Wednesday, December 31, 2014

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #501 - June 1993


…When He Was a Boy
Credits:  Karl Kesel (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Doug Hazelwood (inker), Albert de Guzman (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary:  Superboy, who appears to be a teenage clone of Superman, fights crime in Metropolis.  After accosting Lois Lane at the Daily Planet, he runs into aspiring reporter Tana Moon.  Tana books an interview with Superboy on local network GBS.  GBS, hoping to gain exclusive rights to Superboy, arranges for Superboy to apprehend crimelord Steel Hand in Suicide Slum.  Unbeknownst to Superboy, Guardian helps him defeat Steel Hand’s gauntlet.  Meanwhile, Bibbo rescues a drowning puppy and names him Krypton, and Lex Luthor interrogates Packard from Cadmus.  Packard reveals that Superboy isn’t technically a clone.

Irrelevant Continuity:  At this point, Superboy wants to be referred to as Superman and is adamant that no one call him “Superboy.”  Eventually, he’ll accept the moniker and star in his own spinoff.

I Love the ‘90s:  Superboy’s long on top, shaved at the bottom haircut was fairly popular in the early ‘90s.  As a few people have noticed, Rob Liefeld had it at this time.

Total N00B:  Lex Luthor has mysteriously broken his leg since he previously appeared in Man of Steel #22.  I don’t know which story the Return of Superman trade is missing.  And exactly how many versions of Krypto existed in the post-Crisis universe?

Review:  Karl Kesel makes his full debut as writer of Adventures, which will now focus on the ‘90s incarnation of Superboy.  I’m not certain how this happened, but the modern teenage version of Superboy has mutated over the years from a lighthearted, slightly bratty character into a po-faced, angst-ridden teen with issues.  I’m not even sure if they’re supposed to be the same character, and how exactly Lex Luthor got involved in his (their?) origin, but I suspect it’s information I’d rather not know.  I remember the new-new Superboy as the absolute worst aspect of the Young Justice cartoon, which summed up how far off the rails DC has gone over the years.  They couldn’t even use the extroverted, upbeat Superboy in a cartoon aimed at kids.  

As he exists in 1993, the premise behind the new Superboy is that he wasn’t raised by the old-fashioned Kents and has come of age, with no guidance, in modern times.  Even in the early ‘90s, that means he’s consumed with entertainment media and desperate to be famous.  DC’s reluctant to outright label him a clone, presumably because they feel fans will think of him as a literal copy of Superman, so some mystery is thrown in early on to hint that there’s more to his origin than we realize.  I personally feel “teenage clone of Superman” is a simple, easy to grasp concept, and think they probably should’ve stuck with it.  Maybe they were trying to avoid the trap that Marvel soon fell into with Spider-Man, though.

Superboy’s debut story establishes the kind of stories he’s going to star in for the next few years.  He’s cocky, in over his head, but also has some measure of heroism inside him.  I don’t think the Kesel/Grummett Superboy run ever quite reached the level of the Dixon/Grummett Robin era, but they’re all very entertaining teen superhero stories.  Superboy seems heavily inspired by the Wayne’s World phenomenon -- not to the extent that he’s stealing the catchphrases, but it isn’t hard to imagine Adventures, and later Superboy, as the exploits of Wayne Campbell with superpowers.  It’s the type of persona that could easily come across as a stereotype, or just outright annoying, but Kesel manages to make Superboy at the very least a readable protagonist.  These stories are much less serious than the other Superman titles of the time, and if there must be a new Superboy, this is a fairly creative way to go about it.  Teenage Superman with “attitude” just sounds awful on paper, but Kesel/Grummett are able to make it work.

5 comments:

Moose said...

I know you don't want to know, but from what I gather (from reading Young Justice, mostly), here's what happened:

-Superboy finds out that due to a cloning flaw, he'll never age and stay a teen forever.

-Tana Moon is killed to ratchet up the all-important angst quota.

-Superboy looses his powers for a while (of course).

-Superboy finds out that he's not a pure clone of Supes, his clone matrix or whatever was mixed with a human sample, originally believed to be Westfield (or something, the head of Cadmus at the time).

-Later, the human half is revealed to be Lex Luthor (of course!) Based on my fuzzy understanding, Lex himself may be an altered clone, who lived for a while as Lex Luthor Jr. before losing his hair and going "%^& it, I might as well drop the act."

-Superboy was, naturally, mind controlled by Lex Luthor at some point.

I guess, just from following Peter David's Young Justice, there was a moderately organic character progression that took him from happy-go-lucky to moderately angsty (maybe a 7 on the Peter-Parker-Scale).

More broadly, I suppose you could generously argue that Superboy (or any teen character, I suppose), evolves to be whatever the contemporary archetype of a teen is (ie. Superboy will always be whatever the current "dangerous teen" stereotype is, Robin will always be the current iteration of "teen nerd", etc.)

m!ke said...

moose, the non-aging thing would end up being reversed by peter david.

Moose said...

m!ke,

Was this in Young Justice? I can't think of anywhere else PAD wrote Superboy.

I'm assuming that it happened later in the series after Superboy's book was cancelled. Sounds a good excuse to re-read a great series!

m!ke said...

moose, it occurred during the "sins of youth" storyline, that spun out of "young justice". that would've been right around superboy #74/75 if memory serves. so a couple years before his title was cancelled.

Matt said...

As I recall it, Geoff Johns was the one who came up with the bit that Lex Luthor's DNA was the other half of Superboy's.

I remember reading a Comicbook Urban Legends Revealed where basically he wrote a letter to Superboy suggesting this idea, and then when he got a chance to write the character, he made it so. I also thought he wrote the mind-controlled-by-Luthor story, too. Whatever the case, I always preferred the Kesel version of the character.

From what I can tell, the New 52 Superboy book has been trying, since the launch, to do away with the emo-image Superboy has had going on for a while and has been trying to inject some of the light-hearted tone he had in the 1990s