Action Comics #591 (August 1987)
John Byrne and Keith Williams
Doug: I was in a Twitter conversation with some of our followers a couple of weeks ago and we were discussing this series. The other guys remembered it, and we turned the talk shortly to Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" I think you'll also get a sense of one particular scene from that tale, as we move through this one. Coming just about a year after Moore and Curt Swan bid farewell to the pre-Crisis Man of Steel, in this issue John Byrne would basically bid adieu to the Boy of Steel. Let's check it out.
Doug: When last we saw our heroes, Superman had been in fierce combat with some teenagers unknown to him. He'd fought four members of the Legion of Super-Heroes in a quarry outside Smallville. The heroes from the future had landed there after an adventure involving Superboy going rogue on them and paralyzing four of their teammates. Mistaking the Man of Steel for his younger self, the Legion took it to him largely out of self-preservation (with more than a hint of revenge). But as cooler heads eventually prevailed and explanations were given, the Boy of Steel did show up -- with his time-stasis ray. And he zapped these good guys as well! So we pick it up there with Superman and the four Legionnaires frozen. Superboy tells them that the Legionnaires must die, so that the universe may live! He hops down from the roof upon which he was perched, and explains to everyone that they won't be permanently harmed. He says he's taking them to his "master"... all except Superman. Superboy gets close to him and comments that this is not the Superman he will become. And then he piles up his teammates and flies away.
Doug: Superman feels his muscles slowly begin to "thaw", and recognizes that the stasis effect must have lasted quite a bit shorter than Superboy intended. Chance? Fate or not, Superman takes off after his younger namesake. It's only moments later that he spies the Boy of Steel with the Legion's time bubble, picking up speed. John Byrne really uses this issue to differentiate the old Superman mythology from the "new" and revised mythology. Superman thinks to himself that he must hurry -- the super-teens had told him of Superboy's strength and speed. Light speed. Superman thinks to himself that there's no way he could do that himself. As he gains on Superboy Superman knows what is about to happen -- Superboy will eventually reach a velocity whereby he can break the time barrier, and while pushing the time bubble. Superman gets just close enough to grab an adolescent-sized red boot, and hold on for dear life! As he worries about blacking out from the strain, something happens -- an explosion in the time stream!
Doug: Superman loses his grip on Superboy's boot and plummets to Earth. But Earth-when? Wouldn't you know it -- he lands back in Smallville, near where Pete Ross has been keeping vigil. Pete rides his bike over to the crater made by Super"boy", and calls to his friend Clark. We cut to outer space, where Krypto the Super-Dog is chasing meteors while going over the rationale for such activity in his Super-Dog brain. But the canine is distracted by his keen senses -- his master needs his help, and now! So off toward Earth rockets Superboy's dog. Sceneshift again to the end of time, where the Time Trapper is simply beside himself with the glee of his impending victory. And in that state of euphoria, the Time Trapper pats himself on the back at the genius of his plan -- the Pocket Universe (reproduced below for your scrutiny).
Doug: Back in Smallville, Pete helped Clark out of the crater he'd made when he'd fallen to Earth. But Pete can't get over how big his friend is, and asks him if he was exposed to Red Kryptonite. Superman thinks to himself that he's no idea what Red Kryptonite is... Superman looks at Pete, and thinks to himself that the kid sure looks like Pete, but everything is off a bit. There's no way Pete Ross ever knew about Clark Kent's super powers, and this Smallville doesn't look like it should. Pete walks his friend through the downtown area, saying he'll take him home. But Superman knows that the Kent homestead is a farmhouse, 20 miles away! They eventually make it to a small two-story -- the home of Jonathan and Martha Kent! But upon entering, the Kents are shocked and ask Pete just why he's brought Superboy to their home. Pete says not to worry, there's no time for charades -- he's known about Clark for years. Superman must feel like he's on drugs, because even though the Kents don't look quite like his parents, they "feel" like them. But in the midst of all the confusion, it's about to get worse. Suddenly a voice rises from stage left -- Superboy has found Superman. And as before, he's not happy.
Doug: I guess Superboy wasn't too concerned about his father's roof, because with one punch he launches Superman right through it and into the nighttime sky! Superman is still ascending when Krypto flies by. The dog wheels, heading back to help his master when he gets a good look at the human projectile. Dog and man have an interesting meeting of they eyes and senses. Superboy, though, is about to clear things up as he flies right past his dog and into Superman's gut. For the third time in this story, Byrne draws a line between old and new. First it was speed, then colored Kryptonite, and now it's strength. Despite the fact that Superman is nearly twice his age, Superboy brags that he is the stronger of the two. But Superman says that experience is on his side, and puts a move on Superboy that allows him to create separation. But Krypto is having none of it, and latches onto Superman's cape (what did Jim Croce say about that?). But as the dog tries to rend it, Superman gives a big tug of his own; the cape rips and Krypto goes spinning off into the distance, shocked that the fabric gave way (#4).
Doug: As the two Kryptonians battle in the sky, Krypto uses his X-ray vision to analyze the Super-imposter. And sure enough -- Krypto learns that he is indeed bona fide. Knowing then that there is only one way to save Superboy from a Superman, Krypto flies to the Kent house and to Superboy's cellar laboratory. Behind a secret panel, Krypto locates samples of all the known colors of Kryptonite, each with its own unusual properties. Using his paw, he pops open the lid of the Gold Kryptonite; John Byrne had now given readers a coda to the punch-to-the-gut ending of the Dog of Steel written just a year earlier by Alan Moore. Soon Ma and Pa Kent heard barking coming from the cellar. Lifting the doors, they found Krypto -- acting like a normal dog. Pa quickly deduced what had happened, and understood what Krypto must have intended.
Doug: Racing to the area below the battle, Pa Kent urged Superboy to fly clear so that he could play the ultimate trump card -- a container with nuggets of every known color of Kryptonite. But Superman landed and took the container from Pa's hand. Nothing in that cylinder was going to harm this Man of Steel (#5). Superboy is aghast that his enemy now holds the key to his (Superboy's) weakness. But Superman says wait just a second -- Superboy wanted it to play out like this.
Doug: Pa asks his son if all of this is true. Superboy confesses that he wanted Superman to beat him, so that he wouldn't have to betray the Legion. Superman says he knew that young Clark's heart wasn't in any of the goings-on, and that once he met the Kents he knew for sure that Superboy would never do anything to harm his friends. It's a big group hug, and then Superman says it's time to get after the Time Trapper. But the newly-revived Legionnaires say "uh uh" -- Brainiac says they cannot risk Superman getting killed by the Time Trapper, or lost at the end of time. He must remain in the 20th Century so that he can be its champion, ensuring that the Legion's future will eventually come to fruition. So a short time-hop later, and Superman exits the time bubble, safe and sound in 1987. And off the Legion goes, into the timestream and into the pages of Legion of Super-Heroes #38 (next Monday!).
Doug: I have a real split personality on this story. Part of me wants to love it, to regain the excitement that was DC Comics back from 1985-88 or so. But the other part of me looks at the tremendous collateral damage of the Crisis -- Barry Allen, Kara Zor-el, and of course Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. It certainly helps here that John Byrne has held our hands through these middle chapters, and indeed wrote the explanation of the Pocket Universe. I'm totally betrayed by the very notion of such a thing. Talk about a Bobby Ewing shower scene! Overall, the result of the decision to use the Pocket Universe as the out was just one huge corporate kick in the groin to readers/fans of the Legion, many of whom had been with the teens from the future since the dawning of the Silver Age. And you know what? What did all this end up being for? Eventually there were enough special stories, Elseworlds stories, new Supergirls, etc. that most of what the Crisis wrought has been put back in one fashion or another. And you know what I saw on Twitter last week? DC is considering a Crisis for their New-52 Universe. Imagine that...