Superhero vs Superhero
Superboy vs. Superboy!
Part 3 of “Stop Hitting Yourself!”
“Big Trouble in Smallville!”
Writer – Karl Kesel
Penciler – Tom Grummett
Inkers – Doug Hazelwood and Dan Davis
Letters – Starkings / Comicraft
Colorist – Tom McCraw
Editor – Frank Pittarese
You couldn’t ask for a more complicated roadmap to a 'person fighting themselves" plot than this issue of Superboy. Between this version of Superboy being an experimental clone of Superman and his doppelganger in this issue being caused by a crossover with the reality warping event known as Zero Hour there is a lot here to unpack.
Superboy should go first, as it is his name on that bannerhead. This is Kon-El or Conner Kent, a clone created with human and Kryptonian DNA. Made to mimic Superman’s power set as closely as technology was able, Kon-El was vat born in secret by the super-science laboratory outside of Metropolis called Project Cadmus. Due to his mixed human/Kryptonian DNA, Kon-El get some but not all of Superman’s powers.
Following the Death of Superman storyline, the clone was released from his growing tube early by unknown story elements (Tampering? Sabotage? Accident? Magical plot coincidence?), thus he only got a portion of Cadmus’ mental conditioning. It also left him younger than the intended age Cadmus expected him to be, as Kon-El starts out at 13 years old.
Kon-El got a really good growth arc with some neat surprises along the way, beginning with his own title after Superman came back from the dead and worming his way though Young Justice under Peter David and Teen Titans by Geoff Johns. Not to mention being one of the better parts of Infinite Crisis (teardrop).
For the other side of this title card, we have to look to the reality-altering event known as Zero Hour, another of DC’s “our backstory is too convoluted, so lets have an event across all the books that makes it MORE convoluted” events. Zero Hour concerned Hal Jordon, who went mad after the city he was supposed to defend was destroyed in the Death/Rebirth of Superman series, and who decides to remake the DC universe in his own image. What that means is he basically starts erasing time. Thus, it is full of time paradoxes. There are entire futures and pasts being erased and re-written throughout the DC titles that instead of clearing things up, tend to muddy the waters further.
One of those is this Superboy title, where the Superboy from a time bubble created by the Time Trapper so the Legion could interact with and be inspired by said Superboy BUT was poofed out of existence when it became inconvenient story-wise taking said Superboy with it …COMES BACK …
And yeah, LESS complicated is something DC doesn’t do well.
Anyway, so there you have the setup. Kon-El Superboy with his rad-90’s style verses the Superboy from a pocket timeline who mirrors the classic silver-age character. No matter how we got here, the match up between these two should prove…interesting.
Kon-El matured into an amazing leader and a really respectable Superboy, but when they started the character out in the 90’s…
…he was all about hip leather jackets, fade haircuts, boy band shades and plenty of attitude. While I might make fun of him for it, I did enjoy the change in trends for Superboy. At his core he was still a force for good, even if his every though was “babes”.
Make that every other thought. Here we have him, Dubbilex, some military types, and Krypto the non-powered wonder dog flying over Kansas as they make their way back to Hawaii.
And while Superboy taunts the pooch Disaster looms for the aircraft as a sudden storm appears from out of the clear blue sky and a bolt of lightning takes out an engine.
As Superboy rushes to right the careening airliner, a time anomaly poofs itself into existence. A very familiar-looking time anomaly. In his haste to get to the falling airliner, Superboy fails to notice that company’s here.
And that company happens to be the Classic Superboy, who we are going to abbreviate to Classicboy for this review. He arrived from a prior Zero Hour that had him working with a legion in the future and I think that issue had weird time anomaly things going on too.
Whatever mess he came from, after he clears his head, Classicboy rushes to help the falling aircraft while failing to notice Superboy is just arriving there. That means while Superboy takes one wing on the side of the airplane not hit…
…Classicboy takes the other, each thinking they are acting alone. I kind of love this page. The panel split at the bottom, the full view of plane with both of them doing their part at saving the day, and the reaction shots on top. I have to hand it to Grummett that this issue has some really well thought out graphics.
As the plane is brought safely to the ground by the two super-youths, it passes over a billboard sign familiar to old-schooler comic readers proclaiming that they are landing in “Smallville, home of Superboy” while showing the character in his familiar red and blues.
No one on board the plane appears to notice, just like they don’t notice Classicboy zooming away to check in on Ma and Pa. As for present-day Superboy, he and Dubblex have a chat because the latter’s mental powers picked up strange thoughts coming from someone like Superboy…but also not!
While the pilots work on fixing the blown engine, Superboy decides to hang out in Smallville and give the people an unexpected thrill.
Meanwhile Classicboy heads “home,” but at first it seems like the entrance to his secret tunnel leading into the Kent farmhouse isn’t there. And then suddenly it is, almost as if it just appeared due to Classicboy’s presence.
Once inside, he finds no one at home and this leads him to believe they must be in town working at the Kent’s store, another relic of the classic Superboy stories. He puts on his Clark Kent duds and walks over, musing how the old houses down the Smallville street never seem to change. But change, things most certainly have…
And if bumping into your old flame all grown up isn’t enough of a shock…
But we’ll come back to that in a moment. First we have Superboy performing a feat of strength to impress the locals (and to feed his massive, teenage ego. The Kon-El era might have its detractors, as the writers did seek to give an emphasis on the “boy” part while paying particular attention to the emotional immaturities common among adolescents and the coping mechanisms they use to overcome that awkward stage in his beginnings. But this also allowed the character a chance to naturally mature into a worthy addition to the mythos once he reached young adulthood and developed responsibility. I like the Kon-El arc and frankly miss the character he eventually became.
Back to our meeting between Classicboy Clark and Lana, though…and boy is it a doozy. The revelations come fast and furious for our time-and-dimension displaced superyouth. First that Lana knows his secret identity and second that their paths diverged in a way he hadn’t expected over the years.
So while Superboy finishes helping the local with their truck repair, Lana rushes after Classicboy Clark offering apologies…
…and she also notes that a young version of her first crush being in town isn’t the only odd thing happening here today.
As it just so happens, this is all taking place within earshot of Superboy, who decides to investigate instead of continuing to chit-chat with the town record store clerk…
Now we have Boy meeting Boy for the first time, an event that is just too much for Classicboy. Seeing the leather jacket and the screwy hair cut on this version of Superboy so soon after losing the love of his life is too much for him. Classicboy storms off to change and take his frustrations out on Kon-El.
This works out to be no real contest. For all Kon-El’s heart, he’s facing a true Kryptonian here, and possibly one from the Silver Age as well. And we all know the Silver Age characters could perform feats of unbelievable power when the plot required it. Kon-El’s clock starts to get cleaned…
…and we get why he’s doing it a bit too. Classicboy has returned to find himself completely displaced and being pulled back into the Zero Hour nothingspace. No family, no friends, no love…and now someone else taking his place in a very literal sense. Classicboy needs a connection, someone who remembers him. In a flash, he thinks it will be the Kents, but Lana worries that won’t be true and sends Kon-El after him.
Superboy willingly complies, looking perhaps for a little payback for getting his butt handed to him. He sucker-punches Classicboy in the back and drives the young man of steel behind the Kent’s barn. Clark’s parents take a notice of the commotion.
While they are on their way out to see what caused the ruckus, Classicboy has already recovered, while Kon-El looks a bit worse for wear. Not to say he’s down for the count. At least not so long as he still can fall back on the surprise power of his tactile telekinesis.
Unfortunately a few dozen hurled fireplace logs mean very little to Classicboy.
In fact, Kon-El is completely out of his league here. Classicboy has had years of training and tons of experience working alone and with the Legion of Super Heroes. Superboy just isn’t in the same power class. But speaking of the Legion, that reminds Classicboy of where he just came back from and how there were two versions of the Legion due to the havoc wrecking events of Zero Hour in the 31st Century.
And that small detail leads the pair of heroes to uncover which of them is the time anomaly.
Classicboy takes this as well as can be expected. In a way, you get that same choked up feeling as when the 10th Doctor, played by David Tennant, regenerated into Matt Smith’s number 11: A profound sense of sadness.
Superboy really shoulders in at this moment and vows to carry on a fight that we’ve assumed since issue one was more about self-aggrandizing ego than anything else. However, as this torch passes we see a more grown-up side to Kon-El, something the character needed from time-to-time. He wasn’t the Superboy of old. He wasn’t Superboy Classic. But he might rise to their greatness, given the chance.
And with that, Classicboy fades away along with the strange weather pattern, just as the Kents round the side of the barn.
…with his statement to the Kents, we see that Kon-El may have the makings of a hero, but he also has a long way to go before he gets there.
Superboy heads back to Dubbilex after a short visit with the Kents. They state that he reminds them of their son, and all this has made Kon-El wonder who his genetic “father” actually was. Dubbilex has little time to ponder on the answer as Superman’s image appears.
As Superman’s image fades, Kon-El takes to the sky, vowing to not miss out on an opportunity to do his part in the coming conflict. It is a sure sign he has taken Classicboy’s message to heart and is fit to serve as this reality’s Superboy.
Love this issue, all the callbacks and the feel of Classic Superboy was right on. His exit from continuity was tastefully handled and at the same time gave us hope that we would have a Superboy worthy of the title in Kon-El. History proved us right on that front. All around a stellar issue.