New 52: 'Legion Lost,' 'Grifter,' 'Superboy,' and 'Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.'

Superboy #1, Scott Lobdell (w), R.B. Silva (a), [PRINT]

THE PITCH: In a secret lab, a shady organization is attempting to build a living WMD: Superboy.

HOW WAS IT: Man, there's not a single book in the New 52 relaunch that doesn't have at least one dead body in it? Even with a title like Superboy or Batgirl, there's going to be a two corpse minimum somewhere in there. Well, okay, fact check: Action Comics didn't have any dead people in it, but that's one out of 26, which is a pretty off ratio.

Dead bodies notwithstanding, this is still the most youth-oriented book of the recent crop in a way that I kind of wish more of the New 52 titles were. In this issue, we're introduced to the vat-grown Superboy--that's the only name the techs give him--who informs us through captions that he's only about three months old and is as clueless as we are as to what's going on. There's something different about this version of the character's physical composition though, as we learn that his consciousness is "spread equally throughout [his] body, to [his] every atom," and this is all seemingly part of the plan on the part of Lobdell's script to make the character far more alien than Conner Kent was (in fact, there are shades of the Young Justice version of the character here). Where the cyborg-esque visual from the Eric Canete cover comes from is anyone's guess, but it has nothing to do with the contents of this book.

First off, it's a pretty clean break from the previous iteration of the title, working as a hard reset of the Superboy concept from the mid-90's. However, in that book, which spun out of the "Death of Superman," Superboy was a sort of ready-made hero developed by Cadmus, this incarnation of the character is a little more alien and lacking in anything close to a moral center. The only real human connection he has is with a scientist called "Red" (everyone in the lab has a color for a name) thanks to some kind of psychic power that Superboy appears to be developing.

So once again, we have a lab-created Superboy made with one part Superman DNA, but whereas in the previous incarnation we learned that Lex Luthor was the other donor, in Lobdell's version we're to take the other half of the character's genetic makeup as something of a mystery. Likewise, the book seeks to generate heat from whoever is backing the sketchy and kind of storm trooper-y Nowhere lab, where the character is currently being raised.

Splattery violence in the opening aside, Lobdell captures the weirdness and other-ness of this new Superboy while doing good work of also making him sound like a curious, often confused kid. There's one little flaw in the copious captions and that's the occasional slip from the stiff, "new-to-English" way of communicating and a less formal vernacular. Still, that's not a huge issue.

The art by R.B. Silva makes everyone look pretty young, but there's something off about the too-wide eyes of most of the characters (it looks like they're all staring, all of the time). Some of his clothes and costumes are kind of hit or miss, with the details on the outfits in the school scenes working better than the lack of any in the final Superboy costume at the end of the issue.

BEST BIT: The whole sequence involving Superboy's new life in Kansas.

WORST BIT: The reveal of Superboy when he bursts out of the vat. There's far more attention paid to the destruction in the background than to the design of the character in the foreground which looks flat and ill-defined.

EASTER EGGS: Not an Easter Egg per se, but we get introduced to the New 52 incarnation of Rose Wilson.

ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Very. It requires little if any knowledge of the previous DCU and explains the character's origins and power set pretty efficiently.

WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Sure, I'm interested.

RATING: 40/52

Grifter #1, Nathan Edmonson (w), Cafu (a) [PRINT]

THE PITCH: Con man Cole Cash has a fateful encounter with some kind of creature that allows him to see that other humans as "possessed" by strange, glowing demons.

HOW WAS IT: This simply doesn't work. First off, beyond his appearance in the Point Blank mini leading into Sleeper, Grifter's not an especially interesting character, and it was a strange decision to center a whole New 52 title on him. I suspect the series will be a way to introduce the Wild C.A.T.S. concept of the human-possessing Daemonites, but as executed here it's pretty much a total mess.

Instead of being some kind of paramilitary hardcase as originally conceived (well, except later we find out that he is former badass military), Cole Cash is now a con artist--a "grifter" if you will--who completes a big score and then promptly, randomly gets knocked about and nearly possessed by some kind of alien. Now he can hear the thoughts of other people with aliens in them and both sides are immediately compelled to kill one another.

There's nothing especially wrong with the concept that a good script wouldn't fix, but unfortunately, Grifter feels like a series of sort of clever action beats that never got put together as a proper story. Case in point: there's a bit where Cole goes out of a plane door mid-flight and the scene, but it's split by the rest of the story. When we reach the end of that action beat near the end of the issue, he's somehow survived the fall without any explanation. In his creator-owned title, Who Is Jake Ellis, Edmonson has done some good work juggling timelines and establishing a central mystery for his hero. However, here it mostly comes across as silly. Even the setup for the mask he uses doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, given that, if anything, it makes him more conspicuous.

BEST BIT: The broadest ideas behind the pitch: guy can see monsters other people can't. It's in the specifics where the whole thing goes belly-up.

WORST BIT: The art and staging is frequently awful. There's a terrible sequence where Cole appears to be breaking a window in broad daylight to use a phone on a desk in a first floor office.

EASTER EGGS: None that I could find.

ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? More or less.

WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Not at all interested.

RATING: 10/52

Legion Lost #1, Fabian Nicieza (w), Pete Woods (a) [PRINT]

THE PITCH: Members of the Legion of Super Heroes travel from the 31st century back to present day to catch a criminal and stop the spread of a deadly virus--unfortunately they end up stuck here.

HOW WAS IT: This one is another problem book, but you knew that as soon as you saw that it involved the Legion. The Legion should always be a slam dunk: teens in the future, inspired by heroes in the past, fight bad guys. It's when all of the time traveling shenanigans get thrown in that the books inevitably lose their way and start to shed readers. This issue has the additional problem of trying to hint at future history while giving personality to seven characters, while explaining their powers, while also getting us on track for the thing/person they're seeking out (some genocidal baddie).

You can, of course, piece together what's going on with a couple of rereadings, but it has to problem of not particularly good sci-fi in that it just throws jargon at you and hopes that you'll keep up. As a result, you never really get a feeling for most of the characters beyond a sense that Timber Wolf is this team's excitable Wolverine stand-in.

I don't really see much to recommend here, but I'm kind of a sucker and hope that with all of the intro out of the way, Nicieza can get down to telling a story with his characters in the second issue.

BEST BIT: As expected, I really like the art by Pete Woods which gives each member of the Legion a distinct and visually interesting look.

WORST BIT: It's nearly impossible to parse what's going on with this book, who the characters are, and what they're doing.

EASTER EGGS: There's a call-out to some kind of "Flashpoint" but in this case, they're likely talking about the spread of a viral outbreak.

ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? I'm not even sure this is accessible to longtime readers.

WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Maybe.

RATING: 26/52

Frankestein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1, Jeff Lemire (w), Alberto Ponticelli (a) [PRINT]

THE PITCH: From their miniaturized, floating base, the Ant Farm, S.H.A.D.E. protect the world from weird sci-fi threats with the help of their toughest agent, Frankenstein.

HOW WAS IT: This is the least Jeff Lemire book I think I've read from the writer--which is to say that instead of personal, smaller-scale action and drama, this is full-on bombastic post-Morrison Seven Soldiers territory, complete with custom Creature Commandos and shrunken hovercarriers. Frankenstein is planted squarely in DC Weird territory for all of that and you can almost feel the glee with which Lemire seems to be approaching material so dramatically different from his usual output.

The big story here is the siege of a small town (small towns are pretty much DOA in the New 52) by presumably subterranean monsters and Frankenstein being tasked with dropping in (with the new Creature Commandos) to find the source of the mess before the government opts to nuke the place from orbit. There's an added complication: Frankenstein's wife--his bride, if you will--went in with the advanced force and has since gone missing, giving the stitched-together hero extra incentive to put boots on the ground.

It's wildly entertaing (if not especially deep, but that's not really the point here) and there's a certain thrill in seeing monsters wrecking other monsters.

BEST BIT: The introduction of the new Creature Commandos--I love all of the new designs.

WORST BIT:Sadly, this issue lacks Frankenstein wielding a chain-gun. That would have been kind of terrific.

EASTER EGGS: The new vampire member of the CC was made using a modified version of a certain Dr. Langstrom's serum.

ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Easily: it sets up the character and the stakes and proceeds to start blowing stuff up. I don't recall if Frankenstein's wife is mentioned by name anywhere in the issue, though.

WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Definitely.

RATING: 40/52

Related Posts:

New 52: 'Batwoman' Is the Best Looking Book You'll Read All Week

New 52 Review: Green Lantern #1

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