Wednesday, November 19, 2014


"Solve-It-Yourself" really sounds like they're passing the buck.

I’ve said it before and I stand by it: For your bizarre comics dollar, you can’t get a much better value than your average Silver Age Superboy story. A fine testament to this reality is the heavily reprint-laden Superboy Spectacular No.1, released in 1980 but packed with classic stories and single page cutaways like Sal Amendola’s famous Map of Krypton,” a guide to four whole different types of Kryptonite (even in 1980 they had more than that, but maybe they just weren’t obsessed with it, fella), and a cutaway of the Kent Family home where you can try to make a good guess where Superboy hid out when he wanted to go masturbate. I say it’s in his secret closet full of robot lookalikes!

Reading like "Superboy's Most Embarrassing Home Videos", the eight stories in this volume managed to include yet another instance of teenaged Clark Kent meeting teenaged Bruce Wayne, which was a thing lazy writers have had happen to the two of them about once every three or four years since they started teaming up. They couldn’t have met this often if they were the only two people with Grindr on the entire planet.

However you cut it, this is negligent parenting.
Some people have argued that the Crisis on Infinite Earths – a year-long mega-event intended to streamline DC’s then-fifty years of densely packed canon – was unnecessary. Speaking personally, when your flagship character has a secret origin for his underwear, then it’s time to wipe the slate clean and invite some new stories.

The opening tale, for instance, relates the origin of Superman’s costume – dubbed, during his Superbaby days, as his “Super-playsuit.” Yes, Superman isn’t flying around in his pajamas, he’s not flying around in his underwear – he’s flying around in the playclothes he wore as a toddler, woven from his swaddling blankets. Inspired, I have chosen to wear footie pajamas everywhere I go now.

Weirdly, considering that Superboy’s uniform is a one-of-a-kind article of clothing, and that the Boy of Steel would be fecked without it, he’s super-willing to show off exactly how “indestructible” it is – showing off to the rubes in Smallville, he dives into an open vat of acid and stands amidst a bonfire just to prove that you can’t tug on his cape – well, wait, some lions tug on his cape. Smallville has a lot of neat stuff lying around, acid, lions ...

What would he have done if the suit couldn’t stand up to this abuse, though? Trade it in for a pair of Dickies overalls? Wear Kryptonian armor? Go buck naked? Listen, they’re all dumb answers.

Unrelated to the origin of his super-suit (in brief: It’s from Krypton and doesn’t suck) one of the best parts of these old stories with Superbaby in it besides trying to parse his brain-addled babyspeak is that Ma and Pa Kent actually call him “Superbaby.” Sometimes they call him “Clark,” occasionally “Son,” but for the most part “Superbaby.” The kid mut have self-esteem oozing out of his pores.

Worrisome dreams of kryptonite bodies.
The second story introduces one of my favorite Superboy villains- the Kryptonite Kid, a juvenile delinquent from space who uses a kryptonite-irradiated body to harass the Boy of Steel. Immensely more interesting though is the Kid’s partner, KRYPTONITE DOG. If the odds of Superboy's pet dog making it to Earth from his random path through space were already long, add to it the factor of a criminal from another planet being sent into space on a deadly experimental mission where he AND THE BULLDOG THEY SENT WITH HIM fly through a kryptonite cloud and gain amazing powers and then go to Earth to fight boy-on-boy and dog-on-dog with Earth's Mightiest Teen … in the Silver Age DC Universe, it's about a two-to-one chance. Odds are even in an 80-page giant.

Kryptonite Dog (Let’s call him “Kryptonito”) possesses depths of cruelty unrealized even among Superman’s rogus gallery. At one point, merely to fuck with the Dog of Tomorrow, he maliciously lures Krypto to a giant pile of tasty bones and then, just before Krypto can sink his teeth into them, raybeams them so that they turn into kryptonite! He doesn’t start a fight with Krypto, he doesn’t try to kill him – he just basically treats him like a jackass. That’s a complex layer of malevolence for a bulldog, kryptonite or no.

The whole thing begins with Superboy and Krypto (who not only sleep in the same bed, but sleep in their uniforms, which … you know, do they ever wash these things? Superboy is a teenager, after all …) sharing the same dream. Yes, they dream of BROADWAY – or, more specifically, of Kryptonite Kid and Kryptonito murdering them. ON BROADWAY!

It ends with Superboy and Krypto getting their invulnerable tuchuses hauled out of the Kryptonite fire by Master Mxyzptlk, the teenaged version of … I dunno, Terra-Man I think? They’ve otherwise hidden it so well in their clever rubric.

Kryptonian robo-nannies shake your baby with science!
There’s nothing quite so engaging as a teenaged boy who’s already started writing his autobiography, but I suppose we can give Superboy the benefit of the doubt that it won’t include any excruciating attempts at poetry. What it does include, however, is his recollections of life on Krypton as recalled from his memory as an infant, assisted by a high-tech Kryptonian mind-reading device which resembles a desk lamp frotting with a chess lock.

“Even if my child’s mind didn’t understand all the words I heard then,” explains Superboy scoldingly to his adopted mother, “I’ll know their meaning now!” Superboy does not understand the subjective experience, pass it on.

What we learn about life on Krypton is that it was apparently little more than a series of disconnected and unconscionably stupid vignettes, punctuated by meaningless cruelty. Between encounters with the child-rearing technology of Krypton – not the least surprising is a crib with built-in child-catching net, in case baby topples over the side, which I can think of at least a half-dozen more super-scientific ways to prevent – we learn the story of Krypto’s first experience with almost dying in the vacuum of space at Jor-El’s hands.

Superboy’s evidently animal-hating father had originally used his son’s beloved pet as a test pilot for an experimental rocket, which is how Krypto managed to get to Earth in the first place. Here, we learn that Jor-El accidentally doomed Krypto to die in a space rocket on an earlier occasion too (it works out in the end). Jor-El might just get off on killing animals, frankly. No wonder the Science Council didn’t accept him at his word about the destruction of Krypton. “He’s just trying to get us into his death-rockets,” I’m sure they whispered, “The sick freak.”

Not-yet-Superbaby's mom Lara is so incensed at Jor'el's attempted canicide, she actually leaves her husband and takes baby Kal-El on a tour of the planet’s stupidest wonders. Why this gave me such inordinate pleasure, I cannot say, but on some level it seems to me that she probably should've seen the writing on the wall when Jor-El was firing every living creature he could get his hands on into space. "He might have a mean streak," I'm sure she found herself thinking on occasion.

For the record, the wonders of Krypton include a robot showcase, an undersea roller coaster, a scale-model of Smallville including robots depicting Superboy’s future foster parents buh-wha, and also a celebration of Krypton’s birthday because their scientists actually figured out what day of the week their planet was created. Good heavens, Krypton was a Young Earth Creationism society! No wonder they didn’t see it coming.

The next two stories are a little slim on content, so in brief:

Nothing gets the message across
quite like fucking a car to pieces.
Besides being the title of a very confusing porno, this story involves Superboy demonstrating in a graphic fashion why he shouldn’t be playing on the Smallville football team, despite popular request. Eloquently expressed in a wordless manner, Superboy atomizes a tackling dummy with a shoulder block as if to say “Clearly I’d murder the other players, you idiots, let me go back to fighting aliens.”

These Friday Night Lights towns, there’s just nothing more important than the ballgame, huh?

Superboy ends up on a “To Tell The Truth” style panel game. He tells the truth. Scripted by Silver Age architect Otto Binder of whom it can now fairly be said “They can’t all be winners, folks.”

Last Son of Krypton, my ass. One of Clark’s teachers turns out to be a Kryptonian criminal in disguise, Klax-Ar, who wears a gigantic “K” on his shirt and I assume is, therefore, basically Krypton’s Jughead. Even at this point, so many Kryptonians had survived the planet’s destruction that I’m pretty sure the only Kryptonians who actually perished in the blast had been tied to the planet’s surface and shot directly in the face prior to the explosion.

"Years ago, when you were a babe..."
Klax-Ar claims to be the man who actually destroyed Krypton, but it turns out he’s just a big fat liar who I guess he figured he could make those claims because who’s around to contradict him? All the other Kryptonians are dead except Superboy and he was a baby back then, they don’t even have any archived copies of Kryptonian Wikipedia lying around to fact-check! And even if they did, he probably went in and edited the entry on “Kryptonians who destroyed the planet” as well as “Kryptonian World-Destroyers Born in New Jersey” and “Fictional Characters with Talking Animal Sidekicks” because he’s incensed that Puss in Boots is considered Shrek’s sidekick; he’s his own character, dammit!

In the end, Superboy discovers Klax-Ar’s deception and also his kind-of predatory plan to abduct Superboy and suck all the super-powers out of him, which just serves as a reminder of super-stranger danger in prehistoric Smallville.

That's a magic trick, right?

"Batboy" indeed.
The only non-reprint story in this volume is of a variety of story that I’ve always hated and certainly wish would just die already, being the “Superheroes meet when the superheroes are still kids and haven’t really become superheroes yet.” If you parse from that sentence that the Smallville TV series was a bit of a drag for me, you nailed it.

In this case, young Clark Kent meets young Bruce Wayne on the site of a Little League baseball championship between the Smallville Sabertooths and the Gotham Greyhounds. Kids, that is canon, have your comical tee-shirts made up pronto.

Superboy managed to eke out a small legion of meetings with other adult superheroes during their teen years, including Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen and Aquaman, not to mention that he’d met Lois Lane, Perry White and even a baby Jimmy Olsen, and possibly also me for all I know.

In closing, though, I leave you with this: Best wishes from Superboy and his friends. You know, like Mxyzptlk, and the Kryptonite Kid who, earlier in that very issue, was trying to kill Superboy to death via the loss of his life. Here, he warmly places a hand on Pete Ross' shoulder and smiles gently. Ah, how time has tendered us all.

The murder is behind them now.


jim kosmicki said...

I am pretty certain that this was specially prepared to be sold through school "book clubs" where you ordered from a newsprint catalog. It was also the first DC book offered only to the direct market. Given the relative lack of popularity for Superboy in the fan market, I'd imagine that one market drove the decision to try the other one.

Calamity Jon said...

Yeah, there was a differently-branded version of this same comic offered through Scholastic.

Pete James (UWE) said...

"What life on Krypton was like!"

I'm guessing 'explodery'?

BillyWitchDoctor said...

Love Krypto's face on that cover. He looks baked. And now, I can't stop imagining that everywhere he flies at super-speed, Krypto just lets his tongue hang out and his invulnerable jowls flap like hummingbird wings.

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