Written by Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates
Pencils by Jerry Ordway
Inks by Bob Wiacek and Jerry Ordway
Colors by Brian Buccellato
Published by DC Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
The meta-saga of Superboy Prime has run its course.
He's DC's most memorable villain to debut in the last few years. He's a gimmick, sure, but as a Superman character that busted heads while simultaneously serving as a commentary on the audience, he was at least a unique one. He saw the way that his heroes ran their world, and thought he could do better. He thought that their best efforts were middling in comparison to the potential heights to be reached were he in control. “They,” didn't know the true meaning of heroism, and he wanted to be the one to teach them. He tried, failed, and was repeatedly felled by his superiors. All this, until he was finally banished to his parents' basement, left to bitch and moan in the safe havens of message boards.
When Geoff Johns revived this character in “Infinite Crisis,” the characterization was nuanced and fresh. The character's analogous nature was implicit, but it was not the only valid reading of the text; within the story itself, Prime could have just become a run-of-the-mill super-powered sociopath. With every subsequent appearance, however, the character's fanboy-foibles became more and more explicit. Now, he's a character that serves only as a stand-in for petulant readership. The result is a commentary that feels a little less clever, and a lot more harsh and mean-spirited. He's a straw man designed to poke fun at the worst kinds of comicbook fans, unable to effectively communicate his own tragic disillusionment. Worse still, he doesn't even adequately represent his constituency here, or he would bemoan the most obvious fanboy meta-gripe over this issue of Adventure Comics, pointing out the inanity of another weakly associated Event-Tie-In issue.
This is a Blackest Night tie-in, and as such there are Black Lanterns afoot. Alex Luthor has invaded Prime's inner sanctum, and is committed to ending Prime's suffering once and for all. Angry that his life is a never-ending series of tragedies, Prime takes his misplaced aggression where all comicbook fans do; comicbook publishing editorial. Upping the meta-ante to 11, a Superboy Prime/ Black Lantern/ Alex Luthor throw-down tears through the actual DC offices themselves, with many members of the DC Comics staff illustrated, (eagle-eyed readers will spot Newsarama alum, now Batgroup assistant editor Janelle Siegel). Prime is punching the undead Lanterns, but his real quarrel is with Dan Didio and his band of merry comic-architects. Finally, Alex Luthor expressly lays out Prime's angsty issues, telling him, “You claim ownership, but you have no control. And you hate what you can't control. Including the things you love.”
There you have it, fanboys and fangirls. There's your problem. You don't own your most beloved characters, and you can't control them. Somebody else does. So just sit back and enjoy the ride. Or don't, because things are going to press on without you. So speaks zombie Alex Luthor. Don't hate- appreciate.
The deterioration of Prime from independent character with rich, post-modern layers to inside-baseball one-trick-pony serves as its own commentary on the state of superhero comics. It illustrates the way that instead of attempts at broadening, and welcoming new and uninitiated readers to the market with rich, intelligent, accessible tales, stories turns inward, almost exclusively appealing to that very readership Prime represents. It's an attack on that type of readership, but it is a story that relies on their commitment to warrant any validity at all. That cannibalized creative approach ghettoizes the very genre it means to prop up. Since the story fundamentally doesn't make sense without the context of fan obsession, it perpetuates that basement-dwelling culture Prime mocks.
Prime, for now, gets his ending. There is reconciliation, and resolution for the mad boy-god. For those readers Prime is meant to represent, though, that resolution is less than satisfying. This story, without any level of depth beyond meta-commentary, gives few tools or instructions on how to “be a better fan.” Instead, there is simply a wink and a nod, a few unlikely guest appearances by members of our real world, and an implication that your attachment to these stories is invalid. Although, on the other hand, pointing out that fact may have made Superboy Prime the greatest comicbook supervillain of them all.