“Superboy” is one of those titles that feels like it’s aimed to drive you crazy. There’s a lot to like about it, and yet it won’t stop you from turning around a minute later and wanting to rip your hair out.
There’s definitely a lot that “Superboy” #5 gets right in terms of the script. Scott Lobdell plays with some of the cliches of the medium well; when Mr. Templar is introduced, at first it’s just as a shadowy figure, but half a page later we get a good, proper look at the character. It’s almost like he’s saying, “I’m going to save the mysterious unseen role for something more important.” And in general, Mr. Templar’s introduction is sufficiently nasty that it grabs your attention without having to resort to any sort of hinting or trickery.
Lobdell is also building up a growing mythology around “Superboy” and the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. organization. We’re getting hints about Caitlin Fairchild’s new origin (and there appears to still be a 13 in it), a location known as the Colony, a moment called the Culling, and how Rose Wilson fits into the entire scenario. Each new piece of the story is introduced carefully, and I like the pace in which he’s doing so. And as Superboy starts to learn more about the world he’s living in, I appreciate that he’s learned some sneakiness and isn’t just barging out into the real world with his uniform on any more. He’s getting more savvy, and this character growth is refreshing.
At the same time, there are still some rough patches that are hard to gloss over. Narration boxes giving a huge information dump about Dr. Umber and blatantly spelling out what had been hinted at and revealed in pieces up until now. Subtlety goes out the window here, and with it any sort of grace. (That narration box shows up a little later for some truly corny lines, too, about something inside Dr. Umber screaming, but in this case it’s describing the reader’s reaction.) And as for Superboy’s little soliloquy after Mr. Templar checks in on him? Well, it might make you feel nostalgic for Umber’s narration box, it’s so clunky and ridiculous.
R.B. Silva’s pencils are gorgeous as ever. I love the soft edge that he and inker Rob Lean bring to the characters; they’re gently formed, and at the same time pack in tons of detail for both the people and the backgrounds behind them. The lab scenes in N.O.W.H.E.R.E. could actually be a real lab; not just with the computer screens and testing equipment, but even with the minor details like railings and steps. And I love some of the other touches, like how Superboy’s hair has been growing out since his original bald appearance, or the intricate tattoo on Batus’s arm and shoulder. If I had to find a complaint, it would be that Silva isn’t getting to pull in more readers by drawing the cover. Nothing against Shane Davis, whose covers have been fine, but Silva’s art is just great.
“Superboy” is a fun book, although I’m not convinced that reading it without “Teen Titans” is quite entertaining, as the pair of them are connected fairly closely. But it’s a book that I think has defied expectations quite nicely. If it can just fix those rough patches, it’ll be a winner.