ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Smallville: Season 11′ #1
Last year, ComicsAlliance's Chris Sims and David Uzumeri watched and reviewed every episode of the tenth and final season of Smallville, the long-running show that chronicled Superman's origin from high school student to the world's greatest super-hero. Or at least, that was the idea. After the final episode, our team of Smallvillains thought they were done with the series forever, but now that DC has launched a digital-first comic that continues the series with "Season 11," we're back to take another look.
Somebody save us.
Chris: Analogies like that are what make you such a joy to write with. But really, I can't speak for you, but my feeling on the end of Smallville was more relief than anything else, and I think we were both pretty surprised by the announcement of the comic.
David: I would have had zero interest in it but for one factor: the creative team of Bryan Q. Miller and Pere Perez, who kicked a stupendous amount of butt on the second year of their Batgirl ongoing, which was, for a while, the best non-Grant Morrison book DC was publishing.
Chris: And a great cover by Cat Staggs, too. To his credit, Miller also wrote one of the few episodes of the Smallville TV show that we really enjoyed, a Silver Age style romp with Zatanna. That was definitely intriguing, but I just don't get the desire to go back to this world to tell Superman stories, when the point of Smallville was to show how he got to that point. Well, that's not really true, I do understand it on one level: If half of the people who watched the show picked up the comic, it'd be the best-selling book on the stands by a long shot.
David: Apparently, the book was pitched by Miller, too. He really wanted to write this, and I thought the opportunity to actually evolve Smallville into a passable Superman story was too interesting to pass up. And what we get here honestly could have been the New 52's Superman #1.
Chris: It could. It's a very thin story at 20 pages that are actually half-pages designed to fit on both a monitor and the upcoming print version, so it's only half of an actual "issue," but it's still pretty zippy. We get introduced to the cast, and Superman does one thing that he very rarely did in the series: He does Superman stuff.
David: Complete, unequivocal, heroic Superman stuff. Dude doesn't whine even once. And that's the thing: there's very little about this that feels like Smallville. There's exactly one scene that really felt Smallville-esque to me, and that was Lois lying in bed rambling about a barrister, rabbit and some tacos. I could overhear the Smallville "bumbling Lois" theme over that.
Chris: I do think that format hurts it, though, because we're doling out a buck for half a comic that doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Yes, we get an introduction, yes, we see Superman, yes, Superman saves some cosmonauts (which is, no lie, pretty awesome). But it feels like a 5-minute epilogue to the show rather than a new chapter that would keep readers coming back for next week's installment. Our "cliffhanger" is Superman happily flying around with a job well done, and that feels like an ending rather than a beginning.
David: The format does somewhat hurt it, yes. I read it on an iPad -- as it was intended, I'm pretty sure -- and it reads quite well. Not technically impressive after the excellent work Marvel did with Infinite Comics, but still quite well.
Chris: My guess would be that Miller, Perez and DC are banking on the idea that Smallville viewers were as frustrated by one of the aspects of the finale as we were: After ten years of waiting for it, you never get to see Tom Welling in the Superman suit. So the first thing they do is give us over two full-sized pages to just showing us exactly that.
David: There's just not enough here. I can't imagine picking this up having not seen Smallville -- it's a weird conundrum: It's satisfying because it's not like Smallville, but it's not at all compelling, I don't think, if you haven't seen Smallville.
Chris: One of the great things about digital is that this book never has to be "out of print" and unavailable, so as the story builds and (hopefully) gets a little bigger and more in-depth, readers will still be able to jump on from the beginning whenever they want. But at the same time, the first issue should really get in there and make you want to come back with more than just new clothes. Which, if I remember correctly, was one of our big problems with the New 52 books as they were coming out. Very few of them left you wanting to find out more.
David: That said, "not enough narrative momentum" would have been a miracle complaint for us to have during the show's running.
Chris: Oh, totally. At the very least, we have a Superman who's friendly, likable, visible and active. Even if, in true Smallville style, he doesn't show up until page 13 of a 20-page story.
David: At least Superman is sort of... ominously over the other pages, you know? He's what people are talking about. It's not like an episode of Smallville where the entire pre-Superman segment involves Amy Adams inhaling students or whatever.
Chris: I'll be honest, though: I was really hoping we'd get a scene where Superman went into save the Cosmonauts and had to correct them when they shouted "It's the Red-Blue Blur!" If nothing else, to tie it into years of that show's half-assed attempt to have Superman but not call him Superman.
David: Well, I will say there's one thing about this issue that put me in paroxysms: Of all of the Superman characters to introduce into Smallville continuity, Brian, you have to go with... Otis.
Chris: I was waiting for you to get there.
David: Yeah. I mean, granted, he only gets one line, but the "Mr. Luthor" and the yawn make me think this guy's going to be an idiot... but maybe Miller has a surprise for me.
Chris: I don't have your hate for Otis, but I don't think it's a good sign. The show had a ton of nod-and-wink "Hey, remember that guy?!" stuff in that show with absolutely zero content actually backing it up. That last season was especially guilty, and if that's going to end up being a recurring theme here, I'm not looking forward to it.
David: Wait, you were looking forward to it in the first place?
Chris: Hey, Bryan Q. Miller wrote a story where Batgirl fought 23 Draculas. I'll give anything that dude does a fair shot.
David: Yeah, that's exactly it: I really want the 23 Draculas "anything goes" Miller on this book, not the Smallville-staff-writer Miller. And so far, there just isn't enough to judge it on.
Chris: Story-wise, I think we're both cautiously optimistic. If the Superman we see on these pages had been the Clark Kent we got on TV, I think we'd have a very different opinion of Smallville. Even if his refusal to sign an autograph is a pretty hilarious dick move.
David: Yeah, but it builds up the idea that Superman doesn't think of himself as an idol or a hero; he's just a dude doing his job. Which, again, is so far away from the Smallville conception of him.
Chris: You mean the version that had an episode where Clark had to watch YouTube videos of people talking about how great the Blur was to psych himself up to go fight evil? Yeah.
David: Yeah, it's nice to see him as altruistic for once and not just doing it because Ghost Dad told him to.
Chris: On the art side of things, I think Perez does a pretty solid job -- and Cat Staggs' cover is really great -- but the likenesses are a little jarring at times. That tends to be the case with likenesses, and I felt the same way about Georges Jeanty's otherwise great work on the Buffy comics, but it sticks out a little with his Tom Welling. Especially when he's next to the much more natural-seeming cosmonauts, one of whom has an inexplicable yet awesome pompadour.
David: Honestly, the Tom Welling thing didn't distract me that much. I mean, maybe that's just me. I guess in a world where Tony Stark is Sawyer from Lost like 90% of the time in Invincible Iron Man, it's hard for me to get worked up about a dude looking like an actor he's actually supposed to look like.
Chris: Fair enough. Final thoughts?
David: Yo, I don't regret paying $.99 for this and I'm looking forward to doing it again. Seriously. I hope Miller ramps up the crazy, though. And with comics as opposed to TV, he has the platform from which to do it.
Chris: I'd really like it if Smallville were actually, you know, good for a change, and as thin as this first installment is, it's enjoyable. That said, I do worry that it's going to be hard for this book to find an audience. There are already three different comics coming out about three different points in Superman's life, thanks to a reboot that got a lot of attention. If you want young, just-starting-out Superman stories (which Smallville was supposed to be), there's Action Comics. If you want an older, experienced Superman in stories that are still trying to feel new (which Smallville actually was), then you can read Superman. If you want dumb stunts and guest stars, you can read Justice League, although I wouldn't recommend that.
David: The thing is, this is better than Superman is right now. And I'm sure it's a matter of time until Smallville Batman and Smallville Wonder Woman, which I'm actually excited to see Miller build from whole cloth.
Smallville: Season 11 Part One is available now on Comixology.