I am somewhat amazed that I have written so many of these and haven’t somehow gotten to Superboy-Prime yet. There’s a good explanation for that: I don’t much like him, and there was a time when he never seemed to go away.
But something came up when I noticed he came back.
It’s kinda hard to say when exactly Superboy-Prime first appeared. His first official appearance is listed as DC Comics Presents #87 from November of 1985, but arguably he was around a lot longer. See, sometime after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was basically decided that Superman was never Superboy, an alias he went by when he did superheroing as a teenager. There was also Earth-Prime, originally a stand-in for the “real world,” but eventually said to be the universe where the Earth had exactly one superhero, namely Superboy. He would have eventually grown up to be Superman, but that never happened because comic books. Instead, it was basically suggested that those Superboy adventures that used to be the childhood of Earth-1’s Superman were now performed by Superboy of Earth-Prime in some sort of pocket universe.
OK, not bad. DC does have a habit of connecting even their craziest stories to each other. I mean, there is at least one if not two alternate Earths where talking cartoon animals exist.
As it happened, Superboy-Prime did come by to help out during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the sole survivor of his Earth, and after the Anti-Monitor’s defeat, he was allowed to go off with Alexander Luthor, last survivor of Earth-3, and the Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2 to what was intended to be a quiet retirement for the Golden Age Superman.
So, OK, the guy was a hero then?
Well, if his story had ended right then and there, then yes. But then came the next multiverse-threatening Crisis, the Infinite Crisis, and he came back…as the bad guy.
See, apparently the four survivors in the pocket universe were able to watch the goings on in the DC Universe, and as times changed and superhero adventures got less Silver Age-y, they didn’t much like what they saw. To be fair, Superman and Lois were more understanding and just figured the other heroes needed some guidance, and Lois was dying so Clark had more of a reason to get out of there. Alex Luthor was doing all kinds of things behind the scenes that would eventually get him killed when he pissed off the two worst supervillains to anger–Lex Luthor for stealing his identity and the Joker for trying to leave him out of what was going on–but Superboy-Prime? Well, he decided to personally confront Connor Kent and tell him to start acting like a hero again, the sort that he believed heroes always had to be. That turned into a fight, and that turned into an intervention when the Teen Titans, the Doom Patrol, and the JSA all came by to subdue Superboy-Prime.
And then Prime killed Titans member Pantha.
OK, it was clearly as drawn an accident. He lashed out and didn’t know his own strength. He was basically a Silver Age Superman on a different Earth so Superman’s traditional weaknesses–magic and kryptonite–didn’t really work. The other heroes were a lot more fragile than he was, and he soon had killed a couple of them when Kid-Flash intervened and pushed Prime into the Speed Force. Prime has been somewhat afraid of various Flashes ever since, but he didn’t stay there, coming back in special armor that looked a lot like the Anti-Monitor’s until he was eventually subdued by both of the other Supermen, with Earth-2’s Superman dying in the process.
So, was that it? Red sunlight still drained him, and the Green Lantern Corps had him locked up in a special cell under a red sun. Would he be forgotten about? Even after cutting an “S” shield into his bare chest?
See, Geoff Johns, the writer on Infinite Crisis and Watson’s moral enemy, he kept bringing Prime back. Prime would be a member of the Sinestro Corps for the Sinestro Corps War story. He’d battle the Legion of Superheroes from three alternate time lines during the Final Crisis. And through it all…he got really obnoxious.
See, Superboy-Prime mostly whined about how he was supposed to be Superman, called various superheroes childish names (like “Billy Bratson” from a recent Shazam storyline set after the New 52 and written by Johns), and insisted he was the only real hero even though all he seemed to do was plow through armies of superheroes, often killing or horribly mutilating some in the process. He somewhat worked in Infinite Crisis because it looked like he did stuff by accident and then maybe went a little insane in the Speed Force. After that it was always on purpose while he did nothing but whine and complain.
In fact, that Legion mini-series, one that brought both Connor Kent and Bart Allen back from the dead, ended with him back on Earth-Prime like he wanted all along…but his parents and love interest had read the comics he’d appeared in and were afraid of him, leaving Prime to lash out online…on the DC Comics message board.
Now, I’ve never actually looked it up, but I somehow suspect Johns intended Prime to be a stand-in for that DC fan that never likes new stuff, always complains that things aren’t good like they used to be, hates change, and maybe wants stuff to be more edgy. Again, just a theory.
The thing is, Prime’s act got old fast, and he was somehow worse when someone other than Johns was writing him as seen in Countdown to Final Crisis where he was aged up a bit and renamed “Superman-Prime” because of a legal dispute with Siegel and Shuster’s estates over the Superboy name going on at the time. That particular mini-series was basically forgotten once the last issue came out since it didn’t really lead into anything in Final Crisis, and it may be the story that had Prime yell he would “kill someone to death”.
Oh, and Prime is officially why Jason Todd came back from the dead and other continuity changes happened because his punches to the walls of the pocket universe changed reality outside of it.
That said, it does appear as if Scott Snyder of all people remembered Prime started off as a good guy, basically the Silver Age Superboy, because from what I have read in Dark Nights: Death Metal, Prime might have gotten an honest-to-goodness redemption arc after Wonder Woman basically explained that what he wanted was impossible and childish. I haven’t finished Death Metal yet, but if that happens…well, I could do with a lot less of Johns’s take on Superboy-Prime in my life.