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Mild Mannered Reviews - Smallville Comics

Smallville: Season 11 #1

Smallville: Season 11 - Chapter #1

Released Digitally: April 13, 2012


Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Penciller: Pere Perez
Inker: Pere Perez
Cover: Cat Staggs

Reviewed by: Marc Pritchard

Click to enlarge

It's early morning - dawn - in Metropolis, six months after "Contact," when humans encounter alien life for the first time. A street-side newsstand receives the latest edition of the Daily Planet, the front page headline of which reads "We are not alone." Oliver Queen and Chloe Sullivan-Queen drink coffee on the balcony of The Watchtower, talking about sleep, Oliver intent on the empty sky. Elsewhere, Lois Lane sleeps alone, mumbling random dreams. "Earth is a much safer place now that it's ever been," claims the radio broadcast. And here's Lex Luthor, casting a dark shadow in the shaded windows of his Lexcorp office, speaking of this new routine to an obedient Otis, who heeds his master's call for an end to the broadcast. "Looks like he changed his costume," Luthor remarks as a red-blue blur streaks across the sky.

The scene switches to space, Earth's orbit. Astronauts on Russian Space Platform Horlyov discuss mission status, that the "skies are clear." Except for the vast ribbon of energy heading their way. The ribbon impacts with the platform and chaos ensues until Superman rescues the entire crew and repairs the damage. The crew begins to thank Superman in their native Russian until Superman informs them that Russian is a language he doesn't yet know. An English-speaking crew member offers to translate. Superman advises on what both he and they should now do in light of the near-catastrophe before he makes to leave. When asked by one of the crew members for an autograph for his son, for whom Superman is his hero, Superman replies, "Your son already has a hero to look up to, cosmonaut. His father." And with that, he is off, flying smilingly into the foreground.

2Story - 2: It's important for me to know that Bryan Q. Miller is on record acknowledging the writing challenges posed by this title's weekly digital format. For me, with this first "episode" - and in terms of Miller's stated objective to present the comic as much as they would have presented Smallville the television show - I'm feeling like we've seen no more than the teaser and maybe up to the first commercial break. Which is fine: though it comes in at 22 "pages", I was never expecting a proper comic book issue's (or hour-long television drama's) story in any given week. But I worry that Miller will let this lead him to a lot of really short and frenetic sequences that won't ever feel truly developed or, ultimately, satisfying.

Like "Guardian."

This first outing is sadly derivative, as much of Star Trek (Generations' Nexus in the vast ribbon of energy that threatens the Russian cosmonauts) as of anything specifically Superman-based. But in that way, too: this was anything but the first time our boy has saved one of the other of cosmo- or astronauts. Nor was it the first time he's deflected an expression of admiration and/or gratitude with a counter-compliment. Or flown at just above sea level.

At least we know his costume has changed.

That said, the opening sequence (before the switch to space) works and does a solid job of situating the supporting cast in the new context. It is beyond odd that, fully six months after Superman vanquishes the threat of Darkseid's Apokolips, the front page headline of the Daily Planet is only just acknowledging the new fact of alien life on Earth. But Lois's dream mumblings make up for in fun ("Barrister... stole my rabbit... show you... some tacos...") what that headline loses in stupidity, so let's call it even. Meanwhile, the use of shadows for the first few panels of Lex Luthor's scene before revealing him up close looking in through the window upon which Superman's airborne and super-speeding form in the distance is reflected also works. I could take "Otis" or leave him. His big yawn attaches him to Ned Beatty's Otis in a way that the visual depiction here does not, and for now I am content to assume that the differences between them are basically the same as those between the hair and garment fashions of the 1970s and today.

The principal scene, by comparison, doesn't work. First, when you put a full shot of your main character/hero on the "cover," it's no longer really possible to elicit suspense for that character's first appearance in the book itself. Thus it is when Superman arrives to save the cosmonauts. Being "off-camera" in the first few panels - just a hand grasping one guy's spacesuit's collar; heat beams sealing up the torn hull while one speech bubble reads "Look! Up in the sky!" (when, maddeningly [because it's just a ham-fisted appropriation of the classic exclamation], our boy is standing right there, using his heat vision - we can see his hand against the hull) and another reads "This will just be another moment, ladies and gentlemen." - doesn't work as dramatic here. It's more like, "Look, we've put up with this long enough. Show the fricking suit already!"

Even though at this point we don't really care about that anymore. (Except that last time we watched the [Season 10] Finale. And the time before that.)

Also, this could just be a settings things in the DC app on my iPad, but I get both of the two full-page Superman shots twice, first as a horizontal shot then a vertical. I mention it here because in each case there's a bit of text on the page, which doesn't change with the perspective. As Neal Bailey would say, "Pulled me out." Advice therewith to editors: the first, horizontal shot in both of these cases render the full-scale vertical shots completely anticlimactic, which, since in both cases you're clearly going for climaxes of a kind, you'd do well to eliminate them (the horizontals) in future "episodes."

Anyway, the space scene is too brief and would totally benefit from the kind of extended camera work you can do with, you know, live action. It's also terribly wooden and awkward - do you believe that the Clark Kent we watched agonize his way to this Superman will ever learn Russian? That he'll "get right on it"? The same Clark Kent/Superman who, three panels later, asks "Where can I find the nearest airlock?" The feeling all around is much more that this could have happened not six months after Darkseid but the very next day.

Except for the first few panels and the Lex scene, which also establishes the only real question I have at this point: Why is Superman on a flight "schedule" such that Lex can actually abide by it?

Ultimately, this will be the thing, from a reviewer's perspective, about those writing challenges - you're that much more conscious of critical balance involving issues possibly imposed by the format. Really hard to develop both character and event under these conditions, especially if you also try to end each installment with some kind of felt conclusion, like they do here. So, going forward I'll be on the lookout for that in a way that I wouldn't be with an episode of the show or of a normal print (or even digital) book. Go ahead and hold me to it, too.

4Art - 4: The same way "the effects are great" is no longer sufficient reason to spend time and money on a movie, I find I'm rarely swayed by comic book recommendations based solely on the artwork. From what I can tell, there is a far greater shortage of great comic book writers than there are great comic book artists. Sure, these things are subjective and largely relative, so maybe this is just me laying out my biases. But it's worth being clear about, either way.

Here, Pere Perez more than holds his own. His use of lighting is especially tasteful, while his depiction of The Nexus (or whatever) is expertly done. The likeness he manages with the faces of the mains, meanwhile, are close enough that you can recognize their real life models but not so much that you get preoccupied noticing how much they don't look right. It's a good balance. Perez is a pro, if not a revolutionary.

That's all I gots to say about that. You aren't likely to be disappointed.

4Cover Art - 4: This is the one image we'd all seen before April 13. No complaints - looks like Tom Welling, classic kind of pose. Not sure I follow the logic on having him seemingly flying through the Smallville logo, sending its letters into disarray. I guess this trans-media continuation breaks new... um... right.

I'm mostly just not comfortable calling this a "cover" in the first place. That's what they say, so we say something about it. Let's check back in on this with interest at the next inter-medium translocation (or whatever) - when the print edition comes out!

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2012

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