Bizarro Back Issues: The War Between Superman And Superboy! (1963)
If you're anything like me you're probably a little mystified by the current state of the Superman books. As fun as those stories might be, trying to figure out how the younger Superman of the New 52 era has been replaced by his older counterpart from the previous version of DC Universe --- you know, the one who had a mullet, was made of blue electricity for a year, and once got beat to death by a bone monster --- is pretty confusing even for someone like me, let alone the more casual fans who might be drawn in by the idea of Superman punching out Rorschach or whatever else is coming down the pipe.
But that said, and comics being comics, it's not exactly something without precedent. Back in the '60s, there was a story where an older Superman showed up to meet his younger counterpart, and then immediately tried to murder him with trickery and poison. And I think it's safe to say that he didn't really think that one through too well.
It happened back in Adventure Comics #304 in Jerry Siegel and George Papp's "The War Between Superboy and Superman," and like so many weird stories of that era, it has a lot to do with the Silver Age's favorite plot point, Red Kryptonite. Sort of. Kind of. Not really. But we'll get there.
When we start, though, it's a typical day for Superboy in Smallville. And by that I mean that he's needlessly putting his loved ones in immediate and lethal danger in the name of not letting some rando who works at the gas station think that his father has any ability to fix his own car:
Literally one page later:
As Silver Age aficionados might recall, the Ma and Pa Kent of that era actually died due to a mysterious disease they contracted from pirate treasure, but there's a part of me that really wanted that to be the last panel of the story, and for Superboy to learn a lesson about not trying to shirk your way out of fixing the car with the flimsiest possible excuse.
But alas, nobody learns anything in this story. Rather than exploding into a shower of charred corpse parts and faulty gears at the bottom of the Smallville Ravine, the Kent family car is rescued from its deadly plummet by Super... man?!?!
Okay, so this might require some explanation.
The entire reason that Superboy ditched his mom and dad without fixing their car is that he promised to help the army by acting as a flying target for their tanks, because apparently Superman was really into helping people become more efficient at blowing things up with artillery back in the day. The problem is that the explosions crack open a nearby mountain, revealing a chunk of Red Kryptonite --- which of course causes strange, unpredictable, and thoroughly nonsensical changes to Kryptonians --- being carried aloft by an older Superman.
According to "Superman," the Red K caused Superboy to split and also for the duplicate to age, and considering that it has also caused Superman to turn into a dragon, grow extra limbs, and become temporarily unable to see anything green, that fits right in with the pattern. This time, though, it doesn't seem like a problem. Despite the age difference, the two Supermales seem to immediately come together as one big happy family.
Or do they?!
As the Two Clarks work on their anniversary presents for Jon and Martha --- and in a shockingly bizarre move, Superboy's present is a bunch of robots that look like his older self, because that's definitely what a pair of small-town general store owners want to have around --- Superman discovers that their proximity to each other is having dire effects!
Thanks to nebulous Silver Age science, one of them needs to leave Earth within 48 hours or risk the collapse of the entire solar system, due to the space-time continuum! Which, you know, conveniently ignores that a) Superboy travels through time with alarming regularity because his best friends live in the 30th century, and b) Superman is not actually displaced from time, but is instead a duplicate made by space radiation. But, y'know, roll with it. Superboy sure does.
To be fair about everything, the Supermales decide to flip a coin, and that's where things start to get a little hinky:
Superboy immediately thinks something shady is going on here, but when Ma and Pa Kent return, they break up the fight and calm everyone down so that they can open their presents. First, the robots --- met with a resounding "well, that's very... that's very nice, dear" from Martha --- and then their present from Superman, a serum that gives them super-powers for the next few minutes.
Owing to the fact that this is an objectively better present, Ma and Pa are pretty stoked about this, as well as the promise that Superman will one day improve on the serum to make it permanent, leading Superboy to feel unloved by the people that he left to die on the back roads of Kansas literally one day earlier. He's so broken up about it that, in the single weirdest part of the story, he ends up building a machine that lets him see into their dreams.
I cannot imagine anything less advisable than spying on your mom and dad's dreams while they're living that #twinbedlifestyle, but it confirms Superboy's suspicions and causes him to resolve to leave Earth... forever.
Before he heads out, Superboy decides to take one last spin around Smallville with his older counterpart, and they end up running into Lana Lang. Lana, it seems, has been practicing the violin, and wants to perform for Clark and his "Uncle Charlie," and despite the fact that this is not at all how instruments work, she ends up playing a note that's so high-pitched that it shatters a nearby window. After that, though, it's finally time to leave, so with a final goodbye to Krypto, Superboy departs, leaving Superman as an adult who literally lives in his parents' basement.
But we're not done yet.
That's right, this "Superman" is a fake! It turns out that, in a setup that's convoluted even for the Silver Age, he's actually Roz-Em, a Kryptonian criminal who had his face altered to look like Jor-El's brother, who served as the head of an armory --- which means that he also looks enough like Nim-El's nephew to pass as Superboy's older self. As for how he survived the destruction of Krypton, he was apprehended by the real El brothers and, since this was before the invention of the Phantom Zone, put into suspended animation and rocketed into orbit where he would stay for eternity.
The Kryptonian Justice System is just weird as all hell.
Fortunately for the Kents, Jonathan realized what was up when he noticed that Superman's glasses were cracked by Lana's high note, and hid a secret message in a hollow bone that he sent off with Krypto, under the (correct!) assumption that Krypto would crack it open with his Super-Teeth and deliver it to Superboy as a message.
Thus, Superboy returns traps Roz-Em in the Phantom Zone, so let's hear it for teenagers deciding on indefinite detention without due process!