Review: ‘Superman of Smallville’
Superman of Smallville
Writers: Art Baltazar and Franco
Artist: Art Baltazar
DC Comics; $9.99
For most of the books being released under their new middle-school and YA focused imprints, DC Comics has recruited prose writers who are new to comics but are already successful in targeting other audiences. For several of them, however, DC has turned to reliable long-time comics creators. Such is the case with Superman of Smallville.
This DC Zoom-branded book—that’s the middle-school imprint, although the publisher has announced plans to abolish that branding and publish everything under the DC umbrella—is the work of artist Art Baltazar and his writing partner Franco. If you’ve paid any attention at all to kids’ comics over the past decade or so, their names and work will be familiar to you. Heck, even if you’ve only paid attention to kids’ comics featuring DC superheroes, their names will be familiar.
In addition to their work for other publishers, for DC the pair produced some 60 issues of Tiny Titans between 2008 and 2014, which they followed with a Superman Family Adventures miniseries and a Super Powers miniseries featuring the Justice League. Baltazar also designed and illustrated the DC Super Pets line of chapter books and picture books for Captsone.
They therefore have a lot of experience with Superman and his family, friends, pets and enemies, and they evidently came into this project quite comfortable with the character and his milieu.
As the title suggests, the focus here is on Superman’s formative years in Smallville—his first day of middle school, to be exact. (As to why its called Superman of Smallville instead of Superboy, even though it follows the original iteration of those comics as “the adventures of Superman when he was a boy,” perhaps it’s to avoid confusion with the two other Superboys currently appearing in DC’s DCU line of ongoing comic books.)
The Tween of Steel flies around Smallville doing such super-deeds as putting out a barn fire or saving a fisherman from a sinking rowboat, while dressed in a more casual version of his iconic costume. Ironically, by affixing a red cape and “S” symbol to his otherwise regular-looking street clothes, Superman looks like nothing so much as a kid pretending to be Superman.
His still quite young, and parents Jon and Martha, the latter of whom looks quite different than the little old lady of Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures, make him conceal his Superman persona (and do his chores without the benefit of super-powers). When he goes to school, he reunites with his childhood friend Lana Lang—who makes him start to float when he thinks about her, unless he’s careful—and meets new friend Pete Ross and a red-haired kid named Lex Luthor.
As the school Science Club, they investigate the mysterious happenings around town caused by “The Blur,” something with super-strength that can fly at super-speed and isn’t Superman, although it does come from Krypton.
“The Blur” turns out to be not so much of a threat, and really just needs to be properly trained, but the Brainiac robot/ship that flew it to Earth to reunite with Superman is a bit more threatening. The action is all pretty gentle. though, and these conflicts stem from misunderstandings.
Although the graphic novel is longer than their past serialized work, Baltazar and Franco’s narrative is much more tightly focused here. The sense of humor is similar, and many of the gags are the same ones they’ve employed in the past, although few of them ever really get tired. For example, I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve used a verb as the sound effect for that action—–a robot throwing a man makes the sound “THROW!” and the sound of that man catching a flag pole is, of course, “CATCH!”—but it still amuses me.
After the story, which introduces a new member to the Kent family and sets up a sequel, the book includes a Kryptonian alphabet in the back, allowing patient readers to go back and translate the dialogue of the Kryptonian robots throughout the latter half of the story…or to use in the creation of their own hard-to-translate notes, which they definitely shouldn’t pass during class.
Boiling down familiar elements of the Superman mythos and offering a fresh take on the most famous superhero’s childhood that is compulsively readable and quite a lot of fun, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Superman of Smallville is, appropriately enough, super.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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