Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - SUPERBOY's Not-So-Super Looks

Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - SUPERBOY

Just about everyone old enough to read knows about Clark Kent AKA Kal-El AKA Superman, the Last Son of Krypton. Fewer people know the deal about Superboy. Some think the name refers to Superman during his younger years and some believe it refers to a separate character created in an attempt to clone Superman. The fact is, both answers are right and there have been a few versions of the Superboy uniform over the years. There have also been a number of stories featuring a version of Superboy living in the far future or in a parallel universe and there have been evil counterparts as well. But we'll be focusing on the mainstream heroic versions of the character.

YOUNG CLARK KENT

 

Superman was introduced in 1938 in Action Comics #1. He had lived a normal human life as Clark Kent, raised by the kindly Kent couple. After his adopted parents had passed away, he moved to Metropolis and began a career as the costumed hero called Superman. In 1945, DC Comics wanted to make a new line of Superman stories geared towards younger readers. More Fun Comics #101 introduced the character of Superboy and his hometown of Smallville. The stories of Superboy were not supposed to be "Superman as a boy" but were meant to take place in a separate continuity, a parallel universe where Clark had begun his career at a younger point in life. The mainstream Superman comics made no references to Smallville and continued stating that he had not started his superhero life until he was an adult.

Even though he was not technically the same person as the mainstream/official Superman, his personality and origins were the basically the same and so he wore a costume identical to the adult Clark's traditional uniform. Some modern audiences think that this costume actually works better on the adolescent Boy of Steel than it does on his adult counterpart, as it seems just a little more ridiculous that a a man in his 20s or 30s would wear such colorful tights. During the 1940s though, this costume was actually one of the better designs. Many heroes, adult and young, wore costumes during this era that involved speedo-style shorts and bare legs or sometimes nothing at all except swim trunks and a pair of boots.

The Superboy stories had their own meaning for the famous S-shield other than it just being the hero's monogram. According to young Clark in one comic, it stood also for saving lives, stopping crime and giving super-aid whenever it was needed. Not making that up.

 

In 1951, DC altered the Man of Steel's continuity and declared that the Superboy stories were now canon. The mainstream version of Clark Kent actually HAD begun his career as a teen hero in Smallville before later moving to Metropolis and changing his alias from Superboy to Superman. Five years later in 1956, the Silver Age of superhero comics began when DC relaunched its superhero universe with all new versions of many classic characters. By 1958, it was decided that just about all Superman stories published before this year were now out of continuity unless otherwise stated. This way, Superman could be young and fresh again and his mythology was expanded as we saw that his earlier career as Superboy had been very exciting indeed, involving menaces like the imperfect clone called Bizarro and time travel adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of super-teenagers who lived in the 30th century.

In 1986, a crossover story called Crisis on Infinite Earths ended with time and space being restarted, resulting in a new history for the DC Universe. So 28 years after the previous relaunch, Superman was de-aged and had his history revised yet again. DC decided to go back to the original idea that Clark did not begin any kind of costumed career until he was an adult. As far as the "Post-Crisis" reality was concerned, he had never been Superboy during his life in Smallville.

KON-EL AKA CONNER KENT

 

By the 1990s, DC Comics decided that there could be a version of Superboy in the Post-Crisis DC Universe. The concept just needed a new take. It began with the storyline The Death of Superman. After the Man of Steel seemingly died, a government agency called the Cadmus Project did their best to clone him. Since Kryptonian DNA was just about impossible to fully understand, much less duplicate, they needed to fuse Kryptonian cells with human genetics to create a functional, living clone with abilities similar to Superman. Before his accelerated aging was complete, the clone escaped Cadmus and began his own life as a teenage hero, armed with a form of "tactile-telekinesis" which also gave him incredible strength, resiliency to injury and flight. The teenager debuted in Adventures of Superman #500 (1993) and initially insisted that that people call him Superman. But the original Man of Steel later turned up alive and well, so he reluctantly accepted the alias of "Superboy" (which most folks had been calling him anyway).

This was a whole new Superboy for fans. First, we couldn't be sure he would survive his adventures because we didn't know for sure that this teenager would grow up to become one of Earth's greatest heroes. Secondly, although his brain had been filled with information by Cadmus, he was not someone who had been raised by the Kents nor did he have any of Superman's memories. So this kid did not act like Clark Kent in any way or like any other kid that might've been raised on the Kent farm. So it made complete sense that he wouldn't wear a smaller, slimmer version of the Man of Steel's uniform.

This Superboy's costume was supplied by the Cadmus Project, complete with a cape (though the kid abandoned it moments after he launched his jail break). Those Cadmus scientists were great at genetic manipulation but not so much with fashion design. This costume needs to be edited. The red trousers are sleek and a nice solution to the long-outdated shorts-over-trousers look. The black gloves and boots, along with the black collar section, are not bad and don't detract from the classic Superman colors. The jacket is also a nice addition, another way of making sure he wasn't visually just a younger Clark Kent. He also occasionally wore sunglasses with the look.

But then you have red gloves over the black gloves (are his hands really that cold?). And while wearing extra belts, straps and buckles was definitely a fashion trend for superheroes in the early 1990s, Superboy here takes it to a new level. Why two thin belts around the waist? It's clear they're not affecting the trousers at all and they don't have anything cool or useful attached to them. Add that to the belt around his thigh, plus the two around each arm and foot, and you may have to assume that Superboy has an obsession.

 

For a short time, Superboy wore a visor that gave him X-ray vision (a power he did not have otherwise). It was later upgraded to give the kid his own form of heat-vision. It wasn't a bad idea to increase dramatic tension by giving the Kid of Steel a couple of Superman's abilities in a way that those same abilities could be removed during a fight. Like his many belts, this visor looked a little dated after a few years, definitely belonging in the late 80s and early 90s. These X-ray specs resemble what many movies thought sunglasses would look like 20 years or more down the line. If Superboy were visiting the set of Back to the Future II, he'd be just fine. Fortunately, he lost these glasses fairly quickly.

 

In the famous mini-series Kingdom Come, creators Mark Waid and Alex Ross presented a possible future of the DC Universe where the familiar DC heroes had been rejected by the public and been replaced by violent, sometimes lethal vigilantes who cared more about winning a fight than they did about protecting people. Readers were shown that Superman had given up on things and retired, leading many of his contemporaries to follow suit. While some retreated to hidden lairs or began new, more clandestine lives, the young clone hero known as Superboy decided to leave society behind by heading into the future. In one panel, we saw him wearing a new costume and flying alongside the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th century.

I mention this costume because later on, in the mainstream DCU, Superboy actually got this costume as a gift from the LSH. It was a thank you for helping them out on some adventures and readers were left to wonder if the clone hero would adopt it as his official uniform in the future.

 

During some of his adventures, Superboy would adopt alternate looks for short times. At one point, he sported a savage, ripped jeans look that satirized another DC character, Kamandi "the last boy on Earth." For a short time, Superboy lost his powers and had to rely on technology to help him out, including an literal S-shield that could change size and fit into his pocket. This uniform was an off-the-rack look, involving a black Superman t-shirt and jeans. The red boots and red gloves lost some of their extra decorations such as the extra black gloves beneath, making it a much cleaner look. The belt buckle was decorated by a Cadmus Project seal, since at this point Superboy was working alongside them.

By Superman #59, published in 1999, Superboy finally got himself a real name. Having grown closer to the young hero and believing the kid needed a stronger sense of identity, Clark gave Superboy the name of Kon-El, which had been the name of one of his Kryptonian relatives (and which suspiciously seems to be an anagram of "Klone"). It was about time, too. Now Superboy had something more personal for his friends to call him.

 

A couple of years later, Kon-El got a new set of threads in 2001. This outfit was a streamlined version of his old standard with a more stylized super-heroic jacket. The black areas were replaced by a deep red. There were still straps around the arms and legs that didn't seem necessary but this was definitely an improvement. The one change that bothers me a little bit is the cut of the trousers is so high and extreme now that it now looks a bit odd and seems like a design element better suited for a female body rather than a teenage male. Also, Kon-El started sporting a stubbly goatee around this time which was not great on him.

Most of the time, Superboy didn't wear this new jacket, which is not necessarily a bad idea since it repeats the basic pattern of the main uniform and can make his style a little too busy visually.

Superboy's series ended one year later with issue #100, eight years after it had begun. He continued wearing the new streamlined look in the pages of Young Justice, which featured him in a team alongside other teen heroes such as Robin, Wonder Girl and Impulse. That series ended the next year in 2003. Following this, several of the members of Young Justice joined the newly reformed Teen Titans.

 

In the pages of the new Teen Titans series, Superboy dispensed with the costume entirely. He went back to a style similar to his non-powered look: jeans and a black t-shirt decorated by a black and red S-shield rather than the classic red and yellow shield. No gloves or costumey boots now. During this time, Kon-El also began living a double life finally. With help from Superman, he set-up the cover identity of Conner Kent (Clark Kent's fictional cousin) and moved to Smallville.

For years, Kon-El/Conner had only been a superhero, associating mainly with people who were directly involved in his superhero life. Now he was trying to learn what it was to be a normal teenager who went to school and hung out with ordinary, non-powered kids he met in school. So the new plainclothes look matches that mentality. But at the same time, it may be too ordinary a uniform now. Clark Kent used a variety of tricks to make sure that people didn't associate the guy in glasses who slouched and wore suits too big for him with the impressively muscled man who wore bright colors and stood proudly in a cape. But in Conner's case, he now goes from looking like a kid in glasses to looking like an athletic kid in a tight shirt and without glasses. It's not exactly a superheroic transformation. If his identity were public, I'd be fine with this style, but if he has a double-identity like a traditional hero then this seems to be lacking something.

The darker version of the S-shield definitely works for him, though. It's different than Clark's famous symbol without reinventing the wheel in process and its darker colors indicate that Conner was in a darker, more introspective place at this time. During his first Teen Titans adventures, Conner learned that the human donor who was responsible for half of his DNA was actually Superman's greatest enemy Lex Luthor. It definitely gave him a lot to wonder about. Whose example would he follow? The hero or the villain?

 

In one storyline, Conner wound up living in the 31st for a while. He once again worked alongside the Legion of Super-Heroes, this time wearing the traditional Superman costume but with a Legion belt buckle. It's a nice change, but the rest of the costume isn't really something that it seems like Conner would wear. He's not Clark. That's been a major point of his character since the beginning.

During a later story, Luthor took control of Connor's mind and the Kid of Steel attacked his friends. Indicating his new allegiance, Kon-El shaved his head (rather well, in fact) and sliced a letter "L" onto his shirt. Once he got his mind back, Conner grew out his hair again (surprisingly quickly) and grabbed an extra non-damaged T-shirt.

DCnU - THE NEW 52

 

Recently, DC decided that it was time to relaunch the fictional universe yet again, twenty-five years after the Crisis. Just about everyone has had their history revised or compressed. A new Superboy series has begun now, written by Scott Lobdell. According to Lobdell during the San Diego Comic-Con 2011, Superboy's history is largely intact up until the point that he joined Young Justice with Robin and Impulse in 1998. So he's still a Kryptonian-human clone hybrid. But as the story opens up, he's been the prisoner of an organization called N.O.W.H.E.R.E. for months now. Its scientists are trying to figure out how exactly he was created and what makes him tick and in the process they evidently wiped out his memories.

Superboy has information and data in his head but no memories to guide his emotions or actions. He is exploring the world like an android trying to absorb information before it can decide what course to take. At times, N.O.W.H.E.R.E. has put him in a containment suit equipped with sensors to monitor his unique tactile-telekinesis.  Since Superboy now acts more alien than Clark does, the suit actually makes a bit of sense in conveying that visually. At the same time, it looks as if he intended to audition for the next TRON movie.

Along with starring in his own title, Superboy is going to appear in the pages of the brand-new Teen Titans series. Promotional images for that book have shown him wearing a black shirt and trousers with a sheet of paper taped to his back, decorated by a marker-drawn S-shield. Readers have been told that this all black outfit that makes the Krypton Kid look like a night club bartender is actually not going to be his new, standard uniform and that's certainly a good thing. So between this and the strange N.O.W.H.E.R.E. suit, there's no telling just what Superboy will be wearing in the DCnU. We'll just have to wait and see.

Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.

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