Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics [Blu-ray]
THE JOKER, LEX LUTHOR, CATWOMAN, DOOMSDAY, BANE. What makes them so thrillingly watchable? So terribly wonderful? So extremely vital to our super heroes and their worlds? This new feature-length documentary explores these questions across seven decades of DC Comics' hallowed Rogues' Gallery of infamous evildoers.
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Last updated: September 27, 2004
The current version of Superboy first appeared in 1993, following the death of Superman. At the end of Adventures of Superman #500, after Pa Kent (who was having his own near death experience at the time) seemingly rescues Clark from the afterlife, five new contenders for the S-shield suddenly appeared. We now know those five as Cyborg, Eradicator, Steel, Superboy, and Bibbo.
Okay, so Bibbo wasn't much of a contender -- but he did his best. He also made an important contribution to Superboy's supporting cast.
Superboy's story begins in the secret Cadmus Project, located outside Metropolis. The Guardian and Cadmus soldiers rush to answer an alarm at the mysterious Experiment 13. Blasting open the door, they find a broken glass container -- empty except for a shredded piece of Superman's cape. Hearing a shout, the Guardian and Cadmus Director Paul Westfield find scientist Carl Packard hanging from above, with steel pipes bow-tied around him.
Packard explains that the Newsboy Legion broke "Thirteen" loose before the code words to control him could be implanted: "We have absolutely no control over him!"
As the Newsboys help the stranger escape, one of them (Tommy) offers a leather jacket, while another (Scrappy) wishes him, "good luck, Superbo--" when the youngest contender for the Superman trademark suddenly whirls around and shouts, "Don't ever call me SUPERBOY!"
Clearly the intention in designing Superboy's original costume is to distinguish him from the Silver Age Superboy and give him a more modern outfit. The costume includes a high collared neck, several straps around the waist, thigh, and boots, as well as oversized gloves and a leather jacket.
Superboy's first full story is in Adventures of Superman #501. From the start, and for most of Superboy's career, his tale is told by Karl Kesel, with pencils by Tom Grummett and inks by Doug Hazlewood. Grummett and Hazlewood's crisp and clean art highlight Kesel's dynamic and humorous stories.
I'm not going to review the "Reign of the Supermen" stories in detail since most readers will be familiar with the tale (and for those that aren't - make sure that you treat yourselves to the three trade paperbacks, "The Death of Superman", "World Without A Superman", and "The Return of Superman", which comprise some of the best Superman stories ever told).
In short order, Kesel sets up the basic elements to the Superboy character and storylines. Superboy is presented as a hormone-driven and impulsive but good-hearted teenager with an attitude (especially to anyone calling him Superboy instead of Superman).
The Clone Of Steel
Kesel quickly has Superboy meet Superman's supporting cast (including Lois -- whom he greets with, "Wow! My death really aged you, huh, Lois?") while introducing a new cast including Tana Moon, Rex and Roxy Leech, and even Krypto (saved from a drowning death by Bibbo). Kesel even has Superboy rent an apartment at 344 Clinton Street, Apartment 3B -- left empty by the presumed death of Clark Kent.
This first issue (#501) also raises the mystery as to Superboy's origin (is he a clone of Superman?) and powers. Although he has flight and strength powers, Superboy has no vision powers. When he smashes open the stormdrain gate to escape Cadmus, Big Words notes that Superboy's punch left the gate practically undamaged. Although he seems invulnerable to bullets and buses, heat from fires can injure him.
Superboy's first serious lesson is brought to him by Steel in Superman The Man Of Steel #22 (by Louise Simonson with art by Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Janke). While dodging gangland fire, Superboy doesn't notice the Daily Planet helicopter take the hit aimed at him -- killing the pilot and nearly killing Lois Lane, who is saved by Steel. Superboy learns his lesson and accepts responsibility for his actions.
Kesel introduces Superboy to another member of the Superman family in Adventures of Superman #502 as he comes face to chest with Supergirl. Between manipulations by Lex Luthor, Vincent Edge, and Rex Leech, Superboy and Supergirl are drawn into a deadly battle with a villain calling himself Stinger. To escape, Stinger destroys one of Metropolis' bridges -- killing and injuring numerous victims. Edge also arranges for Superboy to accept Leech as his manager and to corner the copyright on the Superman name and symbol. However, Edge's manipulations cause an uneasy Tana to leave Metropolis.
The battle against the Cyborg and Mongul give Superboy the chance to show his heroism and grit as he joins the returned Superman and saves Metropolis from a deadly bomb.
At the conclusion of the death and return story arc, Kesel sets up a new direction for Superboy in Adventures of Superman #506. Superman rescues Superboy from some Cadmus DNAliens and the two, along with the Guardian, decide to return and confront the Cadmus brass to get some answers on Superboy's origins and powers.
The Cadmus scientists explain that Superboy is not a real clone of Superman because they were unable to clone his alien, invulnerable physiology. Instead, they genetically altered a clone and "translated" the aura surrounding Superman's body into a telekinetic field.
"That's how you can fly or deflect any solid object the instant it touches you. You can't deflect energy, say fire or lasers. Sorry. But you can do other things. You can extend the field and lift heavy objects ... or take things apart ... bend things into any shape you picture mentally." (during this explanation, Superboy shapes a rope into a woman's outline).
When he is told, "Still -- you are the closest we came to a successful clone of Superman!", Superboy answers, "But, bottom line -- I'm not his clone, right? So -- whose clone am I?" That question won't be answered for a while, as Cadmus' bad guy Director, Paul Westfield, bursts in to stop the session.
The rest of the issue quickly sets the new course as Dubbilex is assigned to shepherd Superboy and as Rex Leech is 'convinced' to return the Superman trademark back to Superman. Superman offers a compromise that, "if half the profits go to charity, you can use the symbol and the kid can call himself ...
"... Superboy. I think he's earned the name."
Superboy's initial reaction is hilarious. Grummett and Hazlewood draw a great shocked expression on his face (especially the mismatched eyes) as the Kid shouts, "Superboy? SUPERBOY?! That name's a joke! It's what I've been trying to live down since this whole mess started! Thanks! Thanks a lot! Thanks for nothing!"
As he bursts out of the room, Superboy tells himself, "Yes. That was very mature. Maybe ... maybe I over-reacted a little." Stopping some criminals, he tells them, "You punks must think anyone can wear this 'S' shield! Yeah, I'm Superboy -- but I earned that name!"
Superman meets up with Superboy again and tells him of Rex's plans for a world tour to establish the new name, adding "and, uh, if you're not keeping your apartment, I have this friend ...".
Superboy flies off with the classic quote"second star from the right and straight on 'til morning ..." When Superman adds, "Peter Pan. How appropriate.", Superboy replies, "Huh? What're you talkin' about? Captain Kirk said that!"
Hero of Hawaii
Shortly afterwards, Superboy was launched into his self-titled series. The first issue introduces the new setting of Hawaii, establishes the supporting cast and sets up the tone of humorous adventure as Superboy encounters (again and for the first time) the villain Sidearm.
Y'know, there are just some villains who cannot be taken seriously. Sidearm is one. As Superboy battles the inept villain (calling him everything but his codename - Sideswipe, Sideboard, Backside, Sidecar etc), our hero uses, for the first time, the phrase most associated with his powers"Ever hear of tactile telekinesis? Mentally moving whatever you touch ... or whatever touches you? Lets you fly ... lift cars ... shoot sand up from the beach ... take apart robot arms ... Major power. Guess who's got it?!"
Kesel sets up the major elements of his new series by introducing the supporting cast and some villains as well as showcasing the comic's trademarks of action and humour..
Although readers had never met Sidearm before, the first issue was filled with references to their earlier meeting. Some 8 months later, in Superboy #0, we meet Sidearm again, along with Prof. Emil Hamilton (in town to work at the local STAR Labs). Superboy later reviews his origins for Prof. Hamilton. He explains that his first memory is of a cartoon show, and then Cadmus Director Westfield and Dr. Packard discussing his memory implants. Superboy adds, "And all this happened real fast! I mean, I went from single-cell to single-guy in under a week!".
He then reviews his rescue by the Newsboy Legion, his escape and his meeting with his very first villain, Sidearm (using tentacles that make him look like Spider-Man's pal, Doctor Octopus).
Superboy #0 also has one of my favorite one-liners, as Superboy tries out various headgear for the x-ray glasses made for him by Hamilton. It's a visual joke, so you'll have to read the issue to understand, but the line is, "Look, bobbing in the water -- it's Super-buoy!"
Maybe it's just me.
Original & Origin
Kesel's first run on Superboy (up to issue #30) was well regarded and had lots of fans. Two notable stories during this period are the Zero Hour issue, Superboy #8, and the 1995 Year One themed Superboy Annual #2.
With all of the strange events happening during Zero Hour, probably the most welcome was the return of the Silver Age Superboy. A freak storm forces a plane carrying Superboy, Dubbilex, and Krypto to land outside Smallville. The original Boy of Steel materializes and helps rescue the plane.
With neither Superboy aware of the other, they both head into Smallville. While the current model shows off for the locals, young Clark Kent strolls down the street to encounter all kinds of strange changes, including an adult Lana Lang. It's a 'fight and team up' story with a nostalgic and tragic twist as the young hero realizes that he is the anomaly and that by his very presence is causing changes to this reality.
Standing by the Kents' farmhouse, the Boy of Steel says goodbye to the Teen of Teek as he stops fighting the forces trying to pull him away and, with heroic sacrifice, allows himself to vanish. Superboy, after a brief introduction to Ma and Pa Kent, heads off to help save the universe from the Zero Hour crisis.
In Superboy Annual #2 (co-written by Karl and wife Barbara Kesel with pencils by David Brewer, assisted by several inkers) we finally learn the answer to Superboy's DNA template. Superboy is summoned back to Cadmus, which has discovered the lab containing the twelve prior failed attempts to clone Superman.
The first clone, still in stasis, is accidentally released. The reason that clone had never been activated was that it had been created using a "flawed process" -- the one used by Dr. Teng which created the first Bizarro. Superboy and Bizarro Superboy take the usual fight and team approach (as Bizarro returns Superboy's punch he says, "Ha! Me understand! Me must show am worthy of name Superboy! Clever test! Me not fail!)
The scientists also find some of the original genetic material used to make the clones and some videotapes. Superboy learns that his cell-stock came from the slimy and now deceased former director of Cadmus, Paul Westfield (killed by Dabney Donovan in Superman #90 -- although since Donovan salvaged an ear, it's always possible that Westfield could reappear -- no pun intended).
Superboy understandably doesn't take the news well, but comes to terms with the revelation after a pep-talk by Superman and a surprise first birthday party thrown for him by his friends.