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Author Topic: The importance of Superboy?  (Read 17079 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: December 03, 2005, 04:17:05 AM »

I was reading for fun the Superman Story Submission Guidelines on this website. Found  here:  http://superman.nu/fos/guidelines/rant.php

While reading most of it I felt like pumping my fist and going, "you TELL it, MAN!" I suspect most of us feel the same way after reading statements like:

Quote
Kal-El was born on Krypton, not on Earth.  Further, Krypton was an ideal, wonderful and advanced (in countless ways) society.  Superman honors and cherishes the memory of Krypton, not just because all things of beauty should be treasured, but because the values and strengths of Krypton's society are the foundation of Superman's character.


After all, if we weren't "classic" Superman fans, we wouldn't be here, right?

All the things mentioned in the writers submission box are elements that make Superman WORK, from him being confident and fearless in personality to having Clark Kent be a timid disguise compared to his hero identity.

Some things not mentioned include Superman's supporting cast. Does Lois work better as a marriage-minded moll or as a raspy, independent woman with pluck? Both are Lois, and both are successful characterizations, though as much as I enjoy Lois's schemes to get Superman to marry her, this is a fairly sexist concept that shouldn't be duplicated today.

(That said, I think Lex is a MILLION times cooler as a scientist than as a businessman; for one thing, his ability to function as a publicly adored corporate raider has a short shelf life. Doesn't the Security and Exchange department take the business license away from any company that blackmails the world with earthquake rays? Also, Superman being unable to topple his foe makes him look like an chump, because he can't put his greatest enemy in jail ONCE. An element of futility is inserted into Superman's battles with Lex. To say nothing of the fact that it takes Lex from a scientist, where he is an icon, the very ARCHETYPE of the idea along with Dr. Sivana, down to being a derivative Kingpin-clone.)

One point in the writers guide that I would contend with, however, as being 100% necessary to who Superman is, is this one:

Quote
Superman was at some point Superboy.  The child is father to the man so for Superman to be the great man beneath the glasses and the timid facade, then he has to have been such a person in his most formative years.


Personally, I think Superboy is no more necessary to Superman than Superbaby is. Don't get me wrong: I love the oddity and imagination of the Superboy stories, especially when you've got a genius like Otto Binder or Jerry Siegel making some wonderful, enriching addition to the Superverse like Krypto or the Kryptonite Man.

Some things that are totally necessary to the Superman concept include an idealized Krypton (otherwise, its destruction is no tragedy), the Clark Kent persona being put upon and dull (otherwise, there's no irony in the disguise). However, Superman not being Superboy doesn't change who Superman is, or anything about him that works - it can't be placed in the same category as, for instance, Superman being intelligent (totally necessary to the character). In fact, Superboy can actually hinder Superman if placed in the context of an Earth-1 with other superheroes. If Superboy and Lex Luthor and others were fighting 15 years before every other DC hero even showed up, it does stretch credibility for the Earth-1 timeline. Why were there no other heroes active around this time? Wouldn't the presence of the world's ONLY super-hero disrupt Smallville's status as a small town? Did Barry Allen or Hal Jordan as teenagers read about Superboy in the papers? And finally, how can a character like Superboy justify his position as defender of the earth and all the universe when he sticks around a town with a population of under three digits? How much crime can there BE in Smallville, after all? If the Silver Age comics were to be believed, Smallville must have a Mobster-to-normal-person ratio of 4:1. After the first few years of MURDER, SHE WROTE, they moved Angela Landsbury out of Cabot Cove because all these murders happening in this one small town was really stretching plausibility. One would think that sweet old lady was bumping off a few herself!

Just because the reboot did away with Superboy doesn't mean we have to all get sentimental about it.

That said, Smallville's importance has been exaggerated in the Superman mythos after the 1980s reboot. Elliot S! Maggin understood what Smallville's role in the Super-Mythos was when he described it as a "womb" that he could use the anonymity of it to gestate. Superman could have been raised in the wilderness of Alaska or the deep Mojave desert and it would do the exact same thing that Smallville does, and Superman would be no different.
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MatterEaterLad
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« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2005, 04:32:13 AM »

Its a tough call, obviously, Superboy resulted in some nice stories, and its hard to discount his role in the Legion and the mythos of a lot of characters introduced that met Superboy...the idea of Clark taking on the role of Superman after the death of the Kents did always appeal to me...
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Jor-L
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« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2005, 05:14:09 AM »

I've been a Superman fan all my life in a very general sense, but got into comics in 1997. When I began, I began with the post-Crisis Byrne mythology and it took me several years before I would go to anything pre-Crisis (I was having a hard-enough time catching myself up on post-Crisis, after all.) I was an avid proponent of Byrne's cold and sterile Krypton; it was only fairly recently that I came to accept a different view of Krypton (even though I still could not accept a Superman who gets all sentimental about his life there.) As some of these concepts and notions have made their way back into the Superman mythology, I resisted them all and then came to accept most of them. I have made many other similar concessions regarding some of the older Silver Age notions of Superman.

But one area I cannot accept back into Superman mythology is Superboy. JulianPerez raised some great points and addressed many of my concerns about the idea of the character. I really like the idea of watching Superman in his early years begin to master the disguise and the superheroics. Watching a boy do that just isn't as interesting or inspiring to me. (In addition, after over 10 years of the character's existence, I finally like Conner Kent / Kon-El.)

The real point of responding to this thread, however, was to respond to MatterEaterLad's comment about Superman becoming Superman after the Kents died. I don't see how that is any different from Bruce Wayne becoming Batman when his parents died. One of the most appealing things to me about Superman is how connected he is to his (Earth) parents. Maybe it's because I'm a loser Mama's-Boy, but I love that the most powerful man in the world needs two human people who raised him to be the moral person he is now. Say what you will about Jor-El and Lara's genetics and their contribution to raising him and whatever you will say about how attached he should be to them, if it was not for Jonathan and Martha Kent, he very well might not have turned out to be Superman, and he may not have been able to sustain the act. Their CONTINUED support of their son is just as important as their raising him and instilling morals in him as well as inspiring him to adopt the Superman identity.
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Johnny Nevada
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« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2005, 05:48:00 AM »

Guess I'll go with the minority opinion so far and say that I always liked Superboy, and the idea of such, myself; seeing Clark learning to use his powers as a youth and developing the training that would make him the world's greatest hero as an adult is interesting to me (vs. seeing an adult Superman fumbling about for the first time...).

Also liked:

- seeing it set around 15 years or so behind whatever the then-current year was... nostalgia, and whatnot.

- Ma and Pa Kent as regularly appearing characters (vs. someone Supes sees on occasional trips home as an adult in the current comics)

- Seeing young Clark deal with certain elements of the DCU for the first time, such as his first meeting with a young Aquaman (who's in action as "Aquaboy"---as IIRC the only other active superpowered hero during Superboy's time, unless Air Wave counts...).

Would imagine that seeing how the general public would react to the idea of a superhero showing up in an isolated setting (Superboy as the Earth's only superhero) might make for a few interesting stories... vs. seeing Superman show up just before Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, etc. show up within a relatively short time (vs. years) afterwards per the current comics' continuity.

Re: Barry or Hal reading about Superboy in the papers: Would guess Barry probably read about Superboy, before going back to his pile of old Justice Society and Flash comics. ;-)

Hal as a teenager didn't just read about Supes, but actually met him, in an issue of "New Adventures of Superboy" in the 80's...

While the current SUperboy is OK, I don't think his existence would be hindered/impossible if there was a Kal-El Superboy in the past... if nothing else, would make for some stories with someone in the public trying to pressure Kon even moreso to live up to Kal's legacy or something (than he already must receive)...
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Super Monkey
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« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2005, 05:57:02 AM »

Superboy rules!

Without him there would be no Legion of Superheroes, no Lana Lang, no Krypto, that should be enough to justify him.
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Permanus
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2005, 09:58:37 AM »

Another vote against Superboy here. I never could stand him, really. The early comics showed Clark as a young man by his father's deathbed, promising to use his powers for good: that's his reason for becoming Superman in the first place. Superboy was added later, more as a gag idea than anything else. It seems to me that both readers and editors were less literal-minded in those days, and continuity was not really an issue. Everybody understood this, and took the Superboy stories for what they were. It's only later that everything got out of hand and they had to establish a kind of chronology.

I always thought it was a stupid idea. I always hated stories in which kids brought down spy rings and foiled robberies as a boy (and that goes for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Famous Five and all o' yez), and Superboy was no exception. I didn't want to read stories about kids fighting crime and I still don't. When I read about children, I want Swallows and Amazons or Kenneth Grahame. I want Christopher Robin, not Robin the Boy Wonder.

And who the hell would buy the Clark Kent disguise in a small community like that? "Hey, ain't that the Kent boy flyin' around over yonder in his pyjamas?" "Yep, sure is. looks like he's got that dawg flyin' too." Even if nobody did make the connection, the fact that Superman started showing up in Metropolis a few years later, when Clark Kent moved there, should have set some alarm bells ringing. Superboy just blows the whole secret out of the water.

And one last thing: "Superman" is a word. It means something. What the hell does "Superboy" mean? That he's better than the other boys? No, it means that he's a boy full of super. It's just silly, that's what it is.
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TELLE
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« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2005, 09:58:46 AM »

Not to mention Pete Ross, Lex losing his hair, Bizarro, etc etc.  (Or TV's Smallville, for what it's worth). Superboy is as essential to classic Superman as Clark Kent.

As an intellectual exercise, Superman can always be whittled down to one or 2 core concepts.  But he's just not SUPERMAN without the accumulated shell of 50+ years of history.  Including Superboy.

As for Smallville and its high crime rate (proportionally higher by population than Metropolis, with its plethora of heroes?), it is easily explained by thriving economy, location near major auto routes, neighbouring states, and large cities.  Superboy's presence also acts as a lure for certain criminals, aliens, and time-travelers.  Not to mention tourists.  Perhaps because of this, I wonder if Smallville doesn't function along the same lines as Man-Thing's Everglades: a sort of DC-style Nexus of All Realities.

Stared at long enough, any element of the mythos will inevitably stretch our suspension of disbelief.  And ultimately, I'm less concerned with who Superman is or what he represents, than I am with entertaining stories, universe building, great art, and, yes, nostalgia.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2005, 12:19:20 PM »

Quote from: "Supermonkey"
Superboy rules!

Without him there would be no Legion of Superheroes, no Lana Lang, no Krypto, that should be enough to justify him.


No argument here! I'm not saying Superboy's stories were bad. Actually, they were pretty fantastic and made incredible contributions to the Super-mythology.

What I AM saying, though, is this: 1) Superboy is really not essential to the story of Superman, at least not as essential as the other things brought up in that webpage of writers submissions; 2) future incarnations of the Superman story ought not to have a Superboy, because really, if you give some thought, the idea (at least presented in the form it took) doesn't make sense.

Quote from: "Johnny Nevada"
Seeing Clark learning to use his powers as a youth and developing the training that would make him the world's greatest hero as an adult is interesting to me (vs. seeing an adult Superman fumbling about for the first time...).


Quote from: "Jor-L"
I really like the idea of watching Superman in his early years begin to master the disguise and the superheroics. Watching a boy do that just isn't as interesting or inspiring to me. (In addition, after over 10 years of the character's existence, I finally like Conner Kent / Kon-El.)


I'm gonna have to agree with Johnny Nevada and disagree with Jor-L here. Superman is supposed to be an effective superhero. He's the very definition of competence. It is for this reason that Superman's battles against Luthor after the reboot don't really work: because by the very nature of reboot Luthor's concept, in order to keep him an effective villain, Superman can never achieve a total victory. Superman isn't supposed to be like Ralph, the Greatest American Hero, who lost the instruction book to his super-suit. Likewise, for better or for worse, Superman is not Spider-Man either, who loses as often as he wins.

The moment Superman first shows up ought to be the moment that he is all ready to be a superhero and the training wheels come off. The "he sees this for the first time" phenomenon, which is the kind of story people point to in order to defend the concept of Superboy, is inherently dull, because it isn't showing us anything that we haven't seen before. We already know Superman's powers and their full extent, so having him discover a new one that he can do isn't terribly shocking or interesting. We already know his powers, we already know what's going to happen to him. Telling a new version of a "story we already know," like how Kal-El became Superman, is one of the reasons ALL-STAR BATMAN was so dreadful: it showed us the origin of Robin, a story told approximately 14.7 billion times before.

One problem I have with the Silver Age Superboy, is that his characterization was interchangeable with the adult Superman; the fact that he was a kid was not used as it ought to make Superboy a different person. This type of "Superboy learns how to handle his powers and learn to be a hero" story that is pointed to as justification for Superboy's existence was never done.

Quote from: "Johnny Nevada"
seeing it set around 15 years or so behind whatever the then-current year was... nostalgia, and whatnot.


The problem with this is, in order to make Superboy stories nostalgic and rural with the amber waves of grain and all that, the whole "Americana" look that was achieved in the SUPERMAN movie, you have to fix the stories in a single specific point in time.  This doesn't work for comic books, which operate on a sliding timescale. That is, the Fantastic Four made their famous flight "ten years ago," not "in 1963." Superboy was at first, set in the 1930s, then suddenly, they were in the 1960s. Put the Superboy stories in a specific period, pretty soon Superman will start getting pretty old. This might be an interesting decision to make, but it isn't how they choose to handle these kinds of characters.

It MIGHT be possible to create a vague "rural past" without getting into time-centered details, sort of like how the Batman Animated Series was not set in any specific time point.

Quote from: "Permanus"
Even if nobody did make the connection, the fact that Superman started showing up in Metropolis a few years later, when Clark Kent moved there, should have set some alarm bells ringing. Superboy just blows the whole secret out of the water.


The Superboy stories have many logic holes, but I don't think this is one of them. Pete Ross and Lana Lang move to Metropolis as adults; that doesn't make them Superman. People from rural areas move to big cities.

Quote from: "Permanus"
I always hated stories in which kids brought down spy rings and foiled robberies as a boy (and that goes for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Famous Five and all o' yez), and Superboy was no exception. I didn't want to read stories about kids fighting crime and I still don't. When I read about children, I want Swallows and Amazons or Kenneth Grahame. I want Christopher Robin, not Robin the Boy Wonder.


God, I hate those stories. The ones where some random kid jumps on his skateboard and saves the city from Godzilla.

I loved POWER PACK, but the stories there were achieved BECAUSE the characters were kids, not in spite of the fact they were kids. As opposed to something like STAR WARS: EPISODE I, where we are asked to swallow that a ten year old kid can win the space version of the Indianapolis 5000, and nobody at any level, even Jabba the Hutt (or his insurance broker), points out that it's fairly insane to have any sporting event where a ten year old is allowed to participate with adults, let alone one that has a body count.

Although Superboy might be interesting if they choose to make use of the fact Superboy's a teenage boy, and so his thinking is very different than the adult Superman: decent and incorruptible, but more hormonal, more emotional, less savvy.

Quote from: "TELLE"
Not to mention Pete Ross, Lex losing his hair, Bizarro, etc etc. (Or TV's Smallville, for what it's worth). Superboy is as essential to classic Superman as Clark Kent.

As an intellectual exercise, Superman can always be whittled down to one or 2 core concepts. But he's just not SUPERMAN without the accumulated shell of 50+ years of history. Including Superboy.


Telle...telling ME about the value of continuity? My Irony-O-Meter just exploded.

You're right, of course, that Superboy's role in Superman's history is great indeed. Consider, though: are these things contingent on Superman being a BOY? Could these stories, and the elements they introduced, have been told with Superman as an adult? The only one that I can think of that could not be, off the top of my head, is the Legion of Super-Heroes: those hep cats that make the universe safe for malt shops and hand holding wouldn't invite an over-aged square like Superman in. But apart from the Legion, Krypto could be introduced to an adult Superman just fine; Lex and Superman could be foes as adults, Lana could become a rival of Lois as an adult (and she DID, by the way) and so on. The decision to have these other things happen when Superman is a boy is an arbitrary one.

Quote from: "TELLE"
Perhaps because of this, I wonder if Smallville doesn't function along the same lines as Man-Thing's Everglades: a sort of DC-style Nexus of All Realities.


Interesting point. If a rationale could be created as for why Smallville is so "busy," the constant stream of diamond smugglers and scientific laboratories and mafia squealers wouldn't create disbelief. People whine about the Kryptonite stories that were used over and over in the first season of Smallville, but I personally had no problem with them because the presence of Kryptonite provided a rationale for why weird things happen in what is essentially a boring town. When they started getting away from Kryptonite stories, suddenly the Smallville concept was stretched: in this tiny town, there was kryptonite, oh, AND witches, AND Native American ruins...
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