Thursday, July 21, 2011


Ah, clones, is there anything they can't do? I mean, besides make a decent Clone Saga or Clone War. That's beyond them fersure. But besides that, clones are the go to plot devices of the modern comics universe.

Having usurped the role of "Whoops, this guy turned out to be popular but we killed him off" stand-ins from brothers (both twins and not), clones are one of the core reasons why DC needs so many reboots. How many times has Luthor been cloned? There must be dozen extras of him sitting in tubes ala Venture Brothers just waiting for release.

I'm not one to talk, of course. I already have a bunch of clones of Dr. Niles Caulder from Doom Patrol running around, plus we have Bizarro and Power Girl as the first two clones of Superman (although the latter has some Atlantean thrown in for good measure). I'm not sure it's possible to keep clones out of comics nowadays, so who am I to stand against the tide?

Enter Superboy, the third clone of Superman. To be clear, cloning Superman is no easy task. His Kryptonian DNA is very hard to replicate by itself in the lab, thus the twisted creature that is Bizarro. The next advance in Superman-cloning technology was largely funded by the government in partnership with LexCorp. Gerard Shugel was able to make a more stable clone by blending Kryptonian DNA with Atlantean, the latter's adaptability being just the thing needed to bridge the gap. The Superboy project, however, is all Lex Luthor. Using his genius at synthesis, being able to take elements of super-science from a myriad of sources and somehow get them all to work together, Luthor was able to substantially reduce the amount of Atlantean DNA needed for a stable clone. Not the most humble of people, he then inserted his own.

Like usual, Luthor's pride is his downfall. While he succeeded in giving the clone his own analytical abilities, he also managed to give it a great deal of his own stubbornness. In theory, this would not have been a problem (brainwashing and Kryptonite control rods go a long way towards keeping super-clones under control) had the clone not developed additional powers.

So what are Superboy's powers, anyways?

Well, like Dad #1, he's a solar battery. He stores up energy from our yellow sun to power his extraordinary abilities. Because he's young (like, very young), he's not had as much time to store up power, so his super-abilities are of Superman 1938 levels. This means he can heft up cars, run real fast, leap an eighth of a mile, and stand up to most things south of an artillery shell. His further powers like flight, freezing breath, heat vision, and his sensory abilities will develop over time. When and if he reaches his full potential for his Kryptonian powers, he'll still not be as powerful as a true-blooded Kryptonian (Superman, Supergirl, Zod) or even the other clones, Bizarro and Power Girl.

Still, if it takes him an extra minute or two to fly to the sun and back, I'm pretty sure nobody will hold it against him.

In the regular DC universe, Superboy's unforeseen power is "tactile telekinesis." As I mentioned in the Sharif entry, telekinesis is the vanilla ice cream of the superhero world, so I'm not so thrilled about keeping that. I do like how in his early appearances, Superboy was able to take apart mechanical objects, reducing them to individual components with a touch. So we'll keep that, but we'll leave out the idea of force shields and the like. Instead, let's use Superboy to tie in to the notion of the Grey I theorized about back in "Why is Earth So Special?" Just as Poison Ivy can tap into the Green and use that connection to control plants, so shall Superboy be able to eventually do the same with machines.

One wonders, was the glitch that gave Superboy that power a true accident? Or was it a nascent intelligence manipulating things to its benefit? You can bet we'll be exploring that.

Still, before we can do that, we have to get Superboy out of the lab, which will be his first act in Superboy (#30/52). Like we said above, the LexCorp lab is particularly able to deal with his Kryptonian powers, so he'll have to use his other gifts in order to get free. While his ability to manipulate mechanical objects will be really helpful when it comes time to pick locks and open sealed gates, it's his gifts from Dad #2, Lex Luthor himself, that will help the young clone escape.

For a Luthor, it's not hard to notice the flaws in systems. Or even the flaws in other people. So we open Issue #1 with a well timed escape plan, ala Neal Caffrey's escape in the first episode of White Collar (a younger Matthew Bomer would make for a good Connor Kent), with Superboy pretty much walking out of captivity. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a conman Conner. Normally, it's his Superman side that is highlighted in his depictions, not his cunning Luthor-ness. But if you think about it, you have a genius who is on the run from a powerful organization, a young man who has zero context for how people are supposed to act in the real world outside of what observations he's able to make. So his only option is to fake it until he makes it, blend in as much as possible, and then use his other abilities outside the norm to achieve his goals.

Sounds like a conman to me.

Conner's name? It was picked almost at random - he noticed that the night manager of a motel had a dead son named Conner, so he picked it at check-in to play on her sympathies so she would look past the fact he didn't have any ID on him. Would Conner run to Superman or the Justice League? Maybe not - we'll place Supergirl's arrival on Earth a bit prior to Superboy's escape. Thus, Conner would be able to see Superman's attempts to change Kara into a hero like him (I remember the spats my sister and father got into when she was a teen, I can only imagine the same involving superpowers would be writ large - "But I don't wanna join the Titans!"). As someone who grew up in a vat with one dad already having a whole lot of plans for him, maybe Conner wouldn't want yet another dad trying to mold him into something he's not. Plus it would reverse the angst we're used to - normally, it's Conner who wants to be accepted by Superman, not the other way around.

So what would Conner's goals be? Hard to say. We'd be starting the first arc like The Fugitive with Conner on the run from Luthor's hired trackers (has to be Deathstroke in the Tommy Lee Jones role, right? Maybe supplemented by some B-lister Luthor creations like Metallo or Parasite). Once he catches his breath, we'll have him try to turn the tables on Luthor, maybe to get some leverage to force Lex to give up the chase (maybe something to do with the easy cloning facilities Lex seems to have access to?). Conner could assemble a team of similarly ethically vague experts on his travels towards this end - they'd be the updated Newsboy Legion. In the end, Conner would want to be in a position where he can be the one to determine who he is and not feel obligated to follow the examples of his two dads.

Toss in the mystery behind the Grey, the problems of being a clone, a few guest appearances by other luminaries of the Drewniverse, and I think we'd have a comic that could stand on its own and not just be a younger, skinnier Superman.

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