Thursday, April 06, 2006

Attempt Ninety-Six Unsuccessful

Is the concept of "Superboy" inherently ... flawed?
During his originaly Silver Age, the Boy of Steel pushed "suspension of disbelief" to unheard of places. Believing that the Superman can keep his identity secret in the heavily populated Metropolis is one thing; believing that Superboy can do that in Smallville, which had, tops, maybe 100 boys in his age range is beyond the pale.

Even if you overlook that, Superboy and Superman are not supposed to coexist at the same time. The post-Crisis Superboy was introduced when Superman was absent from the DCU; indeed, precisely because he was absent. After Superman returned, their relationship was rocky at best. Narratively, Superboy was just a YJer or a Titan, not really a member of the "Superman Family" (although great strides were made toward including him in recent years). Perhaps Superboy's doom became inevitable as soon as Superman returned?

Recent events in Infinite Crisis with both Superboy and Superboy Prime lend an air of inevitable failure to the concept of Superboy as an on-going character, and so does Judge Lew of the Ninth Circuit. Superboy has been seamlessly replaced by Supergirl over in the Legion comic, and I'm wondering whether the recent ruling means the same mght be happening to the forthcoming cartoon show.

Is this seeming curse on the Boy of Steel simply happenstance? Comic book irony? Or is the ver concept of Superboy inherently flawed, unstable, doomed to self-destruction? I mean, isn't it odd that in Infinite Crisis, Superboy is essentially killed by ... Superboy?

Or is this the on-going revenge of Billy Batson...?


Anonymous said...

That is a good do you keep a secret like THAT in an average small town? I actually live in one,so I would know....

Anonymous said...

When Superman is anywhere around, Superboy is so superfluous that a big rip should appear in the space-time continuum and suck SB into it, then slam shut, causing him to simultaneously cease to exist in time and all universes and planes of existence. Superboy is pointless. When Superman dies again, I'd rather just have Lex Luthor take over the world for a while than have to put up with any skinny, hormone-crazed, adolescent wannabe hero.

William said...

Hey, long time reader, first time poster!

Yeah, looking back, I started to realize that Conner's days were numbered back when all of the Teen Titans started thinking about their legacies. Impulse realized that, one day, he WOULD be Flash, seeing as how they have a tendency to die and all. Robin focused on how much he DIDN'T want to be Batman. And Conner tried to join the crowd, assuming that he would one day be Superman. But there were too many unknown variables there: Barring another Doomsday battle, how long is the natural lifespan of Superman? Would Clark simply retire once he thought that Conner had proven himself? Simply put, I just always got the impression that Conner was the understudy who'd never really get his chance to shine during the main performance. Intead, he'd have to settle for a few matinees here and there.

That said, I never, ever thought that I'd miss him and his tactile telekinesis as much as I do this morning...

As far as the "attempt ninety-six unsuccessful", doesn't this seem a little out of Robin's league? Sure, he's pretty smart and he's got secret Wayne accounts and whatnot, but that seems like something that would require at least a few S.T.A.R. Labs technicians. I guess it's too early to say.

Mark said...

how do you keep a secret like THAT in an average small town

you build indistinguishable robot duplicates of yourself of course! everyone knows that!

Anonymous said...

I guess,in the continuity now,whatever that means,Superboy can NOT exist....on an nearby earth/alternate...sort of...OW!BRAINFART!!!

Scipio said...

Welcome, William!

I, too, was surprised by the high-level of Robin's experiment, but he's got the "Batman Team Ability", meaning he has whatever level of intelligence, knowledge, and technical information any plot requires.

Benari said...

Superboy's about potential, hope, and inevitability. He's learning what it is to be a hero, with the weight of the Superman legacy on his shoulders.

Superboy's a fun concept until you start trying to cram in continuity. Then it all goes to hell.

If he's a young Superman, there's no real dramatic tension.

If he's Superman's junior counterpart...well, he's redundant.

The fun of Superboy, I think, is the process. Watching a young Superman figure out how to use his powers and try to be a teenager.

it's when they start making him all-powerful that things fall apart.

The closest they came (I think) to making Superboy work best was having him in the LoSH. It tied the Legion into the Superman mythos, it allowed Superboy to have teenage superhero/sci-fi adventures, and it was the future, so anything could happen. Even better, if a writer wanted to make social commentary, Superboy could fight allegories... instead of actually trying to solve world hunger, or something impossible in the real world.

I guess the difference is, we used to read comics to inspire us to reach for the impossible. Now, comics seem to exist to tell us how our heroes will always fail us.

And there's no room for a Superboy in that world.

Oh, for the days of imagination and wonder, instead of gritty, pseudo-realistic continuity.

joncormier said...

I think my idea of having Superboy go on a road trip to "find" himself would have been a great idea to work with. The whole point would be for him to find a place in the world when he knows he is redundant. Then the whole lawsuit thing started so I guess we won't see that idea come to fruition.

Anonymous said...

While I wasn't a big fan of Conner, even in death he's going to get the shaft. It's looking like legalese is going to get "Superboy" removed from just about everything DC does for the next few years; probably from the Legion show, archives, toys, whatever. To steal an Onion joke, they won't be able to talk about Conner without it looking like a CIA memo after the black highlighter. Or Superboy-Prime, a dumb idea that now at least has the virtue of never having to be brought up again.
How sad. Conner will have a statue with no name that no one ever visits, and the Titans will only notice more empty seats at Thanksgiving ("Hey, whatever happened to that Pantha chick?").
Prove me wrong, DC. Prove me wrong.

Scipio said...

Actually, I was kind of hoping the Rolling Head of Pantha would be come a traditional part of the Titans Thanksgiving table decorations.

You know, with an apple.

Jim said...

"Even if you overlook that, Superboy and Superman are not supposed to coexist at the same time.

This is very true. However, it is a testament to the strength of the character that the "clone" superboy survived for so long.

Bill D. said...

So, what does this ruling mean for the potential reprinting of old Superboy material? Like, for instance, my precious Legion archives that I've only recently started accquiring?

Michael said...

As I understand it - and I am not a laywer - the judge ruled that the Siegels own the rights to Superboy as he was created in the mid-1940s, meaning only the young Clark Kent in the super-suit (hence the possible problems with "Smallville" - is it Superboy minus the costume, or is it a younger version of the adult Superman as we saw in early panels of the first Superman comics?).

The ruling should have nothing to do with anyone else named Superboy, so if DC wanted to make a comic with a guy named Superboy who's not Clark Kent they should be OK.

While it's up in the air (no pun intended) about how the ruling affects "Smallville", there should unfortunately be no question about the currently-in-production "Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes" cartoon, which stars the young Clark Kent as Superboy. Unless that aspect has already been addressed somehow, they might have to swap out Kal-el for Kara in the show. Or, they could say that it's not worth all the fuss and cancel the show even before it airs.

I'm following this story over on my LSH blog, the Legion Omnicom, at

Steven said...

Quite frankly, I look at it in completely the opposite way.

I don't think the concept of Superboy is flawed at all. There's something to the idea of someone learning to be Superman. And people will return to this idea again and again. (Two live action TV series. Two! How many has Green Lantern had?)

Heck, the concept of Superboy (prime) led to Superman: Secret Identity, which I loved. (Hi Kurt!)

If there's a problem, I think it's that the execution's been off.

I liked Smallville, but stopped watching when I realized it wouldn't live up to its potential. I got all 100 issues of the recent Superboy series, through a lot of terrible stories, because there were some great ones in there as well.

"Perhaps Superboy's doom became inevitable as soon as Superman returned?"

Which would mean he was doomed from the start, because he first appeared in the same issue Superman returned. (Adv. of Sup. 500, my first comic book!) I don't think he was doomed at all, which makes his death the more noble.

I also assume Superboy will be back. He's a clone. He has already been cloned. His one millionth clone looks like OMAC.

"I guess the difference is, we used to read comics to inspire us to reach for the impossible. Now, comics seem to exist to tell us how our heroes will always fail us."

Jeez, Benari, what comics are you reading? I read one just yesterday where an acrobat kicked a god in the face because he didn't like what he was doing, and boy fought and died to protect the girl and people that he loved. If that's not impossible and heroic... what is?

Anonymous said...

"I guess the difference is, we used to read comics to inspire us to reach for the impossible. Now, comics seem to exist to tell us how our heroes will always fail us."

Jeez, Benari, what comics are you reading?


The DCU has gone so over-the-top with power levels of both its heroes and villains that nothing seems like a credible threat unless it kills a few thousand faceless civilians and/or one to five 'second-stringers'. None of the major villains (I'm talking about your Jokers and Lex Luthors, not your Ventriloquists and Psycho Pirates, mind) is ever brought to any sort of justice beyond a punch in the mouth, and none of them ever will be. The only characters who are safe from random housecleanings and emotionally pornographic shock deaths are the much-touted Icons, and unless your name is Lois Lane, there's a fifty-fifty chance that even these pillars of Awesomeness and Heroism will tragically fail to rescue you from whatever super-powered lunatic feels like starting something. If the storyline calls for someone making a point by actually killing a villain, we get a retconned Max Lord as the designated twist-toppee-- not any of the previously established big bads.

Statistically speaking, the DCU is a much, much nastier place to live than our own little Earth-Prime. I don't personally think the sincere belief that a man can fly (or even the knowledge that someone, somewhere is kicking God in the face) is a decent trade-off, but your mileage may vary.

Steven said...

"Statistically speaking, the DCU is a much, much nastier place to live than our own little Earth-Prime. I don't personally think the sincere belief that a man can fly (or even the knowledge that someone, somewhere is kicking God in the face) is a decent trade-off, but your mileage may vary."

I didn't say "God." I said "a god."

There's a difference.

(Originally I wrote "a disco messiah," but it didn't sound as impossible to kick that in the face.)

But your point is that the DCU is a nasty place to live.


So's Wonderland. And Never Never Land. And Narnia and Middle Earth. And Townsville. And Silver-Age DCU.

Any place where evil men have access to fantastic power is going to be an inherently chaotic place where death and destruction are just planetary chance machine away. On such a world, all that stands in the way of utter ruin would be a thin line of heroic men and women doing whatever they can to save lives, even at the cost of their own. Sometimes they fail, because the odds are overwhelming and the battle, never-ending. But that never stops them from trying.

I certainly wouldn't want to live there. Who would? But I love to read about it. Because to me, it's more inspiring when they can fail, but don't. When the odds seem impossible and the threat meaningful, and they overcome that threat anyway. To me, that's a good, heroic, inspiring story.

Scipio said...

Hey; there's a reason Alexander Luthor considers our world -- a world without high-stakes heroes and villains -- 'the perfect world'.

"A perfect world doesn't need a Superman."

Marionette said...

Wait, Superboy was supposed to be in the Legion cartoon? What was the point of that JLU episode where Supergirl joined, then?

Anonymous said...

Who's going to lead the Ravers now?

Techno techno techno techno.


Techno techno techno techno etc.

On a slightly more serious note, the niftiest thing to do now would be to have four all-new, all-now Superboys turn up...

Anonymous said...

Hang on a second.
Now I come to think of it
I've a feeling that

techno techno tech-
no techno CORE techno tech-
no techno techno

Counts as a haiku.
A fitting epitaph for
Raver Superboy.

Steven said...

Who's going to lead the Ravers now?


And why stop at four? Isn't time for the one MILLION clones of Superboy to rise into the sky?

I cannot think of something that would freak Cassie and Tim out more.

Except maybe one million Barts. That'd scare the hell out of me.

Anonymous said...

I love Smallville.

The place, not the show. I never saw the show.

The 1950s - 1960s Superboy comics are the best comics DC ever put out. Ever.

Smallville was so cool. And so crazy! It was this town of about 2000 or 3000 people with a race track, a major department store, a museum, an art gallery, a nearby prison, a university, whatever the hell they needed for the story, they had it!

(Just like Springfield.)

It also had a super-dog, a resident mad scientist, an unbelievable crime rate, and regular visits by time-traveling teen-agers, super-monkeys, and whatever all the hell was necessary.

It was so fucking cool!

Superboy isn't irrelevant.

Superman is the one who is irrelevant. That over-rated bag of wind can go get lost forever in Central City for all I care.

The world needs Superboy! Smallville rules! Superboy robots for everyone!

Paul S. said...

I duhno... considering how long the Silver Age incarnation lasted, and that Conner's series lasted over a hundred issues in the microwave comicbook culture of the 90s there must be something to the concept. And lets not forget that he's had two television shows, and helped launch the legion franchise.

Scipio said...


Don't forget the whale. The Smallville Aquarium had a whale. Like most midwestern agriculture small town aquariums do.

Anonymous said...

Superboy only worked when continuity was unimportant in comics.
The appeal of Superboy was (I'd bet) retro even in the '50s; the idea being to one-up all the kid sidekicks and have a hero who is a kid.
Now those days are long gone, but there's no reason an old-school Superboy wouldn't work, just keep it out of the regular DCU.

Steven said...

"there's no reason an old-school Superboy wouldn't work, just keep it out of the regular DCU."

I'm torn on this. On the one hand, I understand that Superboy is hard (impossible?) to jibe with continuity, and the clone is by definition derivative.

On the other hand, there's a lot to the idea that these are "The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy." That these stories are prequels and origins for other stories you've read.

So that even on the wildly out of continuity Smallville, it's fun to see prophecies of Luthor in the White House or Arthur Curry saying they should form a JLA, because you KNOW that that's going to come back.

I don't know what the right answer is. Loose continuity? Multiple Earths? Hypertime?

I kind of like Busiek's idea that each comic book, or at least each comic book series, is its own separate story, complete unto itself, and we, writers, artists, editors and fans, just pretend they all take place in the same world because it is more fun that way.

Marc Burkhardt said...

I like the idea of a hero learning to be Superman, and I even think it would be cool if the public considered Kal-El to be a successful child star who remained successful in adulthood (i.e. Jodie Foster and Stevie Wonder).

But I'm not sure a comic-book industry that can't get its head around a happily married Peter Parker can quite deliver on those concepts.

Maybe the recent court case makes the whole argument irrelevant, but I think there could be a place in the modern DCU for a Superboy - even if he's nothing more than the urban myth hinted at in the recent issue of Action.