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Series / The Adventures of Superboy

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L-R: John Newton (Season 1), Gerard Christopher (Seasons 2-4) as Superboy
A television show running from 1988 to 1992, originally titled Superboy. The series revolves around a teenage Clark Kent juggling his life between his role as a student and his heroics as Superboy, the Boy of Steel.

If it sounds like Smallville, well, it is, just on a much lower budget. At least in the first season. Clark and his future arch-foe Lex Luthor attend the same journalism school, and Lana Lang appears in a supporting role. The series soon underwent a major retool, owing to a recasting of Superboy; the college setting was dropped in favor of the The Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters, where Clark and Lana help investigate paranormal and alien activities.

Despite high ratings, the series was canceled in its fourth season due to Warner Bros., who filed a lien in an effort to reclaim all Superman film and TV rights (it was produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who also produced the Christopher Reeve films, and though Superboy was already a property of Time Warner, its distribution was handled by Viacom). Because of the number of different companies involved in its production, the show never ran again in syndication and only in the last few years has seen limited release on DVD.

This show provides examples of:

  • AB Negative: In "The Road to Hell", Superboy gets severely injured, then gets sent to an alternate universe that is a utopia and Lex Luthor reformed and became a doctor. Lex treats him but says he needs a blood transfusion. Since Superboy isn't human, the only available donor is that universe's adult Superman, who of course agrees to help.
  • Alternate Universe: At least four episodes were two-part stories ("Roads Not Taken", "The Road to Hell") that dealt with these including a universe that has a Superman.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Lex does this to Lana in "With This Ring, I Thee Kill" in order to lure Superboy into an ambush by the deadly weapon known as the "Superboy Gun".
  • Childhood Friend: Ellen in "Troubled Waters".
  • Clip Show: There were four of them: "The Secrets of Superboy", "People Vs. Metallo", "Who Is Superboy?", and "Cat and Mouse".
  • The Collector: The strange cloud-like alien in "The Alien Solution".
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: DC Comics published nearly two dozen issues, plus a special, directly based upon the series.
  • Continuity Nod: In "The Beast and Beauty", Superboy mentions to T.J. how he saved him at the junkyard in "Back to Oblivion".
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Gerold Manfred in "The Invisible People".
  • Disappeared Dad: Lana's dad is always busy with his career, but tries his best to be there for his daughter.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Following the death of his sister, Lex loses all will to live, and plans to kill himself. Through a nationwide network of dirty bombs, which will also wipe out all life on Earth.
    • In the episode "Paranoia", A Bureau staff member jumps out the window when she thinks her secret affair is about to be exposed. Superboy saves her.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • An early "villain", played by Abe Vigoda, is racked with guilt over losing his daughter to the Nazis. A combination of senility, guilt, and madness leads him to kidnapping Lana, under the delusion that she's his daughter, and he's "protecting" her from the Third Reich.
    • Lex and Lena Luthor. Lex murdered their parents to protect Lena from their abuse, starting his path to villainy. When she's killed in a car crash, he loses all hope and tries to eradicate all life on Earth, including himself.
  • Evil Doppelgänger: Remember Jor-El and Lara looking for Superboy? They're impostors who want Superboy as a museum piece.
  • Expy: T.J. White is a photographer like Jimmy Olsen.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • Superboy fakes his own death in "Obituary for a Superhero", expecting his would-be killer to appear and take credit for killing him. Sure enough, Lex Luthor admits to killing Superboy on live TV.
    • Lena Luthor, to get away from the shame of being Lex's sister.
    • In "Superboy…Rest In Peace" Superboy slows down his pulse to fool an Android into thinking he'd killed him and completed his mission.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink
  • From Nobody to Nightmare:
    • Lex Luthor, full stop. He starts the series off as a rich, brilliant, if insufferably arrogant college student who rigs basketball games for profit. Then he goes bald, and suddenly he's poisoning his only friend, surgically changing his face, and building massive death machines to destroy the world.
    • In "Out of Luck", Charlie Carmichael's a low-rent gangster who can't make it up the ranks until he steals a magic coin that gives him good luck and creates bad luck all around Superboy.
  • Funny Background Event: In "Luthor Unleashed", while Clark and Lana were talking about Lex, T.J. started touching his hair.
    T.J.: I'm going bald.
  • Girl of the Week: T.J. has a different girlfriend in almost every episode.
  • Great Gazoo: Mr. Mxyzptlk, of course.
  • Identity Absorption: The alien being in "The Basement", who steals the identities of others in order to survive, because it has no identity of its own.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Lex Luthor's appearance is different after the first season because he had plastic surgery to look like Warren Eckworth, a businessman whom he later murdered to take his place. Superboy later visits an Alternate Universe where the alternate Lex looks like Eckworth, apparently for different reasons.
    • The real world explanation is that it was impractical to get Scott Wells to reprise his role. There is a brilliant in-universe explanation: Alternate Lex was in an anti-Sovereign resistance. (The Sovereign was this world's version of Superboy who is a tyrannical dictator ruling the world.) Alternate Lana tells the Sovereign that she and Lex grew up with him. Alternate Lex had clear reason to change his appearance to that of Eckworth, as the Sovereign would not recognize him as his old childhood friend and thus retaliate against the Luthor family. This could be an example of Fridge Brilliance, intentional of otherwise.
  • Leitmotif: This show had leitmotifs for just about every character (Superboy, Lana, Luthor, Metallo, Neila, etc.) and place (the Bureau, Smallville, Krypton), and even Kryptonite had its own leitmotif.
  • Mafia Princess: Sara Danner, daughter of crime boss Matt Danner, in "A Kind of Princess".
  • Mistaken Death Confirmation: In "Superboy, Rest In Peace" Superboy is attacked by an Android from the future, sent to kill him. Unable to best his foe even with the help of a girl from the same future, Superboy is eventually struck down and the Android carefully examines him to confirm his heart has stopped beating. Satisfied that he's succeeded in his mission, the Android self-destructs. Shortly thereafter, Superboy revives, having slowed his heart down enough to be thought dead. He'd reasoned that since the Android was programmed to self-destruct after killing him, the easiest way to get rid of it was to make it think it had succeeded. Alas, the girl from the future then reveals she was an Android sent back in time to save him, and now that he's safe...
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk) is this in several episodes including a first season episode in which she strips down to a bikini for the obligatory "show the sexy redhead at the pool" scene, and the second season episode "Nightmare Island", in which she spends the entire episode in a bathing suit.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • In "The Beast and Beauty", a crook dresses up as Superboy, just like the crook in the Fleischer Superman short "Showdown".
    • In "The Fixer", Clark gets into a phone booth to change into Superboy.
    • In "Hollywood", Clark went to a store called Keystone Clothiers, and was dressed in a suit and hat. Professor Zugar was sent to 1938, the year Superman debuted. The actress Victora Letour resembles Kryptonian actress Lyra Lerrol from "Return to Krypton", whom Superman falls in love with.
    • In "Luthor Unleashed", Superboy saves Lex from a lab accident like in the original comics. The next day he wakes up to find he's bald, and like in the comics he blames Superboy for it. He now wears a wig and has a collection of them which he puts on top of his busts, like in the 1978 movie.
    • Speaking of the movie, Jor-El and Lara show up in a couple of episodes, and they looked like their movie counterparts. Jor-El even mentions the family crest (the "S" logo).
    • Part of the opening credits zoom in or fly by, much like in The Movie.
    • The college the characters go to is called Shuster Universitynote , located in Siegelvillenote .
    • In "Tiger Eye", Clark stops short by an open phone booth but it's occupied with no place to change into Superboy and rescue Lana from a kidnapping.
    • In "The Lair", Clark tells Lana he needs to take the initiative and learn computer skills (i.e. hacking) if he hopes to "go to Metropolis and become a reporter one day."
  • Never My Fault: Lex Luthor blames Superboy for the fact that he is bald and believes everyone is against him.
  • Ninja: Lex hires one to kill Superboy in "Luthor Unleashed".
  • On the Next: Every episode ends with a short preview of the next one, which usually ends with a narrator exclaiming "...on the next Adventures of Superboy!"
  • Opening Narration: The 3rd and 4th season opening sequences started with a narrator speaking over images from past episodes flying through space. "Rocketed from a distant planet to a bold new destiny on Earth..."
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: T.J. White, a.k.a. Trevor Jenkins White.
  • Robot War: In "War of the Species", the Mad Scientist who's really an android, mentioned that on his homeworld, robots were slaves until they rebelled.
  • Secret Weapon: The "Superboy Gun" featuring in the second season, which was enough to render Superboy temporarily a paraplegic.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Jonathan's old comrade during the Korean War in "The Phantom of the Third Division", who was captured and tortured. He tried to kill Jonathan, whom he blamed for his imprisonment.
    • Lex creates a device that gives off ear-splitting and painful high frequencies sounds only Superboy can hear in "Threesome, Part 1 and 2".
  • Showdown at High Noon:
    • In "Threesome, Part 2", Superboy has a Western-style showdown with Luthor, Metallo, and Odessa Vexman on a deserted street in Smallville, complete with an appropriate musical score.
    • In "Super Menace!", Bad Superboy (affected by red kryptonite) has a Western-style showdown with Metallo in order to weaken him and bring him back to the army base so they can cure him.
  • Sidekick:
    • Leo was this to Lex Luthor until Lex kills him in the premiere of the second season.
    • T.J. White was this to Clark in the first season before being Put on a Bus.
  • Skyward Scream:
    • Lex, after he discovers he's bald and vows to destroy Superboy.
    • Lex, when his mind is back in his own body and he's tethered to the electric chair in "Bodyswap".
  • Succubi and Incubi: One succubus is the villain in the episode of the same name.
  • Teen Genius: Billy Hercules in "Little Hercules".
    • In "The Kryptonite Kid", Mike Walker works in a lab trying to isolate the component of Kryptonite that is deadly to Superboy. However, a lab accident due to his negligence causes Kryptonite to enter is bloodstream and he becomes Superboy's enemy.
  • Thou Shall Not Kill: Though in "Bringing Down the House", Superboy seemed to be willing to kill Judd Faust for nearly torturing Lana to death, but she stopped him from going through with it.
    • In "Run, Dracula, Run", Superboy, still in a vampiric state, is ready to choke Byron to death until Lana begs him to stop. "Superboy, No! That's not your way!"
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Superboy loses his memory in the Season 3 episode "Superboy... Lost", after flying into and destroying an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. (The exact same plot was used in several Superman media, notably in Lois & Clark.)
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Lex Luthor suffers a heart-wrenching one, when his sister had faked her death to get away from the Luthor name, and when she confronted Lex, tells him how much she hates him. Lex tries to cover his heartbreak by denying he ever loved Lena, but it's obvious nobody believes him.
    • The Yellow Peri breaks down after Superboy destroys her magical doll with its own magical fire. She rocks back and forth on her knees, spouting rhymes, while Superboy gently raises her up and leads her away. (Most likely to a Mental Institution.)
  • Wicked Toymaker: Nick Knack, who uses toys to commit crimes.
  • Witch Doctor:
    • The Native American woman in "Birdwoman of the Swamps".
    • In Season 2, we meet the Caribbean Sorcerer Brimstone who helps Superboy and Lana defeat the evil Wizard Prodo in "Brimstone". This was confirmed by episode writer Mike Carlin to have been a Poorly Disguised Pilot (Back Door Pilot) for the character, played by Miami Vice's Phillip Michael Thomas, but it was never made into a series.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Due to rights issues, the producers couldn't call Clark "Superman", despite him being a college-age young adult. So when his retired older Alternate Self from another universe appeared later on, he was never called or even credited as "Superman" or even just "Clark" or "older Superboy". His actor Ron Elynote  just got a guest star credit under his own name. Nor did he wear the suit or crest, instead wearing white like Jor-El.