“The Most Important Year of Superboy’s Life!”
|Script: Cary Bates
Pencils: Kurt Schaffenberger
Inks: David Hunt
Colors: Gene D’Angelo
Letters: Ben Oda
|Cover price: 40¢
Cover art: Kurt Schaffenberger (pencils), Dick Giordano (inks)
Synopsis: As Clark celebrates his 16th birthday, his friends notice there’s an extra candle on the cake. Ma and Pa Kent say it’s a family tradition to place an extra candle as a token of good luck, and as the festivities continue the two think back to Clark’s eighth birthday, a day that involved a barnstorming show, an alien abduction, home movies, aliens offering Clark immortality, and other wild stuff that makes your eighth birthday down at the Chuck E. Cheese look soooooo lame.
Prime Cut Panels: Schaffenberger puts our young Superboy through his flying paces with a panel that shows off Superboy’s speed and agility, while also treating us to Schaffenberger’s skill at depicting Superboy from various angles. Sweet.
“The amazing caped wonder the whole world’s been talking about…” Yeah, about that. The story establishes that Clark started going out publicly as Superboy shortly before the events in this story. So how did this debut happen? Did his eight-year-old self hold a press conference? Did he perform a heroic deed in public view and get caught on camera by the press? Did he just start showing up at Smallville banks looking for bad guys? I appreciate flying tricks and immortal aliens offering presents as much as the next guy, but I feel like there’s a way more interesting story here that we just missed out on.
Random Thoughts: First off, check out the copy at the top of the cover. The first “electrifing” issue, you say…? Better hold on to that candle, Martha, because based on his spelling tests it looks like we’ll need to keep Clark back a year. (But seriously, it was clearly an honest mistake, and I have it on good authority that the editors were mortified that everyone missed the typo until after the book was printed.)
So as I said previously, DC marked the start of a new decade by breaking up their Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes book into two separate titles. While the Legion’s book carried on the numbering of the old Superboy title, The New Adventures of Superboy started all over with a No. 1 issue — which wasn’t the only way the creative team tried to turn back time.
This was a very strange title for DC to put out in late 1979. Never mind the fact they just had a hit movie (and another one on its way) that very clearly showed their flagship character starting his superhero career as an adult. In a time when a lot of writers and artists were pushing the boundaries of what superhero comics could be, The New Adventures of Superboy was proudly — almost defiantly — looking back to the past, not just in tone and art style but also in re-creating the goofy Silver Age scenarios that Superman and Superboy stories from the 1960s were known for.
Take the story in this debut issue. At a birthday party for Clark where even the town’s chief of police stops by for a piece of cake, his parents start reminiscing about their son’s eighth birthday. This flashback then proceeds to take over the entire rest of the book. So not only is this a story from Superman’s past, it’s a story from Superman’s past where the characters flash back even further into his past. O… kay, then.
As for the events surrounding Superboy’s eighth birthday, they go something like this: shortly after he introduces himself as Superboy to the world, he’s kidnapped by an alien ship that fails to take into account his strength. The aliens later try a different approach, appearing in person to offer Superboy immortality in exchange for his extracted “aging factor” (which they want to relieve themselves of the burden of their own immortality).
The Kents are aghast at the idea of being parents to an eternal eight-year-old (every other parent in the world: “TESTIFY!”), and they are visibly upset when Clark appears to agree to the aliens’ plan… but as it turns out, he tricked them into believing it worked, banking on the idea they just needed a placebo to help them believe they could grow old again. The end.
Now, compare what I’ve just told you about this story to the one featured in this month’s issue of Jonah Hex. Or the story in this month’s X-Men introducing Kitty Pryde and laying the groundwork for the Dark Phoenix Saga. Or the Daredevil issues from this era featuring the early collaborations of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson. This is also a moment in time where we’re just months or years away from Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, Byrne’s first issue of Fantastic Four, the explosion of independent titles from publishers taking advantage of new distribution models…
Comic fans standing on the edge of 1980 had no idea what the decade was going to bring, but I think even then it was clear The New Adventures of Superboy wasn’t offering anything “new.” And while I’m a big fan of revisiting the past… you can’t ever really go back. At least, not like this.