Philip José Farmer once wrote, “It’s lonely to be a superman; it’s far more lonely to be a superboy.”

 

He was speaking of Clark “Doc” Savage, Junior, but that sentiment would have also applied to another Clark---Clark Kent. 

 

Superman, of course, had the friendship of the Batman and his comaraderie with his fellow Justice League members, and as Superboy, he could always zip a thousand years into the future and hang out with the Legion of Super-Heroes.  But as Clark Kent, he had very few close to him.  At least his adult self enjoyed a circle of colleagues at the Daily Planet---Lois, Jimmy, Perry---but the young Clark lacked even that.

 

Though every day he attended high school, surrounded by dozens of his peers and well liked by most, Clark remained a loner.  By choice.  The presence of close friends posed too much of a risk to his secret identity.  They would wonder about his occasional quirks and would notice how often Clark would seem to vanish whenever Superboy was needed.  (The one teen-ager who did socialise with Clark was Lana Lang, who wasn’t there so much to be a friend as she was to confirm her suspicions that Clark was Superboy.  She was a pest.)

 

But even a Superboy is only human, and eventually, Clark did give in to the desire to have a close friend. The first time we see this in the Silver Age occurs in “Superboy’s Best Friend”, from Superboy # 77 (Dec., 1959).  Clark meets a newcomer to Smallville, the amiable Freddy Shaw, and a strong friendship develops.  Clark finds the idea of having a best buddy so rewarding that he reveals his identity to Freddy.  This turns out to have been a bad move on Clark’s part, as soon afterward, he is approached by Freddy’s older step-brother, a criminal who extorts the Boy of Steel’s coöperation by threatening to reveal his secret identity.

 

Superboy feels betrayed by Freddy, until he learns that Freddy is dying from a rare ailment that has reached the final stages.  During a fevered delirium, Freddy talked in his sleep, accidentally disclosing that Clark was Superboy within earshot of his no-good step-brother.  Clark remains with Freddy until the end.  Then he is able to preserve his secret identity by passing off Freddy’s words as an hallucination. 

 

Still, the experience leaves the super-teen even more convinced that Clark Kent must always be alone.  "I know now that I can never have another close friend," he ruminates, "because fate can always step in and betray my secret!"

Superman editor Mort Weisinger obviously liked the idea of young Clark Kent having a best friend.  Only nine issues later, in Superboy # 86 (Jan., 1961), the readers were introduced to “The Boy Who Betrayed Clark Kent”.  Once again, Clark makes the acquaintance of a new arrival in Smallville, Pete Ross.  They meet when a pair of bullies strongarm the mild-mannered youngster out of his place in line at a movie theatre.  Pete steps forward and shoves both pugs out of the picture.  Helping Clark to his feet, Pete tells him, “Since you’re about the first person I’ve met here, I hope we can become friends, Clark!”  Clark is tempted to form a friendship with the decent and likeable Pete, but fearing for the safety of his secret identity---and probably remembering his experience with Freddy Shaw---politely puts him off.

 

Throwing away a chance for a real friend, necessary or not, sets Clark moping around the house for a couple of days.  When Ma and Pa Kent ask about it, he tells them about meeting Pete Ross and shrugs off his loneliness as one of the prices of being Superboy.  In their wisdom, the Kents realise that the benefit to their son’s social health outweighs the risks to his secret identity, and they invite Pete for dinner.  Despite himself, Clark is glad to see him and quickly a firm friendship grows between the two boys.

 

At first, Pete appears a non-prying sort, which allays Clark’s fears over his secret identity.  But as the two boys pal around, seemingly innocent questions and actions by Pete start to make Clark suspicious.  Eventually, Clark concludes that Pete suspects him of being Superboy and is putting together the evidence to prove it.  His worries culminate when Pete invites him to the Ross house for a surprise.  Once there, Pete insists that Clark don a Superboy costume.

 

Feeling betrayed once again, Clark is about to have it out with “his best friend”, when Pete reveals that the reason for his inquisitiveness was gather enough information to persuade the high-school drama club to give Clark the lead as “Superboy” in an upcoming play.  The drama club agrees, Clark takes his star turn on stage, and, for once, he is the centre of admiration and popularity.  Thanks to his best pal.

 

 

 

Superboy fans who'd been around for a few years must have gotten a feeling of déjà vécu (and, no, that's not a typo) when they read this story.  You see, "The Boy Who Betrayed Clark Kent" is a regurgitation of "Clark Kent's Best Pal", from Superboy # 47 (Mar., 1956).  Weisinger frequently re-cycled old stories, on the theory that his audience refreshed every few years, once the younger kids had become competent readers and the older klds had moved on to cars and girls.

 

In "Clark Kent's Best Pal", our bespectacled star is rescued from a bullying by Billy Todd, whose family has just moved into Smallville.  There are some minor differences in the earlier story---Billy's hobby is making miniature dioramas involving famous landmarks, rather than Pete's interest in criminology, and the encounters between Billy and Superboy which raise Clark's suspicions are different.  Otherwise, "The Boy Who Betrayed Clark Kent" is so similar to "Clark Kent's Best Pal" that I'm surprised Leo Dorfman got paid for it.  (Otto Binder wrote the 1956 version.)

 

Billy's story ended the same way Pete's would.  All of Billy's suspicious behaviour were actually his efforts to make a special gift for "his best friend", Clark.

 

Given that Billy Todd was never seen, heard, or mentioned again, most readers probably figured that the same thing would happen with Pete Ross; he'd turn out to be just another disposable character in the relatively unconnected adventures of Superboy.  But, by now, Weisinger was deep into his mythos-building, and he had plans for Clark Kent's latest best friend.

 

Pete Ross’ place in the Superboy legend was secured in “Pete Ross’ Super-Secret”, from Superboy # 90 (Jul., 1961).  Once again proving his integrity and loyalty, Pete blows off an invitation to attend a big masquerade party when he learns “that wallflower” Clark will not be invited.  Instead, the two lads decide to go on a camping trip.  In the middle of the night, while a storm brews, Clark is awakened when his super-hearing detects the whistle of a train in distress.  Confirming it with his telescopic vision, he changes to Superboy.

 

In one of the most frequently repeated panels in Superboy history, a tremendous flash of lightning illuminates the tent and awakens Pete, who sees Clark changing to Superboy.  The Boy of Steel is unaware of this as he streaks off to aid the stricken train.  Pete pretends to be asleep when Superboy returns and resumes his identity as Clark.

 

Unlike Lana Lang, who always seemed ready to announce it on nationwide radio, if she ever learnt Clark was Superboy, Pete makes a silent vow to “never betray him nor even tell Clark I know!  He mustn’t be disturbed or hampered in any way by my knowledge!”  What a pal!

 

Within a few days, Pete has his first chance to prove his secret loyalty.  When he and Clark see a new observatory telescope snap its chains during delivery, Pete pretends to be blinded by a glint of sunlight reflecting from the telescope lens, so Clark can change to Superboy and prevent the valuable instrument from shattering at the bottom of a cliff.

 

This was the first of many similar scenes to occur over the next two years.  Almost every appearance of Pete Ross included some bit of business where he would create some distraction in order to let Clark slip away and change to Superboy.  Somewhat naїvely, Superboy kept chalking these instances up to “lucky breaks”. 

 

Pete takes his clandestine aid to the Boy from Krypton a step further by fashioning a duplicate Superboy costume and facial mask.  It comes in handy when he fills in for an unavailable Boy of Steel and scares two crooks into surrendering.  This disguise would prove convenient many more times in the series.

 

“The Superboy Revenge Squad”, from Superboy # 94, was one of those times.  Members of the Superboy Revenge Squad are travelling through space, searching for the Boy of Steel’s home planet with the use of a device which will detect super-thoughts of anyone planetside.  This is a suicide mission.  When the criminals locate the right planet, they will detonate a mega-bomb on board that will explode with sufficient force to destroy that world.

 

Superboy detects the S.R.S. ship as it enters our solar system and discovers their plan.  To thwart the brain-wave device, he super-hypnotises himself into believing, for the next twenty-four hours, that he is an ordinary boy with ordinary thoughts.  Over the course of the day, as Clark hangs out with Pete, several events erupt which call for Superboy’s service.  Pete is mystified when Clark does not duck out of sight to assume his costumed identity.  Wrongfully concluding that red kryptonite has stolen Clark’s memory of being Superboy, Pete changes into his duplicate costume and mask and subs for the Boy from Krypton.  In an interesting inversion of the usual premise, Clark accidentally stumbles across Pete changing into his Superboy costume and believes that Pete is Superboy.  Mirroring Pete’s usual rôle, Clark decides to keep Pete’s “secret” and subtly helps him sneak off to become “the Boy of Steel”.

 

 

 

In “The Enemy Superboy”, from Superboy # 96 (Apr., 1962), Pete gains super-powers for real, when a long-range attempt by Lex Luthor to kill Superboy from his jail cell instead results in transferring the super-teen’s powers to Pete.  Privately, the two lads confirm the power exchange.  Superboy is now a normal human.  Meanwhile, Pete tests his various powers and learns what he can do, including time-travel, when too much super-speed zooms him briefly into the future.

While Superboy comes to grips with being an ordinary youth and the possibility that he may be Clark Kent permanently, it appears, almost immediately, that having super-powers has gone to Pete’s head.  He seems intent on taking Superboy’s place.  He disconnects the wire leading to the special signal lamp in the Kent living room, destroys the Superboy robots, and fills in the underground tunnel leading to the Kent basement.

 

Despite appearances, rest assured, Pete has good and noble reasons for his actions, which are proved to the real Superboy when Pete deliberately places himself in the path of Luthor’s next attempt to kill the Boy of Steel with his death ray.  Fortunately, the result simply transfers Pete’s super-powers back to their original possessor.  But, what a pal!

 

 

 

Two issues later, “The Boy with Ultra-Powers” begins Pete Ross’ association with the Legion of Super-Heroes.  During his initiation test to join the Legion, Ultra Boy discovers that Pete has been faithfully keeping Superboy’s secret for months.  As a reward, Pete is given a special coin which will permit him to attend a Legion meeting as an honoured guest, and Ultra Boy assures him that they will arrange for Superboy to take him into the future soon.

 

Note here, contrary to many sources, this is not when Pete was made an honorary Legionnaire.  He was not given that status until Mort Weisinger referred to him as an honorary Legionnaire in the “Smallville Mailsack” in Superboy # 102 (Jan., 1963).  No reason was ever given for the sudden elevation in Pete’s status with the Legion, but if one wanted to extrapolate, the story “The Day Pete Ross Became a Robot” from two issues earlier provides considerable circumstantial evidence.

 

In that tale, Pete learns that Superboy is headed to the future to attend a Legion meeting and is taking all of his robots with him, except one left behind to protect Smallville.  After the Boy of Steel departs, Pete gives in to the temptation to check out Superboy’s trophy room in the Kent basement.  There, he fiddles with some of his buddy’s souvenirs and accidentally damages the Superboy robot left on duty.

 

Feeling obligated to fill in for the damaged robot, Pete dons his Superboy costume and mask.  By cleverly employing some of the other remarkable devices he finds in the trophy room and considerable resourcefulness, Pete manages to successfully respond to each emergency.  However, he isn't clever enough to repair the damaged robot.  That will tip off Superboy, when he returns, that his identity has been compromised.

 

Pete’s quandry is resolved when Ultra Boy appears in a time-bubble and repairs the robot.  U-Boy explains that the Legion had been monitoring 20th-century Smallville and observed Pete in action as the Superboy robot.  In the flashback of his account, the Legionnaires are extremely impressed with Pete’s ingenuity at solving one difficult problem after another during his imposture.

 

One can easily conject that Pete was given the special coin in recognition of his loyalty in keeping Superboy’s secret, but when the Legionnaires witnessed the quick-witted lad’s success in carrying out the Boy of Steel’s duties, they voted him an honorary membership.  Clearly, Ultra Boy thought the unassuming Smallville teen was swell, which probably accounted for why he joined Superboy in celebrating Pete’s birthday in “Sun Boy’s Lost Power”, from Adventure Comics # 302 (Nov., 1962).

 

 

 

By this time, Pete had become a regular supporting character in Superboy and Adventure Comics, sometimes just coming on stage long enough to provide another diversion enabling his pal Clark to become Superboy.   Then, in “The Great Superboy Hoax”, from Superboy # 106 (Jul., 1963), the freckle-faced youngster got another star-turn. 

 

Superboy decides to test Pete’s suitability to take over as the Boy of Steel, should the need arise.  Our Hero fakes his own death and leaves secret instructions for Pete to take a special serum which imbues him with super-powers.  Pete acquits himself creditably as a super-hero, leaving Superboy confident that his best pal can take over, if necessary.

 

There is a forgotten but critical mistake in this tale.  Once Pete Ross has informed his parents of Superboy’s death and his inheritance of his super-powered rôle, he tells them of how he dreads telling the Kents that their son is dead.  Thus, Pete has revealed to his parents that Superboy was Clark Kent. 

 

The error got by Mort Weisigner and writer Edmond Hamilton, but not Kelsie James, of Jersey City, New Jersey, who pointed it out in a letter appearing in the Smallville Mailsack of issue # 108 (Oct., 1963).  In his reply, Mort promised that a future Superboy story would show how Mr. and Mrs. Ross lose their knowledge of Superboy's secret.  But such an event never materialised.  Instead, Weisinger and company just pretended it never happened.

 

Pete takes a minor part in three last 1963-dated issues of Superboy and Adventure Comics, and that would conclude his steady run as a regular in Superboy stories.  He fades from sight for almost three years.

 

Then, in “The Fists and the Fury”, from Superboy # 131 (Jul., 1966), he makes what amounts to a walk-on.  He doesn’t even get to perform one of his secret assists of Superboy.  He gets a better treatment four issues later, in “The Menace of the Mechano-Master”.  The villain threatens to destroy Smallville unless Superboy commits a series of publicly embarrassing acts, The locals, fickle lot that they are, enjoy seeing the Boy of Steel's humiliation.  An indignant Pete discovers the actual reason for his best friend’s odd actions and throws it in their faces.  The shamed townfolk turn on the Mechano-Master, sending him running for cover.

 

It’s classic Pete Ross and it sets the stage for his final Silver-Age appearance, which would prove to be Pete's shining moment.

 

 

When you stopped to think about it, and comics-fans love to think about things like this, Pete's status as an honorary Legionnaire must have puzzled Superboy to no end.  Whichever reason you prefer, Pete's honorary membership was based on his protection of the Boy of Steel's secret identity.  As we see in "The Eight Impossible Missions", from Adventure Comics # 323 (Aug., 1964), Superboy knows that Pete is an honorary member of the Legion, yet, even in the future, he is unaware that his best pal knows his Clark Kent identity.

 

And even if his Legion buddies told him, the Boy of Steel would forget that critical fact whenever he returned to his own time, thanks to Supergirl's post-hypnotic command.

 

So, the Boy of Steel had to be scratching his head over why Pete was an honorary Legionnaire.

 

"Hey, Pete, just why did the Legion make you an honorary member, anyway?"

 

"Um . . . sorry, but I'm . . . er . . . late for drama club rehearsals.  Gotta go."

 

"Ah, come on, Pete!  Tell me."

 

"Well . . . uh . . . look!  Isn't that Lana Lang in a bathing suit?"

 

 

 

Maybe the Smallville Sensation didn't know why his pal Pete was an honorary Legionnaire, but he sure was glad of it when Mordru the Merciless came to town.

 

Mordru was introduced in the two-part epic from Adventure Comics # 369-70 (Jun. and Jul., 1968).  Writer Jim Shooter pulled out all the stops with this one.  The rogue mage was so powerful and terrifying that, upon his escape from Legion confinement, the two mightiest Legionnaires, Superboy and Mon-El, fled like panicky sheep to 20th-century Smallville, along with Duo Damsel and Shadow Lass.

Taking refuge from Mordru’s mystical senses by using the same super-hypnosis trick that the Boy of Steel employed against the Superboy Revenge Squad, the quartet of Legionnaires hide under the belief that they are ordinary teens.  Consequently, they are helpless when Mordru stops messing around and sends shock troopers to invade Smallville. 

 

It is Pete who takes charge of the situation.  Realising that something is preventing Clark from acting as Superboy, he recruits Legion reservist Lana (Insect Queen) Lang, and they forcibly restore the Boy of Steel’s memories of his super-self.  Superboy, in turn, restores the other Legionnaires to normal.

 

During the fight with Mordru’s troops, Pete's right there, in the thick of it.  When the heroes are finally captured and forced to undergo a kangaroo trial, Pete acts as the Legionnaires’ defence counsel and delivers a stirring speech that frees one of Mordru’s lieutenants from the sorcerer’s mystic control.  Ultimately, the Legionnaires evade their death sentence, thanks to Pete.  For the Silver Age and beyond, this was Pete Ross’ finest hour.

 

 

Unlike Lana Lang, Pete didn't carry over into the Superman stories.  We get only two Silver-Age glimpses into Pete’s life following his teen years.  In the tale “Lois Lane’s College Scoops”, from Lois Lane # 55 (Feb., 1965), the readers learn that Pete attended Raleigh College at the same time Lois was a journalism student there.

 

And what did adulthood hold for the decent, honourable Pete Ross?  We learn that in “The Superman Super-Spectacular”, from Action Comics # 309 (Feb., 1964).  Not surprisingly, Pete was inspired by Superboy in choosing his career.  When the Boy of Steel located oil deposits on the land of some starving farmers, Pete decided to become a geologist.  By finding oil in fields once considered worthless, he made a fortune not only for himself but for the owners of the lands.

 

And in all the years since Smallville, he never told anyone Superman’s greatest secret.

 

What a pal!

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I don't think I bought Superboy #90, his first appearance. I probably bought one with a later appearance, possibly #96, and saw one of many panels showing how Pete found out Clark's secret. I know I never saw the other two best friends. Good article, as always.

I reread the first couple of Pete Ross stories recently. Good stuff. I didn't realize he'd faded so much later in the Silver Age.

He does appear as the villain in the imaginary Superman story where Lex becomes Clark's foster brother.

Much later, in the DC Presents #13 (September 1979), the adult Pete Ross tells Superman that he knows his secret.  It is a convoluted plot wherein Superman is unable to save Pete's son without  disastrously changing the future.  Pete vows to make Superman pay for his "failure."  Not a happy outcome.  However, a year later, Superman is able to rescue Pete's son in DC Presents 25.

Yes, they simply ignore the set up that Pete's son can't be rescued without causing a catastrophe, which makes much of the conflict of the first part pointless.

Glenn Hakanson said:

Much later, in the DC Presents #13 (September 1979), the adult Pete Ross tells Superman that he knows his secret.  It is a convoluted plot wherein Superman is unable to save Pete's son without  disastrously changing the future.  Pete vows to make Superman pay for his "failure."  Not a happy outcome.  However, a year later, Superman is able to rescue Pete's son in DC Presents 25.

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