Superboy #75, "The Punishment of Superboy!"

SUPERBOY #75; September 1959; DC Comics (National Comics Publications); Mort
Weisinger; editor; cover-featuring "The Punishment of Superboy!" On the cover
by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye (inker), Superboy in full costume is lying across
Pa Kent's knees as Pa attempts to spank his errant foster son, but succeeds
only in breaking a hairbrush. "Gosh, Ma, I forgot it's impossible to spank
SUPERBOY! How can we punish him for being a bad boy?" The effect of the cover is
particularly bizarre because Swan draws Superboy looking around 17 or 18
years old, too old to normally be subject to a spanking even if he weren't
invulnerable. Vignettes in the corner of the cover promise "Also in this issue, a
tale of SUPERBABY" and "A Super-Dog KRYPTO Story".

Review by Bill Henley

The cover story is actually last in this issue, so we will start with
"Superboy's First Day at School!" written, according to the GCD, by Otto Binder (who
in fact is credited with all three stories in this issue) and drawn by George
Papp. This seems to be the Superbaby story advertised on the cover, but it's
a slightly inaccurate description, as young Clark Kent in this "untold story
of Superboy" is younger than the normal teenage Superboy but older than the
baby-talking toddler seen in Superbaby stories. On the splash page, little
Clark's first grade (or is it kindergarten? Not clear) class is visiting the
"school aquarium" and Clark is reaching into a tank to touch the electric eels and
laughing, "Hee! Hee! It tickles!" Pa Kent, watching through the window,
worries that if the teacher turns around and notices Clark handling the eels, "she
will know he has super-powers!" (Silver Age Smallville was an amazing little
town. I've noted before that it seemed to be a magnet for alien invasions
and other outre events, despite its status as an icon of typical mundane
Americana. I doubt if many other elementary schools in small town America boasted a
"school aquarium"-- a goldfish tank, maybe, but not electric eels. And
clearly this was before the days of lawsuit mania, or Smallville would have risked a
financial wipeout as soon as the parents of some non-super kid sued the
school for letting their offspring touch the electric eels.)

The story proper begins in the "present", with teenage Clark Kent offering to
carry Lana Lang's school bag. But Lana has set a trap for Clark, filling her
bag with heavy iron weights that only a superboy could lift without effort.
But when Lana gloats she has exposed Clark's secrets, he blows up a puff of
dust to make Lana sneeze, then during her split-second with her eyes closed,
rips out the bottom of the bag to make it appear that the weights fell out when
Clark lifted the bag. Mentally gloating in turn that he has tricked Lana
again, Clark reminisces how therer was once a time when Lana had all the evidence
she needed if she had been savvy enough to recgonize it. That was their first
day at school together years before. Heading to school in their 30's model
car, Ma and Pa Kent impress on young Clark that he must never let anyone at
school know that he has powers and abilities far beyond those of normal first
graders. When little Clark asks why not, Pa Kent explains "for the first time"
his big plans for Clark's future. One day, Pa promises, Clark will do great
deeds in public and in costume-- he even shows Clark a drawing he has made of the
costume he will one day design. But when that day comes, Superboy will still
need a "disguise" as meek Clark Kent "to enable you to do undercover work
against criminals!" Quite a concept for little Clark to understand; it would
have made more sense for Pa to explain more simply as he did in the very first
Siegel-Shuster Superman origin; "Look, son, this great strength of yours--
you've got to hide it from people or they'll be scared of you!" But anyway, Clark
obediently promises to hide his powers; 'Yes, Mom and Dad!" Arriving at
school just as the teacher is filling an old-fashioned coal stove, Clark picks up a
lump of coal that has fallen on the floor, but startled by the teacher's
order to drop it before he gets his hands dirty, Clark squeezes the lump hard--
and finds himself holding a clear piece of "glass", actually diamond.
Fotunately, Clark drops the "glass" on the floor, little Lana Lang spots it and throws
it out the window before it can cut someone, and Pa Kent, still lurking
outside to see how Clark is doing, retrieves it. (Though if the teacher did finda
diamond on the schoolroom floor, she'd probably take it that some naughty kid
was filching stuff out of his or her mother's jewelry box-- she'd hardly jump
to the conclusion a kid squeezed a lump of coal into a shiny, cut diamond.)

Next in this eventful school day, a baseball hit by boys on the playground
flies through the window and conks the teacher on the head, and she unjustly
thinks Clark nhas thrown it. (Good thing he didn't, or she probably wouldn't
have a head left.) She punishes Clark by rapping his knuckles with a ruler, but
the ruler breaks. Fortunately, she attributes this to "shoddy school
supplies" rather than a kid who can't be hurt. (Clark wonders if the teacher will
realize he is "Gosh, what's that long word Mom and Dad use?... INVULNERABLE?"
This reminds me of the comment that back in the day, those kids who restricted
their early reading to school assigned material were learning "See Spot run,
run Spot run" while those kids whose parents let them rot their minds with
comic books were insuring future illiteracy by learning words like
"invulnerable".) The next crisis arrives with lunch time, as Clark realizes he has
forgotten to bring his lunch from home. "I can really do without food, but gee, I
want to be like the others, not a FREAK who doesn't EAT!" Rather than begging a
sandwich from one of the other kids, Clark decides to go back to the Kent
home to get food, but he has been specifically ordered not to fly, run at
super-speed, or "super-bore underground". But Ma and Pa forgot to tell Clark not to
use "super-swimming", so he finds an underground water pipe and swims home.
(Good thing it wasn't a sewer pipe...) Though nonplussed, Ma Kent gives Clark
a sandwich and also dry school clothes (for his first day at school he's
wearing a little blue and white sailor suit, not his traditional blue and red
playsuit that will become his super-costume). To get back to school without
getting wet again, Clark uses his super-breath to blow the water in the pipes all
the way back to the reservoir temporarily (and fortunately doesn't cause a
serieis of water main blowouts all over Smallville).

Next, at recess, Clark holds down one end of a seesaw while Lana and four
other girls perch at the top. Not having started science class yet they only
conclude, "Gee, I guess boys are a lot heavier than girls!" Vive la difference,
but Pa Kent is still hovering around, and he plops down on the seesaw with
Clark before some adult can notice the imbalance. Instead, the adults just
conclude that "Jonathan's just a kid at heart! Haw, haw!" Finally, we have the
scene where little Clark takes a dare to handle the "funny wriggly fish"--
electric eels (there's a sign saying "DO NOT TOUCH!", but I guess these kids haven't
learned to read it yet. Like I said, real lawsuit bait.) The teacher
doesn't see it, but little Lana does. But when she tells on Clark, the teacher
assumes she is fibbing, since Clark isn't moaning in pain from being
electrocuted, and Lana is the one punished by being made to stay after school in a dunce
cap. Back at home over dinner, little Clark boasts of how he got through the
day without exposing his super-powers, but Pa Kent grumps, "No.. except for
super-squeezing, invulnerability, super-seesawing and all the rest!! Oh, well,
luck was with us...." It must have been with them for a long time after that,
since that was just Clark's *first* day at school and it must have taken a
while before hiding his powers became second nature to him. But now, back in the
present, Clark''s luck may finally run out, as a high school biology lesson
on electric eels reminds Lana of the childhood incident when a classmate
handled the eels without harm. But *which* classmate? "Was it Kirk Brent? Burt
Denton? Mark Brent? Golly, I can't remember WHICH boy it was any more?"
"Whew! If Lana had a SUPER-MEMORY like mine, I'd be sunk!"

The second story in the issue, the promised Superdog yarn, is "How Krypto
Made History!", also by Binder and George Papp. I'll zip through this story at
less length; the premise is that during a game of super-tag with his master
that leads them both underground, Krypto finds a giant buried dinosaur bone, and
is distracted from the game to go chew on this super-treat. But he is
disappointed by the taste, for, as Superboy explains, ""Fossil bones that are buried
underground a long time become petrified...or turned to STONE!" Krypto's only
chance to taste fresh dinosaur bones is to go back through time to the "Age
of the Dinosaurs"-- and this he does, or tries to do, imitating how he has seen
Superboy break the time barrier at super-speed. Not being up on his biology,
however, Krypto isn't sure how far back in time to go. He momentarily thinks
he has succeeded when he lands among dinosaurs and their bones, but actually
it is a museum exhibit in the year 1927 A.D. (less than a decade, presumably,
from his early 30's starting point). Taking off to go back further in time,
Krypto inadvertently sets up a gust of wind that blows a pigeon out of the
path of a speeding baseball-- and so saves Babe Ruth's legendary 60th home run
for a season. Back farther in time, Krypto spots a dark shape he thinks may be
a sleeping dinosaur, but it turns out to be only a cake of ice in a river that
the Superdog melts with his heat vision. Happily for American history, that
melted ice happened to be right in the path of General George Washington as
he crossed the Delaware River on his way to the crucial Revolutionary battle of
Trenton. Thanks to Krypto, Washington avoids the fate of the Titanic and
goes on to defeat the British. At this next stop moving backwards in time (and
eastwards in space, across the sea to Holland) Krypto briefly sticks his muddy
tail in a hole in a dike, allowing time for the famous unnamed Dutch boy to
arrive and stick his finger in the hole to save his country from flooding. The
next quasi-historical figure to whom Krypto gives a hand, er, paw, is Robin
Hood, as he thinks an ambusher firing an arrow at Robin's back is "playing a
stick-game" and catches the arrow and returns it. Then Krypto comes upon a young
knight trying to pull out a sword hopelessly stuck in a stone. Krypto pulls
the sword mostly loose with his teeth-- "I like to do good deeds like that,
just as my master Superboy does!"-- and, of course, the knight who finishes
pullling out the sword is destined to become King Arthur.

But so far, Krypto is only a millenium or so in the past, not nearly far back
enough to encounter live dinosaurs (or their fresh bones). With a
"super-leap", however, the Dog of Steel at last reaches his goal of 250,000 B.C. and
prepares to feast. Though first he knocks out a tyrannosaurus rex who is
bullying a smaller dinosaur. (Hey, Uncle Mort and Otto Binder missed a bet here--
they could have had Krypto save a tiny mammal who was being threatened by a
dinosaur, and then say that mammal was the ancestor of all the mammals that
eventually survived the dinosaurs and ultimately of the human race.) But just as
Krypto finds a fresh dinsaur skeleton and is about to chow down, his young
super-master finds him and pulls him back to the 20th century for an "important
event". What event? Smallville's celebreation of the first appearance in
Smallville of Krypto himself. Krypto is less than thrilled however, to be awarded
by the mayor a golden bone; "Great pups! I can't eat that!" Noting Krypto's
disappointment, Superboy locates for him a lode of ancient mammoth bones in the
Arctic, frozen in ice and not petrified. But yet again Krypto is
disappointed, as a scientist runs up urging Superboy not to allow his dog to eat the
"greatest archeological find of the century". And so, back at the Kent home, all
Superboy can find to give Krypto for a treat is "ordinary dog food bones! My
hunt through past ages for dinosaur bones was all a wiild goose chase!"
(though what would stop Krypto from going back in time again for more dinosaur
bones, isn't clear)

I recall that one of the ways Dr. Fredric Wertham accused comic books of
warping kids' minds was with stories like this. In "Seduction of the Innocent"--
or maybe it was his later 1960's book, "A Sign for Cain", which had a chapter
about comics-- Wertham cited a Superboy story similar to this one, only it was
Superboy himself traipsing through time taking a hand in famous historical
events. Wertham complained that kids would grow up actually believing that
Superboy was responsible for every great achievement of past history. I suppose he
would have been even more outraged if he'd read this yarn and seen the credit
given to a *dog*. (I doubt very much, though, that any real kid was dumb
enough to pipe up in history class that either Superboy or Krypto was responsible
for helping Washington cross the Delaware. Just as I doubt that real kids
searched the fine details of comic-book art to find hidden female genitals, or
read crime comics and developed an ambition to grow up and poke girls' eyes out
or drag them behind cars.)

Finally, we come to the cover story, "The Punishment of Superboy!", written
by Binder and drawn by John Sikela, who started out as one of Joe Shuster's
assistants on the golden age Superman and was at the time of this issue was just
winding up several years as primary Superboy artist. (Sikela drew a
younger-looking Superboy, maybe 12 or 14 years old, which made the spanking scene from
the cover a little less grotesque.) This story left an impression on my mind
in my own youth (though I'm not sure if I first read it here or in a later
SUPERMAN ANNUAL reprint), perhaps because it was a rare example of Superboy
acting like a *real* bratty kid. It's been reported that when he first thought of
a Superboy spinoff series, Jerry Siegel envisioned a humorous series in which
young Clark Kent acted as a super-prankster before learning the Spider-Man
lesson that "with great power comes great responsibility". When DC Comics
actually launched a Superboy series, however, it seemed as if Superboy was literally
born having learned that lesson. He was superhuman in his good nature and
self-discipline as well as his physical powers. Superman has been called a "Boy
Scout" sort of hero, but in fact Superboy made the Boy Scouts (who have been
known on occasion to play pranks, disobey their scoutmasters, and get in
trouble) look like Hell's Angels. With the exception of this story in which "the
Boy of Steel became the Brat of Steel for a while and it became a super-problem
for Dad Kent to figure out THE PUNISHMENT OF SUPERBOY!"

On the splash panel, Dad Kent (he's consistently called that instead of "Pa"
in this issue) tries to punish a disobeident Clark by declaring "lights out",
but a smirking Clark points out he can still keep on tinkering with his
Superboy robot since "I can see in the dark with my X-ray vision, Dad! You'll have
to find some other way to punish me-- if you can!" Again the story starts in
the "present" with Dad Kent and Clark leaving a father-and-son banquet at
which Kent senior has been given a "Father of the Year" award for raising a good
and obedient son in Clark. Clark begins reminiscing about the one time when
"I wasn't your OBEDIENT son...remember?" "Yes...years ago your mother and I
feared you would grow up to be a BAD BOY!" (Curiously, as we've seen, the main
action of all three stories in this issue takes place in the "past", by means
of flashbacks or time travel.) This rebellion begins one day years earlier
when, after completing his patrol of Smallville as Superboy, our hero is handed
a chore to complete as Clark Kent; to chop up the woodpile. Moreover, Dad
Kent orders, he is to do so at normal human speed, not super-speed, since the
neighbors might see him. Clark doesn't feel like wasting time that way, and he
refuses. "I don't have to obey you if I don't want to! After all, I'm not
your REAL son, only your ADOPTED son!" A tearful Mom Kent asks if he then wants
to go back to the orphanage where they adopted him, but Clark reassures her;
he loves his foster parents, but that doesn't mean he's going to obey them all
the time. Dad Kent takes Clark into the woodshed-- literally-- and tries to
give him a spanking, but he hurts his hand on Clark's invulnerable tush, and
even a wooden stick breaks. (By the way, unlike on the cover, the attempted
spanking is directed at Clark in civvies, not Superboy in costume.) Next, Dad
sends Clark to bed without supper, but Clark smugly reminds him that he can eat
anything and doesn't *need* to eat at all. So Dad removes the radio from
Clark's room, to prevent him from listening to the broadcast of the World Series
baseball game-- but Clark reminds him he can just tune in directly on the
announcer's voice with his super-hearing. Clearly, it's become a game; Clark will
obey the letter of whatever restrictions Dad puts on him as "punishment",
while finding ways to get around them with super-powers.

Later, Dad takes Mom Kent to a sci-fi movie while leaving Clark behind in his
room. But on their return, Clark enthusiastically recounts the plot of the
film, having watched it with his telescopic vision. (Hmmm... maybe he *is*
turning into a bad boy....besides disobeying Dad, he's also cheated the movie
theater out of its admission cost.) Mom Kent suggests giving up on punishment,
but Dad sternly insists that it's important for Superboy's young mind to be
molded the right way!" He tries to prevent Superboy from attenidng the
Championship Marble Matches as umpire, forbidding him to leave his room by melting
through a window or smashing the door or walls, but he forgets to forbid
super-boring through the ground (something he did remember to tell little Clark not to
do in the first story) and Superboy gets to the marble match that way. Next,
Dad cuts off Clark's allowance, but Superboy makes up for it by catching a
rare deep-sea fish, the "finned unicorn", and selling it to an aquarium for
exactly the amount of Clark's allowance. Then Clark rubs it in by entering Dad
Kent's general store to spend his "allowance" there. Finally, Dad gets the idea
of keeping Superboy from a date to sign autographs, by handcuffing Clark to a
staircase, supposedly as part of a botched "magic" demonstration by Dad. But
Dad humiliates himself without stopping Superboy from going where he wants,
for the "Clark" he has handcuffed is only one of Superboy's robots.

And so, Dad Kent says, "I give up!" but soon afterwards, sitting in his room
about gloating about how he has outwitted his parental units, Clark hears
angry voices from below; "I can't handle Clark and it's all YOUR fault, Martha!
You spoiled him!" "Don't shift the blame on me Jonathan Kent! He's your son
too!" Rushing downstairs, Clark finds his foster parents going their separate
ways; ""I'm leaving that super-brat in YOUR hands, Martha! YOU can raise him
from now on! I don't want any part of that imp of a son!" "I'm going to my
sister's! I'll NEVER come back as long as Clark lives here!" And so, Clark
is left alone and remorseful in the Kent home. "Our happy home is broken
up...and it's all my fault for being so stubborn about chopping wood!....Oh, if
only they would come back, I would never be a bad boy again...*sob*"

But then, "MOM! DAD! You're back!" "We never really left, son! Your
mother and I planned that FAKE quarrel to bring you to your senses! It was the
only way we could punish our super-son!" (And so, perhaps, we see where our hero
picked up his habit he exhibited in later life of playing emotionally
wrenching tricks on his supposed loved ones to 'teach them a lesson"....) And so
Clark chops the @#$%^&! wood at last, while piously declaring, "I realize now
that all boys, including SUPERBOY, need the firm guidance of their parents to
learn right from wrong!" Back in the "present", coming home from the
father-and-son banquet, Clark declares that both his foster parents qualify as Father of
the Year and Mother of the Year, and Mom replies, "And you're the SON OF THE
YEAR, Clark-- this year and every year!"

I used to think that the Superboy series missed a trick in making young ClarK
Kent so perfect, well-behaved, and mature all the time. I figured it would
have been more interesting to read about a Superboy who did make mistakes,
sometimes misbehaved, and had things to learn. However, that may not have been
what the actual kid readers of the time wanted. They got enough in real life
of screwing up and being bossed around and lectured by adults. Perhaps, except
for the occasional "very special story" like this, they really preferred
reading about a model super-kid who was always right. Or perhaps the adults
writing his adventures figured he would be a better role model that way (and so
adults would be more likely to buy Superboy comics for their kids). The success
of the Superboy comic for many years suggests that Uncle Mort Weisinger and
company knew what they were doing.

But this story also shows Uncle Mort's uncanny ability to zero in on his
young audience's deepest fears and insecurities. We know that in real life, when
parents divorce or some other family tragedy happens, young kids often think
it is "their" fault-- even if it isn't.

In reality, of course, if a Superboy or Superbaby could exist in the first
place, the problem of the "punishment of Superboy" would be a whole lot worse
than what we see here. No one could possibly discipline or control an
invulnerable, super-powerful child incapable of being punished or even physically
restrained-- no matter how wise and patient the parents might be, or how basically
good-natured the super-child might be. Inevitably, some impulse would get
out of control, and the result would be along the lines of "Monster Baby Kills
Foster Parents, Wrecks Town, Threatens World!" This is presumably why, in a
more rationalistic era of comics writing, John Byrne chose to reboot the life
story of Superman in such a way that he develops his super-powers only
gradually after landing on Earth, and does not become fully super (and invulnerable)
until his character is fully formed in late adolescence.