You'll notice that evil organisation NOWHERE, which has bedevilled this book with plotlines that go nowhere, is nowhere to be seen this issue. They're mentioned on the final page, but that's it. And apart from a couple of pages with Bunker and a one-panel Wonder Girl flashback, the similarly page-hogging Teen Titans are absent. Superboy #12 is new writer Tom DeFalco stepping away from the macro-plot and doing some proper character work.
This includes addressing Superboy's casual attitude to bank robbery last month, having him form an instant opinion on the wisdom of drinking alcohol, and not worrying unduly about using his powers in front of casual acquaintances. DeFalco elaborates on his known powers by having Superboy discover the very Silver Age gift of super-taste, manifest a Spider-Man-like danger sense and do something wonderfully weird with his telekinesis.
Better than the meta-abilities, though, is the fact that he shows some empathy, wishing to protect Dallas from danger. He's following his human instincts rather than denying them, hiding behind his status as a clone. While Kiva's reaction at the end of the issue hints that there's something monstrous inside Superboy, the signs are that he'll overcome it.
Which is what I want. The more DC teases the 'is he a good clone, or a bad clone?' angle, the less I like the book. DeFalco stressed this line of character development in a recent interview, but I suspect he's not planning to drag it out.
The introduction of an instant supporting cast this issue is a positive sign. As well as rich and mysterious Dallas, there's party boy Raz, nice girl Jules Bennett, athlete Sam Mendez and rich geek Hartford Howard Wellington V aka (and I love this, it's positively Peanuts) Fifth. They're all archetypes at the moment, but DeFalco is an old-school writer who's bound to develop them into characters, given half a chance. Right now, they're Not the Teen Titans, which is good enough for me - I want Superboy to own his book, rather than have it be an adjunct to DC's teen team. His own backing players is a big step in that direction.
Teen Titan Bunker, though, he can stick around. He's acting as Jiminy Cricket, helping Superboy develop his conscience. He's also a lot of fun (though he hits the same tired gay stereotype note that shows up in Batman this week - he just loves clothes and has great taste).
Villainess Kiva is a bit of a one-note witch so far, but again, it's her debut appearance, she could go in any number of directions. The only thing that seems off in this day and age is that she refers to herself as 'Kiva, Mistress of the Lost Domain!'. Does she not remember the name, then?
There's a similar moment of clunky introduction at the end, when Detective Jocelyn Lure, talking to herself as she watches video of Superboy's scrapes to date, says her name out loud. Ruddy drama queen. Editor Chris Conroy should be catching this sort of thing.
Otherwise, this issue's script is excellent, just good superheroics. There's a great moment when DeFalco has Superboy show impressive fighting skills - it's rare for non-superpowered combat in comics to seem anything other than throwaway, but here we have action that's easy to understand, and plausible (click on image to enlarge).
The page in question was penciled by Robson Rocha, and inked by Greg Adams. They did the art pages of #1–4, 7-11, 19 and 20. Thank you for the kind words!' And thank you, Greg!)
Whatever the case, the issue looks sharp throughout. There's one instance of a pipecleaner cheesecake girl (bends any way you want her), but she's mostly hidden by text. Otherwise, there's nothing to object to and much to admire. Superboy's emotions are front and centre, the new cast members are distinctive and bad girl Kiva is memorable. There's a dual perspective on the big fight scene that works well and an amusing moment when the battle just happens to result in Superboy's outfit getting ripped and showing off his new 'S' tattoo - expect that to occur a lot!
Credit also needs to go to inkers Greg Adams, Mariah Benes and Andy Owens, for sharp finishing. With so many hands on deck this issue could have wound up a mess, but it's a good-looking whole; colourists Richard and Tanya Horie also deserve credit, for setting the mood for everything from a laser-lit nightclub to a savage land via a dirty back alley. Kiva's spooky voice comes courtesy of Travis Lanham's eye for fonts. There's even that rarity among DC's New 52 books: a double-page spread that earns its keep by advancing the story and looking pretty spectacular.
All this, and a Steve Lightle cover coloured by Hi-Fi!
All told, Superboy #12 is the best issue of this series to date, hands down. It has character, action, mystery, humour and looks great. More please.