Writer/Artist: Sina Grace
Color Artist: Chris Peter
Letterer: AndWorld’s DC Hopkins
Reviewed by Steve J. Ray
Sina Grace (Iceman, Ghosted in L.A.) has always been a writer/artist whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired, and Superman: The Harvests Of Youth isn’t just one of the best things he’s ever produced, it’s become one of my favorite YA books and Superman stories… ever.
DC’s range of Young Adult Graphic Novels are some of the finest books out there. I haven’t been a teenager for over thirty years, but these volumes make me feel, think, and are always super entertaining.
This story is, at its heart, one about ordinary people. Yes, everyone knows that Superman is far from ordinary, but that’s part of the magic and power of the character. As Clark Kent, although he’s handsome, smart, and talented, all he wants to be is an ordinary guy. Superman is all about protecting the “ordinary”, the innocent, and those who need his help.
Let’s be honest, if we had powers like Superman’s, would we use them in the same way he does? Or would we be more like the pitiful super-powered deviants that populate the pages of stories like The Boys? Superman’s greatest power isn’t his superhuman strength, his ability to fly, or the ability to shoot heat beams from his eyes. No. What makes Superman great and inspirational is the way he uses his special abilities to protect and aid those who have none.
Sina Grace gets this. Superman: The Harvests Of Youth gives us a young Clark Kent, a teenager still trying to find his place in the world and learning to use his gifts. When tragedy hits Smallville he learns that, even with his amazing abilities, he can’t save everyone. We may have read tales like this before, but seeing real teenagers with real problems and all the pressure they face – with the future Man of Steel as one of them – makes this Superman story feel all the more grounded and real.
Of course, having a story based in Smallville means that we get to see all the classic residents of this wonderful mid-western town; Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Chloe Sullivan, and Ma & Pa Kent. All of them are pitch-perfect in this book, but the addition of brand new characters Gil Stockwell and Amy Buenaventura (great surname, get your Spanish phrasebook out) adds to the uniqueness and power of this book.
Sina says in his afterword:
There’s no denying that Clark Kent and the people of Smallville are amongst the most iconic in pop culture, so the importance of getting to write and draw a story about Superman’s formative years was not lost on me.”
He goes on to say:
Who are these people in real life? How much will they resemble previous interpretations of the past? What makes my perspective unique?”
Having read the book, all I can say is, “Sina… you nailed it.”
The dialogue is fresh, realistic, and modern, the character designs are perfect and timeless, and the surprises and twists are next level. As soon as we see the teenage Lex Luthor certain expectations are raised. Of course, young Lex clearly showcases some of the characteristics of the man and villain he will eventually become, but the real antagonist of the book is a massive surprise. In fact, the term antagonist may not be the best one to use in this case. The real enemy here is humanity and the way people treat each other, the “villain” of the piece just uses all of that in the worst ways possible.
Sina’s writing and art are terrific throughout, and the storytelling is absolutely sublime. Just check out the facial expressions and love displayed by Ma and Pa Kent in the pages above. What’s amazing is that his work is elevated even further by the gorgeous warm, subtle color palette employed by the brilliant Chris Peter. The earthy, natural tones in this book enhance and add to the atmosphere. Somehow, even in the powerful action scenes near the end of the story, everything feels grounded, and real. Just the fact that we get bronze/copper-toned robots, instead of the usual chrome/steel deal is a huge plus. Nice work, Mr. Peter.
AndWorld Design is one of the finest lettering/design studios in the comics industry, and the work by DC Hopkins in this book is exemplary. There are very few sound effects in this story, in fact, most of the lettering is made up of character dialogue. However, the design choices made by Hopkins and Sina Grace are completely on the money. Where we do get sound effects, they look like part of the art, rather than big, hyper-flashy special effects. In fact, in places they look like Sina may have just drawn them in himself. Also, the choice to have lower-case font dialogue throughout the book really works and adds to making everything feel like conversation, rather than melodramatic exposition.
In short, every member of this creative team has knocked it out of the park.
This is just nit-picking. Some of what happens in these pages (and I hate the fact that I’m typing this) goes against what we know to be Superman canon. However (and I love the fact that I’m typing this) I DON’T CARE! These people feel real, the emotions hit home, and we’re being shown the ugly side of society in a way that doesn’t feel preachy or heavy-handed. This is the kind of book I want every teenager and young adult to read; not just because they need to know that they’re not alone, but because this book is fun and one of the best Young Superman tales I’ve ever read.
Superman: The Harvests Of Youth is a wonderful story. For me, it ranks with John Byrne’s original Man Of Steel, and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Superman For All Seasons as one of the finest tales of Clark Kent’s formative years. Please, do not sleep on this book, buy a copy and share it.
Review Copy and Cover Art Courtesy of Penguin Random House. Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment