"Exile and the Kingdom"
Writers: Mark Verheiden; Michael Green
Artists: Roy Allan Martinez, Trish Mulvihill(c); John Paul Leon, Melissa Edwards(c)
Superman returns! We haven't seen him on a solo regular basis in comic books since the very last issue of Superman Adventures, but Superman soars, figuratively, in the Smallville 64 Page Special. The Superman titles were the second long-standing group on my subscription list to go the way of the dinosaurs, and reading Smallville convinces me that I made the correct choice.
Everything I felt that was missing from the Superman books is present in Smallville. A character for whom I almost instantly care about narrates the story in a Chloe fashion. Coincidentally, this happens to be Chloe. When was the last time anybody in any regular Superman title acted like herself?
The counterpart players of the show share their points of view and behave smartly, as young adults growing up in a complex world. They have philosophies of life. They have secrets. They have emotions that subtly are expressed not as consistent gnashed teeth but realistic understatement. Their interaction is smooth and natural. The dynamics derive from a familiarity: these characters share a history and a continuity. This Superman Family is not comprised of two-dimensional ciphers and nostalgic echoes from the pre-Crisis era thrust in a make-believe world. Smallville thanks to the characterization seems like a real place.
Not a dose of camp silliness can be found in The 64 Page Special. Instead, you find drama and dialogue that crackles with depth and double-meanings. In Smallville while Clark does not wear long underwear, he is still Superman. He walks the walk. He talks the talk--and sounds remarkably like Tom Welling. He uses his powers and doesn't question whether or not he should. He sees his powers as a responsibility. He uses them to help, and that's how Superman should feel.
Roy Allan Martinez by drawing the story in a realistic fashion and treating the powers of Superman as they would appear in real life brings a sense of wonder that the manga-crappy artwork failed to capture. The first story takes advantage of the higher budget comic books can afford, but Mr. Martinez does not translate such effects as merely effects. He draws upon the horror of the situation and thus unearths an unnerving monster in pen and ink. In fact, I doubt CGI would be able to make such a creature filled with not just rage but also sorrow. Though you pity the creature, you also fear for the regular cast members lives. Even on the series, you know that some of these characters are as invulnerable as Clark, but as with the series, the creators have crafted highs and lows to keep you off balance and heighten suspense. They endanger the invulnerable characters, and you believe that they can be hurt and killed.
"Raptor" does play out as a kryptonite of the week episode, yet Mr. Verheiden keeps the question of Clark central. The monster itself is more of an inconvenience that keeps Lex, Lana and Chloe from finding out what really Clark Kent is about. The events also deepen their focus on our hero in the manner of the superior episodes. One of the more fascinating insights comes from Chloe which questions the nature of kryptonite and gives a plausible explanation for how it affects those influenced.
The second story is more of a pure character piece. "Exile and the Kingdom" spotlights Lex Luthor. The story probes the reasons why Lex stays in Smallville and shows they are not as clear-cut as one may think. Shadow Cabinet's John Paul Leon has one foot in the classic comic book techniques of expression and atmosphere. His other foot rests in the sort of cutting-edge styled pop art that wouldn't be out of place in an critically claimed independent work. As a result, we get a very striking but anatomical look that often brings out the features of the actors in the roles they play. We get in the thoughtful story a sense of film strip consistency and segues rather than jarring jump cuts.
Rounding off the book are interviews with the stars. Some of the information you may already know, but some of the answers reveal fresh material and show just how the actors think about their characters. A short-piece on the evolution of the series is included in the book, and all of the text is accompanied by some very nicely shot photographs of the cast.
The Smallville 64 Page Special is the best any non-animated Superman book has looked or read since the post Byrne team left, and the quality of the storytelling is far more engrossing. Furthermore, I felt good after reading this book. I never thought I would feel good from another Superman book again.
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