Friday, October 16, 2015
The Death of Superboy - What Did It All Mean?
I will be putting my review of 5YL on pause this week to discuss the topic of the week.
This week the Legion of Super-Bloggers are looking back at Legion of Super-Heroes #38: The Greatest Hero of Them All. This issue marked the death of Superboy.
If you haven't read the story yet or recently, you can find our review HERE.
The issue sports one of the most beautiful covers of any Legion books, a painted silhouette by Bill Sienkiewicz which quite nicely displays this sunset on Legion history. But that iconic pose by Superboy with the Legion surrounding him is wonderful, really showing what a central figure that Superboy was to this mythos.
Unfortunately, the Crisis happened, erasing that whole timeline, shaking Legion lore at its very foundation. I mean, if it is one thing that Legion fans love it is their history. How could we as a fandom recover? It was up to writer Paul Levitz to come up with something ... anything ... to try to smooth out this rough spot.
I don't think he succeeded.
Just as a reminder, I cut my comic teeth on the Bates/Grell Legion. I consider Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #211 my 'first' comic. I grew up on Superboy and the Legion.
But we were now years away from Legion of Super-Heroes #259, the issue where Superboy left the team. And outside of a random sighting now and then, Legion fans were pretty comfortable following this team without Superboy as the star.
It wasn't as if the post-Crisis world wasn't something of a disaster leading to some dubious reimaginations and new origins.
Power Girl became Arion's grand-daughter.
Earth-2 was gutted, forcing Roy Thomas to whip up a number of character analogs.
Wonder Woman wasn't in the JLA and wasn't even introduced yet.
Hawkman became a continuity omelet, a mess of ingredients barely held together.
So sure, the Time Trapper creating a pocket universe, snatching the pre-Crisis Earth-1 universe and tucking it away for safety's sake was a hail mary pass to explain why the Legion knew a Superboy, went back to visit him, and thought they knew history.
And Superboy, agreeing to betray the Legion so he could save this sliver of his world, was a lousy beginning to the arc.
Also, if you think about it too hard, your brain hurts.
The Legion also had history books covering all the years between this Smallville Superboy through Superman and into their current time. Did the Time Trapper doctor all those books? At some point did the new Earth history meld into the future's text books?
This whole thing seemed a bit forced. A pocket universe. A machine keeping it around. The Trapper retreating. The Trapper destroying one tiny part that is a man-sized connection, perfect for Superboy to die in. And the picture of Superboy holding the circuitry feels a little trite.
What should I say ... it isn't as bad as the disaster Hawkman became. It isn't as bad as Power Girl becoming a magic-powered gene-spliced Atlantean.
But this whole thing is such a confusing mess, creating as many continuity questions as it answers, that it simply doesn't resonate with me.
This arc led to the Supergirl Saga in the Superman books which brought a Supergirl back to the DCU. It played into the Conspiracy story in the later issues of the Legion's Baxter series. The Pocket Universe and the Trapper ended up turning up again in 5YL and played a big role in the boot/reboot/reboot of issues 4, 5, and 6.
I will be honest. I hadn't thought a lot about Superboy when this happened. We were already some time into Byrne's Superboy-free run. I knew that Superboy wasn't going to be around. And I was ready to just look past that continuity-Gordian Knot.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I had already put Superboy behind me before this fateful story came out. As a long time reader adjusting to the post-Crisis DCU, I was willing to accept a looser continuity as DC sort of settled into the new universe. The idea of the hero who inspired the Legion could have been done in any number of ways. It could be that the Legion is inspired by 'the heroes of the 20th century' or an unnamed inspiration which could have been a decent mystery. Instead, Levitz tries to hammer a Superboy back into continuity.
There must have been some easier way to explain all of this away. I have stopped trying to understand it.
I suppose, in theory, a eulogy for Superboy is a worthy story, a way to look back and honor the works of the past. But as a story 'The Death of Superboy' just doesn't work for me.