Bizarro Back Issues: Superboy’s Bio-Magnetism! (1980)
I think we can all agree that the problem with Silver Age Superman was that he just didn't have enough powers. Flight, super-strength, invulnerability, super-speed, heat vision, X-Ray vision, telescopic vision, microscopic vision, super-breath, super-memory, super-ventriloquism, super-hypnosis, super-intellect -- I mean, honestly, how is anyone supposed to tell a story with such a limited set of tools?
Fortunately for us, the legendary Cary Bates and Kurt Schaffenberger were able to get around that little problem way back in The New Adventures of Superboy #11, with a deceptively simple solution: They gave that kid another super-ability: the amazing power of bio-magnetism, which essentially turned him into a giant Katamari.This wasn't the first time that Pre-Crisis Superman's powers got a temporary boost. Way back in 1958's Superman #125 gave us one of the all-time greatest stories of the Silver Age, a tale called "Superman's New Power" that's often cited as a favorite of All Star Superman and Action Comics writer Grant Morrison.
On the cover of that one, Superman is seen shooting rainbows out of his hands, but inside, things are even crazier. It turns out that Superman has, through the mysterious circumstances that the citizens of Metropolis generally referred to as "Tuesday," gained the ability to project a foot-tall "midget" version of himself that has all of his old powers, who runs around doing super-feats while Superman himself just sort of chills out. And just to push things over the edge into complete, awesome madness, Superman quickly becomes jealous of the homonculus and sets about trying to murder him through a series of "accidents," until it finally ends up sacrificing itself to save Superman from Kryptonite. It is fantastic.
Bates and Schaffenberger don't quite get that crazy with their story, which bears the predictable title of "Superboy's Amazing New Power!", is definitely a weird one.
The story begins with young Lex Luthor plotting to kill Superboy, because even at a young age, he is goal oriented. For those of you who don't know, the teenage Lex (mistakenly) believed that Superboy had caused an explosion in his lab that had robbed him of his magnificent head of hair out of jealousy over his intellect, and it's that act that set him on the path of evil -- which in this case is represented by a tabletop Tesla coil.
Superboy, meanwhile, is spending his Saturday morning goofing off, flying around and literally pirouetting through the air like an idiot. And just so you know, you may want to get used to that phrase -- "like an idiot" -- because we're going to be seeing it quite a bit before we're done here.
After a truly amazing close-up of Lex Luthor's goggles that is seriously among my favorite panels ever...
...the entire evil experiment goes awry. The "Magne-Coils" hit critical mass, and Lex's Shed of Solitude explodes, leaving in its place the pretty cool effect of a column of smoke ringed by a spiral of lightning.
Superboy, of course, happens to be passing by at that very moment, and even though he is now faced with something that looks like it should be decorating the cover of a Megadeth album, he decides like an idiot that he should probably just go ahead and stick his hand into it.
Maybe I'm being a little too harsh on Superboy here. He is, after all, invulnerable, so it's not like he has any good reason to think that there could be a negative consequence to what he's doing here. On the other hand, though, it's lightning shooting up from the ground in a spiral around a pillar of chemical smoke. That's not really something I or anyone else has ever really seen before. Maybe a little caution was called for. Just sayin'.
Anyway, Superboy goes flying head over heels for a bit but is otherwise unharmed and he deals with things as he usually does, by flying around it in a circle until everything's okay. If you've read a lot of Silver Age Superman comics, you'll recognize this as his second-favorite way of dealing with problems, coming in right behind "throw that sumb*tch into space."
As you might imagine, Lex is more than a little bummed out about this turn of events. He's screwed up and accidentally blown up his own science shed, and Superboy barely seems bothered by what happened:
In fact, it's at this point of the story that I actually start to feel sorry for Lex. I mean, yeah, he's totally trying to murder a dude, but just look at how down he is! C'mon, fella, buck up! You'll figure out a way to poison him with Kryptonite someday!
Clark, meanwhile, goes about his life as normal, when suddenly, Smallville reveals itself to be the crime-ridden hellhole that we've always expected:
As a quick sidenote, man, how great is Kurt Schaffenberger? You guys can have your Swandersons; Schaffenberger is my favorite Silver Age Superman artist, hands down. He's one of the best guys for "acting" and facial expressions in comics history and this panel is a great example: Lana's "Cannot believe this guy" look is absolutely perfect.
Anyway, with Lana blocking his original plan of blowing the guy down the block -- go ahead, I'll wait -- Clark decides like an idiot to just stand there holding his fist out while the dude runs away. And amazingly, something actually happens from this "plan." The crook rockets backwards down the street towards Clark and gets brained by Clark's immobile fist:
Police Chief Parker, who has long since given up even trying to actually enfore the law himself or find rational explanations for things assumes that Superboy just used his super-breath to blow the guy into Clark -- go ahead, I'll wait -- from the opposite direction. In other words, Clark has actually trained the people of Smallville to make his excuses to Lana for him.
As it turns out, Superboy quickly gains control of his new ability to summon things to himself just by pointing at them and concentrating, and before long he's saving kids from malfunctioning carnival rides and helping his parents set the table with the power of Bio-Magnetism! But like a Kryptonian Shaggy 2 Dope, the knowledge of how this magnetism works continues to elude him.
Thus, he decides that it's time to be a total dick about it:
He heads back to Lex's exploded shed -- which for all I know is where that dude lives -- and straight up steals all of Lex's notes about the experiment. And not only does he steal them, but he does it by shoving them down his tights. "Hey, is this that science crap you're always working on? Well, now it's on my junk. How you like them apples, baldylocks? SUPERBOY OUT!"
If I wasn't rooting for Lex before, I am now.
Back at his house, Superboy attempts to learn the source of his bio-magnetism by studying his ill-gotten science homework, but even his "super-mental powers" are having a hard time with Lex's science. But as he's studying, his new power suddenly goes out of control:
I'm not sure, but I think this is the first time in comics that an alarming mutation was triggered by someone's mommy bringing him a blankie.
Anyway, like an idiot, Superboy just tears out of the house covered in blankets, desk lamps, homework and chairs, and even uproots a bunch of trees in the yard. Lex, meanwhile, has been off seeing a movie to take his mind off his homework theft, and as the giant Katamari that is Superboy flies by, he looks truly happy for the first time in his life. Why?
Because the first part of his Doom-Plan has finally activated!
And yes: First part. For most villains, turning their enemy into an uncontrollable bio-magnet would be the endgame, but for Lex, that's where things start.
While Lex is experiencing a level of peace and contentment usually only found in Zen masters, Superboy is acting true to form: He has thrown that sumb*tch into space, only this time, the sumb*tch in question is Superboy himself. But even there, he's not safe -- his Bio-Magnetism is pulling satellites out of orbit -- and so he thinks back to what he learned from Lex's notes. And what he learned was that black holes exist, because (since these stories are set in the past) Lex Luthor discovered black holes 20 years before anyone else. When he was in high school. Seriously, the moral of this story is that Lex Luthor is awesome.
So, like an idiot, Superboy forms the plan of just flying into a black hole and letting it "literaly suck the bio-magnetic energy right out of my body!" And even more amazingly, this works. But only too late does Superboy realize that he has stumbled into the true end of Lex's plot, which was to subconsciously implant the idea that black holes exist into Superboy's brain so that he'd go get himself stuck in one like an idiot.
The fact that even Superboy's mental image of Lex is upside-down in that panel is yet another reason why Kurt Schaffenberger is the greatest.
Anyway, Superboy can't fly himself out of the all-consuming black hole, so instead, he just decides to stop flying and "go with the flow," which somehow leads to him just sort of drifting away from the black hole until he's "beyond the danger zone." Folks. Let's be real here. I am not an astrophysicist. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and say that anything I know about black holes, I probably learned from comic books. And even I don't think that's how they're supposed to work.
But even more mind-boggling than that is the fact that the story ends with Superboy flying away and musing about whether he'll maybe fight Lex Luthor again... as an adult! And... Yeah, okay, you could do that, Superboy, or you could maybe deal with the fact that he just tried to murder you. Like, right now. Right now he is trying to kill you with black holes and lightning. Maybe, you know, deal with that first, and think about future problems later.
You know what? That kid deserves to be chucked into a black hole. I think we all know who the real victim in this story was:
Don't worry, Lex. You'll get him someday.