Sunday, October 18, 2015

Whatever Happened To The Boy of Yesterday?

A Eulogy by Kyle Benning
To fully understand The Death of Superboy story, one has to keep in mind the paradox that the Legion was wallowing in following Crisis.

As seen in the first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes, which was covered via our round-table discussion here, Superboy was an integral part of the formation of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The young group of 30th Century super heroes and heroines were inspired by the actions of Superman as a teenager, and they often recruited him for their adventures in the far flung future.
When Crisis rolled around, the Legion was relatively untouched by any sort of continuity change or reboot, as the Legion title was one of DC’s best-selling books in the 1980s, so DC didn’t want to mess with it. Which posed a problem: how do you keep the Legion unchanged, when you give Superman a complete overhaul, and remove his adventures as a boy from his history? Answer: create a pocket universe, with a Superboy that for all intents and purposes is essentially the Pre-Crisis Earth-1 Superboy character. (It’s good to see that DC learned from this little continuity dilemma they had on their hands, and never ever again kept a high selling book unchanged when they retconned the rest of their universe on a ground zero company-wide reboot. *Cough* New 52 Batman, Green Lantern, and you guessed it, Legion *Cough*)

So anyways, DC created a Pocket Universe to solve this conundrum; of course this was the product of the ever-devious Time Trapper in order to keep this history intact. So all of the Silver Age exploits of the Legion starring Superboy still happened, but it was retconned to be the Pocket Universe Superboy. As mentioned before, Superboy of this Pocket Universe represented the Silver Age Earth-1 Superboy, with one slight change: in this Pocket Universe; the only 2 planets that had inhabitants were Earth and Krypton. So no Martian Manhunter or J’emm Son of Saturn here in the Pocket Universe.
Keeping that context in mind, I enjoy this story; it’s a bit of a bittersweet story for me that I’ve grown to appreciate more over the years. The Post-Crisis or “Byrne” era of Superman is really “my” era of Superman, or the interpretation I glom onto the most. It really brought the comic book version of Superman in-line with the take on Superman from Superman the Movie, which in turn was in my opinion, a modernized take on the original Golden Age origins of Superman. In addition to using the Golden Age Superman as the foundation, it modernized Superman and made his supporting cast of characters more important and involved. One aspect of that was keeping the Kents alive to mentor their son well into adulthood. This is a  take I’ve always really enjoyed, especially with how it was explored in the Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman TV show, which was a Sunday night staple in the Benning household when I was growing up. This was a dynamic directly lifted from the Superboy comic series, where Ma and Pa Kent constantly guided a teenage Clark on the right course of action to take when Superboy met with trouble.
But despite my fondness for this era, and the changes that it represents to the Superman mythos, it’s also sad to see Superboy go. Another comic series I’ve always had a fondness for was the early 1980s series, The New Adventures of Superboy. I absolutely love that run. It’s a good old fashioned, fun, all-ages super-hero comic. And sadly, there wasn’t much room for a book like that, or a character like Superboy, in the ever-darkening, more serious Post-Crisis DCU. There was no longer room for stories where Superboy was imprisoned on a manufactured planet built in tribute to him, for example (see Adventure Comics #267).
And while it was sad to see him go, at least he did in fact get a proper send off. This story offers one last chance to say good-bye to a character that had been around for 43 years (Superboy’s first appearance was in More Fun Comics #101, released in November 1944). After being the unwitting pawn of the Time Trapper (which is pretty much in-line with how naïve Superboy was in the bulk of his Silver Age adventures), in the end he stands heroically alongside his fellow Legionnaires, and sacrifices himself to save the Pocket Universe and aid his 30th Century friends in safely returning home to their future. He dies a hero, worthy of his name, Superboy.
I may be in the minority here, but I think his send off as a true hero, is a much better send-off for the Boy of Steel than Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” which in my opinion completely misses the mark and is a very poor send farewell to the Silver Age Superman of Earth-One, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The biggest, lasting take away from this story is that it marked the final nail in the coffin for any ties to the pre-Crisis take on Superman. Supergirl had died in Crisis on Infinite Earths and was kept that way in the post-Crisis reboot. Power Girl, who was essentially the Earth-2 counterpart to Supergirl, saw her Kryptonian origin wiped away in favor of being the descendent of Arion, Lord of Atlantis. Superman was quickly becoming the only survivor of the Planet Krypton, just as he was when he was created in 1938. With the death of Superboy, the only other Kryptonians in existence were the big three Phantom Zone criminals (also now hailing from this Pocket Universe), and come Superman #20 just 12 months later, they too would be removed from the Post-Crisis DCU.
This story gives us closure, sending Superboy off as a hero. It closes the chapter on Superman’s adventures as boy…at least until Infinite Crisis and Superman: Secret Origin hit the reset button in the mid-2000s. But for now, let's let Superboy rest in peace.

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