrome, and the creative team develop their lead character smartly and carefully. He’s allowed to be his own person, with his own affectations that come naturally and play into and outside of his diagnosis. He’s a highly independent and driven character, who is hindered only by the fact that his comic ends too quickly and cuts short how much time we can spend with him and his friends.

It’s hard to know where the comic is going to go over the next few issues, but Superb's greatest strength is how quickly it establishes a core cast, develops them out, and lays down groundwork. Although a part of Catalyst Prime, this feels very much like its own thing. It’s a solid first issue, not explosive or shocking, and so it’ll be interesting to see where future issues will take its engaging lead characters.

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