The first thing that Superboy noticed when he, Krypto, and Clark Kent rematerialized was the swirling mists that surrounded the three of them. Glancing about with his various super-visions, he took in everything. There appeared to be no solid ground beneath them, yet they were standing as if on terra firma. The mists around him seemed to obscure his vision, as if he were trying to look through lead.
All in all, with the lack of a discernable terrain and the swirling mists surrounding them, Superboy thought it was very reminiscent of the Phantom Zone. Just thinking about the Zone made Superboy shudder. On three separate occasions Superboy had been projected into it, the first time when he accidentally sent himself in, the second when Dev-Em temporarily exiled him there, and the third and final time when the Zoners themselves had tricked him into the Zone using an inmate named Cha-Mel who could alter his shape at will. (*) These were not pleasant memories for the Boy of Steel, and while this was not the Phantom Zone, it still brought back lots of bad memories, especially of how he had to project Mon-El into the Zone to save his life from lead poisoning. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Phantom Superboy,” Adventure Comics #283 (April, 1961), “War of the Superboys,” Adventure Comics #287 (August, 1961), “The Knave from Krypton,” Adventure Comics #288 (September, 1961), “The Super-Phantom of Smallville,” Superboy #162 (January, 1970), and “Superboy’s Big Brother,” Superboy #89 (June, 1961).]
“Welcome to the Limbo dimension,” Clark said to Superboy, his arms outstretched in a wide gesture. “The way things work here, we can be gone for hours to us, but to the real world it will be less than a fraction of a second. No one back on my Earth will even be aware that we’ve been gone. What do you think?” Clark was smirking.
“I don’t like it,” Superboy replied, his tone a serious, no-nonsense one. He stood there opposite his rival, hands at his hips, waiting.
“Probably reminds you of the Phantom Zone, am I right?” Clark waited a few seconds before he continued speaking. “I’ll take the silence as a yes. I guess you’re wondering why I brought you here.”
“That’s a good guess, Ultraboy.”
“We needed to talk, Superboy, and I figured that this would be the best place to do it in privacy.”
“You’re not too happy, are you? Well, too bad.”
“You wanted a challenge, Ultraboy; well, here we have the best possible place for said challenge — no bystanders to worry about, no place to hide… we can battle each other mano-a-mano.”
“You’re not the challenge I was looking for, Superboy.” Hearing that statement from his doppelgänger, it was now starting to make sense to Superboy exactly what was going on and why Ultraboy had really brought him here.
“Last night,” Superboy began, “you said to me your exposure to the green kryptonite enabled you to peer across the dimensional voids into my home reality. From the facts that are in front of me, you were obviously lying to me about when you were exposed to the green K. It wasn’t two days ago, it was a week ago.”
Clark smiled. “Prove it.”
“The dimensional teleporter, even at super-speed, would take at least a week to construct and test properly.”
“Very good. You really are just as smart as me…”
“I’m not finished,” Superboy interrupted his adversary, holding up one finger in a gesture for Clark to be silent and listen. “You made mention that your enemies here on Earth-33, specifically Alex Luthor, were inept, incompetent. Even though you didn’t say it exactly in those words, that was your tone.
“About a week ago, my Luthor used a device to steal my powers. (*) This was an adventure that, had you seen it, would have made you envious of my life, because you’re bored here, Ultraboy. You want an adversary who will consistently challenge you the way that I am by my Luthor. Every variation of me that exists in the multiverse must have a version of Luthor to battle him. Whether the counterpart of me is a hero or a villain, there must be a Luthor to oppose him. Alex is a very smart person, probably just as smart as Lex is. His only problem is that he lacks the confidence to be the hero that he could be, and thus a worthy opponent for you.”
[(*) Editor’s note: This is an untold story.]
Clark laughed. “Very good. And you probably figured out why I brought you here, too.”
“Obviously,” Superboy replied, “because you theorized that I would somehow be able to inspire Alex to become the hero we both know that he can be — to train him and his allies so that they will be a true challenge for you.”
“Right again, Superboy.”
“And,” Superboy continued, “you came here tonight as Clark to do a little reconnaissance work, to see just what we were up to and how far along I was in my task of ‘inspiring’ Alex.”
“You truly impress me with each and every moment that we encounter each other.”
“I’m truly glad,” Superboy replied with a slight hint of sarcasm, “that I can live up to your expectations of me.”
“You know that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor.”
“Cut to the chase, Ultraboy. What do you want?”
“You’re already doing what I want Superboy,” Clark said as he once again depressed the crimson button atop the dimensional teleportation unit in his hand and returned himself, Superboy, and Krypto to the basement in the Luthor house in another blinding flash of light.
Alex Luthor’s secret laboratory, 10:07 P.M.:
Superboy sat quietly by himself in the basement for what seemed to be an eternity after he, Krypto, and Clark had rematerialized back on Earth-33. He remained like this even as Alex escorted Clark out of the house, and then several minutes later, when Dav-Im and the Kryptonite Kid returned using the teleportation unit in the Kryptonite Kid’s ship. He was only barely aware that the mission to retrieve samples of the radiation cloud and red kryptonite had been a success, much to Dav-Im’s chagrin. It seemed that red kryptonite did indeed have the same effect on a Kryptonian from this universe as green kryptonite had on one from Superboy’s own universe. Superboy felt used and manipulated, and that did not sit very well with him.
“How are you holding up, Superboy?” the Kryptonite Kid telepathically asked the Boy of Steel from across the room.
“Hmmm? Oh,” Superboy thought back, “fine, I guess. Sorry, I’m not used to someone ‘talking’ to me like this. It’s a little disconcerting.”
“I understand, Superboy. I sometimes forget that not everyone in this universe has the natural Blorian talent for thought-casting. Forgive me.”
“No need to apologize, K.K. I’m just not in the mood right now.”
“So I see from a cursory scan of your thoughts. I would probably feel the same way if in your shoes.”
“Yeah,” Superboy thought back.
“You also don’t like how he uses Alex in his Clark Kent identity. Dav-Im and I don’t much like that, either.”
“Wait a second…” Superboy stopped and stared at the Kryptonite Kid. “…both of you know about that?”
“And why did you not tell your friend about it?”
“It was not our place. If it is necessary for Alex to know that fact, then he should learn it on his own.”
“Maybe you’re right. I just feel so helpless right now.”
“I know how you feel. I’ve been trying to get Alex to wake up and do what is right for months, now, and he still insists upon not acting overtly in regards to opposing Ultraboy and Boss Parker.”
“I guess that comes from his father and what happened to Mrs. Luthor.”
“Indeed, Superboy. I just hope that you can succeed where we have failed and be the one to inspire him and quickly.”
Superboy stood there, mulling those words over and over. “So do I, Kryptonite Kid,” he thought back. “So do I.”
From Superboy’s secret diary, supplemental entry, Monday, April 24th, 1967:
I have now been here on Earth-33 for thirty-six hours, and the more things that happen here, the more I want to just go home. I miss Ma and Pa. I miss Lisa. Heck, I even miss Lana and all the times she has tried to expose my secret identity.
After last night’s encounter with my counterpart and his rather unsettling revelations as to why I am really here, I am still a bit shaken. I don’t like being used, least of all by a petty criminal. The questions that I have to ask myself, though, are what would I be doing if our places were reversed. The truth of the matter is like Pa is always saying: “You never understand a man unless you walk a mile in his shoes.” Words to definitely live by at this moment. As such, I’m going to take an hour or two today and go out into the world of Earth-33’s Smallville as Clark and see what I can find out for myself. After all, Ultraboy did it to me last night. I think that it’s about time that I started turning the tables on him.
So far, I have been playing this game the way that Ultraboy wants it. That, however, is about to change. I’m going to take Krypto, and we are going to sneak back into this reality’s version of the Kent House on 321 Maple, just like we did yesterday morning, and see if we there might be something that we missed during our brief reconnaissance. There has to be something that we overlooked. There just has to be.
The Kent house, 321 Maple Street, Smallville, Earth-33, 11:59 A.M.:
Superboy and Krypto the Superdog entered the house through the secret tunnel and basement entrance. Looking around using a combination of their super-speed and super-vision, the duo checked to see if they were alone. “Good,” Superboy said to his canine companion, “there’s no one around.” After making a quick switch to his Clark Kent clothes and removing Krypto’s cape and collar, the two heroes began to study their surroundings the way they should have done yesterday.
“Fascinating,” he said aloud after a few moments. “It is virtually an identical copy of my own lab back home. Of course, I really should have figured as much, since we are almost the same exact person.” Everything was duplicated here, from the sophisticated science lab to the view-screen portal into the Phantom Zone to the secret closets containing his robot duplicates. Begrudgingly, the dimensionally displaced hero was realizing that they were more alike than he had at first thought. The only question that was still lingering was what could turn this Clark Kent into a teenage super-villain? Was it circumstance? Psychological issues? Or was it that nagging feeling Superboy had been having since yesterday that it was a fundamental law of nature here that evil always wins, no matter what?
Looking in front of him, he saw Ultraboy’s diary sitting on top of the desk next to a small remote-control device. Having already gotten whatever he could from the diary during his brief visit yesterday, he picked up the remote and pointed it at the Phantom Zone view-screen portal. Depressing the remote’s black button, the Boy of Steel waited as the screen went from blank to a full view of the misty, shrouded depths of the Phantom Zone. In the center of the screen floated three ghostlike beings.
“Come to torment us again, Kel-Ll?” said the ghost in the front. He was a middle-aged man with a dark goatee wearing a Kryptonian military uniform. This was obviously the Earth-33 equivalent of General Zod.
“I’m not here to torment you,” Clark began, taking a deep breath. “I’m not who you think I am.”
“Commissioner Zud never makes a mistake on who he is speaking to, you whelp. I know exactly who you are. You are Kel-Ll, the son of our jailer, Jur-Ll. You are also known as Clark Kent on Earth and secretly the Smallville scourge, Ultraboy.”
“Wrong, wrong, right, and wrong. I am not Kel-Ll, nor am I the son of Jur-Ll. I am Clark Kent, but I’m not Ultraboy. My Kryptonian name is Kal-El, and I am the son of Jor-El, a member of my universe’s Kryptonian Science Council. On my world I am known as Superboy, the Smallville sensation, and I’m one of the good guys.”
Zud’s eyes narrowed as Clark finished speaking. He was trying to figure out what his enemy was up to. “I don’t believe you — you can change the pronunciation of your given Kryptonian name all you want, you can say you are someone else all you want, but I know your face. You are the spitting image of your father, who locked nearly each and every one of us in here because we were on the side of justice and right and opposed him and his notorious criminal empire. And one day, we will all get out of here, and we will banish you into the Phantom Zone for what was done to us.”
“Doesn’t matter the universe,” Clark smirked, “same old Zod.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean?”
“In my universe, General Zod is a boastful buffoon as well.”
“You insult me, boy? How dare you?” Zud was fuming. If not for the fact that he and the rest of the Zoners were trapped behind the inter-dimensional barriers that separated the Zone from the rest of the Earth-33 reality, Zud might have lunged at the Boy of Steel.
“Dra-Zud,” said a clean-shaven, dark-haired Zoner off to his right as he extended his left arm to hold back his angered fellow inmate, “let us at least hear him out. He doesn’t have the same bearing as the teen terror we all know so well. He is giving me the vibe that he is as good-natured and honest as he is claiming to be. I am at least willing to hear what this young man has to say.”
“Xe-Da,” retorted Zud angrily, “you are a fool. He is playing us for saps.”
Clark stood for a moment, watching this situation play itself out. These beings were so much like the Phantom Zone criminals he was familiar with. Xe-Da was obviously the counterpart to the Dr. Xa-Du he had faced before, but unlike his counterpart, he seemed to be very intuitive and calm. This was definitely going to be interesting.
“Gentleman,” Clark began, “as I said, I’m not the teenager that you are familiar with. I am his counterpart from a parallel universe, a universe where things are similar to the way things are here, but reversed in others. I am on the side of law and order where I come from, and your Ultraboy kidnapped me here and then manipulated me.”
“Indeed,” replied Xe-Da, listening. “Why, then, did you come here? Surely you must have realized that if things were reversed here, that the Phantom Zone exiles of this universe would essentially be political prisoners.”
“I needed answers. Frankly, you people are the only ones that I can trust in this universe to give me the truth about things.”
Xe-Da nodded, taking a deep breath. “What do you want to know, young man?”
“Well, Xe-Da,” Clark began, “you gentlemen are in a unique position, because you can see into this universe. Jonathan and Martha Kent are not criminals here. Why is it that they raised a son who is? What could cause the Clark Kent of this universe to become such a blatantly antisocial, immoral… thief?”
“The Kents here sold their farm and bought a general store. Unfortunately, because of the crime syndicate run by Boss Douglas Parker — who, by the way, is also the town’s mayor — they came upon hard times due to Parker’s extortion rackets and corruption. I can only guess, but when Ultraboy began his crime sprees at the age of nine, he was trying to steal enough money to keep the extortionists away from his parents and the store. The only problem is that, as the old saying goes, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ I can only surmise that young Kel-Ll found that using his powers to break the law was exciting. Once you start down that road, you can’t turn back.”
“Hmmm,” Clark thought out loud. “From what you have just told me, it seems like he tried to go the ‘Robin Hood’ route and rob from the rich and give to the poor, but along the way he found that he liked the rush he got from being a crook so much that he just kept doing it. I can’t imagine that Jonathan and Martha Kent would just allow this to happen.”
“And that would be true, young man if we were discussing your Jonathan and Martha Kent. But we aren’t. The Kents here are not overtly evil, but are merely taking advantage of the benefits, as it were, of having a son who can ease the hardships of living in a town governed by a corrupt mayor.”
And that was what finally explained it all to Clark. This universe wasn’t so much evil as it was a universe ground under the heel of totalitarianism. Under such a system, people, no matter how inherently good they were, eventually succumbed to baser needs just trying to survive. Clark thought it was very akin to how many people in Nazi-occupied countries would turn in friends and relatives just to keep the Gestapo away for one more day. Clark had to do something. He had been coming to believe in the last day that this universe was inherently set up to make it so that the good guys would always fail. He’d been starting to regret making such an impossible-to-complete promise to Alex. But words that Pa had said to him on many an occasion when he had started to doubt himself started to echo in the back of his mind. “Clark,” he had said, “evil will only triumph when good men and women do nothing.”
This world didn’t need someone to wipe away its evils, it needed someone to inspire it to greatness. For once, Superboy was not that person, at least not directly. Ultraboy had said that he had brought Superboy here to inspire Alex Luthor to greatness, to becoming the hero that both of them knew he could be. Therein lay the answer. He wasn’t being used, he was just doing what he was meant to do all along — be the inspiration to force others to do what is right. But he needed to form a plan to do so.
“Dr. Xe-Da,” Clark began in a strong, forceful tone, “I’m sure that you know who Alex Luthor is. You know that he has the ability as well as the intellect to stop Ultraboy. He just needs the confidence to do the right thing. As such, he’s going to need help, and not just from me or Dav-Im or the Kryptonite Kid. If I assist you gentlemen in a mass escape from the Phantom Zone, will you help me to help him?”
“If you keep up your part of the bargain, young man, then I and my fellow exiles will indeed assist you.”
“Good. I have to return to Alex’s workshop, but when the time is right, I will keep my word to you.” As Clark shut down the view-screen portal, he saw the Zoners nodding in agreement, even Commissioner Zud. Clark could feel things start to turn around. Now all he had to do was convince Alex to take a more active role in the never-ending battle. “He can’t sit on the sidelines forever. C’mon, Krypto. We’ve got a lot of planning ahead of us, and not that much time to do it in.”