Friday, October 13, 2006

Superboy #86: The love that dare not speak its name (at least in 1961)

In January of 1961, Superboy #86 introduced to the DCU the character of Pete Ross, long-time pal and unknown keeper of the secret identity. Later reboots would turn Pete into kind of a loser and victim with a failed marriage even as he became Vice-President of the US.

But Silver Age Pete was Clark Kent's best friend, who unknown to Clark, knew his secret identity of Superboy and covertly helped whenever possible. Pete was such a friend to both Clark and Superboy he was even chosen to be the new Superboy if the original should ever die or lose his powers.

Pete was basically a Big Man On Campus and was bigger, stronger and more outgoing than the persona of Clark Kent. Pete was, basically, the My Bodyguard guy that nerds fantasized about. Pete was someone who is popular and handsome and makes misfits feel accepted in the other social circles they are envious of. In their first meeting, Pete defends Clark from some bullies.

From there, the entire story turns right to the subtext as Pete offers to be pals.

After spending the evening together with his new friend, Clark is depressed and confused.

Now the elder Kent's were a pretty odd pair, they kidnapped a baby they found on the side of a road, after all. We already know that Superman's mom is pervy for Supergirl, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise that the next day they secretly set Clark up on a date with Pete. They could be motivated by fear, though. No one wants a moody, frustrated teen around that can juggle planets.
Most parents just toss their kid the car keys and give him 40 bucks and hopes he come home sober at a reasonable hour. That's not enough for Ma and Pa. They take steps to hook Clark and Pete up. The Kents' are actually pretty cool in a creepy, pimping way.

Clark immediately gloms on to Pete, who doesn't seem to mind. Oh, and Clark? I think everyone in that room knows your secret, and it isn't that you are from Krypton.

Hmmmmm. What could those "hobbies" be?

Pete is in the Drama Club at Smallville High. Color me surprised.

Cripes. Superboy is crying. Pete Ross made Superboy cry.

Pete's other hobby is playing amateur detective and Clark feels betrayed, as he thought Pete was wanting one thing from him but it turned out to be another entirely.

Don't get ahead of yourself, Superboy! It all turned out to be a big Silver Age misunderstanding, on many, many levels. It turns out that Pete was not trying to prove Clark was Superboy.

Instead, Pete Ross was trying to recruit Superboy into joining the Drama Club.

You know what that means. This entire story is just one big subtext party and seems like it could have been written as another subtle PSA on dealing with emerging sexual identity.

The creators who worked on these books are the same writers, artists and editors who horrified Congress and parents nationwide with lurid pulps and violent comic books, who now had to put out an attractive product people still wanted to purchase while flying under the radar of watchdog groups. Just because comic books are two-dimensional doesn't mean the creators are.


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