"The adventures of Superman when he was a boy!"
—The original Superboy comic series' Tagline.
Originally, when Superman was created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, he was shown as having debuted as a superhero as a full-grown adult. Eventually, after rejecting a few proposals for such from Siegel and Shuster, someone at DC decided to create the character of Superboy, Superman's adventures as a youth before becoming Superman. This came without input or approval from Siegel (which helped strain the relations between DC and Siegel and Shuster even further). Superboy's first appearance was in More Fun Comics #101 (January-February, 1945).
As shown, Superboy fought crime in and around his small home town of Smallville, and was raised by his foster parents, Ma and Pa Kent. Like his adult self, he also had a secret identity as Clark Kent. Other supporting characters included his best friend, Pete Ross, who had accidentally found Clark's secret and aided him without his knowledge; his female friend next door, Lana Lang, who, like Lois Lane years later, tried to become Superboy's girlfriend and/or find out his secret identity; Smallville's chief of police, Chief Parker; and Krypto, Superboy's pet dog from Krypton.
While some of Smallville's threats came from a rather high number of gangsters and bank robbers, some actual supervillains would also show up, including the Kryptonite Kid and most famously, young Lex Luthor (who was initially friends with Superboy; however, a laboratory accident [one that rendered him bald] and a series of disastrous, humiliating attempts to improve Smallville's life with his inventions -- requiring Superboy to intervene each time -- made him vow that the only way he'd be able to prove his intellectual prowess to the world would be to destroy Superboy... and later, Superman).
In 1958, Superboy was invited by three youths from the 30th century to join their superhero group, the Legion of Super-Heroes, whose stories became a recurring feature (before graduating to their own comic) in Superboy and Superman comics.
Various stories would show how Ma and Pa Kent eventually died shortly after Clark's graduation from high school, an event that affected him greatly, along with Superboy attending college and how he changed his name to Superman.
Then came Crisis on Infinite Earths and the subsequent Post-Crisis Byrne revamp in 1986, which after 40+ years of existence retconned Superboy out of existence. Under Byrne's origin, Superman was once again shown as having started his career as an adult. This caused a Continuity Snarl with the Legion comics, which was fixed by stating that a separate Superboy character was created in a "pocket universe" by the Legion villain known as the Time Trapper just to preserve the Legion's history; the Legion was redirected there every time they traveled to what they thought was Superboy's time. The Pocket Universe became a major recurring storyline for both the Legion and for the Post-Crisis Superman. Pocket Superboy sacrificed himself to save both his universe and the Legion from the Time Trapper. Superman eventually violated Thou Shalt Not Kill to execute the Pocket Universe equivalents of General Zod and his henchmen for killing everyone on their Earth except for the "Matrix" Supergirl. Finally, the editors decreed that the Pocket Universe and its Superboy be written out of continuity altogether (in yet another Cosmic Retcon).
After the early 1990s' The Death of Superman storyline, a new version of Superboy came into existence -- this one an artificially created teenage clone. The character first appeared in The Adventures of Superman #500 (June, 1993), created by Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett. Exactly who he is a clone of was retconned, but he is currently a combination of Superman and Lex Luthor. This version eventually was befriended by Superman, who gave him an honorary Kryptonian name, "Kon-El." Kon also met and stayed briefly with Ma and Pa Kent (who no longer were dead in Superman's adult years post-Crisis), where he gained an identity of "Conner Kent".
Several alternate versions of Superboy were also seen over the years (including the aforementioned "Pocket Universe" version). The most prominent one is Superboy-Prime, a formerly heroic alternate-Earth Superboy seen in Crisis On Infinite Earths who reappeared in modern continuity as an Evil Twin of Superman/Superboy. The original Superman-as-a-boy was also restored to continuity for a few years until the start of the New 52.
In the late 2000s-early 2010s, DC Comics fought a legal battle with the surviving family of Superman's creators over the rights to Superboy, which due to a quirk of copyright law might have been reclaimable by them. The Siegel heirs eventually lost their last lawsuit in 2013, but because of it, there was a period of time where DC refused to use the name "Superboy", so Kon-El died, Superboy-Prime was called "Superman-Prime", and the Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon starred a "young Superman" rather than Superboy.
The most recent change in Superboy's status quo came in the aftermath of the Crisis Crossover Flashpoint, as part of the line-wide reboot known as either "The New 52" or "The DCnU". Right now, "Superboy" is a biological experiment of the conspiracy known as N.O.W.H.E.R.E, made from Superman's DNA and that of several others, both human and alien. He is currently being used by them as a living weapon, under the supervision of both "Red", a.k.a. Dr. Caitlin Fairchild (the last survivor of the team of scientists working on him) and Rose Wilson, a young mercenary hired to make sure that he stays under control. This Superboy has Kon-El's tactile telekinesis, but virtually none of the empathy of his earlier incarnation; he just wants to escape N.O.W.H.E.R.E., and he's not picky about what he has to do until he can.
Superboy comic series
- More Fun Comics (1945-1946)
- Adventure Comics (1946-1962) (as the lead feature), 1962-1969 (as part of the Legion of Super-Heroes feature)
- Superboy (1949-1973), becomes Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes; Superboy leaves the Legion in 1979
- Adventure Comics (1977-1978)
- Superman Family (1978-1979)
- The New Adventures of Superboy (1980-1984)
- Superboy: The Comic Book (based on the live-action Superboy series)
- The Adventures of Superman (1993 - 1994, during Reign of the Supermen)
- Superboy (vol. 4) (1994-2002)
- Superboy and the Ravers (1996-1998)
- Adventure Comics (2009 - 2010)
- Superboy (vol. 5): (2010 - 2011)
- Superboy (vol. 6): (2011 - ongoing)
Media spinoffs featuring Superboy
- The 1960s Filmation animated Superman series featured Superboy cartoon segments.
- Superboy/The Adventures of Superboy (1988-1992 live-action series)
- Smallville (though this centers around a costumeless teenage Clark Kent)
- Legion of Super-Heroes features a teenage Clark wearing the Super-costume, but because of the legal issues mentioned above he was called Superman instead of Superboy, as was originally intended.
- Young Justice (2011 animated series)
- Season 10 of Smallville
- While not a direct adaptation, Legion of Super-Heroes has a similar teenage Superman clone called Superman X/Kell-El, who wears a costume similar to Kon-El's.
- Already Met Everyone: He even met Batman and the first Robin.
- Alternate Universe: The post-Crisis Pocket Universe and pre-Crisis Earth-Prime versions of Superboy (both young Clark Kents).
- Blond Brunette Redhead: Lois and Lana Lang are 2/3rds of this.
- In a story (based on a script from the Superboy Live Action TV series that wasn't, apparently) Superboy flies out into space in order to make a home movie type film to show his friend that the friend's father was a hero during the war. Superboy goes faster than light so he can film the light coming from earth which shows what happened in the past.
- Comic Book Time: The pre-Crisis Superboy's time-era varied over the decades as taking place in the relative past of Superman, and thus the Boy of Steel was shown as operating in The Thirties, The Fifties (largely skipping The Forties), The Sixties, and even The Seventies (by the end of Superboy's pre-Crisis run/the 1985 "Superman: The Secret Years" miniseries), until being retconned out of existence in the Byrne Superman revamp.
- Continuity Snarl: Inverted; while removing Superboy from canon after Crisis didn't affect Superman, it did affect the Legion of Super-Heroes big time.
- Demoted to Extra: The Legion of Super-Heroes quickly became more popular than Superboy and in each series the two have both shared, have always ended up taking the book away from Superboy.
- Letters 2 Numbers: Superboy does this in order to remove Luthor's fifth dimensional powers (siphoned off of Mr. Mxyzptlk) in Superboy #131.
- Multilayer Facade: In #107, Red Kryptonite makes Clark jealous of himself as Superboy. He proceeds to reveal his superpowers and starts doing his fantastic feats openly. Some out-of-town criminals who arrived in Smallville to kill Superboy with Green Kryptonite learn of this and make plans to strike Clark at his home. Eventually the Red K's effect wears off and Clark proceeds to extricate himself from the crisis via the trope. He makes up a story explaining that he knew that the criminals wanted to kill Superboy but didn't know when they'd strike, so he posed as Clark in cooperation with the Kents to force their hand.
- Put on a Bus/Ret-Gone: He was written out of Superman's backstory as of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
- Spinoff Babies: Probably the first example of this, with Superboy first appearing in 1945's More Fun Comics #101.
- Super Dickery: A staple. Adventures ranged from Lana Lang constantly getting powers, trying to find out Superboy's identity, or something along the lines of Smallville going through an obesity epidemic due to radioactive milk.
- The Presidents: He met FDR and John F. Kennedy... both while they were in office.
- Time Travel: A constant for all Superboys, since the character is closely connected to the Legion of Super-Heroes.
- Alternate Universe: Kon-El meets and teams up with the Kal-El version Superboy in several post-Crisis storylines, including "Zero Hour" and "Hypertension."
- Ambiguously Brown: Tana Moon, before it was revealed that she's native Hawaiian.
- Appropriated Appellation: In his early appearances, he insisted on being called Superman. It wasn't until Superman returned from the dead and told Kon that he'd be honored to let Kon use the name "Superboy" that he started to take to it. And even then, the new Superboy told Big Blue, "When I turn 21... watch out."
- Back from the Dead: Killed off in Infinite Crisis, resurrected in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds.
- Blond Brunette Redhead: He once had a Love Dodecahedron between Tana Moon (brunette), Roxy Leech (blond) and Knockout (redhead).
- Brainwashed and Crazy: As with his "dad", he's a prime target for this trope. Happened to him when he was with the Young Justice as well as another time when Poison Ivy used him for this purpose. His entire purpose for being created by Lex Luthor was to act as a sleeper agent in the superhero community, and the Black Lanterns recently attempted to take control of him again. Fortunately, by this time, Superboy had become Genre Savvy, and trained himself to retain some measure of control even while brainwashed.
- Chest Insignia
- Civvie Spandex: Currently the trope poster boy.
- Clark Kenting: As Conner Kent.
- Cloning Blues: He falls into this occasionally, after several years of being Totally Radical.
- Comic Book Time: One story during Reign of the Supermen specifically references Bill Clinton as POTUS. Furthermore, in the time since he was created, babies born within the same month have grown up and become legal.
- Costume Copycat: Kal-El Superboy initially accuses Kon-El Superboy of such in their Zero Hour crossover meeting in Superboy #8, before learning the truth about what's going on.
- Darker and Edgier: Once he learned that he was made with Lex Luthor's DNA, the cocky, brash hero got much angstier.
- Evil Knockoff: Match
- Executive Meddling: The reason behind Conner's death in Infinite Crisis. The higher-ups wanted a sidekick attached to one of The Big Three to die, as Supergirl had in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Originally, they picked Nightwing, but the writers were appalled at the idea of killing of Dick Grayson, one of the most beloved comic book characters of all time, and so the execs caved and settled for Superboy instead.
- That and around the same time, DC lost a lawsuit to the Siegel family, and actually lost the rights to the Superboy name.
- Fun Personified: Before going Darker and Edgier as Conner Kent.
- Half-Human Hybrid
- Homosexual Reproduction: The comics version is the biological mix of Superman and Lex Luthor. Yeah.
- Heroic BSOD: After Luthor brainwashes him just before Infinite Crisis.
- "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Bart to Conner, just before Infinite Crisis, and then Cassie to Conner, during Blackest Night.
- Intercontinuity Crossover: At the peak of his popularity, Conner was one of the Main Events of Marvel Vs DC. He lost to Spider-man (Ben Reilly).
- Kidanova: Girls whom he's dated or have been attracted to him include: Tana Moon, Roxy Leech, Knockout, Sparxx, all THREE of Triad/Triplicate Girl's split selves, Cassandra Cain, Dr. Sterling Roquette, Wonder Girl, Kara-Zor-El (Pre-Crisis), and Lori Luthor.
- Kissing Cousins: This one is complicated. Back when they first met, Kon-El and Supergirl II/(Matrix) were not related, and Superboy used to hit on Matrix with impunity. He also later enjoyed mutual flirtation with the Pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El when she was torn from time and space. Most subtext between the two was dropped when it was realized that Superboy is Superman's "offspring", but in the recent Blackest Night crossover, a Black-Lantern-ring-possessed Superboy taunts Wonder Girl (his current girlfriend) by saying that when he's alone, it's his "cousin" he fantasizes about.
- And now, we have Lori Luthor, who is actually disappointed that he sees her as a cousin.
- Let's You and Him Fight: between Kal-El Superboy and Kon-El Superboy in the "Zero Hour" crossover (as this page's picture indicates).
- Luckily, My Powers Will Protect Me: Hey, has Kon-El mentioned that he has tactile telekinesis? Because he does.
- Manchurian Agent: Part of the arc where he discovers Lex Luthor shares half of his DNA which enabled Lex to use him via this trope as well as the Brainwashed and Crazy trope.
- Mix-and-Match Man: Conner is a clone of both Superman and Lex Luthor.
- Nature Versus Nurture: During his Darker and Edgier years, he's all about this trope. In the earliest years, his "daddy" was Paul Westfield and later, it was retconned to be Lex Luthor instead. Neither of them are very nice people. So, Superboy constantly questions whether he was destined to become good or evil based on the genes provided by Superman or his human father.
- Stuffed Into the Fridge: Tana Moon during the Sins of Youth storyline.
- Temporal Mutability: Continuity seems to place it somewhere between Types I - IV. The modern Superboy was now technically a time traveler, every bit as out of place in this era as Booster Gold. His "current" self is still a corpse, slowly recovering within the Fortress of Solitude. Kon-El is careful not to disturb the body resting there, as he isn't quite sure what will happen to himself if he does. Other than that, though, the DC universe's rules on time travel are malleable enough to allow Conner to exist in the present without worrying too much about screwing up the timestream.
- Time Travel: Like Kal-El, Conner has had some adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes.
- Totally Radical: He started out like this, before he was retooled to becoming Mr. Cloning Blues
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: He once tussled with Spider-man (Ben Reilly) during the Marvel Vs DC event.
- You Are Number Six: Conner Kent was designated "S-13" at Cadmus, in relation to being the thirteenth (and only successful) clone of Superman.
- You Don't Want to Die a Virgin, Do You?: Conner and Cassandra's last night together before the conclusion of Infinite Crisis. Also counts as Their First Time.
Superboy, Post-Flashpoint Reboot (New 52)
- Amazonian Beauty: Dr. Caitlin Fairchild
- The unnamed female antagonist in Issue #3 also counts.
- Anti-Hero (Type IV): This version of Superboy has no interest in heroics beyond what it takes to survive/gain his freedom. Between the first and second issues, he kills many of his captors by reflex and feels no remorse or guilt, tortures a group of soldiers who hold him at gunpoint, and flat out threatens to kill anyone who stands in his way.
- Issue #4 seems to be steering him towards being a Type II.
- Awesomeness By Analysis: He taught himself to talk and communicate by watching others do it.
- Bald of Evil: Depending on how you view his "anti-hero" antics, Superboy is this when fresh out of the test tube.
- Become a Real Boy: His character development seems to be headed in this direction. In fact, he uses these exact words in issue #6.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Superboy and Rose Wilson
- The fight between Superboy and Wonder Girl in Teen Titans is even more blatant. All the two talk about is how cute they find each other while trying to smear their faces into the sidewalk.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: In addition to the Kryptonian side of his DNA, Superboy states that his "brain" is, in fact, every single atom of his body.
- Blood Knight: Rose Wilson
- Boisterous Bruiser: Superboy, definitely. Rose Wilson even moreso.
- Bullying a Dragon: How most N.O.W.H.E.R.E. staff and mooks treat Superboy.
- Consummate Liar: Zaniel Templar. Superboy acknowledges it, but knows he has to play along.
- Didn't See That Coming: See "Neck Lift" below.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength: Becomes a source of angst when he realizes that he can't be around ordinary people without killing them.
- Faking Amnesia: Superboy's cover story in the "small town" simulation.
- False-Flag Operation: Templar arranged for one of N.O.W.H.E.R.E.'s own bases to be attacked in order to set up his agenda.
- Fiery Redhead: Dr. Caitlin Fairchild. Aka, "Red".
- Fun with Acronyms: So what does N.O.W.H.E.R.E. stand for? Uhhhhhh...can we get back to you on that?
- Future Spandex: N.O.W.H.E.R.E.'s uniforms, and Superboy's "Containment Suit".
- Hired Guns: Rose Wilson
- In the Blood: Superboy's instinctual affection for farms in rural Kansas.
- Accompanied by him completely ignoring someone in a burning building. Red wonders if this means that he has a "Deeply pathological, megalomaniacal narcissist, the likes of which the world has never known" as a donor. However, it has not been revealed whether or not Lex Luthor is actually one of this Superboy's donors.
- Lack of Empathy: Superboy. Although in issue #6, he suspects that he's starting to feel a spark of it.
- Mix-and-Match Man: It's implied that this version of Superboy isn't just Kryptonian and human, but a mix of other alien species.
- Morality Chain: Fairchild is acting as this for Superboy. In fact, she insists on it.
- The Needless: Superboy states that he doesn't need to eat or sleep.
- Omniscient Council of Vagueness: N.O.W.H.E.R.E.
- Outlaw Couple: The young couple that appear in issue 3.
- Neck Lift: Fairchild surprises Superboy with on of these when she Reveals her powers for the first time.
- Only Sane Woman: Dr. Caitlin Fairchild, the only one who bothers trying to treat Superboy like he's not a thing.
- Psychic Powers
- Red and Black and Evil All Over: Used at first to help diferentiate him from Superman, in the new DC universe it was also used to make him look sinister in comparison to the colorful Teen Titans.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: When using his telekinetic abilities.
- Engineer Exploited For Evil: Dr. Caitlin Fairchild
- Reverse Mole: Umber, who is a spy for Lois Lane.
- Significant Anagram: Kon-El/Klone
- Simulated Urban Combat Area: Where Superboy spends the majority of his time after being released from the tank.
- The Stoic: Superboy. He's largely introspective and calmly rationalizes everything around him.
- Not So Stoic: When he starts getting a no-holds-barred beatdown in issue #2.
- Vitriolic Best Friends: Turns out that Rose and Fairchild are this, to the point that Fairchild left something behind for Rose to find if anything happened to her.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Only "Red" thinks of Superboy (who is half-alien and a clone) as a human. (Although Rose may have a soft spot for him, too.)
- White-Haired Pretty Girl: Rose Wilson
- Left: Kon-El/Conner Kent. Right: Kal-El/Clark Kent