first New 52 Superboy collection did fairly well by everyone's favorite clone; the second volume, even interrupted by the "Culling" crossover, also worked well enough up to its end, marred only by a standard "villain of the week" story by Tom DeFalco and a handful of guest artists. Unfortunately, Superboy Vol. 3: Lost ultimately goes wrong too; it starts out fine with DeFalco and art by series regular R. B. Silva, but it gets mired in the over-long "H'el on Earth" crossover, and again a variety of guest artists fail to impress.
Near the end the book gets really substandard, mainly as the current team tries to wrap things up before new writer Justin Jordan comes on; only some hints of what Jordan might do make me optimistic for the next volume.
[Review contains spoilers]
Again, Superboy Vol. 2: Extraction's final issue (excluding the interesting Zero Month chapter) was a stumble, as Tom DeFalco seemed to introduce a peer group for Superboy including a stereotypical rich jock, a stereotypical rich "brain," a Paris Hilton-type, and etc., depicted by two guest artists and three inkers in one issue. It's a pleasant surprise, therefore, that DeFalco's opening chapter deals with some of these same characters -- now depicted by R. B. Silva -- and succeeds.
This new chapter has a vibe that the earlier one didn't, reminiscent of Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan DiDio's (making his DC debut) Superboy stories from the early 2000s, positing Superboy as a twenty-something landlord in a kind of superhero domestic comedy. That may not be for everyone, but Superboy as a "twenty-something stranger in a strange land" works here, and again Silva's art helps mightily.
The initial "H'el on Earth" chapter also works, again by DeFalco and Silva. DeFalco had a good issue last time teaming Superboy and the Teen Titans' Bunker; he achieves the same good interplay between the characters in this issue. The rest of the Titans get involved, and DeFalco has a good mix of the old and the new here -- it's Superboy fighting alongside the Titans, reminiscent of the pre-Flashpoint universe, but at the same time it's always clear the Titans don't completely know or trust Superboy, adding a greater dimension to their interactions.
From there, "H'el on Earth" begins in earnest. It's not a terrible crossover as they go (the Superman issues by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort are pretty solid), but Silva steps out for most of the Superboy issues, replaced by a variety of artists with differing styles and talent levels. There is some good stuff here, especially as regards Superboy's interactions with Superman and the members of the Justice League, many of whom he's meeting for the first time; as with the Titans issue, DeFalco offers a good mix of something that feels both familiar and fresh. At the same time, the crossover is much too long -- thirteen issues (I read it going back and forth between the third Superboy, Supergirl, Superman trades) -- and a lot of repetitive fight scenes and information recaps tend to slow it down.
Most egregious in the thirteen-part crossover is the Superboy annual collected here. In it, a Fortress of Solitude weapon shunts Superman and Superboy to a pocket dimension in the midst of fighting H'el, and they have to interact with an alien landscape to get home. The banter between Superman and Superboy is at times amusing, but there's only so much the reader can take before it begins to grate, and also the story factors not at all into the rest of the "H'el" crossover (what we had here, I'm guessing, was the idea for an annual in search of a story to tell in it); had I bought this on its own, I would have felt cheated. Also there's an "artist," two "pencillers," and two inkers on this one, and it really marks a nadir for the art in this volume.
In terms of writing, the Superboy issue that follows the "H'el" crossover is the lowest point, written by DeFalco, Lobdell, and Tony Lee (the additional hands suggesting trouble, I think, not extra effort). The issue commits two sins here, the first of which is that it re-introduces the villain Plasmus as a hulking beast with a terribly hackneyed German accent, and Wonder Woman's fearsome enemy Dr. Psycho, now a buffoonish fortune teller; neither presentation does those villains justice. Second, the issue spends much of its time on this ridiculous Dr. Psycho taking a trip through a kind of dreamscape of Superboy's mind, though this neither forwards the plot nor reveals anything the reader doesn't already know; the chapter is filler, essentially, and obviously so. It ends with Psycho finding Lex Luthor in Superboy's head, something the next and final issue reverses offhand in such a way that suggests that wherever this issue was originally going, it's not where it ended up.
For all of these reasons, it's therefore also a pleasant surprise that the book's final issue is perhaps the best of the bunch. Lobdell finally tells the origin of Harvest, whom Lobdell created in Teen Titans and Superboy, and the way the origin weaves through events of Action Comics and Superman is plenty engaging. We also meet Jon Lane Kent, son of Superman and Lois Lane; I thought he would turn out to be Superboy but Superboy is his clone instead. Either way, I know Jon Lane Kent is due to appear in this book again; it would be interesting enough to read about Superman and Lois Lane's son, but I'm especially curious given they're not even a couple in the New 52.
This, plus the promise of writer Justin Jordan coming on, is enough to bring me back for the next volume. Superboy Vol. 3: Lost did not end well, and based on this volume it's not a great surprise the title has recently been cancelled. Between Jordan and then Marv Wolfman, however, I'll give the final books a shot, if only to see "the Kid" out the door.
[Includes original covers, though not the full "WTF" gatefold cover]
Next week, Supergirl Vol. 3: Sanctuary and more Action Comics.