Superman: Special Reports

The Death of Superboy

Author: Sean Hogan (shogan@buckho.com)

Last updated: January 21, 2002



Previously, I reviewed the Legends miniseries and mentioned the brief role played by Cosmic Boy from the Legion of Super Heroes. A four issue spin-off miniseries called Cosmic Boy followed his adventures, leading back into the regular titles of Superman and the Legion for an epic battle with the Time Trapper and the death of Superboy.

The miniseries was written by Paul Levitz (regular Legion scribe at the time) and lists Keith Giffen, Ernie Colon, and Bob Smith as artists. Giffen must have done the layouts as the series shows some of the experimentation he was doing with panel grids and extreme closeups.

For those who aren't familiar with the Legion, it is a group of super powered teens set 1,000 years in the future. Founding members Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad first appeared in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) in a story where they invited Superboy to try out for membership.

From those humble beginnings, the Legion evolved first as back up stories, guest-starring and then co-starring with Superboy, eventually taking over Superboy's own comic until eventually earning its own series. At the end of this article, I'll review some of the Legion's history and recommend some issues.

When the Superman continuity was rebooted, it caused a major problem for the Legion. John Byrne's version had Clark Kent becoming Superman as an adult -- the new DC Universe did not have a Superboy. This problem was most significant to the Legion, as Superboy was an integral part of their history.

The Cosmic Boy Mini-Series

In Cosmic Boy #1, the title hero (real name, Rokk Krin) travels back in time with his girlfriend Night Girl (Lydda Jath) to visit the late 20th Century. Unfortunately for them, they arrive at a time when Darkseid is inciting the public against superheroes. Cosmic Boy gets beaten up, but meets the JLA, some Teen Titans, and Superman. Far more disturbing than his physical injuries, Rokk is shocked when Superman fails to recognize him. As he tells Lydda, "He had no idea who I was. I'd known him since he was Superboy -- and he didn't remember me."

Some research by the two reveals some disturbing details. The first confirms that Superman first appeared as an adult and never had a career as a Superboy. The second is that this world uses nuclear power for weapons, not towards peaceful uses and for space travel as in the Legion's history. (This 'peaceful use of nuclear power in Legion history' bit is new as far as I know. I believe it was something created for the purpose of the series, allowing for a protracted storyline about nuclear power.) Lydda wonders if they somehow interfered with the time stream when they travelled to the past and notes that, "it was one of the first time trips after the great Crisis."

Over the rest of issue #1 and #2, Rokk and Lydda become involved in protecting a NASA experiment to send a nuclear payload into space. The nuclear plot has little to do with either the Legends series or much else.

In issue #3, they decide to return home, but their Time Bubble encounters a barrier in the time stream that forces them to return to 1986. With the help of a NASA scientist and Cosmic Boy's own magnetic powers, they finally succeed in smashing through the barrier. However, the Time Bubble fails to stop at the Legion's time, instead hurtling through the time stream and finally crashing at the end of time -- the domain of the Time Trapper.

The Trapper, one of the Legion's greatest foes, is a mysterious robed figure who toys with time and the Legion. The villain captures the two heroes and, true to his nature of playing games, he sets up a test for
them. He gives them one hour to try to recapture the Time Bubble from him and to return to their own century, musing, "In the end, destiny proclaims that I shall win, so I need not be petty about it. You have your fair chance. According to my word -- and, of course, my rules."

Rokk and Lydda succeed, barely, in reaching the Trapper's throne room and their Time Bubble. The Trapper confronts them, but allows them to escape saying, "Go home to your century children -- you may travel through time safely by my leave. But this will be your final journey through time. The next occasion when a Legionnaire breaks through the time barrier will be the last. The end of all time is coming children ... and the year 2987 will be its first stop. Soon."

As Cosmic Boy rushes to assemble the Legion, the Time Trapper pauses in front of statues of Superboy and Krypto musing, "Yes, it's finally begun. The grandest game of all ... he doesn't dream that time itself is stacked against him!"

And so ends the miniseries. Ya gotta love that Trapper as a villain though. Mysterious and nearly omnipotent, he is continually and conveniently pontificating and musing aloud to inform the reader of his plans. In addition, he frequently bursts out with loud, wicked laughter, and he has a seriously warped and changing set of values. Yep, the Time Trapper is the perfect comic book villain.

The Time Trapper's Plot

Legion of Super-Heroes #37 The story continues in Legion of Super-Heroes #37 with a cover showing Superboy bursting through a Smallville billboard before a number of Legionnaires. The writer of both Legion issues is Paul Levitz, with art by Greg LaRoque and Mike DeCarlo. Although, in true Legion fashion, the comic has a number of sub-plots going on, people reading only for the Superboy story could easily ignore those pages and concentrate on the main plot.

A squad of Legionnaires assemble inside a modified Time Bubble, using Mon-El's power and Brainiac 5's instruments to break the time barrier. The Time Trapper, watching from the end of time, decides to allow them passage -- "I will give them everything and take it all away. How sublime." Ya gotta love villains who talk like villains. Too bad he doesn't have a wax mustache to twirl. Or a face for that matter. Anyhoo...

The Legionnaires arrive in Smallville and four of the group, dressed in civilian clothes, head off to find Superboy. Everything seems normal - even Superboy's pal Pete Ross (an honorary Legionnaire) recognizes them. Pete mentions that everything has been fine since Superboy saved them from "those weird red skies and that energy wall" a few weeks ago (hallmarks of the Crisis On Infinite Earths) but that Superboy has been laying low ever since.

Sitting down to dinner with Ma and Pa Kent, the group speaks about Superboy, and Rokk says, "He was the inspiration for the whole organization. He was the greatest hero in history." Just then Clark arrives and greets them. He brings them to his secret basement and, distracting the Legionnaires, attacks them with a time-stasis machine, leaving them frozen like statues.

Pete Ross warns the four remaining Legionnaires (Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Invisible Kid II, and Blok) to escape. As they use the Time Bubble to re-enter the time stream, they see Superboy try to capture them with the
stasis beam. The Legionnaires look back with shock as they fade into the time stream.

Superboy, for reasons yet unknown, decides that he has to track the Legionnaires through time until he captures all of them. "It's awful, but I have no alternative. The Earth, Smallville, maybe the whole universe is depending on me." The issue ends with that wonderful laughter from the Time Trapper.

Superman #8 The two Superman issues are written and penciled by John Byrne. Superman #8 is dedicated to the memory of Edmund Hamilton -- one of the well known science fiction writers that Superman editor Julie Schwartz convinced to write comics for DC. While we're on the topic, Legion of Super-Heroes #38 is dedicated to the memory of E. Nelson Bridwell, who had a long history with DC, Superman, and the Legion. It's particularly appropriate that these writers be acknowledged during a story about the Time Trapper -- a reminder that time is the ultimate thief.

Byrne obviously began his contribution to this saga with the assumption that his readers knew nothing about what has gone before -- most of Superman #8 is a fight and recap story. It begins with a comic book standard - a mutual misunderstanding leading to a fight and then team-up.

Clark, visiting Lana and his parents in Smallville, hears the Time Bubblearrive at the old Simonson Limestone Quarry. Superman's powers are malfunctioning (one of Luthor's plots that is explained in a later issue), causing his heat vision to blast the Legionnaires. They believe Superboy is attacking them and respond in kind until Brainiac 5 erects a forcefield to calm everyone down.

Brainiac 5 tells Superman about the Legion, recapping Adventure Comics #247 and explaining Cosmic Boy's discoveries and the events in Legion of Super-Heroes #37. While everyone is absorbed in the story, Superboy arrives and uses the stasis beam, telling his frozen friends, "You've got to know how much I hate having to do this. But I have no choice. You must die Legionnaires ... so that the whole universe can live!"

It appears that, during his recent trips into the time stream, Superboy has been coerced by the Time Trapper into taking theatrical villain speech lessons.

The Pocket Universe

Action Comics 591 Finally, Action Comics #591 (featuring a great cover of Superboy attacking Superman in the skies of Smallville) provides an explanation for the strange events that have been going on. Superboy carts off his four frozen former friends. Superman, left behind, finds himself able to move and takes off in pursuit. Superboy, faster and more powerful than Superman, enters the time stream under his own power, and Superman's only hope of following is to grab Superboy's boot and be carried along -- until Superman loses his grip and falls.

Meanwhile, the Time Trapper finally begins his mandatory villainous revelation, musing to himself at the end of time. He recalls observing the Legion's formation and how they modeled themselves after "a long vanished champion known as Superboy!" However, the Trapper's control of time allows him to learn that no Superboy ever existed. The Legion's history was in error.

So the Trapper somehow reached into the far past and snared, "a sliver of time so slender it could not be measured. Yet containing an entire universe!" He culled this universe to shape Krypton and Earth, culminating in a Superboy that matched the Legion's legends. Whenever the Legion entered the time stream, the Trapper diverted them into his Pocket Universe (copyright and trademark pending by Time Trapper Inc).

Meanwhile, Pete Ross has found Superman in a crater outside Smallville (Pete sure is a useful pal, isn't he -- not like that Jimmy Olsen who's always getting into trouble). Pete assumes this is his pal Superboy, who has been aged by red kryptonite. A weakened Superman plays along, noting the differences between this Smallville and his own -- "It looks like an idealized version of a typical small town." For some reason, never fully explained, Pete has decided to let everyone know he is aware of Clark's secret identity and takes Superman to the Kent home.

Superboy arrives and attacks Superman while a confused Krypto (The original super-dog! Accept no substitutes!) looks on in confusion. In one fun scene, Krypto decides to help by grabbing Superman's cape. Expecting the standard indestructible cape, Krypto is caught off guard when the cape rips and he is sent hurtling away.

Krypto decides that the only way to stop a Kryptonian is to use kryptonite. He willingly exposes himself to gold kryptonite (which permanently removes super-powers) to save his master, Superboy. Unfortunately, the exposure also removes his super-intelligence so that his sacrifice appears to be in vain -- until Pa Kent finds Krypto and likewise gathers the numerous kryptonite samples. Pa exposes Superman to the kryptonite samples -- which have no effect.

Superman's analysis of the samples indicate that while the rocks have the same elements as kryptonite, "the radiation they produce is completely different from the stuff I know." Superman also realizes that Superboy is not fighting as hard as he should be. He explains, "Meeting your Ma and Pa Kent was really the clincher. They're not quite the same people who raised me, but they're from the same stock. I knew they'd have given you the same solid, moral foundation my foster parents gave me. I could never betray my friends. I knew you couldn't either."

Superboy admits that he wanted Superman to come after him because, "it seemed like the only way I could escape this nightmare! The only way I could save the Legion ... without sacrificing everyone I've loved! If Superman could only defeat me in battle".

Although the reason for Superboy's actions is not revealed, the two heroes defrost the four Legionnaires and agree to pursue the Time Trapper, who has the other Legionnaires. However, Brainiac 5 convinces Superman not to come with them as the risk of danger is too great. "You belong to the 20th Century, Superman. There is still too much for you to do there to make our time possible!"

Superman agrees to respect their decision. As they return Superman to his original time, Superboy adds, "Goodbye Superman! I've got a feeling we'll never meet again!" and Superman thinks, "I hope he'll find the peace he's earned."

The Greatest Hero Of All

Legion of Super-Heroes #38 With the omens aligned and the prophecies in place, it's time for the conclusion to our epic tale, in Legion of Super-Heroes #38. It begins with Superboy's confession. He tells his friends about the red skies of the great Crisis. Inch by inch, his adopted planet was disintegrating while he watched helplessly, until the Time Trapper appeared, with a proposition.

Cut to the Time Trapper himself (conveniently located in the Smallville High School gym), who is gloating over the frozen figures of Cosmic Boy, Shadow Lass, Ultra Boy, and Mon-El. Superboy arrives with the apparently frozen remaining Legionnaires and the Trapper orders him to kill all of them.

Rebelling, Superboy and the Legion members try an all out attack on the Trapper. The Trapper reveals his plan and his hold over Superboy -- he had provided a device that would save this world from the effects of the Crisis if Superboy would destroy the Legion. As he reveals his plan, the Time Trapper deactivates the device and vanishes. The red skies reappear and Superboy's world is again beset by disaster.

The Trapper (never one to let a good plan go un-bragged) appears before Brainiac 5 to gloat, "This never was your past, Legionnaire. Only a whispery possibility I connected you to when you were presumptuous enough to try to travel through time. Each time you 'broke' the time barrier, I sent you here ... until this Earth began to fall apart and the jest paled."

Desperately, the heroes try to repair the Trapper's anti-Crisis device. Superboy realizes that the only way to repair the machine is to find some way to channel its energies. He places himself in the machine, allowing the energies to course through his body -- until he feels the energy pull the planet away from the Crisis "into somewhere else".

With the world safe, Superboy finally allows himself to collapse. Ma and Pa Kent watch in horror as the Legionnaires try to save the injured Superboy by bringing him back to the 30th century.

Despite his injuries, Superboy realizes that he can't allow the Legionnaires to rely on their Time Bubble because of the Trapper's boast about his control over their technology. Superboy tosses his friends into the Bubble and carries it through the time stream himself to bring his friends home.

Superboy tells his friends, "I -- I always could travel through time -- get to your Metropolis on my own. Maybe 'cause of something the Trapper did to me, or maybe it was the time beacon ... or maybe just because I always could do anything I really, truly had to do! And I'll be damned if I'll let the Time Trapper -- or anything -- stop me now!"

On arrival, Mon-El bursts out of the Time Bubble and gathers Superboy into his arms. He rushes Superboy to the medical lab -- but is too late. Superboy dies in the arms of one of his best friends -- and, probably not coincidentally, the person most like him in personality and power.

Later, the assembled Legion vows revenge against the Time Trapper, "somehow, someday ... soon". The issue ends with the tearful Legion of Super-Heroes gathered before Superboy's coffin and the statues of their previously deceased comrades -- including that of Supergirl, another victim of the great Crisis.

While Superboy's story ended on this sad note, the Legion continued with its history and memory of Superboy intact. The Legion's vow was dealt with in Legion of Super-Heroes #50 as a select team of Legionnaires decided to seek final revenge against the Time Trapper in "Life and Death and The End Of Time". To find out what happened, you'll have to read the issue yourself because I'm out of space. Good story, though.

Next time, we will return to the Pocket Universe Earth as Superman becomes judge, jury, and executioner. Before doing that though, I'm going to review some stories for those interested in the Legion of Super-Heroes.