That is one beautiful cover, courtesy of penciller Eddy Barrows, inker JP Mayer and colourist Jamie Grant - dynamic, vibrant, not just another variation on the traditional Superman/Flash race ... surely it's sold a few extra copies of this issue.
I hope so, as Superboy's new solo title deserves to pile on readers. There's a title character who exudes goodness without rotting the teeth. Supporting players with surprises locked into their personalities. Villains you wouldn't expect to see in a Smallville-set book. A sharp script from Jeff Lemire. Lovely artwork from Pier Gallo and Grant. Attractive lettering from John J Hill ... the comic has quickly become a favourite of mine.
This issue, Gallo excels as Superboy and Kid Flash run a public race to raise funds for Smallville, hard-hit after a dry period for farming and battered by recent super-villain attacks. A couple of pages use a jigsaw layout to complement Conner's internal conflicts, there's a lovely spread of the heroes running around the globe, and, finally, an artist makes the point that speedsters are likely to have dirty shoes. What's more, the Egyptian scenes benefit from a willingness to leave plenty of space for Grant's azure skies.
The Teen Titans turn out in support of their teammates, apart from Wonder Girl, who's recently split up with Conner. Local lass Lori Luthor does show up, along with school genius Simon Valentine and imposter 'hero from the future' Psionic Lad. The event has an unexpected winner, but not until we've seen some super-speed feats and a surprisingly sensitive Kid Flash try to help Superboy with his blues.
Other things I liked this month were cameos by the Phantom Stranger and an excitable young man from Essex County; a nod to Night Force; the revelation that US Vice-President turned general store owner Pete Ross is now at Smallville High; and, for what must be the first time in years, a mention of Superboy's time living in Hawaii - I was beginning to think that period in his life had been erased.
On the minus side, a couple of character names are misspelled (Steve Danton rather than Dayton, Garth Logan rather than Garfield), but points are regained by the unapologetic presence of thought balloons - I realise the fashionable internal narrative boxes do the same thing, but I'm a traditionalist. And I like the way the sheepy little bubbles look on the artwork.
The negative criticism I've heard most often about the book is that Gallo's artwork is 'too European', that he draws Conner Kent in outdated, too-tight clothing. And while no one could claim Conner's a fashion plate, and the glasses-on-the-end-of-the-nose look is annoying, how often do you read a comic and notice how natty someone looks? Poor dress sense is a pretty strange reason to write off a comic that has so much action, depth and warmth. As for a particularly European look, as if that were necessarily a bad thing, I can't see that at all - it just looks like attractive superhero artwork that dares to be non-derivative.
I've seen many a race between members of the Superman and Flash Families over the years, and I'm invariably left bored. This version feels fresh, like every issue of Superboy. If anything, the issue went by a little too fast.