Superboy: The Adventures Of Superman When He Was A Boy.
Turns out, when Clark was a boy, he was still fighting bigots in his way.
“The Weakling From Earth” / “The Revolt of the Weaklings”
The story begins with Superboy flying through space on his way back from a mission and coming across remnants of his exploded birthworld Krypton. Much of the debris is in the form of kryptonite, so Superboy keeps his distance, but among that which is safe he finds an experimental rocket designed by his father Jor-El. Superboy understandably goes inside the rocket and takes some time to examine it, not noticing that it has drifted and is falling to a planet that orbits a red sun.
As always happens when Clark is exposed to the light of a red sun, he loses his superhuman abilities. That means, once again, young Kal-El is helpless in a rocket as it crashes and once again he is rescued by a kindly older couple. In this case, Jinnia and Ral Quorz fly in to rescue the powerless Superboy from a swamp monster.
They, and indeed most natives of the planet Xenon, have super powers. But occasionally “Weaklings” are born with that we would consider baseline human strength and ability, and thus are equal to Clark while he is in this red sun system. To make the situation worse, the “cruel ruler” of Xenon, a dictator named Zozz, has made a law that Weaklings must be exiled to another planet. There is a Weakling Search Squad has the right to burst into any home at any time to check if they are hiding a Weakling.
Mom and Dad Quorz have a son, Varl, who is a Weakling and successfully hid him for a time, but he eventually turned himself in so that his parents would not be incarcerated.
Without his powers, Clark has no way to escape Xenon, but the Quorzes are happy to take him in, dress him in Varl’s clothes, and have him pose as their new son Jal Quorz.
When the Weakling Search Squad busts into the Quorz home and tests Clark’s strength, the Quorzes are ready to use the devices they used with their son to fake superhuman powers.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the WSS who are hunting for Weaklings. Clark soon meet’s the girl who lives next door, Llela Llark, who is instantly suspicious of “Jal” and schemes to prove he is a Weakling. Llela is apparently a devoted bigot who buys into Zozz’s anti-Weakling stance, because she used to do the same thing to Varl.
In typical fashion for a Silver Age story, we get a series of situations in which Clark or the Quorzes must figure out a clever way to protect Clark’s secret. It all goes well until Clark happens to be playing with a dog while the WSS are passing by, and the dog rips Clark’s costume, revealing the jets he has been using to fly. Clark is exposed and is exiled to the Weakling World.
Sent by rocket to another planet in the system, Clark is still without his powers. He meets Varl Quorz and gets a look around the Weakling World. The exiles have built shelters using the burnt-out rockets used to send them there and they live off of fruit that grows on tall trees they have to climb to reach.
After Clark has climbed up to get a meal for himself, he comes down to be confronted by Kang, the strongest of the Weaklings, who has been bullying others into working for him. When Kang demands that Clark hand over half of the fruit he just picked, Clark is a little bit thrilled because he never got to fight a bully on Earth. His powers would have made it unfair. Here, Clark fights Kang and gets the upper hand. Kang taps out, but while the other exiles are celebrating Clark’s victory, the bully grabs a nearby rock and throws it at Clark.
By an astounding coincidence, the rock turns out to be Red Kryptonite. Sure, they had established that remnants of Krypton turn up in this system, but that’s still an astounding coincidence. And what’s more, Red K always has random transformative effects on Clark and the random effect bestowed by this one could not be more convenient: it gives Superboy the ability to have his powers even under a red sun.
Naturally, Clark’s first instinct upon being powered again is to share the wealth from the fruit trees because the guy is always a socialist at heart.
Next up, Superboy flies back to Xenon and confronts Zozz. He gives the dictator a chance to surrender, but Zozz has a lot of super-weapons and won’t go down without a fight. After Zozz’s lightning cannons, robots, and battering ram (which apparently counts as a super-weapon) all fail to stop the young hero, Zozz resorts to a dirtier tactic: He has his super-strong army work together to rip a mountain out of the ground and throw it at the Weakling World.
Superboy races into space to stop the projectile mountain, which he does, only for Zozz to go even further by firing a uranium ray, creating a chain reaction that causes the mountain to explode. Superboy is only mildly dazed, but the mountain has been reduced to radioactive purple dust that forms rings around Xenon.
Superboy imprisons Zozz and his army in their fortress. The Xenonites point out that they’re strong enough to break out, but they aren’t. It turns out that the chain effect Zozz caused in the mountain was similar to the chain reaction that turned Krypton into kryptonite, so now the rings of purple xenonite that surround the planet are removing the powers of the population.
Zozz is defeated, the anti-Weakling laws are repealed, and the kids are returned home. The people of Xenon are now “all equals” and Superboy gets back to Earth (where he has grown so used to life among Xenonites that he almost uses super-strength in front of Lana Lang, then absentmindedly calls his parents “Mom and Dad Quorz” which I’m sure feels great for the Kents.
Issue: Superboy #81, June, 1960
THE WAR ON WEAKLINGS
The story is more concerned with super-feats than it is fleshing out its villains, so we don’t get a particularly close look at Zozz and his followers. But what we do know certainly looks standard enough.
It’s stated that Zozz came to power “last year” and after then established his law against Weaklings and created his Weakling Search Squad. He’s a big military figure who has devised powerful super-weapons to fend off threats from space.
You can easily imagine the campaign that got him his followers. There was probably always anti-Weakling sentiment, but he fed into it by making them something to be feared. He likely warned that threats could come from space at any time, after all just look at the ruins of Krypton that prove there is life in space, and prove that planets aren’t guaranteed survival. If Xenon needs to focus on being strong in the face of such threats, the Weaklings are a vulnerability. The Weaklings are therefore simultaneously feeble and the biggest threat to the survival of the planet.
Zozz would say that he’s just the right powerful strong figure to keep the planet safe and, lucky for his followers, that safety would come with a chance to be cruel to Weaklings. And a year later he has his uniformed goon squads ripping children from the arms of their parents and none of the soldiers resist when Zozz casually tries to destroy the Weakling World because his power is threatened.
It’s bleak in its familiarity.
I’m not enthusiastic about the ending of the story in which all Xenonites lose their powers (or, as Superboy says it, are made “normal”). Racists, who think of themselves as being better than everyone else, see equality as being “brought down” to the level of their lessers. But equality should be about making the best world for everyone. It’d be better, as one example, to make all businesses wheelchair accessible than we make them inaccessible to everyone.
Seeing the bigots in the story lose their powers is nice and all, but it’s still a story in which people’s natural abilities are taken from them. Not just the racists, but the whole planet. Ral Quorz was shown as a salesman who would carry his store from place to place, instead of people having to come to him. Won’t be able to do that anymore. That’s just one way that the Xenonite way of life will be forced to change. I suspect bad times are ahead on Xenon.
I’d rather have seen a depiction of equality that rightly shows it making the future brighter for everyone. That makes equality something that everybody would want.
- The explanation for the powers of the Xenonites is, of course, quite silly in typical Silver Age fashion. It seems their planet used to be much larger, so the Xenonites evolved to have powerful muscles to exist in its gravity, but then “cosmic forces” shrunk the planet, leaving with super-muscles in lighter gravity, giving them super-strength, flying, super-breath, and super-speed (they don’t have Clark’s other powers, such as heat vision, because that would strain the scientific credibility of the story).
- It’s also explained that Kryptonian artifacts have been falling onto Xenon for quite some time, and Xenonite scientists were able to decipher Kryptonese. They decided it was better than their own language and adopted it worldwide and that’s why Superboy can understand them.
- Naturally, being a comic of its time, all the humanoid faces in this book, be they human, Xenonite, or Kryptonian, look like white people.
- Clark finding a relic of Jor-El’s is treated as a pretty mundane occurrence here. It distracts him for a bit, but there’s no weight to it. They could have reduced the number of astounding coincidences in this story by one if it had been any other Kryptonian relic that distracted Clark.
- While wearing Varl’s clothes, Clark looks a lot like Mon-El.
- I know the X-Men and that franchise’s depiction of mutants is the most prominent race-issues allegory in superhero stories, but I could probably very much enjoy a series that explored racial themes on a world where the oppressors have powers and the protagonists do not. A team of scrappy Batman types in a world of racist mutants? It could work.
- On the topic of sci-fi race allegory stories, Supergirl (the show) has done some work with aliens as stand-ins for oppressed peoples. Maybe they or the upcoming Superman and Lois show would feel like adapting the Weaklings story from this issue. I didn’t think so.
- The existence of the planet Xenon in this story means that Superman stories are a prequel to the Space Quest games and I will be accepting no arguments to the contrary.
I dunno, maybe I’ll just play it easy and dig up another story where Nazis are the bad guys to see how that looks in the early Comics Code era.