Three Ages of Superboy!
Normally, Superboy avoids Red Kryptonite
like the plague, but in Superboy #103 (Mar. 1963)
, he goes out of his way to find it...thousands of years
out of his way, in fact, on an extended journey through
It all begins when Joe Larkin, a recently
retired Astronomy teacher from Smallville High, spots a
trio of fast-moving meteors with his telescope and reports
the finding to the Metropolis Observatory. When astronomers
are unable to corroborate his discovery, Larkin is discredited,
prompting his former student Clark Kent
to change to Superboy and fly into space to find the meteors,
and clear his name.
When the meteors turn out to be made of Red Kryptonite,
Superboy is forced to move aside and let them pass at a
safe distance. Some unknown force, however, causes them
to accelerate to incredible speeds, fast enough to break
the time barrier.
Superboy decides to go after the Red-K meteors in the past,
figuring that if he doesn't, they'll just turn up to plague
him in the present. With luck, he'll be able to dispose
of them without being affected, but even if he is
affected -- so he reasons -- the harm will be potentially
lessened in the past, where his secret identity is a non-issue.
Tracking the first rock to ancient Egypt, Superboy arrives
just in time to rescue a village from the suddenly flooding
Nile. Having witnessed this super-feat, the Pharoah and
his "royal magician," who just happens to have
the appearance and bad character of the adult Luthor,
order Superboy to use his powers to help build the Pharoah's
pyramid. He begs off, citing his "urgent search"
for the Red K, and they respond that if he doesn't help,
it'll go badly for the people of the village he just saved.
So he agrees to help, but finds himself the victim of the
A "queer tingling" reveals the Red-K is in the
foundation of the pyramid. Superboy surfaces and tosses
the rock into space, to the astonishment of all assembled.
A pair of hunting lions is set loose on him, but of course
have no effect. Well, at least not the expected effect;
as the beasts gnaw futilely at his legs, the Red-K kicks
in and turns Superboy into a half-boy/half-lion creature.
Superboy uses this turn of events to frighten the superstitious
Pharoah into cleaning up his act, making him promise to
treat his subjects better or face retribution from this
super lion-god. Since the effects of the Red-K won't wear
off for a while, he hangs around to make sure the king keeps
Regaining his normal form, Superboy enters the time stream
again to search for the next meteor, but once he's a few
months into the future he notices Egyptian workers constructing
a huge monument in his honor: the half-human, half-lion
Sphinx. "Historians have never been sure whom the Sphinx
was modeled after!" he muses, "But now I know!
It was modeled after me!"
Advancing to 516 AD, Superboy quickly locates the second
chunk of Red-K in Britain and builds a catapult to send
it into space, being careful to handle the rock with giant
lead tongs. At the last moment, however, the catapult ropes
break and the rock is instead hurled into the tower of a
nearby castle. Flying there, Superboy finds the rock was
deliberately misdirected by the legendary Merlin,
who turns out to be another lookalike for a Super-books
Merlin's "magic," we learn, is really science,
as he simply has a more advanced grasp of scientific principles
than most men of his era and a collection of scientific
devices that are ahead of their time (he burnt those catapult
ropes with a "sun-focusing mirror," for instance).
Merlin says the land needs a strong, wise ruler and Superboy
blurts out, "Then Arthur is not king
yet?" Merlin says everyone, including a mysterious
Black Knight, is ambitious to be king,
and whomever wins an upcoming tournament will get first
crack at pulling that legendary sword from the stone to
earn the crown.
Superboy sees Arthur in full armor (his face is hidden...wait
for it) but the young knight is summoned to meet his love,
Lady Guinevere and as the time for the
tournament arrives, he fails to appear. Even worse, Merlin
reports the Red-K has been stolen from the lead box where
he was keeping it.
When the Black Knight defeats all his opponents and looks
sure to claim the crown, Superboy challenges him personally,
only to find the knight's mace has been fashioned from the
missing Red-K. He snatches it and hurls it away, but not
before it has its effect:
Superboy searches for Arthur and finds him locked in a
stone building, where he was lured by that false message
from Guinevere. Superboy uses his new magnetic power to
pull the iron door off the building, and as Arthur hangs
onto the door, the Boy of Steel magnetically tows it to
When they arrive, the Black Knight is trying to pull the
sword from the stone, but Superboy alerts the crowd to his
trickery: he's got a vial of acid hidden in his hand to
weaken the stone. Arthur takes on the Black Knight in a
swordfight and Superboy uses his new power to pull the armor
off both men, revealing the Black Knight as...Merlin.
Arthur tries his hand at removing the sword, and with Superboy
secretly lending an assist by hovering overhead for an extra
"tug" of magnetism,he succeeds. Arthur and Guinevere
are quickly wed, and Superboy notices that the great king
is yet another dead ringer for a character in the super-mythos.
I'll give you three guesses who.
By now, Krypto's had enough time to get
worried about Superboy, so he too heads into the time stream
to find his missing master, who it turns out has arrived
in the state of Missouri in 1876. He's just in time to spot
a group of bandits leaping onto a passing train, and thwarts
them by speeding the train up, leaving the bandits to land
not on the train but on the tracks behind it.
Spotting a horse and wagon on the tracks ahead, Superboy
races to save it and finds the driver is a dead-ringer for
Lana Lang's father. What's more he has
a cute red-head daughter who looks exactly like you-know-who.
"Doc Langdon" is a snake-oil
salesman and traveling performer who invites Superboy to
join them as their resident acrobat, and he agrees, if only
to pass the time until the Red-K turns up.
The James gang sees Superboy performing acrobatics and
takes a couple shots at him, but he catches the bullets
in his mouth. Looking for a way to kill this super kid,
Jesse chats up Doc Langdon and learns Superboy's afraid
of "some queer red shining stone he thinks fell near
here." The gang tracks down the Red-K and makes bullets
Meanwhile, Lana's lookalike Laura Langdon
tells Superboy she's writing about him in her diary, and
just then, the sheriff asks him what his real name is ("not
your stage name"). Superboy figures there's no harm
in admitting his name is Clark Kent. Laura writes it down.
Later, Superboy is ambushed by the James gang. When he
tries to give them the slip, Jesse shoots him with Red-K
bullets, prompting a strange transformation, even by Red-K
standards, changing him into a second Jesse James.
Feeling his powers fading fast, Superboy/Jesse ties up
the real Jesse, then digs an underground tunnel and tells
"his" gang the tunnel will take them into the
bank. Instead, they find it leads into the jail; they've
been double-crossed. The real Jesse escapes Superboy/Jesse's
bonds, which is too bad as a posse has just shown up, ready
to hang "Jesse James" from the nearest tree,and
they're not too particular about which "Jesse James"
As luck would have it, Krypto picks this very moment to
show up. Even more fortunately, his "instinct"
tells him that what looks like Jesse James is really his
master Superboy. On a hunch, Superboy exposes Krypto to
Really? They were "caught off guard" by the sight
of a dog turning into a horse? Yokels...they need to get
Once they regain their normal forms, Superboy and Krypto
return to the Smallville of their own time...or do they?
Clark is shocked to see what looks like Laura Langdon walking
toward him, but it turns out to be Lana Lang, wearing the
dress of her great-grandmother, who was indeed Laura Langdon
(which means at least one of the "lookalikes"
in this story makes sort-of sense). The bad news is she's
also found Laura's diary, and is about to read the entry
where she mentions Superboy's real name is Clark Kent. Thinking
fast, Clark blows the page out of the book with super-breath
and Krypto, pretending to be chasing a cat, snatches the
page as he zips by.
Sigh...I'm a sucker for those "boy and his dog"
panels, especially as rendered by Curt
Swan and George Klein, and
this one looks a lot like that nifty statue that came out
a few years ago.
In fact, the art throughout this story is a real joy, and
I can only imagine what fun it must have been for Curt to
break out of the normal routine and draw the fashions, props
and architecture of ancient Egypt, Medieval England and
the Old West, all in one adventure.
Of course the story's pure hokum, and one of many that,
taken together, suggest every interesting legend, event
or achievement in all of human history somehow or other
involved a time-traveling member of the Superman family.
There's also a dependence on coincidence and "irony"
that gets old in a hurry. But it's fun enough for what it
is, and almost deserves bonus points just for being so unreservedly
outlandish. One plus is that it offers an explanation for
how, in other tales, Kryptonite is sometimes unearthed deep
in the ground by archeologists or construction crews, despite
Krypton having blown up in the relatively recent past; if
the substance sometimes travels through time, as it does
here, that would explain why it ends up under centuries-worth
I find I tend to enjoy these "book-length" 3-parters
more than the shorter Silver Age tales. Writers of the period
already did more in 8 pages than most modern writers do
in 500, but given the whole book to play with, they really
delivered the goods on an epic scale.
This one, it turns out, was written by Edmond Hamilton,
who's shaping up to be my favorite of the period. I wouldn't
call this his best work, but it's a solid effort, aided
in no small way by Swan and Klein. I'm pretty fond of George
Papp's Superboy, but nobody will ever beat Curt's,
in my eyes.
By the way, it's never mentioned whether Joe Larkin had
his reputation saved in astronomy circles, but seeing as
how his purported meteors vanished into the past, I'm guessing
not. So while he inspired the sphinx, made Arthur king and
"outwitted Jesse James," Superboy never did accomplish
his original goal of clearing his former teacher's name.
But then, I guess you can't win them all.