Monday, November 1, 2021

A Tribute to Conner Kent

Warning: This contains spoilers for Young Justice 

Before we get started let me briefly explain who I'm talking about. This isn't Johnathan Kent, the son of Superman which recently made headlines. This is also not one of the twins from the series Superman and Lois, nor is this the Connor Kent from the comics who did die at one point during Infinite Crisis but was brought back by... Reasons... I'll be talking about the Connor Kent/Superboy from the show Young Justice, in case the spoiler warning didn't give it away. 

Okay, let's do this

Passing of A Hero

In the latest episode of Young Justice: Phantoms, Connor Kent was killed trying to save the populous of Mars from a terrorist attack fueled by Apocalyptician technology. Long story short: Young Justice is complicated and diverts from the regular DC timelines. Now granted super heroes are not known for staying dead if mileage can be found from their miraculous resurrections, no matter how stupid the premise is. 

Despite death being a swinging door, Young Justice has done a great job of killing off characters and having them stay dead, including fan favorite Wally West/Kid Flash. While Connor's death in the comics was reversed by... I'm not getting into it... Young Justice has a track record for making its deaths both visceral and permanent. 

Why This Superboy Is So Great

To get into why this death matters I have to take a quick backstory of this Connor. I'm not going to do the comic version, let's just say oh the 90's. 

Connor first appeared in episode 1 of Young Justice in the Cadmus labs, a secret research facility that was using cloning and gene manipulation to make monsters. Centerpiece to their collection was Superboy, a clone of Superman and a mysterious, then unknown, human. Superboy, as he was first known, was taught everything via telepathy having never been allowed to experience the real world for himself. He was rescued by Kid Flash, Robin and Aqualad and was adopted into the team. 

Superboy was at first angry and confused because while he was strong and tough he didn't have all of Superman's powers. Adding to his teen angst his unwilling DNA donor Superman had no idea what to do with him so he basically shut him out for the first season. So a mentorless newborn Superboy had to figure out how to the navigate the world with a group of other teen superheroes. 

This character is so rich because he's relatable. He doesn't know what to do with himself, since he's supposed to be a replacement for Superman should he ever die, but how could he replace Superman if he couldn't even fly? Worse how could he learn how to be like Superman if the Man of Steel wouldn't give him the time of day? Already we had an interesting character to explore. 

The Highlight Reel

Some of Connor's best moments from the series included: 

*Him finding out that his human donor was actually Lex Luthor, and that Luthor could control Superboy with subliminal commands implanted psychically into Superboy's mind. Luthor tempted Superboy with a type of performance enhancing drug that gave him his full compliment of Kryptonian powers, in exchange for promised favors later. 

*Connor began dating Miss Martian near the end of season one, but at the beginning of season two it was revealed that they had broken up, and the audience learned that it was because Miss Martian was using her psychic powers to tear information out of the minds of her enemies and leaving them in a vegetative state. The final straw was when Miss Martian started altering Connor's memories so he'd forget their arguments ala Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The most interesting character beat from this wasn't that Connor didn't trust Miss Martian, but how he eventually forgave her and they began dating again, eventually going so far as to nearly marrying her. 

*We don't get much Superman/Superboy interaction, but what we get is fascinating. Batman has to have a heart to heart with the Man of Steel about how to have a sidekick, an interesting role reversal since it's usually Superman trying to teach Batman how to be human. Superman eventually accepts Superboy, and refers to him as "brother". It's rare that we get a story with Superman having a character flaw, and having Superboy bring it out creates a fascinating development for both characters. 


Recent incarnations of Superboy in the comics have taken some traits from the Young Justice version. The 90'sness of old Connor has been all but scrubbed clean, now giving us a more interesting broody character who is trying to find his place in the world. Connor is an example for the argument that while it's fun to see our favorite heroes in live action Hollywood blockbusters, TV can give characters the chance to breathe and come into their own, giving us better realized and fully fleshed out characters. 

Weather Connor Kent comes back or not, I'm grateful for the story the writers gave us from watching Connor be born to his last heroic sacrifice. 


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