Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #40: Building A Brand New Superboy

by Scott Redmond

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman! 

Welcome to a new month of Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections. While Marvel Comics’ star-spangled Avenger took the spotlight in May, now that it’s June we’re turning our eyes over to their distinguished competition and their sometimes proclaimed boy scout hero as well as his superfamily and allies. 

As usual for this column: Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife. Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections!

There have been a ton of changes to the canon and world of Superman, much like most of DC Comics itself, over the many decades that the hero has featured in published stories (as well as more media adaptions than most even know about). Over those decades his family and group of allies have grown and changed with various versions of Supergirl and Superwoman and Superboy and Krypto among others cycling in and out depending on the timeline or current canon or who the current creators in charge happen to be. 

In the early 90s, the world was introduced to a new Superboy (eventually known as Kon-El and Connor Kent) who would be one of the stalwart prominent legacy heroes of the ’90s and 2000s. A human clone born out of the Death of Superman storyline, he found his own heroic path that went through teams like Young Justice as well as the Teen Titans eventually. Much like his friend and mentor, Kon-El was not immune to the powers of the retcon. 

In the early 2000s a major retcon turned the character’s world upside down, and fundamentally changed the way that he has been handled both in and out of comics ever since. 

The Backstory:

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when serial comics of companies like Marvel and DC could pull off big shocking unexpected moments, before the modern era where massive events and significant deaths are a dime a dozen. These big storylines are very often given to specific press outlets these days, given some mainstream attention that likely doesn’t feed much into readership but it’s at least talked about for a short bit. 

Back in 1992 though this was very much not the case, especially when DC Comics made the unprecedented move to kill Superman. Long story short, they had to put a planned Clark Kent/Lois Lane wedding story on hold because of the upcoming TV series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and so the writer’s room in their summit came up with the idea to kill Superman (to help with flagging sales in comic shops, and pull a “you took them for granted” sort of move) at the hands of the new villain Doomsday. 

So that’s what they did at the end of 1992, and it got massive mainstream media coverage with Superman #75 (the actual death issue) selling six million copies. There was a black polybag, commemorative stamps, memorial armbands, and all kinds of stuff. It also definitely opened a door that hasn’t been closed in terms of massive events centered around death, that haven’t ever reached the same heights in sales or in some cases memorability. 

This storyline was broken into three parts with the death as the first followed by Funeral For a Friend and then Reign of the Supermen. That final part of the story saw four new characters emerge claiming to be Superman, and one of them was Kon-El who eventually just became Superboy (the others being Steel, Eradicator, and Cyborg Superman). While he claimed to be a clone of Superman, it would ultimately be revealed that he was mostly a human clone with some genetic tampering. 

Since they couldn’t get a copy of Superman’s DNA, they used human DNA to create the subject and then used a telekinetic field to mimic the bio-electric aura they discovered around Superman as a means to mimic some of the Kryptonian’s powers. This ‘tactile telekinesis’ allowed him to simulate the flight, invulnerability, and strength of Superman. Grown from a single cell to full age in a week (though he was released too early and thus was a teen rather than an adult as intended), he had memories implanted and was released into the world. 

The donor would go unknown for a while until in 1995 it was revealed that evil former Cadmus Labs Executive Director Paul Westfield was the provider of the DNA that created Superboy. One of those typical narcissistic men in power type of moves that he believed would create a Superman more in line with his own personal desires, not taking into account other factors that could and would guide this young Superman into being his own person despite what DNA he came from.

Some folks had other thoughts on who the DNA donor should really be, including one fan that eventually had a say in what would become the new origin for this character. The Westfield cloning story was what was known for the rest of that decade/century and in the 2000s something new would come along as the character joined the new Teen Titans team in 2003 from Geoff Johns and Mike McKone. 

The Nitty Gritty:

Following the tragic events of the Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day miniseries earlier in 2003 (which saw the death of Titan stalwart Donna Troy amongst others), longtime Titans Cyborg, Starfire, and Beast Boy were looking to create a new team that would bring together their generation of heroes as well as the younger generation of former Young Justice members. Connor was one of those heroes alongside his friends Tim Drake/Robin and Cassandra “Cassie” Sandsmark/Wonder Girl. 

It was here in the first story that the retcons began for the character. During a conversation between Superman and Superboy, the latter mentions that he’s only part human because “Cadmus Labs grafted what they could of your Kryptonian DNA to human DNA when they conjured me up but that human was just one of their whacked-out scientists.” By the end of the first issue though, the donor situation would turn out to be even more “whacked-out” to use Superboy’s words. 

As the teens discuss the whys of them being at the tower, since the Graduation Day mini-series saw them split up under tragic terms, Robin and Superboy get an email. Within that email are the files from Cadmus Labs about Connor’s genetic makeup. As expected it shows that he is 50% Kryptonian from Superman and then unexpectedly the 50% human DNA is revealed to be from Lex Luthor himself. Connor denies this and says he doesn’t need to know because genetics are all he has, and to know if that is true would ruin him. 

Robin runs a test on one of his hairs, and confirms that Lex Luthor is the doner, Connor is mad as he now fears he’s either going to be a hero or villain but Tim assures him that he and the rest of the Titans (despite them not knowing) will always be there to make sure Connor is a hero. The emailer is revealed to the audience to be Luthor himself, seemingly putting some scheme into the works. 

Funny enough, as mentioned above, many fans had other ideas in the 90s for who should be the DNA donor for Superboy one of them was Johns. Enough so that he wrote a letter and sent it in and it was published in the comics, saying that Lex should be the one because it had implications to be explored.

Connor starts to develop Kryptonian powers during a battle with Deathstroke and his son Jericho, goes to the future for a bit to get better control of them and have adventures with the Legion, and then all hell breaks loose. During a crossover with The Outsiders, a book featuring Nightwing and other former Titans that launched at the same time as Titans, Luthor uses baked-in programming to take full control of Superboy and sets him against the heroes. He shaves his head, hurts Tim and others, and becomes a huge threat that they eventually are able to take down. 

Horrified by what he’s done, he takes off and questions whether he has a soul or not since he’s a clone. Thanks to Titan teammate Raven, it’s discovered that he indeed does have a young growing soul that is stronger than any of his inner demons. 

Unfortunately, most of this became a wash as he was one of the major characters that perished during 2005’s Infinite Crisis at the hands of Superboy-Prime from Crisis on Infinite Earths (more on that storyline here). It would be a relatively short death (out of the universe at least) as it was reversed with 2008’s Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds miniseries that was part of the Final Crisis event. He would have a few short-lived titles to his name that dealt with Luthor ties here or there before the whole universe got rebooted and his story changed with the New 52 in 2011. 

It was not the end of this Connor’s story though, as in 2018 the original Connor was restored to comics through some multiversal shenanigans through the new Young Justice series running at the time. He’s still around now following the whole canon opening changes that led to the Infinite Frontier era, and recently got a new series greenlit during the fan-voted Round Robin event that DC Comics is now doing annually.

The Verdict:

While there were interesting things that came out of revealing this dual heritage, the hero and his eternal nemesis, it wasn’t really explored all that well during this time as Johns seemed to be more focused on the surface level of it all. Offing the character for years didn’t help as it pretty much killed any momentum or story that might have been found from these revelations or just anything else around the character. 

That being said, it had a pretty huge impact on the character. This retcon found its way into other adaptations such as the animated series Young Justice and seemed to give at least a bit more concrete around the cloning aspect. Rather than just some scientist, it was someone with a name that was known to audiences. 

So while it didn’t fully pan out how it could have in the comics, as a concept it has some weight and merit to it that can and has been explored better. 

Next Week: Have you heard about the Kents?

%d bloggers like this: