Shiny Shelf

Action Comics #794

By Mark Clapham on 24 November 2002

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Those of you who have read my self aggrandising biography in the ‘Who We Are’ section of this site will know that I’m writing a book on the TV series Smallville (although my editor would no doubt dispute the active present tense in that statement), and as such I buy Smallville-set comics like this for research. A writer’s life really is hard, especially when you have to pay for this drek.

This is the second attempt by the main Super-books to cash in on the success of the current young Clark Kent show by giving us single issue stories set in a similar period in the life of the comics incarnation of Clark Kent. So we have a teenage Clark, Lana and Pete, the Kents, Smallville High… there’s a certain sense of crowing about the exercise, and you can almost sense the editors of this book shouting ‘yes, this is the real Lana! She’s ginger!’ or ‘never mind the younger, hipper Kents, here they’re called Ma and Pa and look like they’ve fallen through a wormhole from the 1920s!’ Unfortunately, this tendency towards retro-nonsense undermines any possibility of taking on board the merits of the TV show – the changes to the Kents and to Lana made by TV producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar were made to make the characters accessible to an audience. Changing the characters back to their old-skool versions just plays to comics geeks.

The other crippling problem with these Smallville flashbacks is that they are, quite simply, not very well written. The first Smallville story a few months back was written by Ben Raab, a hack who has been knocking out mediocre fill-in issues, usually to pad out crossover events, for some time now. This current issue’s script is by Chuck Kim, a writer unfamiliar to me, and lacks coherence and a decent narrative. The Quintessence (bad continuity #1) decide to test a young Clark Kent by putting him in a nightmare scenario where government agents experiment on him and he ends up fighting the JSA (bad continuity #2). In the process they find out how Clark will use his powers in later life, and are satisfied that he is a true hero… blah blah clich? clich? platitude BLAH.

Pretty dismal, really. If the supporting cast are rendered stiffly in their adherence to comics lore, then Clark himself is pretty much a block of lead dragging down the story’s centre. He may whinge a bit, and be worried that his friends will zap him like a B-movie alien, but this Clark’s moral centre is already fully constructed. There’s never any doubt that he’ll make the right decision. Various writers have complained that DC put too many strictures on Superman’s character, forcing him to be exactly the same even in Elseworlds or other scenarios. Without even the hint that Clark might possibly make the wrong decision, these early Supes stories are pointless. The Smallville TV show works by telling us about Clark’s journey to being a hero, tempted on all sides by all the fun of adolescence, and all the perks his power could provide. The Clark Kent in this comic has already arrived at his destination, and just sits there, doing nothing interesting.

There are a couple of funny jokes in here. The idea of a retro JSA movie being shown in the gap between the World War II heroes and the new generation coming through is a fun one, and the Quintessence’s excessively colloquial dialogue can be mildly amusing. But the central premise – aliens scared by their cinematic portrayals – dates back to eighties kids flicks like ET and The Explorers, while The X-Files conspiracy stuff is well past its prime. The art by Kano is nice, and the John Paul Leon cover is impressive, but neither can save the book from the leaden scripting by Kim. A shame – let’s hope that DC’s actual Smallville tie-in comic is better than this ersatz offering.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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