“Good morning, your honour.”
“Good morning, judge.”
“First, as to the matter of the plaintiff’s pre-trial motion requesting that the defendant disclose his civilian identity and make known to the court his foster-parents under that identity, I have reviewed the facts and studied Mr. Barton’s brief submitted in argument. The overwhelming factor here is the decision handed down by the Juvenile Court last year. Yes, while the defendant is of an age in which one would normally be considered a minor, his unique intelligence and maturity meet the standard for an adult in our society---or so the Juvenile Court ruled when it awarded him the status of an adult.
“As such, there is no requirement for the defendant’s representation by a parent or guardian, and I have denied the motion.”
“But, your honour, the name ‘Superboy’ is clearly an alias.”
“Yes, it is, Mr. Aldrich. But then again, the name under which he maintains a civilian identity would also be, by definition, an alias. For that matter, we have only the defendant’s word that his given name was ‘Kal-El’, since obviously no birth records are available. The defendant has consistently used the name ‘Superboy’ since making himself publically known four years ago, and within that time, he has made no attempt to defraud under that guise. Nor has he attempted to evade legal proceedings---as is evidenced by the fact that he is here to-day. Therefore, the name ‘Superboy’ is sufficient for this court.”
“But, your honour . . . .”
“Nice try, counsellor, but let’s move on. Are you ready to proceed?”
“We are, your honour.”
“The defence is ready, sir.”
“Very good. I’ll hear opening statements. Mr. Aldrich?”
“Thank you, judge. Gentlemen of the jury, this case may be difficult to accept, as the defendant, Superboy, is well known as the hero of Smallville. We acknowledge that, in some cases, he has been just that. But not in every case. On the afternoon of February twenty-fifth of last year, Superboy did not perform heroically. Instead, with a gross disregard for not only my client’s safety, but for the safety of the public at large, he acted with reckless abandon.
“His negligence---yes, negligence---robbed my client of a creation which undoubtedly would have brought him fame and fortune, not to mention depriving mankind of potentially the greatest advancement in medicine since the discovery of penicillin. Furthermore, Superboy’s careless actions left my client with a tragic disfigurement.
“I realise that this is a staggering claim, in light of the defendant’s reputation. But the evidence will show it to be true and that my client is entitled to compensation for the grievous wrongs committed on him by ‘the hero of Smallville’.”
“Thank you, your honour. We do not deny the tragic losses suffered by the plaintiff, Lex Luthor. My client regrets them, as all decent, caring people would do. However, as regrettable as they are, it is our contention that Lex Luthor himself created the conditions which caused them. He set the stage for those unfortunate events, leaving my client with no other choice than to act as he did. And Lex Luthor is entitled to no compensation for consequences that he brought upon himself.”
“Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate---and I know the jury appreciates---your short, to-the-point opening statements. Mr. Aldrich, you may call your first witness.”
“Your honour, I call Lex Luthor to the stand.”
Testimony of Alexis “Lex” Luthor:
“Lex, when did you first meet Superboy?”
“Lex, please just tell us the facts. Go on.”
“As I said, Superboy was flying overhead, and he had just started to land when a large meteorite of green kryptonite struck the ground next to him.”
“Green kryptonite. That’s the substance which is deadly to Superboy, is it not?”
“So what happened next?”
“What do you mean?”
“I was driving a bulldozer my father had rented to level out some ruts in the dirt road leading to our house. I used it to push the kryptonite meteorite into a nearby gully. There was a pool of quicksand at the bottom of the gully and it sucked the kryptonite under.”
“So, you saved Superboy’s life.”
“That’s right. Like I said, it was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
“Excuse me, Lex. I know this is a painful subject for you, but I have to ask---were you bald at that time?”
“No. I had a full head of brown hair.”
“Do you mind if I show it to the jury?”
“Go ahead. Show them what that rat did to me!”
“Now, then, after you saved Superboy’s life, did he express any gratitude?”
“Well, he built a laboratory for me, if that’s what you mean.”
“He acted friendly enough, so I told him that I planned on becoming a famous scientist, someday. So he built me a laboratory.”
“Was it a good one? I mean, modern, well constructed.”
“Yeah, it was decent, I'll say that much."
“Fully equipped? Stocked?”
“Rare chemicals? Of what nature?”
“Superboy said that he didn’t know, which didn’t surprise me.”
“Did you know what they were?”
“I’d have figured them out soon enough.”
“So now you have a brand-new laboratory, with modern equipment and stocked with resources. Did you conduct any experiments?”
“What, if anything, did your experiments produce?”
“Just the most incredible scientific development in the history of mankind, that’s all.”
“I’m sure the jury will be interested to know that that development was.”
“You mean you created a human being?”
“That’s not what I said. It was an artificially based protoplasm---too rudimentary to classify as human, or even animal---but it was alive!”
“That’s astounding! Has anything in biology or medicine even come close to this sort of breakthrough?”
“Haven’t you been listening? I discovered it. Me---Lex Luthor! While all those ‘experts’ with degrees after their names were still splashing around in the kiddie pool.”
"Such a thing would have staggered the scientific community. It would have put you in line for a Nobel Prize. At the least, you would have been world famous. But none of these things happened. Why not, Lex?”
“Because of that caped creep over there---Superboy!”
“You mean, Superboy prevented you from turning your discovery over to the world?”
“That’s exactly what I mean!”
“How did he do that?”
“By destroying the protoplasm!”
“Tell us what happened.”
“Not long after I created the protoplasm and ensured it was viable, my laboratory caught on fire. Once again, Superboy ‘just happened’ to be flying by. When he saw the smoke from the fire, he used it as an excuse to send a heavy blast of air through the window with his super-breath.
“That blast of super-breath knocked over a bottle of acid, smashed it against a flask holding the contents of . . . another experiment. That rat knew that would happen! He planned it that way!”
“Objection, your honour, and I really must protest the plaintiff’s contemptuous characterisation of my client.”
“Point taken, Mr. Barton. Your objection is sustained. The jury is instructed to disregard the plaintiff’s last outburst. And young Luthor, there will be no more ‘editorial descriptions’ of the defendant.”
“I apologise, your honour. But it’s understandable that my client would harbour intense emotions, and not very pleasant ones, over such a traumatic incident.”
“Nevertheless, he will keep a civil tongue in my courtroom.”
“Yes, sir. Lex, tell us---without personal commentary, please---what happened next, after the acid bottle broke.”
“When the acid mixed with the contents in the beaker, it released a cloud of corrosive fumes inside the lab. The protoplasm was destroyed, along with my notes containing the formula for creating it. My brilliant creation gone forever---up in smoke!”
“Couldn’t you recreate the original experiment?”
“Not without my notes. The final process was the result of thousands of experiments. Not even I could redo it from memory.”
“And this corrosive cloud . . . were there any other effects? On you personally?”
“Yes! (Choke!) It caused all of my hair to fall out!”
“And what was Superboy’s reaction to all of this?”
“He said he was sorry. Like that, somehow, made it all O.K.”
“Did Superboy state, in any manner, that he was responsible for what had happened?”
“No! He called it ‘an accident’.”
“Don’t even bother to get up, Mr. Barton. It’s too late in the day to start your cross-examination, and we’re all eager to get home to our families. This trial is in recess and will reconvene after the Christmas holidays. Court adjourned!”
Luke Blanchard said:
I was wholly surprised by Eric's observation. I think there are good reasons in how the rest of the sequence is handled for thinking he's correct . . . .
I can't go into it much without telegraphing what's awaiting in the next couple of instalments, but at least one of your observations, Luke, factors into what's to come.
The pages Luke linked to only serve to ask more questions like:
Awaiting the next chapter eagerly, Commander!
I'll address two of those, Philip . . . .
"How could Luthor blame Superboy for a botched rescue when he screamed in big green bulky letters for Superboy to help him?"
Because Luthor had the reasonable expectation that the actions that Superboy took in effecting his rescue would be prudent. That's not out of line. Suppose the oil dripping under your car catches on fire and you call the fire department and it arrives in time that, under conventional, accepted fire-fighting techniques, the blaze should have been confined to your garage.
But instead, the firemen make a total botch of it, committing basic errors which actually make the fire worse, and because of that, the fire spreads to your house and it burns to the ground. Then you have a case for a civil suit, even though you were the one to call the fire department. Because you had a reasonable expectation that the people arriving would be trained, qualified, and knowledgable in putting out the fire.
"Any scientific experiment that cannot be duplicated is not a proven theory nor a success."
True, for a scientific discovery to be valid, it must be reproduceable. However, that does not mean that, once a complicated process is perfected, it has to be reproduceable without notes or directions. It simply means that each time one follows the notes or directions, the same result must be produced.
Granted, Luthor's creation of a living protoplasm was never reproduced, so technically, it wasn't a proven theory. But the mere fact that Luthor couldn't make another living protoplasm without his notes does not, in and of itself, invalidate the experiment. After all, no-one expected the boys at the Manhattan Project to make the second atomic bomb from memory, and the fact that they couldn't do it by memory didn't disprove the theory behind it.
Philip Portelli said:
The pages Luke linked to only serve to ask more questions like:
- More importantly, the lab was in a one-story building. Why didn't Luthor escape through the window??
Who's to say there was a clear path to the window? Or that Luthor could find it, what with the smoke and fire and chemical fumes?
I had forgotten that Lex had also developed a kryptonite antidote. He truly was a multi-tasker.
The statement that the smoke had risen to head level doesn't take into account that smoke goes to the highest point in a room, which is why we always put smoke detectors up high to catch the fire early.
It seems to me that Lex wouldn't just jump out of the window. He was concerned about saving his experiments. Also, it was reasonable to think that Superboy, being invulnerable and fast, would enter the building rather than performing his long-distance effort.
As for his not keeping notes, I think when he says "destroyed my formula" he is referring to his notes.
Great post, Commander. I've read the story several times, but I never thought it could inspire so much debate and analysis.
And I would like to predict that, like any critical Silver Age Superboy story, there will be a surprise cameo appearance made by a contingent of the Legion of Super-Heroes in a time bubble. Character witnesses maybe?
I was reminded of this delightful series of columns when I was searching for something else. Links to the whole collection are below:
As noted over here, one thing we were lacking was the opportunity to read the story from which these events are drawn: "When Luthor Met Superboy!", in Adventure Comics #271 (April 1960), written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Al Plastino. I mentioned that I wanted to link to the story, which was posted on the wonderful Superman Through the Ages fansite -- but at the time, the site was down because it was festooned with viruses and the webmaster was in the painstaking process of rebuilding it from scratch.
I say this to say that the story is once again available, here: "How Luthor Met Superboy!" However, it should be said that a jury, in its deliberations, is supposed to consider only the testimony and evidence presented in court ... as we did when we read these columns.