Let’s take a trip back to the heady days of the Silver Age of Comics, when the most important thing was how ludicrously attention-getting the cover of your comic book could be, and figuring out how to make sense of it on the inside was clearly secondary.
Case in point? SUPERBOY #96 (April 1962), “The Enemy Superboy!”
Wow. There’s a lot going on on this cover. You’ve got a powerless sweater-wearing Clark Kent left abandoned in a desert jail cell, you’ve got Clark’s best friend Pete Ross flying off in his super-suit, threatening to go put the moves on Lana, and even Clark’s dog abandoning him for Pete, flying away with a decidedly smug look on his face, at least for a dog…
Does the story itself deliver on all that? Well…yes and no.
As was often the case, the story begins with Lex Luthor, already a teenaged guest of the state, locked up in the state reformatory for numerous crimes and attempts on Superboy’s life. Luthor uses the classic “Ferris Bueller” fake stomach cramps gambit to get access to the prison hospital (wouldn’t surprise me if he even licked his palms), and while he’s there, mixes up a mysterious concoction that he smears on his hand.
Taking advantage of Superboy’s visit to the prison, Luthor manages to expose his hand to Superboy’s heat vision, activating the compound and making his hand elastic.
Now gifted with a super-stretchy hand, Luthor makes use of a long-distance five-finger discount all over Smallville, stealing all the parts and components he’ll need to make himself a primo Superboy-killing rifle.
The next day, Luthor takes aim at Superboy through a telescopic sight, while Superboy is presiding over Smallville’s latest tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars, the new Superboy Safety Control Statue.
Seriously. Take a look.
Rather than just installing a stoplight like every other community in the U.S. of A., the ever-sycophantic Smallvillians have decided to install their traffic light inside a giant Colossus of Rhodes-style statue of Superboy, complete with red and green lights embedded inside Superboy’s eyes. These people need help.
Anyway, Superboy and Pete are posing for photos for the newspapers, just when Lex zeros in on Superboy and pulls the trigger. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite have the intended effect, instead transferring Superboy’s superpowers from Superboy to Pete.
The two soon discover that Pete is now Super-Pete, and before long Pete (who has for years secretly known his best friend Clark Kent was Superboy) has snuck into Superboy’s underground HQ, stolen a Super-suit and rewired Superboy’s secret SOS radio to his house, so he can handle all of Superboy’s emergency calls. Man. Talk about pushy.
Even worse, Pete closes off the secret tunnel to Clark’s secret HQ, and stops by the Kent house to show off for Clark’s parents. Even weirder, he’s thinking of Pa Kent as “Dad”:
Maybe it was just cool hip sixties slang, like “Daddy-O.” Beats me.
Things go from bad to worse for poor Clark, when Super-Pete beans him with a baseball from a couple hundred feet up. Ouch.
Meanwhile, Luthor is using his still-stretchy hand to get more explosives so he can take another potshot at Superboy. Does no one at the prison notice that long fleshy tube sticking out of Luthor’s window for what seems like hours at a time?
Getting concerned about Pete, Clark summons his Superboy robots from space. Unfortunately Super-Pete gets wind of this and orders them to destroy each other, duplicating Clark’s voice with the little-used but still effective “super-ventriloquism.” Desperate to regain his powers, Clark downs an experimental serum he’d been working on, but it instead only puts him into a fever dream, where he imagines Pete turning Krypto against him and locking him up in the desert.
Next, Clark dreams that Super-Pete puts the moves on Lana Lang, who seems all too receptive to the idea:
In all fairness, Clark, he may just be a hallucination here, but Dream Super-Pete has a point.
Coming out of the fever, Clark decides there’s only one way to deal with his former best friend: a healthy dose of Green K. Too bad for him that Pete Ross saw it coming:
Angry, Pete tells Superboy the whole story, that when he first got his powers, he accidentally flew into the future three days and saw on the news that Luthor would destroy Superboy, and he was determined to remain in Superboy’s place and save him, at the cost of his own life.
“Heh, heh. Sorry about that whole Green K thing a minute ago, Pete.”
Pete flies off to meet his doom at the hands of Luthor, and just as he’s flying past that godawful Superboy Safety Statue monstrosity, Luthor fires off another round from his patented Superboy Death Gun, which once again fails to kill its target, although it does return Superboy’s powers to Superboy for some unexplained reason, and more important, performs a valuable public service by destroying that hideous overgrown trafficlight.
As it turns out, the news report Pete saw in the future didn’t say “Luthor destroys Superboy” –it read “Luthor destroys Superboy statue.” Too bad Pete didn’t have super-reading comprehension to go along with that super-ventriloquism.
A quick blast of heat vision to Luthor’s cell to melt his oddly dysfunctional rifle, and all’s well that ends well, as we see Pete neatly hanging up the Superboy costume back in Superboy’s secret HQ. Considering that Clark tried to snuff him with a hunk of Green K, Pete’s a pretty forgiving guy…
Come to think of it , maybe he should go put the moves on Lana Lang…