Superboy appeared in the final moments of Titans's season finale, setting the stage for a season two that will, necessarily, move in a bigger and more metahuman direction than the relatively grounded first season.
Appearing out of seemingly nowhere at Cadmus Labs, this Superboy is not the original "Superman when he was a boy," but version of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superboy, known later as Kon-El or Conner Kent.
That character, who did not have a secret identity at first and simply went by Superboy, first appeared in The Adventures of Superman #500 and was created by Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett.
He has been reinvented a few times, notably in Superboy #1 (2011), although that was technically not Conner but...well, we won't get into it. Let's just say that the origin was similar enough that we are going to count it, and that sometimes comics are weird.
We also recently saw a version of his origin story in the animated feature film the Death of Superman, so we are going to look at that, too.
The Adventures of Superman #500
After the death of Superman, the hero was resurrected in The Adventures of Superman #500. The issue kicked of "The Reign of the Supermen," and introduced four new "Supermen" who would step up and claim to be the resurrected Kryptonian. One of those stories was Superboy's origin.
In that story, Cadmus Laboratories -- a genetic-engineering group with a long history in the Superman comics -- is buzzing with activity. Their in-house superhero Guardian is leading a group of armed guards to one of the labs, where "Experiment 13" has set off one of the alarms. Cadmus Director Paul Westfield is evasive about exactly what Experiment 13 is, but when Guardian gets into the room, he finds a glass tube, which runs from the floor to the ceiling of the high-tech room. The front of the tube is shattered and hanging from a shard of glass is what looks like a piece of Superman's cape.
The Newsboy Legion, a group of young, street-level heroes who were in fact clones of the original Newsboys (a group of scientists who co-founded Cadmus), had helped Experiment 13 break out. According to a scientist who had been tied to the ceiling using metal pipes, 13 had begun fighting the "input stream" like a "man possessed" and fled the building, with help from the Newsboys.
Outside, the Newsboys are helping 13 escape. The figure is also a young, male character, but seen only in shadow at first. He is wearing blue tights, and one of the Newsboys offers him a leather jacket to help him be less conspicuous until he can get some clothes. When they start to say "good luck, Superboy," he spins on them and demands "don't ever call me Superboy," at which point we see that Experiment 13 is indeed wearing a modified version of a Superman costume, albeit without the cape, and has a then-popular haircut along with an earring.
Along the way, Superboy aided their escape by punching a massive sewer grate out of their way -- and one of the Newsboys commented that a blow with enough force to knock it free should also have left it twisted and misshapen, but Superboy's punch did not. This would later be viewed as teasing Superboy's tactile telekinesis, a power Superman does not have, but which Superboy could use to approximate some of Superman's powers, such as flight and super-strength.prevnext
In Young Justice, Cadmus was on fire, and the Justice League was unable to respond due to a larger call to action. After being told to remain at the Hall of Justice and wait for instructions, sidekicks Kid Flash, Robin, and Aqualad opted instead to respond to the Cadmus fire.
Once inside Cadmus, the team discovered a secret subterranean lab where the group was cloning various different kinds of monsters. There, they found “Project Kr,” where Cadmus was trying to clone Superman. As in his first comics appearance, Superboy was out of the tubes as a teenager, this time wearing a plain white unitard rather than a blue costume, but still with a Superman shield on its chest.
After squaring off with Dubbilex — a genetically-engineered being who played a significant role in the ‘90s Superman comics and most of the post-Crisis Cadmus stories — the team stood in for the Newsboy Legion and helped Superboy escape. Here, rather than breaking out, he is set free — and helps the team fight their way through the Cadmus monster squad after a brief bout with the team.prevnext
Superboy #1 (2011)
The 2011 reboot changed a lot about Superboy's origins, in part because after the launch of "The New 52," it was not entirely clear whether "The Death of Superman" was still something that canonically happened in the DC Universe. This meant that characters like Steel, the Cyborg Superman, and Superboy -- whose origins were tied to that event -- had to be radically re-envisioned.
In his first issue, Superboy -- here, mostly naked and bald -- is seen escaping from a laboratory as one of the agents deems his cloning process a failure and readies to press a button that would essentially abort the cloning process, killing him. His tactile telekinesis seems to be introduced as Superboy cannot stop himself from destroying things all over the lab even as he is still struggling to escape his tube.
The baldness could be written off as "because he is genetically-engineered and has not yet had time to grow hair," or it could be seen as the byproduct of a retcon made during Geoff Johns's run on Teen Titans -- which turned out to be the dominant force behind not only Young Justice, but much of the Titans TV series as well. There, Superboy is not (as he was originally) a clone using Superman's powers and Cadmus director Paul Westfield's DNA. Instead, Westfield's DNA had been swapped out with Lex Luthor's at some point in the process, creating a duality that Superboy constantly struggled with.
A full origin is not presented at first, in part because the creative team wanted to play with the X-Files-style possibilities of a super-being created by a super-secret government organization...especially in the post-Flashpoint DC Universe, where paranoia about aliens and super-heroes was pervasive and even Superman himself was not universally embraced.
In a twist on the Young Justice origin, Superboy is being subtly controlled once he is in the outside world, monitored and manipulated even after he believes himself to be free of the Project's influence. Their plan? to use him to hunt down and stop the Teen Titans.prevnext
'The Death of Superman'
The first time "The Death of Superman" and its follow-ups, "Funeral For a Friend" and "Reign of the Supermen," were adapted into animated form, it happened as a single movie, and featured very little of anything from "Funeral For a Friend" or "Reign of the Supermen," including no "new Supermen."
Last year, The Death of Superman was released as a stand-alone animated movie, with Reign of the Supermen coming later this month as a direct sequel.
As the credits rolled on The Death of Superman, fans got brief glimpses at the devlopment of each of the four Supermen, including a brief look at Superboy's origin.
In it, an empty or abandoned lab is in disarray when an individual, seen from a distance and from behind, walks away from a broken and flaming containment tube laid into the wall. The individual is wearing a red-and-black suit very much like what the New 52 Superboy would eventually wear as a costume (although footage from Reign of the Supermen suggests that he will not use that as his costume in the movie), and grabs a leather jacket off a nearby hook.prevnext
An alarm is blaring and a message is blinking on a monitor the Subject 13 is compromised.
Walking through a room of seemingly dead bodies, a naked figure, bathed in shadow, approaches one man who is crawling away in a panic and grabs him by the throat as the scientist begs for his life.
We do not see whether Superboy did or did not spare the man, only that he walks through a giant, metal door and finds himself a white dog with red dots in his eyes, seemingly indicating that the dog has heat vision.prevnext
Up top: it is possible -- in fact, likely -- that we missed one or two of the post-Crisis Superboy's origin stories here. We're sorry about that, but these seemed like the most significant, most cited, and most likely to influence Titans down the line.
Okay, so some observations.
First thing's first, since it got a lot of attention when it debuted on the show: Krypto's inclusion here is unique to Titans, although Young Justice features a giant, white wolf who is Superboy's pet and whose name they briefly entertained as "Krypto." The wolf was not part of Cadmus or Superboy's origin, though, and was instead freed from Monsieur Mallah and the Brain at a later point. It is hardly surprising that a show with so much input from Geoff Johns is using Krypto, since for many readers the platonic ideal of Superboy -- Conner Kent/Kon-El -- is the version that appeared in Johns's Titans books and after, where he was living in Smallville and had a secret identity and a dog.
The idea of keeping the figure bathed in shadow or otherwise unseen is consistent throughout his original origin in Adventures of Superman, as well as Reign of the Supermen. He appears, here, to have hair (although the figure was so heavily in shadows that he could have had either hair or some kind of skintight undergarment and we might have missed it).
The Titans version seems to owe to Superboy (2011) and Young Justice in that he immediately lashes out at his captors (or at least the first people he meets), and as in Superboy, he seems to have some kind of rudimentary understanding of the Project, since he apparently knows that there is a dog and either where to look for it or at least to ask someone for directions.0comments
The imagery -- notably the solitary tube, its placement in the room, etc. -- is right out of Adventures #500, and having him be Subject 13 is a callback to the same. There is, however, no evidence that Superman is dead at this stage, since he was referenced offhand a couple of times in the Titans finale and nobody commented on his death or what it means to the world.
Given the complex, mysterious backstories Titans gave nearly every character in the first season, it seems likely that much will be borrowed from Superboy 2011, along with the idea of Superboy being pursued (since there are a bunch of dead people left in his wake).prev