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Reign of the Superboys: The Strange History of the Boy of Steel

Reign of the Superboys: The Strange History of the Boy of...

By Meg Downey Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Chances are, if you know anything about Superman, you probably know a little something about Superboy, too. The naming convention is pretty easy to follow and Jon Kent, the current Superboy, has been a pretty prominent character in the DC Universe as of late. But even if you're not totally up to date on your post-DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH storylines, it's really not too tricky to connect the dots: If you see a kid or a teenage boy wearing the Superman symbol, you're probably going to think, "Oh, there's Superboy."

But the truth is Jon is only the most recent in a long line of Superboys, most of which have stories that are a little bit more off-the-wall than being the literal son of Clark and Lois. Like so many things in the Man of Steel's long history, the Superboy legacy is fraught with the weird, the wonderful and the confusing. But don't worry, we're here to break it all down for you.

The first tricky thing about Superboy's history is actually the first tricky thing about introducing any Kryptonian character into the DCU. One of major tenants of Kal-El's origin story is that he's the last son of Krypton, right? So how do you explain a Kryptonian teenager showing up on Earth sometime down the line? This is a problem that plagued Superman stories for years and years, especially in the 1950s and ’60s when the concept of superhero "families" started really taking off.

The answer to this conundrum? Why, time travel, alternate realities and "imaginary stories," of course! The original Superboy was literally just Clark as a teenager, living and working as a superhero in Smallville, no matter how much it may have contradicted the idea that Superman himself was the world's first superhero when he arrived in Metropolis. You have to remember that these stories, especially in the Golden and Silver Ages, really predated the idea of continuity and shared universes. To that end, it wasn't really a problem that one ongoing comic seemed to feature Clark and a slew of the Superman supporting cast as teenagers while another continued to tell stories about them as adults.

Superboy stories were actually pretty popular, and despite their somewhat questionable place in the actual canon of Super-mythology, they introduced some longstanding elements of Clark's history into the mix. Krypto the Superdog, the Legion of the Super-Heroes, even Lana Lang, all got their start in Superboy stories.

However, when comics started to pivot away from the free-for-all, imaginary story model, things got a little tricky to reconcile. It was hard to make room for a world where Clark Kent was a superpowered teen as well as a superpowered adult when both timelines seemed to be in direct opposition to one another, and though some parts of it were kept for good, the majority of Teen Clark was (temporarily) erased from continuity with CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. He'd later come back into the fold (...sort of) with the name Superboy-Prime.

But young Clark was far from the end of the Superboy legacy. In the ’90s, following Clark's death in THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN, an all-new Superboy—er, excuse me, Metropolis Kid—came into the mix who was a clone of the original Superman. Later still, that clone was given an updated origin to become Kon-El, or Connor Kent, the Superboy who reigned supreme all throughout the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Connor's revised origin story kept the "clone" part, but added in one important twist: The DNA used to create him came from both Superman and Lex Luthor, making him the ultimate fusion of good and evil (and primed for an identity crisis of epic proportions). Connor got his foothold in the DCU by joining Young Justice and later the Teen Titans with his close friends Bart Allen and Tim Drake, where he stayed for the majority of his time in the spotlight.

Freed and independent from the confusing quantum tangle of time travel and Silver Age shenanigans, it was Connor who really started to solidify the concept for modern audiences. The idea that Superboy was actually an independent entity and not a young version of Clark displaced in time became standard operating procedure—at least until Connor and Superboy-Prime literally collided with one another in INFINITE CRISIS.

Suffice it to say, the fight wasn't pretty and didn't end well for either of them. But, as far as narratives go, you've got to admit that having the old and new duke it out in the middle of a Crisis-level event is pretty perfect in terms of symbolism.

Years later, the Superboy mantle changed hands yet again, this time falling to Clark and Lois's son, Jon, who holds it to this day. Jon's pretty radically different from his predecessors, of course. There's the obvious element of actually being Superman's son, but he's also the first Superboy to really act as Clark's official sidekick.

It's not that both young Clark and Connor didn't spend some time fighting side-by-side, or training under Big Blue, but neither of them really entered the role the way Jon has. As the youngest of the bunch, Jon's story is less about trying to establish himself as a hero outright and more about figuring out where he belongs in the world, learning his powers and getting through school—something that can be a little tricky when your dad is the greatest superhero to ever live.

You can keep up with Jon's adventures, and keep tabs on all the latest Superboy developments in SUPER SONS, SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS. And if history is any indication expect things to continue being a pretty wild ride.
 

ACTION COMICS #1000 featuring art and stories by Brian Michael Bendis, John Cassaday, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, Tom King, Jim Lee, Scott Snyder and more is now available in print and as a digital download.

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