In the Superman mythos created by DC editor Mort Weisinger, “the adventures of Supeman when he was a boy” appearing in Superboy and Adventure Comics presented a unique problem.  In a letter published in the Smallville Mailsack letter column of the Superboy title, B. V. Davenport, of Toledo, Ohio, laid it out:

 

No matter how amazing a Superboy cover may appear, we all know that whatever is happening won’t make any permanent change in the Boy of Steel’s life.  That’s the real trouble with the feature.  Everyone knows what’s going to happen and that he can’t die because he has to grow up to be Superman.  So there can’t be any surprising changes that are permanent.

 

The criticism that Superboy wouldn’t be killed because we know that he will someday become Superman was rather misplaced---nobody really thought that there was any chance of Superman, or any other DC headliner, being bumped off, either.  But, in general, Mr. (or Miss) Davenport had a point, and we knew it.  Any new concept introduced in Superboy would have to be backfitted into the Superman stories.  If something lasting happened to the Boy of Steel, there would have to be an explanation why we’d seen no evidence of it in the Man of Steel’s history.

 

The situation was complicated by the late-1960’s effort by DC to modernise their stories and make them more appealing to contemporary readers.  That was the rub, as far as Weisinger and the Superboy tales were concerned.  While it was O.K. for the adult Clark Kent to start wearing turtleneck sweaters and hang out with a mini-skirted Lois Lane, you couldn’t do that kind of stuff with Superboy and his supporting cast, who were stuck squarely in the 1930’s.  The Boy of Steel’s surroundings were looking antiquated and stodgy to modern teens.

 

The series needed a facelift.  The trick was finding a way to remove some of Superboy’s “olden days” taint without forcing a re-write of Superman’s continuity.  I’ve no idea how long it took Weisinger, or writer Otto Binder, to come up with the status quo-shaking story that appeared in Superboy # 145 (Mar., 1968).  But Mort liked it so much that he deliberately printed B. V. Davenport’s letter in the same issue, complete with his prickly editorial response:

 

Want to read the cover tale in this ish---and then take time out for a change of mind before you write us again?

 

I can’t say if "The Fantastic Faces" registered with B. V. Davenport, but it did with a lot of other folks.  In fact, this story became known among Silver-Age fans as---the “Youthenisation” of Ma and Pa Kent!

The splash page of “The Fantastic Faces” presents us with Superboy displaying portraits of his white-haired foster-parents and, at the same time, intoning, “These are the faces of Mom and Dad Kent!  Take a good look at them!  You’ll never see them again!

 

The Boy of Steel’s statement is premature, but not by much.  We do see the familiar Jonathan and Martha Kent again, but only for three panels, as Ma serves up a round of lemonade for the Kent family.

 

What we know that the Kents don’t is that, on the world of Thraxx, in another dimension, movie producer Jolax has spiked the well water from which Ma Kent made the lemonade.  You see, Jolax was pulling a fast one on the opti-screen-viewing public of Thraxx.  He aired a pilot film titled “The Superboy of Earth”.  But instead of going through the expense of actors, crew, sets, and special effects, Jolax simply used a super-space telescope to video-record the adventures of the real Superboy on the real Earth.  Jolax was even able to peer inside the Kent home and eavesdrop on the Boy of Steel’s life as Clark Kent, with Ma and Pa Kent.

 

And therein lied the snare.  The ratings for “The Superboy of Earth” went through the roof, and the sponsors were willing to finance an on-going series, as long as Jolax remedied one objection.  The opti-viewing audience complained that Jonathan and Martha Kent looked too old to have a teen-age son like Superboy.  No problem, said the sponsors, just hire younger actors to play Superboy’s parents.

 

Except that they weren’t actors; they were Superboy’s actual foster-parents.  But Jolax couldn’t tell the sponsors that.  The producer seemed hoist on the petard of his own hoax---until he got the idea of turning the super-telescope into a dimensional teleporter and using it to pour a flagon of youth serum into the Kents’ well water.

 

The next morning, Ma and Pa Kent wake up twenty years younger.  It seems like a blessing, until they realise that folks will think that only Superboy could have performed such a miracle and make the logical inference that Clark Kent is the Boy of Steel.  On the pretense of a vacation, the Kent family goes into seclusion, waiting for the effect to wear off.  But when Ma and Pa remain young, they return to Smallville and don old-age masks to appear publicly.  Unfortunately, the disguises prove too impractical for day-to-day living.

 

Superboy comes up with the solution.  If the Kents were just part of a group of people who were turned young, then nobody would connect Superboy with them.  After determining that the cause of their restored youth was the serum in the lemonade, the Boy of Steel has his parents invite a number of deserving oldsters to their house for a lawn party, at which Ma Kent’s thirst-quenching lemonade is a hit.

 

After the guests have drunk their fill, a mysterious comet passes over the Kent backyard, bathing everyone present in its glowing tail.   Sometime later, the youth serum in the lemonade takes effect, and all of the old-timers find themselves twenty years younger.  Behind the bushes, Ma and Pa Kent remove their old-age masks and pretend the same thing just happened to them.

 

The next day, the newspapers report just what was intended, that the bizarre comet was responsible for turning a handful of Smallville citizens young again, a “comet” which was actually Superboy flashing over the Kent yard at super-speed, while carrying a pot of luminescent chemicals to create an iridescent tail.

 

Remember Jolax?  Well, the movie producer still gets tripped up by his own chicanery.  You see, his sponsors decide that they’d rather keep the old Kents and do the series about a grown-up Superman, instead.  Jolax groans, “I have no way to turn the Kents old again . . . or to make Superboy grow up!”

 

Things turn out better for Ma and Pa Kent, though.

 

Well, as it turned out, quite a few had a complaint.

 

 

 

It had always been difficult to pin down the ages of Jonathan and Martha Kent, especially in the beginning, when the Kents usually appeared only in flashback scenes of a “kindly couple” finding a baby in a rocket.  For the first fifteen years or so, there was no consistency to the Kents’ appearances---sometimes young, sometimes middle-aged, and often, beyond middle age.

 

After Mort Weisinger imposed order on the Superman universe, the Kents of the Superboy stories took on their familiar white-haired, bespectacled, and somewhat plump look.  A reasonable guess, based upon that depiction, was that Ma and Pa Kent were in their early-to-mid-sixties.  However, that was confounded by the information contained in the form letter Weisinger sent to inquisitive Superman fans, which insisted that “Jonathan Kent is about 50, while Martha is a year or two younger.”

 

The occasionally-seen Superbaby stories, in which the Kents would have been younger by thirteen years or so, didn’t make things any clearer.  Ye Olde Editor’s form letter stated that the Kents were in their thirties, then.  But you couldn’t be sure from the art.  Sometimes, they were shown as more slender, with white hair and sometimes, with brown hair.  In the Superbaby tales drawn by Curt Swan, he provided the younger Martha Kent with a more girlish figure.  Other regular Superboy artists George Papp and Al Plastino were satisfied just shaving ten pounds or so off her matronly form.  Generally, the Kents of Clark’s toddler years looked younger but still middle-aged.

 

One would think that “The Fantastic Faces”, at least, would provide a definitive point for the Kents’ physical ages.  But even there, the Superboy writers and artists couldn’t get together to provide consistency.  Otto Binder’s script specified that the Kents were made twenty years younger.  George Papp drew the rejuvenated Jonathan and Martha as looking fortyish, which would be consistent with their older, sixty-something appearances.  But it was ten years too close to Weisinger’s form-letter direction that the Kents were around fifty.

 

When Bob Brown took over the art chores on Superboy in the autumn of 1968, he erased that extra decade by rendering Jonathan and Martha as looking no older than thirty or so.  They certainly looked younger than they did when they were raising a Superbaby, which was consistent with the events of “The Fantastic Faces”, but would cause problems later.

 

 

 

Because comics are primarily a visual medium, and since most fans had never received the form letter from Mort Weisinger, readers of Superboy probably gauged the Kents’ ages by their appearance, just as I’ll do here.  And they had to discriminate between the earlier Superboy tales, before issue # 145, which featured the white-haired Kents in their sixties (and whom, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll term “the Old Kents”), except for those Superbaby stories which showed Ma and Pa Kent pushing fifty (“the Middle-Aged Kents”).  And then there were the Superboy adventures from issue # 145 onward, which showed the Kents barely in their thirties (“the Young Kents”).

 

An unanticipated problem in youthenising the Kents was that it inverted the natural order.  Any subsequent Superbaby story created an awkward situation for new readers, who would be puzzled by a much younger Superboy with much older parents.  Initially, DC went with it, showing the Toddler of Steel with the Middle-Aged Kents in the next two Superbaby tales, one with a footnote explaining why the Kents looked older (Superboy # 167 [Jul., 1970]) and the other without (Action Comics # 399 [Apr., 1971]).

 

After that, though, the editors and artists got tired of the inverted-age business; it was tough enough for them to keep straight, let alone the readers.  And so, from that point on, Superbaby’s parents were the Young Kents, looking no different than they did when they were seeing teen-aged Clark Kent off to high school every morning (Superboy # 178 [Oct., 1971], et al.).  It was just easier that way, and none of the fans saw fit to mention anything about it.

 

Maybe because that was a minor glitch.  There was a major one in making Ma and Pa Kent younger that Superboy die-hards did complain about.  You see, the Big Change in the Kents wasn’t as seamless as Mort Weisinger thought it would be.  He had forgotten about “The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent”, which had appeared in Superman # 161 (May, 1963).  This was the story that told of Jonathan and Martha’s deaths and the events leading to them, and having been written some five years earlier, of course, the tale depicted them as the Old Kents.  Yet, “The Fantastic Faces” had insisted that the Kents’ rejuvenation was permanent.  Super-fans with long memories wrote in, pointing out the discrepancy

 

This was an uncharacteristic slip for Mort Weisinger, who normally monitored the Super-continuity with an overbearing scrutiny.  There were signs that Mort was getting tired.  Some of the fringe titles in his domain, such as Jimmy Olsen, were starting to look a little ragged.  As a matter of fact, the last few issues of Superboy had carried stale, rehashed scripts with increasingly sketchy art by George Papp.  Soon, Murray Boltinoff would take over editorship of Superboy, to reduce Weisinger’s workload, a preliminary to his retirement two years later.

 

So, the earlier “Last Days” story might have slipped Mort’s mind, or perhaps he just didn’t care enough anymore if someone remembered it, or not.  Either way, he was willing to wait until Louis B. Cohen, of Baltimore, Maryland, bailed him out.  In a letter published in Superboy # 148 (Jun., 1968), the last issue of the title that Weisinger would edit, Mr. Cohen wrote:

 

I really have nothing against the change in SUPERBOY # 145, and the way it was explained was pretty clever.  But for those who find a conflict between this and the story of [the Kents’] deaths a few years ago, in which they were aged in appearance, I would like to point something out.  The story began on the island where they contracted the disease and, though they hadn’t yet found the contaminated chest, the germs must have been present in the area.  Obviously, one of the first symptoms of the disease was an aging process; in order to fight the plague, the body drained off the “youth energy” the serum had spread through their cells, and so the Kents aged rapidly.

 

Uh . . . yeah, replied Mort, that’s the ticket.  However, simply overlaying “The Last Days . . . “ with Mr. Cohen’s proposal required the readers to overlook that the story did not show the Kents as being startled by their sudden reversion to old age, and that Superboy wasn’t fazed by it in the least when he dropped in on them.

 

Even Murray Boltinoff, an editor notoriously lax about continuity, understood that it was an inadequate explanation.  After replacing Weisinger on Superboy, Boltinoff decided to fix “The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent” another way.  He made it official when the story was reprinted in the next Superboy Giant Annual, issue # 165 (May-Jun., 1970).  The landmark tale was retitled “The Death of Ma and Pa Kent”, but that slipped by almost unnoticed, compared to the more dramatic change.

 

The Old Kents in the story had been retouched.  Their hair was recoloured brown, their eyeglasses were deleted, and their double chins had been tightened---in an effort to make them the Young Kents.  The new premise was that the Kents had remained young right up to their deaths.  E. Nelson Bridwell remarked on this in the Superboy Giant Annual of 1971:

 

. . . As for why we changed the faces, we realized that some of the scenes took place before the fever plague struck the Kents---and no one remarked on their changed appearance.  So we scrapped that explanation and kept the younger Kents, as they looked after they drank the youth serum.

 

A better solution, yes, but not by much.  You see, whomever did the retouching on the Kents did a slap-dash job of it.  In most instances, the Kents’ glasses were erased and their hair colour changed, but their bodies weren’t redrawn at all.  So what you were left with was the Old Kents looking like they had gotten their hands on some Grecian Formula and contact lenses, instead of the slim and vital-looking Young Kents who were parading around in the regular Superboy title.

 

That’s when Boltinoff discovered what a finicky bunch the Super-fans were.  Turning the Old Kents into Young Kents had been done so sloppily that nobody bought off on it.  Reader Gary Skinner remarked, “Seeing a 29-year-old head on a moderately stocky body of 50 just lacks rhythm.”

 

 

 

Throwing up its hands in frustration, DC just ignored the whole thing for a long time.  Then, in Superman # 327 (Sep., 1978), editor Julius Schwartz and writer Martin Pasko came up with the solution that had been right in front of DC’s face the whole time.

 

In “The Sandstorm That Swallowed Metropolis”, Superman goes up against the master criminal Kobra, who has ferreted out his civilian identity.  In order to hold the Man of Steel at bay, Kobra plucks Jonathan and Martha Kent, depicted as the Old Kents, out of time, a week before their deaths, and holds them in a time-suspension bubble. 

 

On page 10, Pasko provides the explanation that should have been obvious all along, when Superman reflects:

 

“They died over a decade ago!  And part of me has grieved ever since!  It was a terrible blow---because I expected them to live much longer.  They had been rejuvenated by an alien youth serum . . . but shortly before I turned 18, they began to age again---proving the effects of the serum had been only temporary!”

 

As always, Superman saves the day, though Kobra slips away from justice.  There’s a poignant moment, as the Man of Steel stares at his lost parents, frozen in time within the bubble.

 

“I don’t dare remove them from the sphere, but . . . god!  How I wish I could talk to them . . . hear them . . . one last time . . . .”

 

Pasko puts his stamp on the revelation that the youth serum simply wore off in the last panel, after Superman has returned his parents to their own time.  Ma and Pa Kent, unaware of their experience but left with an unsettling feeling, write it off as a brief dizzy spell.  They sadly accept the fact that they’re going to have to get used to getting old all over again.

 

 

 

Pasko had remedied Mort Weisinger’s gaffe as far as “The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent” and its place in Superman’s time-line was concerned.  In fact, it seemed to remind DC that the Kents actually had been older, at one time. Pasko iterated the rationale that the youth serum had worn off in his telling of Superman’s life-story, in Action Comics # 500 (Oct., 1979).  Then in 1980, when the Boy of Steel was given a second shot at his own title, The New Adventures of Superboy, the matter of the Kents’ “youthenisation” was mentioned in the first issue, to explain why they were the Old Kents at Superboy’s début as a super-hero, but the Young Kents, now.

 

Just as the matter of the Kents’ ages finally seemed to be straightened out, DC reshuffled its continuity with the Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series.  John Byrne’s revamp of Superman eliminated his career as Superboy, but kept his foster-parents alive.  For them, Byrne used the Old Kents as the template.

 

However, throughout several reboots in the decades since, the preference has shifted to a fitter, more youthful Ma and Pa Kent.

 

Apparently, editorial discretion is even more potent than Jolax’s youth serum.

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And so, from that point on, Superbaby’s parents were the Young Kents, looking no different than they did when they were seeing teen-aged Clark Kent off to high school every morning (Superboy # 178 [Oct., 1971], et al.). It was just easier that way, and none of the fans saw fit to mention anything about it.

I suspect that letters from dug-in fans complaining about this just weren't printed, since the editors were tired of the whole subject.

The whole business of aging and de-aging Clark Kent's parents makes me think of the way they looked in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman -- decidedly elderly:

... and the way they looked in Smallville, notably younger and hotter:

... and I think, in a weird way, that Superboy story came true!

New Adventures of Superboy really worked hard to adapt to established continuity and build on it — establishing Superboy started his career at eight (IIRC), showing his first encounters with various threats, etc.

"The criticism that Superboy wouldn’t be killed because we know that he will someday become Superman was rather misplaced---nobody really thought that there was any chance of Superman, or any other DC headliner, being bumped off, either."

Actually some people did. When Duo Damsel mentioned in the first Mordru story that she knew from history who Superman would marry (and that her crush on him was therefore futile), one reader protested that this ruined the Virus X story — obviously Superman was going to live!

What I could never understand about the "youthenising" concept was that, of all the things they could have done to shake up the Superboy series (not that there was much to be done with something that was innately prone to temporal headaches and continuity chaos), the idea of making Clark's parents younger, and more to the point, doing it as part of an actual story, as opposed to just handwaving it like all the times he knew various kids he happened to meet were going to grow up to be various members of the JLA, despite the fact that when the JLA formed, he didn't seem to know any of their secret identities.  Anyway, let's avoid going down THAT rabbit hole, and get back to my point: the age of the Kents, no matter what it was, was not really an issue that made the series seem dated, the fact that the series was generally set somewhere in the past, somewhere between the early 1930s to "15 years ago" made the feature seem out of date, because it was supposed to be "untold tales from Superman's boyhood", and that was the point of the series, and not a fixable glitch.  Since we all knew (back then, anyway) that the Kents were dead by the time of the Adventures of Superman, it didn't make any difference how old they were when he was in high school, but when you deliberately set things up so that they should have been younger when he was 16 than they were when he was 3, you've just created an unnecessary headache for everyone involved, creators & readers alike.  Why would anyone think that was the way to go?  It would have been a lot easier to do something like give Superboy a new costume--that would have given them the visual update they wanted, while leaving the door open to returning to the classic costume at any time without having to drug a bunch of people as a cover story.  It's not like Superboy was that heavily merchandised at the time in question--I think the Filmation cartoons and the Action Boy set had come and pretty much gone by the time they gave us the Fantastic Faces.

You're right, in the sense that it wasn't the Kents' ages that made the series seem dated.  The problem there was the fact that, after a number of complaints, Mort Weisinger had entrenched the time of Superboy's teen years in the 1930's, and there it was going to stay.  (Weisinger had created a consistent history for Superman; he prided himself on that; and Mort wasn't going to change a bit of it---especially not by a handwave.)

So he couldn't modernise the Superboy series by putting young Clark in a Nehru jacket and having Lana Lang dance the frug in a fringed mini-skirt.  What he could do, though, was make the series more relatable to modern-day youth.  That's where the ages of the Kents came in.  Most teens had parents in their forties, not their sixties.  (I was not able to determine if Weisinger had received any readers' complaints about that, but I imagine he did.)  So rejuvenating them would apply a veneer of contemporariness by making Clark Kent's family life more resemble that of the young readers.

As I said, Weisinger had imposed continuity upon the character of Superman, something which had not been done before, except in the large details.  Minor things, such as the appearance of Ma and Pa Kent, had not been consistent in the first couple of decades of Superman's existence, and Mort felt it was sloppy story-telling.  Furthermore, he had learnt first hand how Superman readers would write in when a story contradicted an established fact.

So he couldn't just order George Papp and Curt Swan to start drawing the Kents younger.  There had to be a reason why.  Hence, "The Fantastic Faces".  Unfortunately, Weisinger overlooked the fact that youthenising the Kents would contradict one established Superman story, "The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent".

The more cosmetic change of giving Superboy a new costume wasn't as simple as it appeared.  There was too much baggage with the traditional super-costume.  It wasn't like, say, Spider-Man's costume, whipped up over the week-end in the first design that Peter Parker thought was cool.  The super-costume involved portions of the Superman mythos.  The fabric from which it was made came from the blankets in which he was swaddled in the rocket---that's why the fabric was indestructible.

The boots were made from the upholstery in the rocket passenger compartment and the belt came from the seat belt that held baby Kal-El in place.  In short, there was a history behind the super-suit.  Sure, suitable work-arounds could have been devised to give Superboy a new, indestructible costume, but it wouldn't have had the cachet of being part of Superman continuity.

Going back for a minute, to the question of Mort's resistance to handwaving, you pointed out "all the times" that stories showed Superboy meeting various members of the JLA as kids, and how he conveniently forgot their true identities when he met them as adults, as examples of the times Weisinger ignored previous continuity himself.

I can't say Weisinger never did that:  "Superman Versus the Futuremen", from Superman # 128 (Apr., 1959), is proof of that.  In this story, Superman's recollexion of his life on Earth specifically denies that he had a career as Superboy.  Mort edited that story, and that glaring error got by him.

But in the case of the JLA members that Superboy met as kids, it's less damning than that.  First, the Boy of Steel met only two future Justice League members:  Oliver Queen, in "Superboy Meets a Young Green Arrow", from Adventure Comics # 258 (Mar., 1959); and Bruce Wayne, in "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team", from Adventure Comics # 275 (Aug., 1960).

In the former, two of the considerations which led to Superboy meeting the future Green Arrow were the fact that Weisinger himself had created the character back in 1941, and that the Ace Archer occupied a slot as a back-up series in the same magazine.

The fact that, as an adult, Superman was unaware of the Green Arrow's identity, as seen in various issues of Justice League of America, did not involve a dismissal of continuity on Mort's part---at least, the way Mort saw it.  The début of the Justice League of America was a year away at the time "Superboy Meets the Young Green Arrow" was published, and there was nothing in the current history of either character that contradicted the notion that Superman knew that Green Arrow was Oliver Queen.

After the Justice League was established, the occasional JLA adventure which showed the Man of Steel being unaware of Green Arrow's secret identity, that was Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox's mistake.  It wasn't Mort's fault that Fox or Schwartz didn't walk down the hall and ask him if Superman knew who Green Arrow was or not?

The issue with Superboy having advance knowledge that Bruce Wayne would grow up to be the Batman is more problematic.  Yes, "The Mightiest Team in the World", from Superman # 76 (May, 1952), shows Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent learning each other's identities for the first time.  That issue was edited by Whitney Ellsworth, but Weisinger was actively involved with the Superman titles as Ellsworth's assistant editor, and he should have been aware that the story contained that revelation.

And, in fact, Mort probably did, and he probably remembered it when he signed off on "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team" in Adventure Comics # 275.  I suspect Mort felt that anything that took place in Superman and Action Comics before he took the full reins of editorship "didn't count", unless he said it did.

Is it a handwave on Mort's part?  Yes, it is---in the sense that Mort handwaved everything in Superman's history prior to 1958, unless and until he decided to include it in his construction of the Superman mythos.

You make excellent points, and I certainly shouldn't have gone with the young JLA encounters as my prime examples of Superboy's problem with tripping over the timeline, as Mort can't be held responsible for what Julie did with the JLA, and that actually makes a good case for why Mort wanted to limit Superman's usage there.  Especially since the incidents that really bothered me were the times any villains or new flavors of kryptonite that Superman was clearly shown meeting for the first time in the present were eventually also discovered by Superboy in stories that clearly happened prior to their introductions.  Most of the villains fall into the pre-1958 "escape clause", but I'm not sure the kryptonite all does, to say nothing of other elements that aren't occurring to me at the moment.

I would argue that the Kents, regardless of their ages, gave Superboy a stronger resemblance to the average teen's home life than any other super-hero of the time had, as I can't think of any other ones, adult or kid, who regularly interacted with two living parents in a "traditional" nuclear family arrangement.  Supergirl eventually got the Danverses, but they never had the presence in the comics that the Kents did.  And for some of us, the fact that the Kents had been an older, barren couple for whom Clark was a miracle (and would have been even if he was a normal kid) was as much an element of the Mythos as which part of  Kal-El's spaceship his Superboy belt came from.  True, his biological parents were still dead, but he remained the only orphan in comics living with a complete set of loving parents for the bulk of his feature's run.  And given the continued (at the time) existence of reprints and Superbaby flashbacks, the younger Kents offered more potential confusion than they added potential "freshness" to the series.

As for a new costume, off the top of my head, that was just the simplest, yet most noticeable change that could have been made to series while doing the potentially least amount of damage--true, everyone would know that eventually, he'd have to go back to the original, since he was still wearing it as Superman, but in the mean time, a new costume would be seen on a lot more comic book covers than the Kents were, and garnered more attention.  I have no idea just how radical a redesign this would have been, given that we're looking at a time period where putting a yellow oval around Batman's emblem was considered a major New Look (yeah, I know, the new editorial direction and art stable had more to do with that than the "costume change", I just couldn't help myself), but I'm guessing nothing too extreme--honestly, if not for the existence of Mon-El, I'd have gone with just making his shirt red and his cape and "S" blue, as that would be noticeably different without rendering him unrecognizable.  Perhaps more to the point, while Clark & Lana could not be given updated looks without messing with the time frame, a super-hero costume can be as modern or as retro as the designer chooses to make it--no one can complain that he's wearing the wrong style cape & tights for 1935.  There are any number of Weisingerian ways to make a new costume happen: a magic user could alter it, and it would stay that way until the spell wore off; a Kryptonian clothing creation machine could land in Smallville (as so many things from Krypton tended to do), and Lana could use it to whip up a new outfit for Superboy, and wheedle him into at least wearing it for a while; a villain could attack Superboy with some sort of matter altering ray, which, while not powerful enough to change Superboy himself, it could slightly alter his costume (Ok, that one's especially weak); Martha could have made a second costume out of the various bits of blanket and gear that didn't go into the original--the red, blue, and yellow blankets all seemed to be the same size, so there had to be a lot of yellow fabric left over, at least, and she gave it to him as an Earthday present; My personal favorite option: an alien TV producer is filming the Adventures of Superboy for his planet, and decides to use his advanced special FX technology to alter Superboy's costume so that it will "pop" on the screen, and when the TV show is cancelled, the costume reverts to normal.

I'm not saying this is absolutely what they should have done, just that it would have been more noticeable and less problematic than what they did do.  At least in my humble opinion.

Ok, I just remembered that I forgot that in the Silver Age, Kid Flash lived at home with his two living biological parents--they may not have known Wally was a super-hero the way the Kents knew about Superboy, but they were still the most traditional family to by found in a super-hero comic book.  It's especially strange that fact slipped my mind when it was specifically Kid Flash that inspired my idea of giving Superboy a costume change, since Wally was one of the few Silver Agers to have gotten a major redesign during his run.

Speaking of Kid Flash, when you mentioned having a villain scientifically/magically change Superboy's costume it reminded me of the way Kid Flash's yellow costume suddenly appeared back in Flash #135(MAR63). 

That's exactly why that was the story that inspired my "new costume for Superboy" idea.

Richard Willis said:

Speaking of Kid Flash, when you mentioned having a villain scientifically/magically change Superboy's costume it reminded me of the way Kid Flash's yellow costume suddenly appeared back in Flash #135(MAR63). 

Dave Elyea said:

You make excellent points, and I certainly shouldn't have gone with the young JLA encounters as my prime examples of Superboy's problem with tripping over the timeline . . . Especially since the incidents that really bothered me were the times . . . new flavors of kryptonite that Superman was clearly shown meeting for the first time in the present were eventually also discovered by Superboy in stories that clearly happened prior to their introductions.  Most of the villains fall into the pre-1958 "escape clause", but I'm not sure the kryptonite all does. . . .

With regards to the temporal difficulties of the Superboy series, you were much more on target with your reference to kryptonite.  Not so much in the rainbow of colours which followed the green version---the stories were pretty accurate in presenting red, blue, white, gold, and jewel k in a neat time order---but with the introduction of the original stuff.

Superman first encountered green kryptonite (although they hadn't settled on its green colour, yet) in the story "Superman Returns to Krypton", from Superman # 61 (Nov.-Dec., 1949).  Yes, he was the grown-up Man of Steel, and there's no question from the story's plot:  it's the first time he ever encounters kryptonite.  He didn't even know the stuff existed before that.

Then, two years later, Superboy runs afoul of kryptonite in "Superboy's Toughest Tasks", from Adventure Comics # 171 (Dec., 1951).  The story doesn't play coy, like having the Boy of Steel encounter the kryptonite without seeing it or understanding what's weakening him.  The script has him fully aware of kryptonite and what it is.

The same thing applies to the next instance in which kryptonite appeared in a Superboy story.  "The Super-feats of Super-baby", from Adventure Comics # 231 (Dec., 1956).  Most of the events therein occur in flashback, to the time when Superboy was a toddler.  At one point, the Baby of Steel is exposed to green kryptonite, and though he doesn't know at the time what the glowing green rock is, during his recollexion, Superboy is fully aware of what kryptonite is.

Now, yes, all of these tales were published before Mort Weisinger took charge of the Superman family of titles.  But kryptonite is not some minor detail that Mort could wave away; it was an integral element in the Superman mythos, almost as important as Perry White or Jimmy Olsen or The Daily Planet, and too much so to accept Weisinger as dismissing them with a "Those stories didn't happen."

Later, it was explained that the "Superman encounters kryptonite for the first time" tale from Superman # 61 occurred to the Earth-Two Man of Steel.  The problem there is that the Earth-One/Earth-Two concept wasn't introduced until 1963.  Until then, a devout Super-fan could only be confused.

As far as a new costume for Superboy, as I indicated, certainly there were work-arounds to give him a suitable set of new duds, but I suspect that there's no way that Jack Liebowitz and the other powers-that-be at DC would ever have let Mort change it.  Remember, when Julius Schwartz took over Batman and Detective Comics, he wasn't allowed to change the Caped Crusader's costume in any fashion more dramatic than putting a yellow ellipse around his bat-emblem.

The super-costume is even more iconic than that.  I suspect that the suits at DC weren't about to risk losing any potential fan's dime and two pennies by not making their cash-cow hero immediately recognisable on the Superboy covers.  We saw that in the way Liebowitz insisted that Superboy appear on all of the covers of Adventure Comics, even after the Legion of Super-Heroes took it over.

When Weisinger felt that the Legion's popularity had grown sufficiently that it didn't need to be propped up by Superboy, he had E. Nelson Bridwell write the "Outcast Heroes" two-parter which appeared in Adventure Comics # 350-1 (Nov. and Dec., 1966).  This tale was intended to remove Superboy and Supergirl from the Legion series for good.  But once Liebowitz got wind of it, he ordered Weisinger to put the super-cousins back in the series; hence, the last-page save by Color Kid.

So, nah, no way was Superboy going to get a new costume.

Commander, as always, a splendid examination through the past, and more than a little fun!

My addition isn't a criticism at all, but a consideration I had. It was certain that Superboy (and Supergirl) would survive their adolescences because they always returned to the 20th century and grew up to be adults (even if Kara was never known as Superwoman.) So it was pretty safe to be on a team with them; THEY would survive no matter what.

But one of the great DC rules of time travel was "you can't change the past." But it was never discussed from what perspective that was. For example... what if Superboy had become infatuated with Shadow Lass... and asked her to marry him? From Tasmia's point of view, it was pointless. From Kal's point of view... it was his life. Not the past, but the present.

Thus, my thought was an issue of S&LSH during Shooter and Grell's run. Brainic 5 has summoned Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Mon-El, and Saturn Girl to his time research lab. He has two screens focused on a museum, showing the same scene; newspapers, statues, etc. dedicated to Superman.

Then it pulls back... and one scene shows the Superman Museum in Metropolis, and one shows the Superboy Memorial in Smallville, in tribute to the Boy of Steel, killed by the future sorcerer Mordru. And in dozens of alternate realities, alll cracked, Superboy has died somehow. Killed by a mind-controlled Supergirl, dead as a casualty of the Earth-Krypton war, assassinated by Otto Orion - any number of "premature" deaths, all of which occurred well after Superboy was established as a Legionnaire (so that he couldn't just stop showing up before those adventures occurred.

Time travel has thousands of traps, including time storms. Hit the wrong one, hit the wrong almost-duplicate future... and Superboy could very well have died during a Legion adventure. In fact, far from being the safest Legionnaire, Superboy is the most dangerous and needs the most protection for the 20th century to proceed as the "mainline" history.

This makes every Legion adventure with Superboy (their name is... well, Legion!) a possible danger to him and to the time stream. NOW you've got your real threat to Superboy.

As for the Kents, I think Weisinger might have been fixing a non-existent problem. There are people with quite young parents and somewhat older parents. I don't know that too many people would have noticed. But of course,. it was Mort Weisinger - something new every six months, whether it was good or not.

Myself, I put the young Kents in a file right next to Dr. Krylo. We'll just never speak of it again.

Eric L. Sofer said:

But one of the great DC rules of time travel was "you can't change the past."

Since Weisinger grew up with science fiction and was prominent in the original SF fandom, he was obviously familiar with the concept of alternate timelines. During his tenure, he probably used the “can’t change the past” rule because he thought the alternate timelines concept would be too confusing for younger readers.

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