Originally, when Superman was created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, he was shown as having made his superhero debut as a full-grown adult. Eventually, after rejecting a few proposals for such from Siegel and Shuster, someone at DC decided to create the character of Superboy, Superman's adventures as a youth before becoming Superman. This came without input or approval from Siegel (which helped strain the relations between DC and Siegel and Shuster even further). Superboy's first appearance was in More Fun Comics #101 (January-February, 1945).
As shown, Superboy fought crime in and around his small home town of Smallville, and was raised by his foster parents, Ma and Pa Kent. Like his adult self, he also had a secret identity as Clark Kent. Other supporting characters included his best friend, Pete Ross, who had accidentally found Clark's secret and aided him without his knowledge; his female friend next door, Lana Lang, who, like Lois Lane years later, tried to become Superboy's girlfriend and/or find out his secret identity; Smallville's chief of police, Chief Parker; and Krypto, Superboy's pet dog from Krypton.
While some of Smallville's threats came from a rather high number of gangsters and bank robbers, some actual supervillains would also show up, including the Kryptonite Kid and most famously, young Lex Luthor (who was initially friends with Superboy; however, a laboratory accident (one that rendered him bald) and a series of disastrous, humiliating attempts to improve Smallville's life with his inventions—requiring Superboy to intervene each time—made him vow that the only way he'd be able to prove his intellectual prowess to the world would be to destroy Superboy... and later, Superman).
In 1958, Superboy was invited by three youths from the 30th century to join their superhero group, the Legion of Super-Heroes, whose stories became a recurring feature (before graduating to their own comic) in Superboy and Superman comics.
Various stories would show how Ma and Pa Kent eventually died shortly after Clark's graduation from high school, an event that affected him greatly, along with Superboy attending college and how he changed his name to Superman.
Then came Crisis on Infinite Earths and the subsequent Post-Crisis Byrne revamp in 1986, which after 40+ years of existence retconned Superboy out of existence. Under Byrne's origin, The Man of Steel, Superman was once again shown as having started his career as an adult. This caused a Continuity Snarl with the Legion comics, which was fixed by stating that a separate Superboy character was created in a "pocket universe" by the Legion villain known as the Time Trapper just to preserve the Legion's history; the Legion was redirected there everytime they traveled to what they thought was Superboy's time. The Pocket Universe became a major recurring storyline for both the Legion and for the Post-Crisis Superman. Pocket Superboy sacrificed himself to save both his universe and the Legion from the Time Trapper. Superman eventually violated Thou Shalt Not Kill to execute the Pocket Universe equivalents of General Zod and his henchmen for killing everyone on their Earth except for the "Matrix" Supergirl. Eventually, the editors decreed that the Pocket Universe and its Superboy be written out of continuity altogether (in yet another Cosmic Retcon).
After Infinite Crisis, Clark's career as Superboy was brought back in Superman: Secret Origin, though only his adventures with the Legion. Then the New 52 Continuity Reboot happened and it was gone again, until it was implied to have been restored in DC Rebirth. Doomsday Clock restored the classic Superboy, bringing the Decon-Recon Switch full circle.
Clark's Clone. See the Conner Kent page for more details.
New 52 Superboy
Clark's Clone. See the Conner Kent page for more details.
Jonathan Samuel Kent
Clark and Lois's biological son. See the Jonathan Samuel Kent page for more details.
- More Fun Comics (1945-1946)
- Adventure Comics (1946-1962) as the lead feature, (1962-1969) as part of the Legion of Super-Heroes feature
- Superboy (1949-1973), becomes Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes (1973-1979)
- Adventure Comics (1977-1978)
- Superman Family (1978-1979)
- The New Adventures of Superboy (1980-1984)
- Superboy: The Comic Book (1990-1992), tie-in to the live-action series The Adventures of Superboy
Kon-El/Conner Kent version:
- The Adventures of Superman (1993-1994), during Reign of the Supermen
- Superboy (vol. 4) (1994-2002)
- Superboy and the Ravers (1996-1998), as team leader
- WF3: World's Finest Three (1996), miniseries, co-lead with Robin
- Young Justice (1998-2003), as team member
- Teen Titans (vol. 3) (2003-2006, 2010-2011), as team member
- The Legion (2003-2004), as team member
- Adventure Comics (vol. 2) (2009-2010)
- Superboy (vol. 5): (2010-2011)
- Young Justice (2019) (2019-2020), as team member
- Action Comics (2020), supporting character
Kon-El (New 52) version:
- Superboy (vol. 6) (2011-2014)
- Teen Titans (vol. 4) (2011-2014), as antagonist turned team member
- Ravagers (2012-2013), as team member for one story arc
- Teen Titans (vol. 5) (2015), guest reappearance for one story arc
Jon Kent version:
- Superman: Lois and Clark (2015-2016), supporting character
- Action Comics (2016-present), supporting character
- Superman (vol. 4) (2016-2018), co-lead with Superman
- Super Sons (2017-2018), co-lead with Robin
- Superman (vol. 5) (2018-present), supporting character
- Legion of Super-Heroes (vol. 8) (2019-present), as team member
- The 1960s Filmation animated The New Adventures of Superman series featured Superboy cartoon segments.
- The Adventures of Superboy (1988-1992 live-action series)
- Smallville (though this centers around a costumeless teenage Clark Kent)
- Legion of Super-Heroes features a teenage Clark wearing the Super-costume, but because of the legal issues mentioned above he was called Superman instead of Superboy, as was originally intended.
- Young Justice (2011 animated series)
- Season 10 of Smallville
- While not a direct adaptation, Legion of Super-Heroes has a similar teenage Superman clone called Superman X/Kell-El, who wears a costume similar to Kon-El's.
- Titans (2018) (2018-present) portrayed by Joshua Orpin
- Reign of the Supermen (2019)
Jonathan Samuel Kent:
- Young Justice: Outsiders (2019)
- Superman & Lois (2021-present) portrayed by Jordan Elsass
Tropes associated with Superboy
- Already Met Everyone: Superboy met the teenaged versions of Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen, Bruce Wayne, Aquaman, and Lois Lane. Thanks to time travel, he also met the first Robin and Jimmy Olsen.
- Alternate Self: The post-Crisis Pocket Universe and pre-Crisis Earth-Prime versions of Superboy (both young Clark Kents from Alternate Universes).
- Comic-Book Time: The pre-Crisis Superboy's time-era varied over the decades as taking place in the relative past of Superman, and thus the Boy of Steel was shown as operating in The '30s, The '50s (largely skipping The '40s), The '60s, and even The '70s (by the end of Superboy's pre-Crisis run/the 1985 "Superman: The Secret Years" miniseries), until being retconned out of existence in the Byrne Superman revamp.
- Following several 2000s storylines that saw his restoration to Post-Crisis continuity (though with Superboy now operating mainly in the Legion's era), Superboy/teenage Clark Kent's time-era became The '90s (skipping The '80s).
- Superboy's mentioned in the 2017 Bugs Bunny / Legion of Super-Heroes crossover as living in the 21st century, which would put the Boy of Steel's time-era in the 2000s.
- Continuity Snarl: Inverted; while removing Superboy from canon after Crisis didn't affect Superman, it did affect the Legion of the Super-Heroes big time. Doomsday Clock restored the classic Superboy, which in effect brought back the classic Legion.
- The Interregnum: Superboy first appeared late in The Golden Age of Comic Books but really hit his peak in The '50s where he was one of the few superheroes to thrive, holding down two titles when the superhero market generally was at its lowest ebb. Ironically he actually suffered in popularity once the Silver Age dawned and he got Demoted to Extra in the early Seventies thanks to the surge in popularity of The Legion of Super-Heroes.
- Kid-Appeal Character: The reason for his creation.
- Kid Hero: Of course.
- Meaningful Rename: Superboy changed his name to Superman at some point during his college years, with several different stories published explaining how this happened. However, all the versions agree that Clark realized he's not a kid anymore, and felt it was time he had a more adult name.
- Mysterious Protector: In 1981's Superman #362 and #365-366, a flashback to Clark's early days at Metropolis University show he operated in secret as Superboy, to avoid anyone noticing Clark and Superboy both moving from Smallville to Metropolis. During this time, the whole country's abuzz and wondering what city Superboy had moved to. One scene even shows gamblers in Las Vegas making bets on which city the Boy of Steel had picked. The cities guessed at included Metropolis, Gotham City, New York (future home of the Teen Titans), Washington, D.C. (future pre-Crisis home of Wonder Woman), Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit (future home of a short-lived version of the Justice League), New Orleans, and Chicago (a future pre-Crisis home of Supergirl). Oddly, other than Metropolis and Gotham, none of the other fictional DCU cities were guessed at by anyone. Adding to the hype, each city claimed they'd found (false) "proof" of Superboy secretly doing super-feats there. The ex-Smallville Sensation finally comes out in the open, thanks in part to then-reporter Perry White deducing the Boy of Steel was in Metropolis.
- Put on a Bus/Ret-Gone: He was written out of Superman's backstory as of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
- The Bus Came Back: And brought back following Infinite Crisis. In the mini-series Superman: Secret Origin Clark is depicted as donning his costume for the first time, working in secret (and in costume) as a superhero in and around Smallville, joining the Legion of Super-Heroes as Superboy, and finding Krypto when the super dog lands on Earth.
- Spinoff Babies: Probably the first example of this, with Superboy first appearing in 1945's More Fun Comics #101.
- Superdickery: A staple. Adventures ranged from Lana Lang constantly getting powers, trying to find out Superboy's identity, or something along the lines of Smallville going through an obesity epidemic due to radioactive milk.
- Superhero Sobriquets: The Boy of Steel, the Boy of Tomorrow (more often in Golden Age stories), and the Smallville Sensation.
- The Only One: Superboy was not only Earth-1's first prominent superhero, but also largely its only one during his day, with other superheroes not appearing until (at earliest) sometime during his college years, when he became Superman. The only other major hero operating during Superboy's time-era was the teenaged Aquaman (or "Aquaboy").
- While that's largely true (most of DC's Golden Age heroes officially lived on Earth-2, and it was frequently lampshaded that Superboy inaugurated Earth-1's superheroic age), there were a few other early heroes, mostly ones who had to have existed on Earth-1 for their legacy carriers to make sense. An encounter with Zatanna's father Zatara the Magician taught Clark that he had no special defense against magic. The original Guardian and the Newsboy Legion defended Metropolis's Suicide Slum back in the Forties, decades before the Guardian's clone and the Newsboys' sons would team with Jimmy Olsen. And the Bronze Age Airwave was the son of the Golden Age Airwave.
- Time Travel:
- A constant for all Superboys, since the character is closely connected to the Legion of Super-Heroes.
- In a story (based on a script from the Superboy live action TV series that wasn't, apparently) Superboy flies out into space in order to make a home movie type film to show his friend that the friend's father was a hero during the war. Superboy goes faster than light so he can film the light coming from earth which shows what happened in the past.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Lois Lane and Lana Lang are 2/3rds of this.
- Demoted to Extra: The Legion of Super-Heroes was the cause of this for him. They originally appeared as supporting characters in Adventure Comics #247, where Superboy had been the star since 1946, and afterward became recurring characters. From issue #300, the Legion began starring in their own backup feature. In issue #309 they took over the lead feature of the comic while Superboy was demoted to the backup feature, displacing him from what had been his title for the past 27 years. By issue #316, new solo Superboy stories stopped appearing in Adventure Comics altogether, only occasionally being included as reprints (although he continued to appear as a member of the Legion). A decade later the Legion repeated the feat when they started appearing in Superboy as a backup feature from issue #172; as they gradually took over the comic again, its cover title was changed to Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with issue #197, it was officially renamed Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes from #231, and eventually it was renamed again to just Legion of Super-Heroes with issue #259 as Superboy left the series altogether. Fortunately, this time, Superboy also gained a new solo series, though the Legion made a guest appearance late in its run.
- Escaped Animal Rampage: This happened once due to Superbaby's desire for a pet, as shown on the cover of Superboy #130 on Superdickery here.
- Everyone Went to School Together: Clark Kent, Lana Lang, Pete Ross, and (until his turn to villainy) Lex Luthor all attended Smallville High.
- Lana Lang essentially served as a teenaged Expy of Lois Lane.
- Bash Bashford was an expy of Spider-Man character Flash Thompson.
- Incest Subtext: In Superboy #80, Kara travels to the past to meet Superboy, and Clark looks a tad smitten of his cousin. And then you have this scene◊. In the words of a reviewer "The rather phallic look of the alien ships added a little bit to my 'Clark hopes they could be kissing cousins' theory. I mean ... those ships could have been drawn any shape in the world."
- Jerk Jock: Bradley "Bash" Bashford.
- Letters 2 Numbers: Superboy does this in order to remove Luthor's fifth dimensional powers (siphoned off of Mr. Mxyzptlk) in Superboy #131.
- Multilayer Fašade: In #107, Red Kryptonite makes Clark jealous of himself as Superboy. He proceeds to reveal his superpowers and starts doing his fantastic feats openly. Some out-of-town criminals who arrived in Smallville to kill Superboy with Green Kryptonite learn of this and make plans to strike Clark at his home. Eventually the Red K's effect wears off and Clark proceeds to extricate himself from the crisis via the trope◊. He makes up a story explaining that he knew that the criminals wanted to kill Superboy but didn't know when they'd strike, so he posed as Clark in cooperation with the Kents to force their hand.
- Stern Teacher: The "Super-Teacher from Krypton", a robot designed by Jor-El to teach Superboy how to use his powers responsibly.
- The Multiverse: An early '80s story (1981's New Adventures of Superboy #15-16) saw Superboy accidentally end up on Earth-2 in its early 1930s, where he met the teenaged Clark Kent of Earth-2. Since the Golden Age/Earth-2 Superman didn't have a Superboy career, Clark was merely a youth living on his adoptive parents' farm outside Smallville, though he was still learning about his developing powers.
- Silicon-Based Life: Superboy had to save a race of silicon-based aliens called the Vulxans in The New Adventures of Superboy #7 (1980).