[THE NEW 52] Superboy: Incubation

I really seem to be pigging out on eaten-words right now.

After last week’s revelatory Superman review I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to maybe check out some other characters in the Super-mythos – I mean, hell, if one’s good there’s a chance the others might be too, right? So, of course, that meant an excursion into the unexplored waters of a prominent Teen Titan, half-clone of Superman and all-around angsty bastard with a rather uncanny resemblance to Shia LaBeouf after he’d gotten a few golf balls stuck in his throat.

Thankfully, none of that’s involved in Connor Kent’s mythos this time around. Instead we’re witness to the birth of the eponymous Superboy as he emerges, rather explosively, from a test tube in a facility run by super-secret-squirrel organisation N.O.W.H.E.R.E., the place of his birth. The genetically-engineered person-of-mass-destruction is then trained by N.O.W.H.E.R.E. to be an awesome killing machine, but over the course of the story he gradually gains an identity, personality and sense of ethics – even if he has to all-but flense the Teen Titans to do so.

One of the things that immediately jumps out at me with this book is the character development, because there’s a lot of it; the inner monologuing gives a clear sense of Superboy’s personality, struggles and internal debates, and really paints the portrait of a lonely, aimless lab experiment attempting to add some meaning to his life somehow. It’s almost tragic, the way he flits about from mission to mission trying to discover who he is as a person and what life he can possibly have outside the walls of his secret prison.

His captors are equally as fleshed out as he is; future Ravager and sword fetishist Rose Wilson comes across as a bit of a tragic villain through the struggles she has with her best friend, Dr Fairchild, who’s trying to come to grips with her treatment of Superboy as a lab rat who then deals with the machinations of Centrehall, leader of a clandestine organisation inside N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and a bit of a well-intentioned extremist who tries to coerce Superboy into stuff…

Ok, you get the picture; point is, almost every player is this super-opera is rounded to the point of being as developed in a few issues as other characters are over years of development. It’s also really refreshing to see Superboy as being both something different from Superman and his own pre-Flashpoint self, even if there is still a bit of angst going on.

One of my criteria for what constitutes a “good” comic book is its ability to hook me in for further installments – a great way to do that is drop a big cliffhanger that actually works for the story and makes me go “OMG WANT.” Superboy achieved this; without wishing to spoil, the ending is a WHAM moment that made me curse in frustration that I have to wait a whole frikkin’ year for the resolution for it. Might not be as impact-y to other readers (especially if you currently read Teen Titans) but to me it was a really solid effort.

So while the writing gets a big fat tick on the checklist, the artwork is where things stumble somewhat. Lean and Silva kinda make the book look a bit too cartoonish; the art is quite basic, with not a lot of fleshing out or intricate detail. While it’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen, it’s definitely not the best; and really, it’d be nice to see some actually properly-proportioned women in the New 52 at some point. Please, no more watermelons on telegraph poles.

Dialogue actually works surprisingly well, offering great introspection on the part of Superboy and explaining his motivations and evolution without diverging too much into drowning you in waves of chokey exposition. While the villain’s dialogue can be a bit hammy at times (lookin’ at you, Rose Wilson) Scott Lobdell does a really good job of writing the characters, on the whole, as engaging and interesting – including, surprisingly, Supergirl, who I’ve now added to my reading list for this year.

On the whole, I’m finding myself really surprised by the great range of flavours the Super-titles are offering right now. It strikes me as a very good move on DC’s part to actually try shaking up the status quo of one of their most beloved characters – beyond giving Wonder Woman pants for twenty seconds – and actually succeed at doing it. Incubation was an intriguing, heart-filled tale of a lost little boy with the power to blow up a city, and my only really big complaint is having to wait another bloody year before seeing the resolution to that cliffhanger.

And before you suggest it, no, I will not trawl Wikipedia to look for the answers. What am I, a scholar?

STORY: 5/5

OVERALL: 12.5/15

BEST QUOTE: “I figured it out. I’ve spent a lot of the last week in the library (you might be surprised at how boring “freedom” can be). I’ve learnt about rum springa; it is a rite of passage in the Amish culture: as a teenager you are sent out into the “real world”, to make certain the life you choose is based on an informed choice. I’m pretty sure that’s what Centerhall did. Or maybe he’s just the angry parent who catches you smoking and makes you consume an entire carton of cigarettes. No, mysterious clandestine organisation – you choke on it.” – Superboy

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