Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Game Theory: Who Is Superboy?

A friend of mine was asking me, the other day, about the Superman Family, and the plethora of Super-Boys and Super-Girls, and if there was ever a Super-Woman (There have been a few, and none of them have been any good really), and mostly he was trying to get me to help him wrap his head around Super-Dog.

"Was there really a super-dog?"
"Yep, Krypto, he was Superman's pet dog from Krypton."
"What the -? Really? Did he have super powers?"
"Sure, he was super strong, he could fly, he had heat vision..."
"Was the heat vision in black and white?"

What I ended up telling him was that you don't really have to get your head around Krypto, you need to get your head around Superboy. And what you need to know about Superboy is that his real super-power isn't that he can fly, or is super-strong, or is invulnerable, but rather that he is the boy who gets everything he ever wished for.

Superboy is a kid who loses his home and his kind, loving parents, and then immediately acquires another home and another set of kind, loving parents. Some time later, he's bemoaning that he hasn't got any sort of super-playmate with whom he can romp among the asteroid belt nor fly around the sun, and lo and behold, that very same issue, along comes his own personal pet dog from Krypton, complete with super-powers and ready to play!

He worries that his parents are so very old, and so that they can continue to care for him, they become young! He mopes that he hates lying to his friends and wishes he didn't have to hide his secret from them, and then voila, in the same story his trustworthy pal Pete Ross happens upon Clark changing into Superboy during a particularly violent storm, and becomes his secret confidante! He grumbles that he has no other super-powered teenage friends to share his burdens, and taa-daa, super-powered teenagers from the 30th century appear as if by magic!

(One of the things which used to bug me about the old Superboy series - and which did on Smallville as well - was how the younger versions of the Superman cast all made their way through Smallville eventually, meeting Clark Kent or Superboy along the way. Teenaged Lois Lane, reporter Perry White, Aqua-BOY, young Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen, they all traipsed through Smallville at least once and made Superboy's acquaintance, long before they gathered together as adults. Now, I see that as more of Superboy's wish fulfillment, that the people he meets whom he likes are wished back into his life as he grows older).

The wishing power only works, though, when Superman is a boy, and the wishes are selfish. When it's time to become a man, when he adopts responsibilities rather than chooses to be cared for, then it doesn't work - which is one of the sadder things about Superman, and one of the reasons I like the folk components so much.

His adopted parents finally do die, at the same time that Superboy is leaving Smallville and becoming Superman. He cannot save them because he no longer wants them to live to take care of him, but to live because he loves them, and to live for themselves. For the same reasons, he can never free his friend Mon-El from the Phantom Zone, nor enlarge Kandor (I know he eventually did, but he shouldn't have had), nor marry Lois Lane (or Lori Lemaris, or Sally Selwyn, or so on), and really should never be able to have children, because these are all wishes for the safety and happiness of others, and that he has to fight for, and ultimately fight for them only to fail.

So, you know, that's kind of neat.

[The image for this entry comes from the terrific blog, The Magic Robot]

1 comment:

  1. The truth of the story is that when Kal-El was placed in the rocket to escape Krypton, it never landed. Kal-El continues to soar through the cosmos with only the most minute chance that he'll come anywhere near a planetary system. Connected to the complex life support systems of the rocket pod, Kal-El is hibernating while his brain is suspended in a virtual reality environment designed to entertain him as he grows from an infant into an old man. In a few decades he will die, believing himself to be a paragon of justice in a land he never lived, while withering away to nothing kept alive only by a machine with no purpose other than to make him happy.