The skies above Shuster Beach, Earth-33, 12:11 P.M.:
Ultraboy’s fist once again slammed into the force-field that Alex Luthor’s super-suit was generating around his body, again causing little more than a slight ripple of energy in the field before it re-formed. Ultraboy was becoming frustrated. He couldn’t break through the field. “Why,” he began, his voice hoarse as he continued his punching, “won’t this force-field break?”
“You mean you haven’t figured it out yet? Come on, now, Ultraboy,” Alex replied, the barest hint of a smirk on his face, “surely you can guess why it won’t break.”
“You are really starting to try my patience, pipsqueak.”
“Isn’t this why you brought Superboy here? To convince me to give you a challenge? I think that my super-suit is giving you a challenge — you can’t break through my force-field, after all.”
“Pipsqueak,” Ultraboy said, a sneer forming across his lips, “when I break through that field, you are gonna wish that you never met me.”
“I already do. But you are right; I could sit here all day long with your fists bouncing off my force-field, or turn myself intangible, or teleport out of the way of your lunges, or even project holograms to distract you. Those really wouldn’t be much of a challenge for you. I need something more interesting.”
“Oh, Alex? Do tell.” Ultraboy was intrigued. Never before had he been challenged like this.
“Yeah,” Alex replied, as he deactivated his force-field and pointed his right arm at the Smallville scoundrel’s chest. He clenched his fist, and as he did so, swirling reddish energy coalesced around his gauntlet, forming a corona of bright red light that almost immediately turned itself into a crimson beam of force that lanced out into Ultraboy’s chest, knocking him out of the sky and into the sand below them. As Alex lowered himself back to the ground and stepped through the tan grains toward the evil Boy of Steel, he kept blasting his foe with the energy, a serious look upon his face.
Ultraboy writhed in agony, an agony that he had never felt before. He felt weak, and was getting weaker with each passing moment that that beam struck him in the chest. He had to do something, anything, to stop it, but he couldn’t even muster enough energy to blast Alex’s wrist with a blast of heat-vision. He was losing, and worse yet for the criminal, he knew it.
“I guess you don’t like how that feels, huh? That’s called red kryptonite, and thanks to Superboy’s help, we discovered that it is the one substance in this universe that can hurt you. That, along with collected solar energy, is what powers my force-field. That’s why you couldn’t break it. And, if I wanted to, I could keep you bathed in it until you dropped dead.” Alex motioned for the Kryptonite Kid, who along with the Kryptonite Dog had just finished his battle with Kid Quantum, to join him. The half-green, half-red teen clad in white and black walked over and stood next his friend, his left hand beginning to swirl with the same reddish energy as Alex’s gauntlet.
“Wh-wh-what are y-y-you and the Christmas Kid, here, gonna do? Annoy me with your new looks?”
“No,” the Kryptonite Kid said, his voice even, devoid of emotion, “we’re going to make you feel pain, both mental and physical.” The Kryptonite Kid began blasting Ultraboy in the chest with a red kryptonite beam from his left hand as he focused an intense blast of psychokinetic force into the teen terror. All Ultraboy could do was scream in pain. He had wanted a challenge, but not like this.
“No!” Superboy was screaming from the shoreline behind Alex and the Kryptonite Kid. “You can’t take his life!“
“We’re not, Superboy,” the Kryptonite Kid thought-casted back to the Boy of Steel, “we just want him to feel a little pain.”
In a matter of seconds, using super-speed, Superboy and Dav-Im were behind their two red kryptonite-blasting friends, and they were grabbing Alex and the Kid’s arms, pulling them back. This action hurt Dav-Im in the same way it hurt Ultraboy, but he could not succumb to the pain. Superboy had to worry about what kind of mutagenic effects the red kryptonite would be causing him, but he, too, could not succumb. They didn’t want their friends to become murderers.
“Alex,” Superboy said quietly, “if you do this, you will be no better than him. Give him his life and show him just who the better man is.”
Alex Luthor bowed his head and shut down his red kryptonite blaster. He put a hand on the Kryptonite Kid’s shoulder, and he, too, stopped blasting Ultraboy. “Ultraboy,” Alex said after a few seconds of tense silence, “I believe that you owe Superboy two items — one that you took from his world, the other that will return him to it. Turn them over to him and then take your thugs with you and get out of here. You have your life.”
Ultraboy stood up shakily, his body still not quite recovered from the effects of the red kryptonite blasts he had just experienced. He motioned for Owl-Boy the Dominator and Trickshot, the two members of his small army who had done next to nothing in this little skirmish, to join him. Owl-Boy threw a black pellet at the ground, and Trickshot fired a specially designed trick arrow at the same spot, both releasing a thick, black smoke that billowed around them, temporarily obscuring the gathered heroes’ vision. Alex and the Kryptonite Kid choked for a few seconds, while Superboy and Dav-Im used their super-breath to try to disperse the thick cloud of smoke. When the smoke cloud had finally disappeared, all of the villains were gone, and in their stead, neatly placed atop the sand, was the satchel of money that Ultraboy had appropriated from Jim Jeffries nearly three days ago, as well as the silvery, cigar-shaped dimensional teleportation unit.
Superboy sighed as he picked up the device and the satchel. “Well, gentlemen — and lady — it’s over.”
“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, pork-chop.” Ultraboy’s voice echoed in Superboy’s ears, obviously with super-ventriloquism. “You can hear me, they can’t. You won this round, so you can go home now. You fulfilled your part of our little bargain, so I felt it was only proper that I live up to my end. You gave me exactly what I wanted, an arch-nemesis worthy of me, and I thank you for that. But make no mistake, Boy of Steel, we will be seeing each other again, and it’ll be when you least expect it.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Alex said as he and the other heroes took to the skies and arced back toward Smallville, leaving Superboy and Krypto standing alone on the deserted beach.
“Well, boy,” Superboy said to Krypto the Superdog as he scratched his faithful canine on the head, “let’s head back to Alex’s house, say our goodbyes, and go home.” Krypto barked a happy reply, and the two champions took to the skies and flew back to Smallville.
Alex Luthor’s secret laboratory, Earth-33, 1:15 P.M.:
It had been nearly an hour since Superboy and Krypto had returned to the Luthor house to give thanks and say their goodbyes to all of the heroes who had assisted Alex and the duo in their battle with Ultraboy and his gang. Each one had filed out of the basement off to prepare themselves for the next battle. Dav-Im, the Kryptonite Kid, and the Kryptonite Dog had climbed back into the Kid’s spaceship along with Solar Boy to offer him a ride back home to recharge his powers. Professor Order had retreated back his to secret sanctum in the Valley of Urr with the Golden Genie in tow to rest and recuperate from their battles with Garok and the Insect Empress. Mega-Mind more than likely had returned home to resume his secret identity of Johnny Webber; as he left, Alex had told him he would see him back at school next week after spring break was over.
As the last of the heroes exited Alex’s laboratory, Superboy and Alex found themselves looking at Police Chief Jules Luthor, who appeared to be a new man, with his face surging with new vigor, replacing the sullen, sunken look that had been on the older man’s face two days ago when the Boy of Steel had first met him. It gave Superboy a touch of pride in his handiwork, at least for a moment before he had heard Martha Kent’s voice in his head admonishing him for acting that way with her frequent reminders to him that, “Pride is a sin, young man.”
“Superboy,” Chief Luthor said as he extended his hand out in friendship to the young man who had changed his life, “I want to thank you for everything that you did here these past couple of days. You’ve really changed this world.”
“Chief,” Superboy replied, gently but firmly grasping the policeman’s hand, returning the gesture, “I didn’t really do anything here. It was all you and Alex. I just gave you two the proverbial kick in the pants to do what you both knew you had to do.”
“Don’t sell yourself so short, young man,” Chief Luthor replied, his smile extending from ear to ear. “You did so much here, and we can never repay you.”
“Well, Chief,” Superboy said as he placed his hands at his hips, “you can repay me by just continuing to do your job and encouraging Alex to do his level best as this Smallville’s newly minted teen protector.”
“I will, Superboy, and it will be a whole lot easier now that ‘Boss’ Parker is no longer in charge of things as the mayor. You should have seen the look on his face as I threw him in his cell.”
“I’ll bet, Chief.”
“I will say this, Superboy — as I marched him and his goons from his office in City Hall down to the police station to be booked, I could hear dozens of our citizens cheering or clapping, and one woman even said, ‘Nice to see someone finally standing up to that big bully!'”
Superboy chuckled. He could see it in the glint in Chief Luthor’s eyes that things were finally starting to turn around. He shook the chief’s hand once more, and then the elder Luthor exited from the basement up the stairs, leaving the Boy of Steel and Krypto alone with Alex. For a long moment the two teens said nothing to each other; neither really knew what to say. Alex finally broke the ice.
“The Luthor of your world, he’s not like me, is he?”
Superboy really didn’t know how he should respond. Should he tell his new friend that, where he came from, Lex Luthor was a super-genius juvenile delinquent and a criminal mastermind obsessed with destroying the Boy of Steel, all because of a mistake that he had once made? Superboy sighed, realizing that he still carried the guilt for his failure with Lex that fateful day when he destroyed their friendship and caused Lex’s hair to fall out while trying to prevent an accident and save his friend. “He… once… was a lot like you, Alex, but that ended a long time ago because of me.”
“He became a criminal, didn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Superboy said as he lowered his head in shame.
“You can tell me all about it as we fly back to the Smallville sign.”
Over the next few minutes, as the trio winged their way through the skies of Smallville, Superboy related the events of how he had met Lex, how they had become best friends, how he had built him that sophisticated lab, how Lex had helped Superboy on a few cases, how the accident had occurred, how Lex’s hair fell out and how he went mad from it, blaming Superboy for everything wrong that happened — and how he vowed to destroy the Boy of Steel one day, even if it was the last thing that he ever did.
“Superboy,” Alex finally said as they touched down in front of the Smallville sign, “you can’t blame yourself for his actions. We all make choices in this life. He chose the path of the villain, and not because of you, because you had nothing to do with it. Heck, if you hadn’t gone there, he’d be dead right now, and your life might be just as dull and boring as Ultraboy’s was up until today.”
Superboy smiled, realizing that Alex was right. This young man was a very thoughtful and insightful young man. Jonathan Kent would definitely like him.
“You still see him as your friend, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do. I can’t give up on him, Alex. Every day I hope and I pray that this day will be the one where he turns over a new leaf, he renounces his vendetta, and the two of us can be as we once were. Call it optimistic naiveté, but I still believe in him, and can’t stop hoping that what once was broken can be whole again.”
“It’s funny, Superboy, I feel the same way about Clark.”
“What do you mean, Alex?”
“You can dispense with the ignorance. I already know that Clark Kent and Ultraboy are the same person, and I have logically theorized that, where you come from, you are also Clark Kent.”
“Well, I’ll be, Alex! How long have you known?” Superboy was definitely impressed with the young man’s intuitiveness.
“About my Clark, a while. About you, since Sunday morning.”
“You know that Dav-Im and K.K. are…?”
“I know that they know, and that they think they are hiding it from me. I just play along with them. They think they are protecting me, and I appreciate that. After all, what are friends for?”
“Indeed, Alex. Do you think my Luthor knows? He’s definitely as smart as you are.”
“I doubt it, Superboy. From the way you describe him, if he knew, he would use that knowledge against you. I would still be careful, though.”
“Yeah. I will. Alex,” Superboy offered his hand to the young Luthor, “it was an honor to work with you. It was sort of like seeing Lex as he once was.”
“Same here,” Alex grasped the Boy of Steel’s hand, “a bit bittersweet, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Before I go, I left the Phantom Zone grenade on your desk, along with diagrams and schematics that should enable you to construct a Phantom Zone projector and view-screen. Please offer my apologies to the Phantom Zone exiles for breaking my promise to let them out. I’m sure that those who aren’t criminals will understand.”
“I’m sure they will, Superboy. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks, Alex. Good luck.”
“Same to you, Superboy.”
Superboy, holding the gleaming, cigar-shaped metallic cylinder in his right hand, took a deep breath as he depressed the crimson control button atop it. “There’s no place like home,” he said as he and Krypto disappeared in a blinding flash of light, leaving Alex alone next to the Smallville sign.
“Goodbye, my friend,” Alex Luthor said as the wind whistled behind him.
The Smallville sign outside Smallville, Earth-One, 1:25 P.M.:
The wind swirled and crackled with electricity as the space separating the dimensions of Earth-One and Earth-33 were momentarily bridged, and Superboy and Krypto rematerialized at the foot of what they hoped was their Welcome to Smallville sign. Superboy had his eyes closed as he reappeared, and once he and Krypto had fully rematerialized, he opened them and looked up. As soon as the Boy of Steel caught sight of the billboard, with its very familiar slogan of Welcome to Smallville, Home of Superboy! and the oversized image of him, he breathed out a sigh of relief, a smile on his lips and tears in his eyes. He kneeled down and began scratching Krypto’s head. Krypto licked his master’s cheek as a reply.
“Well, boy,” Superboy said, “we’re finally home.”
“Arf!” Krypto barked back at the Boy of Steel.
“Come on, boy. It’s Tuesday, which means Ma is probably gonna be making pork-chops tonight…” Superboy paused for a moment, thinking about what he had just said, and how Ultraboy had repeatedly referred to him as pork-chop. Superboy laughed briefly, then continued, saying “Race you home, boy.”
The two stalwart champions of justice took off into the early afternoon sky, flying at top speed, each playfully trying to outfly the other as they sped on southward toward the secret entrance in the woods that led to the trapdoor in the Kent basement. Superboy rotated his body as he flew, smiling. He inhaled deeply through his nose as he flew on, savoring each and every distinct smell of his hometown. He felt the semi-warm breeze against the skin of his face as he raced home. He used his super-vision and super-hearing to take in every sound, every detail of the town he called home, from the birds in the trees of Smallville Park to the car horns blaring over on Main Street to the paint peeling on the side of the Ross house over on Grove Street to the shabby old fence in front of Professor Potter’s place. There was nothing in the world to this young man quite like the little town that he and Krypto called home.
As Superboy arrived at the secret entrance in the woods behind the Kent house, he found Krypto sitting quietly, waiting patiently for him to arrive. “Show-off,” Superboy said to his canine companion with a half-smirk on his face. Krypto’s only response was another bark, which, Superboy could somehow tell from his dog’s inflection, was nothing more than an affirmation.
As Superboy lifted up the rock that covered over the secret entrance, he looked down at Krypto and smiled once more. “You know something, boy?” he said, pausing for a brief moment. “There really is no place like home.”
The Kent house, Smallville, Earth-One, 1:31 P.M.:
Jonathan Kent sat slumped in the big chair in the living room, reading the newspaper. Well, actually, only half-reading it. His mind was not on the words in print in front of him. His mind was still where it had been for the last three days, on whether or not his son was all right and if and when he would be coming home. There was so much he wanted to say to Clark, how proud he was of him, and he just didn’t want to believe that he would never get the chance to say those things. He thought of his own father who had passed many years ago, and how so many things had gone unsaid between father and son. He had so many regrets; he shuddered to think that history was going to repeat for him with his son. He stared over at the picture of the family taken last year during their trip out west to visit with distant cousins in Coast City. (*) They all looked so very happy, smiles all around. He took off his glasses and wiped away the tears that had begun to form in his eyes.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superboy’s Wild Weekend Out West,” The New Adventures of Superboy #13 (January, 1981).]
“Jonathan?” Martha Kent was standing behind him, her hand resting gently on his shoulder. “He’s coming home, I just know it.”
“I wish I could be so confident…”
Jonathan never got the chance to finish his statement, as there came the sound of a slam from the basement. “Land sakes, what in Sam Hill was that?” Martha said, running to the basement door. Her heart was racing, and she prayed that what she heard was exactly what she had been hoping it was.
“Ma? Pa?” came the voice from the cellar door as it opened, revealing Superboy and Krypto. “I’m home!”
Jonathan raced after his wife upon hearing that voice, a voice he had not heard in three days and had dreaded to think he would never hear again. “Clark,” he said, choking up as a lump got caught in his throat.
“Young man,” Martha said, smirking, “you’re late.”
“Sorry,” Superboy replied rather sheepishly. “it couldn’t be helped. I’m starved for real food. What’s for dinner?”
The Kents embraced their son, and he eagerly returned the hug. The family was whole once more. As the trio stood there, just holding one another, both Jonathan and Martha looked up and mouthed a small impromptu prayer. “Thank you, God,” they both said, “thank you for bringing our boy home.”