**Hey everyone! FYI this article contains MAJOR spoilers for Doomsday Clock! Enjoy!**
Geoff Johns can do no wrong.
His Green Lantern run is one of my top 2-3 favorite runs by any writer all time. His take on the DCU from the mid-2000s almost single-handedly brought me back to comics. I loved his runs on Flash, JSA, and Hawkman, as well as his special projects like Infinite Crisis, DC Rebirth, the Batman Earth One graphic novels and pretty much everything else.
Oh yeah, and Superman.
He has always shown a love, respect, and a real mastery for every character he writes, moving a story forward perfectly with respect for the past, while not being hampered by it. He has introduced plenty of new characters and fixed several old ones who had ceased being viable. Lately, he has also been the paramedic who comes to rescue DC Comics when they get themselves into trouble. DC Rebirth was essentially Johns cleaning up the mess that was the New 52 in an effort to bring back longtime readers without alienating new ones. No easy task, but he succeeded. In Doomsday Clock, Johns once again makes a valiant effort to revitalize the brand by reenergizing the Rebirth universe and integrating the world of Alan Moore’s Watchmen into the DCU proper. The book was both a continuation/wrapup of hanging story threads from New 52 and Rebirth, as well as a launching point into the future of the company as well. As much as I will always love Geoff’s work though, I think the ambition of this project was a bit too much for even him.
When being interviewed about Doomsday Clock, Geoff often said that he saw it primarily as a Superman story. To be sure, Supes is a central character in this book, and the crescendo of the whole thing is his battle with Doctor Manhattan, certainly a cool premise! What I didn’t realize, however, is that Johns chose to use Superman as the gateway to the changes to the DCU which were made as a result of all this. In other words, whatever changes/repairs were made to DC’s timeline by Doctor Manhattan were featured through the lense of Superman’s life. Whether something took place in the ‘30s, ‘50s, or the far future, how it looked through Superman’s life was how Johns’ chose to tell the story.
There’s a lot of densely packed content in this story about just that concept, but the one that caught my attention most is the fact that, as a result of Doomsday Clock, Superboy once again existed.
Here’s where I get a little confused, and risk asking a question that will turn a lot of you off: Why is Superboy such a big deal?
It seems that every time there’s a shakeup in DC’s timeline, Superboy always comes up, and I just don’t get it. Why? Does anyone care about the character that much? I know he has existed for a long time, but why do Johns and other writers seem to obsess over whether he needs to have existed or not?
Jerry Siegel created the character shortly after creating Superman, and Superboy first launched (without his knowledge, I should add) in 1949. The stories were never meant to be canon, and more to appeal to a younger crowd to grow the brand. To be sure, many additions to the Superman mythos- like Smallville, the Kents and Lana Lang- came from Superboy. But Siegel hardly ever mentioned them in his Superman work, and certainly not during the Golden Age.
Most famously, John Byrne retconned the Boy of Steel out of Clark Kent’s past with Man of Steel in 1986, and that’s basically where everything stayed for thirty years. Like all comic book fans, this is the era I imprinted on, and therefore will always gravitate to, even if some may not agree. I fully realize that the choice Byrne made to retcon Superboy out of existence caused untold havoc for the Legion of Superheroes, but never really understood why the 30th century (…er, 31st now…) couldn’t just have been inspired by Superman himself. As far as reasons for Superboy go, that one for me is pretty weak.
During and after the Byrne years, the door flew wide open for stories about Clark Kent without the red cape and boots which have become endearing and indelible marks on the character. One could even make the case that the “Smallville years” really crystallized in the 1978 Superman movie, in which much of the first act takes place with a costume-less Clark Kent’s childhood in Kansas, a huge strength for the movie in my eyes. You also get wonderful flashback stories in comics and cartoons (I personally loved the family yearbook shorts in the Ruby Spears Superman cartoon, among others). TV shows like Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and, perhaps most famously Smallville, also embraced this version of the character, with the character figuring things out as an adult and the shock of the world discovering Superman in Metropolis for the first time. For me, all of these stories have really worked.
I’ve said in the past that I’ve never been a fan of the Lex Luthor/Clark Kent high school friendship, so if you put that aside, again, I ask why. Why Superboy? What’s the point? I would think it makes the character feel more juvenile to broader audiences to have existed. Thank goodness we never had Batboy or Wonder Girl adventures in those characters’ childhoods.
Superman as a character is stronger when he is taken more seriously, and Superboy brings that down. Even the Smallville “Red/Blue Blur” idea is more palatable if you want superheroic young Clark stories. Johns himself already proved that you can do that, and reconcile the concept of the Legion without a costumed Superboy in Secret Origin. I’m just a little disappointed he chose to take that in a different direction in this book.
Is it Earth-shattering? No. Am I even reading Superman right now? Not really, unless collected editions from the library from the prior year count. I guess I’m not complaining so much as just trying to wrap my brain around what the appeal is, while trying to once again affirm how much Byrne did overall for the character so many years ago.
And don’t get me wrong, Geoff Johns is still great!