Friday, October 23, 2009

Superboy #189

Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, so I’ve decided to return to reviewing comic books with some regularity this month. Every week this month, I’ll post at least one special Halloween-oriented review, criticizing the issue based on its reverence for this hallowed holiday season through four distinct categories worth up to five points each. The comic that earns the total possible 20 points could be one of the best Halloween issues ever!

Superboy #189, August 1972, DC Comics

creators uncredited

PREMISE: Just before the planet Krypton exploded, scientist Jor-El rocketed his son to Earth safely, where . . . Oh, everybody knows the “premise” behind Superman. Now, this issue of Superboy (about Superman’s teenaged years, of course) isn’t a Halloween issue per se, but it does feature a curse on the Kent household that retains a definitive creepiness appropriate for this hallowed holiday season. Sure, ghosts and monsters are tangible mascots for Halloween, but let’s not forget the importance of those strange forces in the universe that have it out for man -- the intangible curses and oddities that made The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits so endearing. Still, I’ll give this issue an average three out of five points, until you’re convinced . . .

STORY: Shortly after Superboy receives and extra-sensory projector that allows folks nearby to send mental messages, his father Jonathan is attacked by a noose. Of course, the Boy of Steel saves his dad, who explains that the Kent family was cursed when their ancestor, Judge Julian Kent, was gallows-happy with anyone brought before him in court. Every 50 years, the man of the Kent household is mysteriously hung, so Superboy decides to protect his family to thwart the curse. Unfortunately, other global disasters distract our young hero, though he returns just in time to save Jonathan from a villainous garden hose and an ivy vine, until he realizes that General Zod and the other Kryptonian convicts in the Phantom Zone are using his new extra-sensory projector to manipulate things in the real world. (Ghosts! That’s Halloween-y, right?) The curse is lifted when Superboy destroys the alien device . . . or is it? When a wayward roll of cable wire almost takes out Jonathan at the end of tale, Clark realizes, “. . . there may be dark forces in this world not even I can understand!” “Dark forces” that render even the world’s greatest superhero helpless? Are you scared yet? I give this issue four out of five points for making my fanboy skin crawl.

ART: This issue is drawn is all the campy goodness one might expect from a ‘70s issue of Superboy. I failed to mention the back-up Superbaby story in this issue, which is more notable for its art anyway, as it takes itself a little less seriously than the feature and strikes me as just this side of Mad magazine caliber. I’ll give this issue a three out of five points for the sheer variety.

PACKAGING: This issue’s cover is what inspired me to consider Superboy #189 as a potential Halloween issue in the first place. The silhouette of a hanging Jonathan Kent is frightening -- just take a gander at Superboy’s horrified face. Anything that can freak out the Boy of Steel is worthy of Halloween holiday, don’t you think? Four out of five points, I say!

TOTAL: Superboy leaps the tall expectations of the Halloween season in a single bound with fourteen points, dutifully earned by the creators’ undoubtedly challenging call to generate compelling stories from the hero’s youth that didn’t affect the Superman titles too direly. What, you don’t see it? Just picture an episode of Smallville dedicated to the “Curse of the Hangman’s Noose!” A special Halloween episode starring Tom Welling wrestling with a garden hose? Okay, now that’s scary . . .

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