Comics / DC Comics History

DC Comics History: Superboy (1964 - 1967: The New Look)


By Deejay Dayton
December 14, 2019 - 08:47

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By the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look Superboy had been nudged out of his spot in Adventure Comics, but still appeared there regularly as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. His solo tales continued in the pages of Superboy, but often were re-tellings of earlier stories, when not outright reprints. The Legion’s influence could be seen in this book as well, with Lana Lang becoming Insect Queen, and the introduction of Kid Psycho. Even Krypto was not immune from its effects, as he joined the Space Canine Patrol, an all-dog version of the Legion.

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I’m opening this article with a representative story, rather than one of the “special” ones, just because I really like the cover, as Superboy winds up spitting atomic fire in issue 115. Superboy helps out on an experiment which goes horribly wrong, giving him an internal atomic explosion.  This takes place in his stomach, but somehow affects his lungs, so that when he breathes, exceptionally destructive flames shoot out of his mouth. This prevents Superboy from being able to talk, and the story veers into being about Lana Lang trying to prove Clark is Superboy., because neither is speaking.  Clark uses some super-ventriloquism to decoy Lana. The only part of this tale I really like is the resolution, in which Superboy finds a planet of people who breathe fire.  Superboy rescues one from lava, and in resuscitating him, uses up the atomic force inside of him, returning his breath to normal.

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Superboy’s father Jor-El arrives on Earth in Superboy 121, making a surprise guest shot. The story gives Superboy a chance to interact with his father at a time when Jor-El was the same age as Clark. Jor-El is experimenting with a "time-stretch globe" which winds up transporting him to Earth in what would be his future.  Superboy takes a remarkably long time to realize this Kryptonian lad is actually his father, and then does all he can to conceal his identity from him, as well as the knowledge of Krypton's destruction.  Together they stop Luthor from destroying the town with an earthquake gun.  Jor-El uses a "reform ray" on Lex, meant to alter his personality permanently, but that obviously doesn't take. There is an odd sequence, as Superboy shows off the Phantom Zone, and Jor-El winds up getting trapped in it, until Superboy recruits Luthor to free him.  You'd think, if he really didn't want his father to know about Krypton's destruction, he wouldn't have sent him into the Zone to converse with all the other Kryptonians.  In the end, he does tell Jor-El about Krypton, and sends him back with a piece of red kryptonite, in case that might somehow help prevent the planet's destruction.  But he goofs, and sends amnesium instead, causing Jor-El to forget the trip entirely.

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Superboy 117 seems to feature the Legion of Super-Heroes, but it actually does not. Superboy gets hit by the blast of a super nova while in space, but manages to return to Earth.  He runs into the Legion of Super-Heroes, but Brainiac 5, Invisible Kid, Ultra Boy, Element Lad and Chameleon Boy are all acting very strangely, nasty and scheming. The Legion members come to Clark's classroom, and show off their abilities and knowledge of the future.  But then Ultra Boy exposes Clark as Superboy in front of the class. At this point, Superboy realizes that the town sign read Smallvile, not Smallville, and that the Legion did not salute their flag.  He figures out that he was transported to an alternate dimension by the force of the blast, one in which the Legion is evil.  He does protect and cover the identity of the Superboy/Clark Kent from that world, and aids the other hero in capturing the evil Legion members. Not a great story, but always included in the Legion canon (despite not having any actual Legion members in it), so I felt I had to include it.

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Kid Psycho makes his debut, and the Legion of Super-Heroes do guest star for real, in the cover story for Superboy 125. The mysterious Kid Psycho arrives in Smallville, showing off his telekinetic powers to Superboy, which allow him not only to move things by his mind, but also to create force fields that even the hero cannot penetrate. Kid Psycho explains that he is from the future, and was rejected for membership in the Legion.  He has come to prove himself to Superboy, in hopes of having him convince the Legion to let him join.  Kid Psycho relates his origin, of how his astronaut parents absorbed the energy of a space beast, which wound up giving their child powers. Kid Psycho's planet was destroyed, and he is all alone in the universe, desperately needing the Legion, so that he feels he is part of something.

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Superboy and Kid Psycho head to the Legion headquarters, and we see Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy and Sun Boy.  Saturn Girl explains that every time Kid Psycho uses his powers it shortens his life, which is why they rejected him.  At Superboy's request, they make him their "secret weapon," later altered to honourary membership.  The final panel is really quite pathetic, as Superboy comments that Kid Psycho is happy knowing that maybe some day the Legion might call on him. This poor kid just has no self-esteem.  And though he makes a few cameos over the years, there never really does come a time when the Legion needs to call on him.

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Lana Lang would become an honourary member of the Legion of Super-Heroes as well, in an identity she adopts in Superboy 124. Lana rescues a bug like alien whose ship has crashed on Earth, and in return is given a biogenetic ring, which enables her to take on the body parts or attributes of various insects.  She determines that she can only use each ability or transformation once, but at first uses them just for her own self-interest.  It takes a while before she decides to adopt a costumed identity and begin crime fighting. For a couple of pages, the story turns into a twist on the usual identity tale, as Superboy tries to figure out who Insect Queen is. 

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Apparently there are a lot of teenage red headed girls with that exact hairstyle in Smallville.  Lana also tries to use her powers to prove that Clark is really Superboy, but he manages to evade her trap. The only thing I really do not like about this story is the ending, in which Lana runs out of ideas for insect powers, and hangs up her costume.  You've got a ring that will give you an almost unlimited range of powers!  Open a damn entomology book, Lana!

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Insect Queen returns and falls under the spell of Bee Boy in Superboy 127. Lana Lang accompanies her father on an African expedition, and brings her Insect Queen ring with her.  She winds up using it to dig out a buried temple to aid her father.  This infuriates the natives, and the guide who brought the Langs out gets attacked and seriously injured. Lana brings the boy to a scientist, an entomologist, who saves the boys life by turning him into a human bee.  Probably should have let him die.  Bee Boy feels much the same way, and Lana spends much of this story trying all she can to cheer him up, showing off her insect abilities and encouraging him to do the same. Lana spends so much time in various insect forms that it begins to control her mind, and she start losing her sense of being human.  Although I don't particularly care of Bee Boy, I find watching Lana's actions, meant benevolently, but destroying her, quite effective for the story.  This is likely her most selfless and heroic tale. Bee Boy tries to kill himself by stinging Superboy.  Superboy avoids this, and also gets Lana to come back to who she is, after she loses all sense of herself.  Although Superboy promises Bee Boy that he will find a cure for him, and brings Lana back to the US, we never see Bee Boy again.  So I imagine that the poor guy does finally succeed in killing himself.

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Superboy 118 sees the introduction of new group of Kandorians who will return in various Superman books during this period. A mysterious boy shows up in Smallville, announcing to Pa Kent that he knows Clark is really Superboy.  The boy blackmails the Kents into taking him in and giving him a home and a job.  Superboy tries to hypnotize the boy, Varn, into forgetting what he knows, but this fails. The story gets even stranger when Varn unmasks, revealing that he looks exactly like Superboy.  He then brings Superboy to the future (our present), and Superman's Fortress of Solitude. There we discover that Varn is a Kandorian, and part of the Look-Alike Squad, made up of Kandorians who are identical to Superman and his friends.  It's not entirely clear if the one who looks like Lois Lane is a Kandorian, or Sylvia, the human woman who looks like Lois but now lives in Kandor.  The whole purpose of this was to give Superboy a memorable adventure, which they then erase from his mind with an amnesia machine.  Because.  Just because.  Let's move along.
As far as villains for this era, Superboy would face off a couple of times against the Superboy Revenge Squad and Mr Mxyzptlk, while Lex Luthor would make a half dozen appearances, with some creative variations later in the period.

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Superboy 114 has an overly complex, but still rewarding, story which features the Superboy Revenge Squad. In this story, they use red kryptonite to give Superboy horrible nightmares, in which he brings doom and destruction to those he cares about.  Upon waking, the dreams start to come true. Superboy dreams of killing Lana Lang, releasing the Phantom Zone prisoners to run wild, and even destroying the Earth.  After this final dream, he decides he must exile himself from the planet to prevent it coming true. But as Superboy prepares to leave, he notices the calendar.  It's three days earlier than it ought to have been.  Superboy realizes that he was not actually waking from his dreams as he believed, that he was having dreams within dreams, and nothing that he thought was really happening actually was. Quite complicated, but worth it.

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The Superboy Revenge Squad return in issue 118. The Revenge Squad have gathered three pieces of red kryptonite, which they intend to use on Superboy and Krypto until they find a really good one.  They seem to luck out with the first piece, which turns the two against each other, and they begin to fight to the death.  Superboy winds up trapping Krypto in a ring of kryptonite, and the Revenge Squad are so pleased with the result that they throw away the other pieces. Then Superboy reveals that the red kryptonite they used had no effect at all, it must have been a piece they were already exposed to.  But Superboy communicated his plans to Krypto with super-blinking, and they faked their battle, and Krypto's death.

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To prevent Superboy from tricking him into saying his name backwards, Mxyzptlk changes his name to the palindromic Mxypyxm in Superboy 120.   He then starts making the wishes of everyone in Smallville come true - most of which involve money or gold or gems.  Worried that this will destroy the economy, Superboy uses amnesium on the imp, causing him to forget that he had changed his name, which makes his old name his new one, and allowing Superboy to trick him as usual.

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In Superboy 115 a Phantom Zone criminal wants to go back to the Zone. Dak-El claims to have been accidentally released by a volcanic explosion, and explains how he was sent to the Zone after some experiments in suspended animation that turned Kryptonians to stone, and was unable to restore them.  He insists that Superboy use his Phantom Zone projector to send him back, so that he can serve out the remainder of his sentence. But Dak-El is really Lex Luthor, who has a rare gem that can enhance the telepathic abilities of those in the Phantom Zone.  His plan is to enter the Phantom Zone, then use the gem to escape it, with the other Phantom Zone prisoners following.  I'm not clear on why Luthor feels he needs to be sent into the Zone at all, just so that he can escape, but obviously it makes sense to him. But it was a lame scheme right from the get go.  Although claiming to be Kryptonian, as Dak-El he had used the letter D on his costume, rather than a Kryptonian letter.  So Superboy knew all along he was a fake, and he destroys the gem.

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An intriguing cover for Superboy 120, but the story is a disappointment. Superboy gets abruptly brought to the distant future by a museum owner from the 35th century.  he learns about the future of his world, and himself.  The museum owner is involved in a competition with a descendant of Lex Luthor. It's Luthor's descendant who convinces Superboy that, as Superman, he will become a criminal.  But Luthor has, in reality, created a device that manifests illusions, and the supposed museum display of the criminal Superman is just that.  Sueprboy returns to his own time, and almost reveals this all to Lex, but then figures out what had happened.  Then his memories of the entire experience go away.  I wish mine did.

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Suprboy 131 brings together Luthor and Mr. Mxyzptlk. Without thhe imp's knowledge or consent, Lex Luthor builds a machine that siphons off his 5th Dimensional powers, and gives these to Lex.  Mxyzptlk is not happy about this, but pleased that Lex has no experience wielding the energies, and thus not very good at it. Superboy manages to trick the imp into saying his name backwards, and gets rid of him, but the same thing does not work on Luthor.  That makes total sense.  Luthor is in his home dimension, why would it work? I'm not too keen on the resolution to the tale either.  Lex built his machine with aid from a computer, which communicated in a numeric code.  So to erase Luthor's powers, Superboy has to get Lex to say the numeric code of his name backwards.  That makes even less sense.

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As Superboy 135 begins, Superboy has already been defeated by the Mechano-Master a few times.  A mysterious masked criminal, the Mechano-Master is in possession of a variety of super-weapons, as well as a flying fortress that Superboy cannot penetrate. The Mechano-Master has been publicly humiliating Superboy, to the dismay of the people of Smallville.  Pete Ross gets a small role, discovering that Superboy has allowed this to happen because the Mechano-Master has hidden a bomb in Smallville, and threatens to blow up the town and all its people unless Superboy goes through with the humiliation. Eventually Superboy does get the better of the villain, and unmasks him, discovering an adult Lex Luthor. 

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Luthor had broken in to Superman's Fortress of Solitude, and had been attempting to send it back in time, to when Earth's sun was red (which would be an event in the future, not the past, but whatever).  The scheme messed up (probably because it was wrong in the first place) and sent both Luthor and the Fortress back in time.  Luthor has been using weapons from the Fortress against Superboy.  Superboy tosses Lex and the the Fortress back through the time stream to the present, after using amnesium on both of them, so neither will remember what they had learned from the Fortress.

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In quite a change of pace, the tale in Superboy 139 is set entirely in the days before Luthor lost his hair and became evil, when he and the Kryptonian hero were still good friends.  Luthor is working on a kryptonite cure, using a substance called Gas X.  In a scene that somewhat parallels the sequence in which Luthor does lose his hair, the experiment goes wrong, releasing a cloud of gas, which Superboy blows away, saving his friend. Then, for the bulk of the tale, weird monsters keep popping up in Smallville, which Superboy battles.  The town comes to believe that Superboy is responsible for these creatures, and turns against him. But at the end, Luthor reveals that it was Gas X that caused these monsters to appear, whenever Superboy used his vision powers.  In reality, they are simply microbes that have grown to giant size.  Superboy gets rid of the remaining Gas X in the atmosphere, and all is well. So unusual to have a story where Luthor is not a villain.

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Speaking of villains who act to help, Superboy 121 sees Superboy come back to Earth from a mission in space, only to discover his powers are gone.  At first he believes this is the result of red kryptonite, but the effect lasts longer than 48 hours, and he comes to accept that his powers will never return. Clark Kent has to cope with injuries, bullies, sickness, and all manner of situations he is not used to, while sitting on the sidelines and watching his robots do all the fun stuff.  He does display some ingenuity, and helps stop a couple of crimes.  Clark also works out in order to be able to stand up to a bully, and ironically this behaviour makes Lana suspect he is Superboy, although this time he has the lack of invulnerability to defer that notion. Towards the end of the story, Superboy gets contacted by the Phantom Zone villains.  Professor Vakox explains that Superboy passed clouds of red and green kryptonite while in space, and the combination of the two caused his powers to vanish.  Kru-El and Jax-Ur also have small roles, but it's Vakox who Superboy releases from the Zone, in order to concoct an antidote.  Vakox tries to turn on Superboy, but he has kryptonite on hand to keep the villain at bay. Not a bad story, if only for the amount of time it spends on powerless Clark Kent, before Vakox cures him.

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There were two sort of sub-series that appeared regularly in Superboy at this time, Superbaby stories, and Krypto stories. Superbaby tales tended to be pretty repetitive, with the infant winding up with adults who were not aware of his Kryptonian nature, flabbergasted by his display of powers. I’m suing the tale from issue 124 as the example, largely for the cover. Professor Potter, a scientist who will become a semi-regular in the Superman books, makes his debut in this Untold Story.  He is at a fair, attended by Ma and Pa Kent, as well as young Clark, where he shows off a sleeping formula and a super-strength one. Superbaby gets into the action in the boxing ring, despite his parents trying to stop him.   Fortunately, the boxer took the strength serum, so he survives the super-punches Clark lays on him, and the sleep formula puts the entire crowd out, so they just think they all shared a dream about Superbaby.

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Krypto winds up having to face Mr. Mxyzptlk in Superboy 114. What a jerk to pick on a dog, even a super-dog. Krypto is none too pleased with Mxyzptlk's pranks, but also finds it very difficult to trick the imp into saying his name backwards.  Just the fact that he even tries to do this is impressive, him being a dog and all. Krypto manages to disguise himself as a 5th Dimensional dog, which Mxyzptlk thinks has gotten lost.  Reading the dog's tag, he winds up saying his own name backwards.  Superboy has no idea how clever Krypto really is.

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In Superboy 131 Krypto becomes an agent of the Space Canine Patrol, an all-dog version of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Krypto even goes undercover in this tale, wearing glasses.  Yes, a dog wearing glasses to disguise his identity.  And this is the best story in the issue.  We meet other alien dogs who are agents of this team, as well as alien criminal dogs, who wind up capturing Krypto for a bit. There is also an evil organization of alien cats.  So it's pure silliness from start to finish, but at least it doesn't try for anything more serious.  



The Space Canine Patrol return in issue 132. This story makes the team feel even more like the Legion of Super-Heroes, the way they all sit at a long table with name plates, and have their own flag. The Cat Crime Club are the villains in this story, and the Space Canine Patrol infiltrate them, with a shape changing dog.  Krypto does not fare very well against the cats, and even gets kicked out of the Space Canine Patrol after he allows the cats to steal their treasury.  But he captures the cat leader, and trades him back for the stolen funds, getting reinstated by the end of the tale.

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The final Space Canine Patrol story, from Superboy 136, begins like many Legion tales from the 60s, with potential members showing off their powers.  A Dream Girl-like character, Prophetic Pooch, foresees three events, culminating in danger for Superboy, with one hound behind the situation, and another one saving him from it. The first two events come true, so Krypto is very concerned about the third.  But actually the middle of the story is my favourite part.  As with the Legion, we see statues of fallen members of the Patrol, as the dogs deal with an invasion of giant fleas. The climax of the story takes place around the floating statues of Superboy's ancestors, which was introduced years earlier in Adventure Comics, and pops up from time to time.  Pet cats of the Phantom Zone villains are the ones who wind up attacking Superboy, removing the lead coating on the statues, revealing their kryptonite interior.  And it was Krypto who brought Superboy there, so he is the hound that lead him into trouble.  The Phanty Cats, as they are called, tow the statues and the dying Superboy to Earth, to show off the fallen hero.  The hound who saves him is a human boy who collects signatures - an autograph hound.


Superboy continues in the next period, 1967 – 1969: It’s a Happening!

Superboy 113 -140  (June 1964 – July 1967)

Next up – Robin!

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Last Updated: December 31, 2019 - 20:28

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