It's Superboy #26, a comic I was determined not to buy, but you know how Santa is, leaving behind things he read on the way over from the North Pole. I didn't want to support this decidedly uneven series any longer due to its replacing the lead character with a darker version. Kon El is gone, his title taken over by Jon Lane Kent, possible future son of Superman and Lois Lane and the person from whom Kon El was cloned. Bah, and indeed, fie.
Then I began hearing good things ...
The issue begins in the middle of the Forever Evil crossover, with JLK - who's being egged on by an unidentified presence - and the Teen Titans in the 30th century. The heroes don't know the kid in the bed isn't Kon, who is lost in the time stream, but JLK. Stolen from his parents and raised by the villain Harvest, he wants to kill all superheroes, because where he came from, the self-proclaimed good guys decided the best way to protect the ordinary folk was to take away their freedom - and their psyches.
Soon he's grabbing information from the minds of the Titans to help him play the role of Kon, and sneaking out of his bed to see what secrets scans of his DNA have revealed. He learns that while Superman is his father, Lois Lane is just one of several genetic mothers. The future tech also reveals that Kon will be instrumental in founding the Legion of Super-Heroes.
A devilish glint appears in JLK's eyes, and you can imagine the owner of the mystery voice - based on my innate genius, and the next issue blurb, I'm guessing Saturn Queen of the Legion of Super-Villains - rubbing their hands with glee.
To get some action into an issue that's heavy with exposition, JLK (and if there's not a story entitled 'Who shot JLK?' at some point I'll be most disappointed) and Wonder Girl fight. The tussle makes some kind of sense, with JLK attacking her on instinct before he decides to play the long Kon. He puts his actions down to post-illness confusion and Wonder Girl accepts him at his word, unable to distinguish him from the guy she's known for quite awhile. Is she daft?
Perhaps there's some mental noodling at play, with JLK certainly more proficient in the use of his telekinesis than Kon - who knows, he may have other psychic advantages.
There's a moment in which JLK murders a super-powered security guard - exactly the kind of thing I don't want to see a character calling himself Superboy do. This is followed by a grisly scene in which JLK manipulates her corpse to further his plan. But I can't deny that Superboy #26 is one of the most solid issues since the book's debut. Veteran scripter Marv Wolfman - he plotted the issue with Scotland's own Frank Hannah - deftly pushes the story forward while providing the background that allows a new reader to jump onto this issue. The referencing of the Legion - presumably a new New 52 batch after the cancellation and denial of the most recent version - can't help but intrigue this old fan.
I like that straight away, Wolfman and Hannah are noticing, and covering, potential plot holes, the type of thing onetime writer Scott Lobdell would simply have let pass, such as the possibility that JLK's impersonation won't be perfect, and the fact that one Titan is an expert in reading people.
There are confusing points in Wolfman's script. Firstly, he has JLK referring to himself in the third person in the records sequence; not the kind of thing we need when one character is pretending to be another. And then we have the medical computer telling JLK the Legion is founded in 1000 years or so - either the newest Legion is a 40th century mob or the computer is talking from a 21st-century perspective and what we have here is a bit of clunky writing.
The art is excellent throughout, with Andres Guinaldo's pencil and Mark Irwin's ink work clean and slick, but not without personality. The storytelling is good, and extra points for paying attention to anatomy - yup, Superman likely could father a child.
The vibrancy of the pages is added to by letterer Travis Lanham and colourist Javier Mena, while Rafael Sandoval, Norm Rapmund and Alex Sinclair's cover is well crafted, if rather base in its appeal.
All I'm all, I still hate the notion of a killer carrying the Superboy name as an ongoing thing, but this is a better than average DC comic, and all the pointers are towards Kon coming back. These factors, and my status as a legion lifer, will bring me back for at least another issue or two. Let's hope I'm pleasantly surprised again.