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REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS SUPERBOY
By Thomas Wheeler

Superboy -- the adventures of the Man of Steel when he was a boy!

Well -- not quite, in this case. Although that description certainly has validity, even today, the Superboy that I'm reviewing from Mattel's excellent DC Universe Classics line is not that individual. This Superboy exists in the present day, although he currently dresses differently than this figure incarnation of him, and he's an entirely separate person from Superman.

So, where did this Superboy come from? He first turned up in the aftermath of the "Death of Superman", who died -- temporarily, anyway -- at the hands of Doomsday in one of the most notable comics events of the 1990's. In Superman's place, four different beings came along, each seeming to have some characteristics of the Man of Steel, and yet not quite filling the role. One of these would come to be known as Superboy.

Superboy, who at that point in time insisted on being called Superman, first appeared in Adventures of Superman #500, and was created by writer Karl Kesel and artist Tom Grummett, who happens to be a personal favorite of mine.

His origin has gone over some revisions here and there, and I figure the best thing I can do is to summarize the available information in chronological order.

Following Superman's death, Executive Director Paul Westfield of the secretive Cadmus Project wanted to create a clone replacement of Superman. As it turned out, it was impossible to obtain a direct DNA sample of Superman's body, since it remained invulnerable even after death. Superman's body was given an electron capillary scan by the scientists of Project Cadmus. This, along with some educated guesswork resulted in what was believed to be a close approximation of Superman's genetic code.

During their research for the brief time Cadmus had possession of Superman's body, they discovered that there was an "aura" surrounding Superman's body that provided some of his powers. This was translated into a telekinetic field that would give the proposed clone the ability to simulate many of Superman's powers, including flight, strength, and invulnerability. This was later known as "tactile telekinesis".

After twelve failed attempts, the clone known as "Experiment 13" was grown from a single cell to a teenage boy in less than a week, and was a complete success. The clone was given implanted memories and underwent an artificial maturation process intended to match the age of the original Superman.

However, the clone was broken out of the tube in which he was kept at Project Cadmus, and set free before he reached his full adult age, appearing to be approximately sixteen years of age, and with knowledge and, as it would turn out, attitudes similar to any boy of that age.

The clone, referring to himself as "Superman", arrived in Metropolis, stopped a bank robbery, saved a young woman from a group of thugs, and then paid a surprise visit to the Daily Planet. He revealed his origin, as much of it as he knew, to a young reporter named Tana Moon.

Superboy would soon take part in the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline, eventually being part of the team that travels to Coast City, stops the plans of Mongul and the Cyborg Superman, and witnesses the return of the real Superman, whereupon the clone decides that he's prepared to settle for the name "Superboy", since there's only one true Superman.

Superboy earned his own comic book not long after, which had a run of 100 issues, with Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett heading it up and participating in the majority of its run.

Superboy and Tana Moon both wind up in Hawaii for an extended period of time. At one point, longtime Superman ally Professor Emil Hamilton invited Superboy to the STAR Labs facility in Hawaii for an examination. The results of Superboy's cellular diagnostic examination revealed that while Superboy's DNA was completely human, it was altered by Cadmus to be very similar to that of a Kryptonian, even to the extent of his body being a living solar battery that fueled his tactile telekinesis powers. Hamilton also offered Superboy a number of inventions. Superboy chose a pare of dark glasses that were "x-ray vision goggles" that he later learned also had heat vision and infra-red vision, thus granting him at least some of Superman's powers that he previously did not possess.

Superboy later learns that the cell stock from which he was grown was actually that of Paul Westfield, the now late former director of Cadmus.

Sometime later, in one of the more interesting stories in the comics, Superboy finds himself in a mysterious area called "The Wild Lands", an uncharted island populated by anthropomorphic animals. Robbed of his memories, speech, and powers, he was enslaved by a race of snake-men, but was later captured by the tiger-man Prince Tuftan. Ultimately, this storyline was a very effective take on the Jack Kirby series "Kamandi", with the temporarily amnesiac Superboy taking the place of the so-called "Last Boy on Earth".

Sometime after this, Superman takes Superboy to his Fortress of Solitude and sends him to visit a virtual reality Krypton through the technology of the fortress. Following an adventure in this environment, Superman tells Superboy that he considers Superboy to be family, and bestows upon him the Kryptonian name of Kon-El. Previously, Superboy had no other name, other than just "Superboy", although many people in his immediate circle tended to refer to him as simply, "Kid".

Over time, Superboy would grow closer to the Super-family, as it were, including being taken into the home of Superman's parents, the Kents. He also adopted the name "Conner Kent".

Superboy was a founding member of the team Young Justice, alongside Robin (Tim Drake) and Impulse. Later, he would go on to join the Teen Titans following the disbanding of the Young Justice team.

Once he joins the Titans, Superboy's origin is modified (if not entirely explained) so that rather than being a modified human clone, he is instead a hybrid of Superman's Kryptonian DNA and what is believed to be Paul Westfield's human DNA. It is soon revealed that Superboy's human DNA is not from Paul Westfield, however, but is from Superman's longtime enemy -- Lex Luthor.

Superboy begins to manifest more Kryptonian powers, including heat vision, which initially he has trouble controlling, but he eventually adjusts. Superboy's time in the Titans is an adventurous one, including time travel -- including spending some time in the 31st century with the Legion of Super-Heroes. However, at one point Luthor and Brainiac attack against the Titans and the Outsiders, and Luthor reveals that Superboy is actually a "sleeper agent", and uses certain code words to turn him against his friends and team-mates. However, Superboy is ultimately able to shake off the brainwashing, and takes a leave of absence from the Titans, secluding himself on the Kents' farm to recover.

During the mini-series "Infinite Crisis", Superboy ultimately sacrifices his life to help end the threat of the insane "Superboy-Prime" from an alternate Earth. This was due at least in part, in the real world, to DC Comics having a legal dispute with the estates of the creators of Superman over the use of the name "Superboy". This dispute was eventually settled and DC Comics was once again able to use the name.

In the mini-series "Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds", Superboy is brought back when Brainiac 5 sends Starman from the 31st century, presently under attack by Superboy-Prime and a massive Legion of Super-Villains, to the 21st century, to place Superboy's body in a regeneration chamber -- the same one that the Eradicator had used on Superman to save him from death. Because of the severity of Superboy's injuries, it takes him one thousand years to recover -- right when Brainiac 5 figured it would. He returns in time to assist the Legion, and then returns to the 21st century.

Superboy settled back in Smallville on the Kent farm, briefly struggling with his dual nature as a clone of both Superman and Lex Luthor.

Superboy was involved in both the "Blackest Night" and "New Krypton/War of the Supermen" storylines, and according to the most recent information available, will soon star in his own self-named title. Writer Jeff Lemire has likened the upcoming series as akin to Spider-Man, in that Superboy will be someone whose life as Superboy keeps messing up his personal life as Conner Kent, and he's looking for a balance.

Just what we need -- Peter Parker in the DC Universe, but I'm glad to see the character continuing.

As to his powers and abilities, most of Superboy's abilities were initially based around his "tactile telekinesis", which granted him some of Superman's abilities, but not all. He was also vulnerable to flame. He has since developed a pretty full retinue of Kryptonian powers.

So, how's the figure? Very nicely done, and impressive in some regards that I think may influence certain future figures, although that's a speculative guess at this point.

Visually speaking, this is Superboy right after he escaped from Cadmus. Although the jacket is probably a bit dated, overall, it's an impressive costume design, and frankly, I'll take it over his current habit of wearing a black T-shirt with a red "S" on it, and blue jeans. Come on kid, you're in the super-hero business. Get yourself some spandex.

The costume certainly uses Superman's colors, but with an interesting and one could argue, youthful twist. The neck is black. If Superbor wasn't wearing a jacket you'd be able to see that this extended to the shoulders. The upper torso of the costume is blue, as would be the sleeves under the jacket. The "S" symbol is properly in place on the chest. The legs are red, but merge with the blue on the torso in an enlarged version of the same sort of "diagonal with a down cut" in it that is the design of Superman's boots. Nice tribute there, really. The boots are black.

Superboy has two narrow belts around his waist, both black,with gold buckles. There's a wide yellow belt on his upper right leg, and two small yellow belts each on his boots. What can I say, it was the 90's. Superboy is also wearing a black leather jacket, and red gloves. The back of the jacket has the "S" shield in yellow. Technically, the insignia on the back isn't quite right. It's a yellow outline. It should be solid yellow, with stitching along the perimeter. But that's a fairly minor point that I'm not going to quibble about.

The jacket is a little -- well, there's no other way to say it -- pre-posed. It's designed to look like it's sort of flapping open in the breeze along the front, and a strap on the right side extends well away from the figure. It's very flexible and doesn't pose a safety threat, but it looks a little odd. The jacket is designed very much akin to similar designs on action figures. The main body of the jacket is a vest which is placed over the torso during assembly, and the arms of the figure are the sleeves of the jacket. Sometimes this technique works better than at other times. On Superboy, it really works very well. The jacket has a good overall design, with a silver zipper for painted trim on the front.

Superboy is wearing dark glasses. Now, the image on the back of the package card is a little deceptive, as it shows the glasses slightly lowered to reveal Superboy's eyes. This made me wonder if the dark glasses were somehow removable. They're not. Now, it appears as though Superboy's eyes are painted underneath the glasses, and the glasses are a separate part, so it might be theoretically possible to remove them, but how this might be done without wrecking the glasses or damaging the figure's head I'm not sure, and I don't intend to try it on my own, even if I think I might prefer him glasses-free. The glasses look is a legitimate "take" on the character, so I think maybe I'll leave well enough alone.

Of course, the Superboy figure is very well articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid, torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

Now, I want to address one thing in particular -- the figure's height. I was wondering just how they were going to do this figure. Logically, Superboy should not be as tall as the adult characters. At the same time, I didn't think he should be quite as short as a few of the other "teen" figures in the line, such as Robin and Kid Flash. Apparently Mattel agreed, because they split the difference.

The average height of a male adult figure in the DC Universe Classics line is 6-1/2", maybe a little taller. The height of Robin and a couple of others is about 5-1/2". Superboy is about 6-1/8". I started to ponder a few things about this body design. For one thing -- could it be used for other characters, and if so, where? Well, technically, yes, it could. It would need some new parts, though. Assuming it were to be used on a figure that wasn't wearing a jacket, or an excess of belts, it would need new arms and new boots. This is not impossible. But then, who to use it on? Perhaps the Legion of Super-Heroes? Some of these long-awaited DC Universe Classics figures debuted at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Cong. I didn't, offhand, see any pictures of the figures next to anyone else, so I don't really know if Mattel does plan to use a slightly shorter body mold for them or not. Technically, they started out as teen heroes. Also technically, they grew up, even though they retained names like "Cosmic Boy" and "Lightning Lad". So we'll see.

The other question in my mind was -- has this body mold been used before? At first, I didn't think so. But something was nagging in the back of my head. And then I remembered -- Sinestro! The longtime arch-enemy of Green Lantern was a fairly early addition in the DC Universe Classics line, and he required an all-new body because Sinestro has a naturally leaner build than the usual more muscular super-hero. There were criticisms at the time because although the Sinestro figure did have a thinner overall build, he was also distinctly shorter -- something he should not have been. And yet, that body wouldn't be a bad choice for an "older teen" character.

I compared my Superboy and Sinestro figures. Do they share any parts? And -- I'm not sure. It's possible. The musculature on the torso and upper legs looks VERY similar. And the size and shape are extremely close. But I don't feel I can say "yes" definitively. I'd give it about a 70% probability, though.

So, what's my final word here? This is a cool figure. Okay, this is not the Man of Steel as a boy. It looks like that figure is coming up in the Legion series. And, this is not the modern Superboy as he typically appears today. Big deal -- I'll take this costume design over the black T-shirt and the blue jeans. He's hardly the first "out of his original timepoint" figure in the line -- just ask Kid Flash. Ultimately, this is an excellent rendition of the modern-day Superboy in his classic costume, which was a very impressive design, the worst about which can be said that maybe there's a few elements that are a little too 90's, but what the heck? It's still a very impressive figure.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of SUPERBOY definitely has my highest recommendation!