As I've touched on before, DC superhero comics of the late 50's and early 60's were virtual windows into the souls of their child audience. Childhood insecurities were routinely transposed into superhero adventures by DC's editorial staff. However, the undisputed king of tapping into the latent anxieties of children was Mort Weisinger, long-time editor of the Superman titles. Weisinger went straight for the "psychological jugular" by infusing his Superman books with all the petty jealousies, bitter rivalries and deep-seated insecurities of childhood. In other words, Mort hit the kids right where they lived.
One of Weisinger's most common themes was that of rejection, by no coincidence the radioactive core of childhood anxiety. Whether it was the fear of a popular kid stealing away their best friend, or a new baby edging them out of mom and dad's hearts, children constantly struggled with rejection....of being pushed aside for another. Someone better. Most of Weisinger’s stable of characters dealt with rejection in one form or another, but it was Superboy who became the undisputed poster child for rejection.
Sometimes that rejection took the form of super-powered hotshots bent on surpassing Superboy….or even replacing him!
Like Supremo, who’s judged Superboy too “chicken” to tackle the cave monster on the cover of Superboy #132 (1966).
That’s right…a chicken…one of the most potent put-downs in all of kid-dom!
Adventure Comics #226 (1956) shows that not even legendary figures like Peter Pan could resist publicly humiliating Superboy.
As if getting beaten by a kid wearing leaves and ballet slippers wasn’t bad enough, Clark Kent’s “best friend” Pete Ross ups the ante by nabbing Superboy’s costume, his powers, his dog…and even his girlfriend in Superboy #96 (1962)!
Sadly, as you can see from the cover of Adventure Comics #195 (1953), a stolen girlfriend was nothing new to Superboy. This time, the dashing Marsboy (literally) sweeps Lana Lang off her feet for a little “Romance on Mars”.
In addition to the army of super-powered boys bent on humiliating Superboy, Adventure Comics #304 (1963) shows his adult-self Superman getting in on the act….in front of his (their?) own parents, no less!
Long after Mort Weisinger had left the Superman books, rival superheroes were still making Superboy a basket case of insecurity.
On the cover of The New Adventures of Superboy #3 (1980), Astralad demands that Superboy “split” so he can replace him as the protector of Smallville’s groovy hepcats.
A year or so later, in issue #18 of the same series, the profoundly unimpressive Kator gives Superboy the brush-off, naturally right in front of girlfriend Lana Lang (who’s traded in her sensible skirt for some extremely flattering shorts).
As disturbing as it was to have outsiders gunning for his job (or girlfriend), it was the rejection of those closest to him that really hurt Superboy….such as the angry citizens of his beloved Smallville on the cover of Superboy #139 (1967).
Though none of the bricks, eggs, pots, pans, potatoes and lettuce (!) lobbed at Superboy could physically hurt him, emotionally he must have been as messed up as his produce-splattered costume.
Superboy #168 (1970) shows the Boy of Steel once again booted out of Smallville by its angry populace, infuriated to the point of waving a “SCRAM” sign (which is about as nasty as it gets here in the genial Midwest).
How bad is it when even your dog rejects you, as Krypto demonstrates on the cover of Superboy #64 (1958). Just look at the ticked-off facial expression on that dog!
Adding to the rejection is Lana Lang snottily announcing that Krypto “hates” Superboy…as if the mutt blasting a hole through his statue didn’t make that clear enough.
However, no form of rejection resonated more with child readers than the insecurity generated by Ma and Pa Kent themselves. It seemed every time Superboy turned around, the Kents were stumbling across some new super-powered lad they could potentially adopt, a direct threat to Clark’s status as their Only Beloved Child.
Superboy learns that a look-a-like has taken his place on the Kent farm in Adventure Comics #191 (1953), under the uncharacteristically surly gaze of Ma Kent.
The next Kent family interloper appeared in Adventure Comics #205 (1954). “The Second Superboy” was actually Kral of Titan, “a moon of Jupiter” according to the lad (it’s actually a moon of Saturn).
Zar-Al, supposedly another Kryptonian refugee, butts his way into the Kent family on the cover of Adventure Comics #242 (1957). Al’s a little on the pushy side, no?
The mysterious Mighty Mite shows up on the doorstep of the Kents in Superboy #137 (1967). Awwww....isn’t it cute how he publicly humiliates Superboy while talking in that adorable Silver Age baby-speak dialect?
Yet another mysterious blond toddler haunts Superboy, as the “secretly adopted” superbaby Mighto is revealed on the cover of Superboy #108 (1963). More disturbing than the notion of a baby planting post-hypnotic suggestions was the emotional distance Superboy has created between himself and the Kents by calling them only “foster parents” in his thought balloon. Obviously, more Mort Weisinger mindgames afoot!
Note the crumpled saxophone in the lower left hand corner of the cover, perhaps suggesting a failed jazz career of one Jonathan Kent?
Finally, on the cover of Adventure Comics #260 (1959), the Kents adopt..you guessed it...another super-son! The worst fears of insecure young readers were realized as they witnessed “Allen Kent” not only taking Superboy’s place in the Kent family, but getting Clark’s bedroom as well...awarded by Ma Kent herself!
On that somber note, we end our survey of Superboy’s life of perpetual rejection. When he wasn’t being taunted by super-powered wannabes, he was getting edged out of the picture by a parade of potential (or secret) Kent adoptees. Through it all, editor Mort Weisinger masterfully played upon (or preyed upon) the insecurities of his vast audience of children, reinforcing their secret fear that replacement by someone else…someone better…was not only possible….but almost inevitable.
I mean, if it could happen to Superboy, it could happen to me, too…..right?