[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Matt De La Pena
In this fourth book in the DC Icons series, where Young Adult writers re-imagine the most famous DC characters as teenagers, we meet Clark Kent, in modern-day Smallville, approaching his senior year of high school without knowing his whole back story. He knows he has powers, but he doesn’t know why.
Clark, and his best friend, Lana Lang, discover that competing companies are buying up land all around Smallville. They also learn that there are plenty of young migrants disappearing all around town. These two events also happen to coincide with a new stop and frisk law being proposed in Smallville, a town, like much of actual Kansas, has quite a large Hispanic population.
Lex Luthor shows up as he is friends with Bryan, the son of one of the research companies that wants to buy up farms in the area. When he shows up, readers can expect nothing good to follow. As the adventure unfolds, Clark’s heat vision and X-ray vision come to life as does his cooling breath. Great times for him just as he thinks he might have a thing for Gloria Alverez, the waitress, valedictorian and undocumented resident.
Kryptonite may or may not be used as a steroid in this book. No more spoilers. Read on.
Matt de la Pena really dials into Christopher Reeves’ Clark Kent. Let’s be fair, no one has ever played Clark Kent better than Christopher Reeves. Sorry Dean Cain and Tom Welling. Readers can practically see a young, awkward, Clark burning his physics book with newly found heat vision or freezing his water glass when he sighs. It is a perfect rendering.
Honestly, there is so much to love in this book beyond Clark’s young life. de la Pena really plays into Clark’s “otherness” as a way into the deeper conversation about immigration and the way people are treated. When Johnathan shows Clark his ship, it is so far into the book, Clark has already been comparing himself to the people in his town who have been ostracized for the simple act of being born.
The pacing is spot on perfect. The action scenes, which can be hard to write without the visuals, don’t seem clunky in the way a lot of sci-fi books do. de la Pena stops before things get too boring. The dialogue never feels forced and the characters feel real all the way thorough. The villains have real motivation beyond just being terrible people. They are greedy terrible people and they think they are right. They, of course, are not right, they are evil terrible people, but de la Pena makes sure we understand why they think the way they do.
This is a YA book, so there is a romance. It is not misplaced or poorly done, but as has been the case with all four of these books (this one ranks 3 out of 4 on my scale), the romance is not really needed. Clark does not need to fall in love with Gloria for this story to work, but most YA fiction has a formula and this book is a perfect example of that formula.
Because it is a story about Superman, and a prequel at that, we don’t feel danger for our hero. We wonder about some of the characters that were created just for this book, but we know how the rest of his life is going to work out, so that takes out some of the joy.
If you are not a fan who shouts “That isn’t Right!” at every adaptation and iteration of these icons, pick this up. If you are, you should pass because nothing is going to please you. However, keep in mind that Matt de la Pena didn’t win all of those awards on accident. He is a high quality writer who did this Here is hoping that this series continues. I would love to see some YA looks into members of the GLC or the rest of the Bat Family.