Superboy: The Farm Team of Steel?

One of the fun parts of rereading the Silver Age month by month is discovering stuff that never registered when I reread old issues or random reprints from the era. For example, just how much of the Superman mythos I remember from childhood actually started as the Superboy mythos. So many things, in fact, that I wondered if that was intentional — Mort Weisigner was using Superboy and Adventure Comics as the equivalent of a farm team.

Short of beaming a telepathic probe across time and accessing Mort Weisinger’s brain, I’ll probably never know for sure. And I wouldn’t bet money on it; after all, Superman and Action introduced plenty of new stuff in the early Silver Age: Brainiac, Kandor, the Arctic Fortress of Solitude. Still, the Teen of Steel’s record is pretty impressive:

Bizarro. Otto Binder’s tragic Frankenstein figure debuted in Superboy #68. A year later, Luthor created an adult version to battle Superman. Bizarro would appear regularly over the next few years before getting his backup strip in Adventure for a year.

Krypto. 1955’s Adventure Comics #210 introduced us to “The Super-Dog From Krypton” when Superboy’s former pet landed on Earth. Krypto wouldn’t turn up in the present — Superboy stories by definition were not the present — until 1958 and that was an issue of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. That story explained that Krypto hadn’t been seen since the Smallville years because he was off romping in space. Aged and confused, he’s come back to Earth, but events in the story restore his youth.

(An aside: Now that I’m a dog owner, stories of superdickery involving Krypto are absolutely heartbreaking. Krypto’s distress in Superboy #67, in which the dog thinks Superboy will have him put to sleep to protect his secret identity was awful to see, even knowing it’ll all work out.).The Phantom Zone. In Adventure Comics #283 Professor Lang unearths a cache of buried Kryptonian weapons, one of which is the Phantom Zone projector. Superboy accidentally traps himself in the Zone but finds a way to communicate with Pa Kent, who sets him free.Obviously Weisinger saw potential in this idea, as it was used twice more during the same year. First Superboy saves Mon-El’s life by projecting him into the Phantom Zone, then Jax-Ur escapes and impersonates Pa Kent. The latter story shows the true potential of the Zone. While Kryptonian criminals had appeared before, putting them in the Zone made it possible to keep them imprisoned between stories, then show up again whenever a writer had a use for them. They’d bedevil Superman and Supergirl and occasionally other members of the Superman Family until the Crisis erased them.

Superboy’s Pal, Lex Luthor. Jerry Siegel’s “How Luthor Met Superboy” in Adventure Comics #271 was a game-changer. Rather than Luthor being an evil scientist who’d grown to hate Superman for repeatedly defeating him, this story established Luthor and Superboy as friends, briefly, in Smallville. Then a jealous Superboy — as Lex saw it — destroyed Luthor’s groundbreaking experiment and also caused his hair to fall out. Luthor swore revenge and every failure only embittered him more. From this seed grew the Silver Age/Bronze Age characterization of Luthor as a man turned evil by hate but still with some potential for good.

The Legion of Super-Heroes. I don’t think I have to tell anyone who hangs out at this place that the Silver Age’s first superhero team debuted in 1958’s  Adventure Comics #247. Otto Binder struck gold with this one; it would be more than a year before the L.S.H. returned, but after that they began popping up throughout the Superman Family books on a regular basis, before landing their own series.

Lori Lemaris and Aquaman come from different Atlantean cities. When I read a Bronze Age story establishing this as canon, I thought it was inspired. Little did I know that Adventure Comics #280 made this canon back in 1961, when a teenage Lori met Superboy. I’m guessing that with Aquaman as a backup feature at the time, someone on staff realized they’d be deluged with letters asking why Aquaman didn’t have a merman tail, so they pre-emptively explained it.

A few bits of rock. Superboy’s stories also introduced two major minerals and two minor ones. Red kryptonite first appeared in Adventure #252 as a deadlier version of green k; three issues later, an alien used red kryptonite to split Superboy and Clark in two, establishing that it wasn’t like green kryptonite at all (though as Commander Benson says, it would take a while before the rules were standardized). Gold kryptonite showed up in an imaginary story in Adventure Comics #299, making it the last of the Big Five kryptonite types (green, red, gold, blue, white) to appear in comics. White kryptonite, which kills off plant life, appeared a couple of years earlier, in Adventure Comics #279. We never got a definite explanation for where the white and gold varieties came from.

The fourth material wasn’t kryptonite at all but amnesium, which as the name suggests erases memory. In Superboy #55, Superboy gets A Visit From Superman’s Pal when Jimmy gets hurled back in time. Amnesium provides a convenient way to wipe out Jimmy’s memory of the trip, and of learning Superboy is Clark Kent. It would serve the same purpose a few more times in the Silver and Bronze Age.

Farm team or not, that’s an impressive roster of new ideas.

#SFWApro. Covers by Curt Swan, interior panels by George Papp.

8 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    We take so much for granted these days about the Superman mythos, we don’t realise how much of it came from outside Superman comics proper – from the radio show, for example.

    Big Five kryptonite types (green, red, gold, blue, white)
    OTOH, I’m not fully across Superman mythos. Green theoretically kills Superman (has green K ever actually killed a Kryptonian in mainstream DC continuity? If not, why is Superman so sure it’d actually kill him? It must’ve in an Elseworlds or something.)

    You’ve explained white, and red has unpredictable effects.
    What do gold and blue do? Is gold the one that drains his powers (without actually killing him)?

    1. Yep, gold takes away powers permanently. Has an effective range of two feet.
      Superman’s imperfect duplicate Bizarro is invulnerable to kryptonite. Superman created blue kryptonite using the same duplicating machine that made Bizarro — it’s an imperfect duplicate of green k so it has the same lethal effect on Bizarros (at least the super-powered ones).
      Green k has killed some kryptonians, IIRC. Even without that, Superman’s come close enough to death from green k exposure to be confident it will in fact kill him if it keeps up.

      1. Le Messor

        Thanks for the information.

        Even without that, Superman’s come close enough to death from green k exposure to be confident it will in fact kill him if it keeps up.

        That’s what I thought the answer would be. Without your first answer, I thought it’d be cool to do a story where he gets a lot of exposure, and instead of dying, he comes through in a different form. Possibly powerless, more likely with a new and different power set. (Maybe split in two. :))

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