Superboy-Prime, also known as Superman-Prime, is a fictional character, a DC Comics superhero turned supervillain, and one of several alternate Supermen. The character first appeared in DC Comics Presents #87 (November 1985), and was created by Elliot S! Maggin and Curt Swan.
Superboy-Prime is from the universe which contained the parallel Earth known as Earth-Prime, in which Superman and the other DC superheroes only exist as fictional characters. Unable to let go of his former life and his "destiny" as Earth's greatest hero, his convictions and morals are warped by years of solitude in a "paradise" dimension.
Superboy-Prime is from the parallel world known as Earth-Prime, a near-copy of the real world in which the DC heroes are fictional comic book characters. He is the adopted son of Jerry and Naomi Kent. Naomi wanted to name their infant son Clark, after her maiden name, but Jerry, knowing he will also be named like Superman, a fictional comic book character, initially refused, but finally gave in. What the Kents do not know is that the baby, found abandoned in a forest, is actually a young Kal-El, who has been teleported to Earth moments before the planet Krypton was absorbed when its sun went supernova. Superboy is the second extraterrestrial from Earth-Prime after the debut of Ultraa several years before.
Young Clark lives most of his life as a normal boy. However, one night in his mid-teens, as he attends a costume party dressed as Superboy, the passage of Halley's Comet overhead triggers his Kryptonian powers. At the same time, Kal-El, the Earth-One Superman, finds his way to Earth-Prime, and the two Supermen meet.
Superboy-Prime is drawn into the Crisis on Infinite Earths after his universe is destroyed. Although the loss of everything he knows causes him anguish, he finds peace in knowing that he fights the good fight alongside other heroes. During the final battle against the Anti-Monitor, Kal-L, the Earth-Two Superman, orders him to escape with Alexander Luthor, Jr. and the other heroes. Fearing that Kal-L will die in battle and knowing the new Earth isn't his true home, Superboy-Prime joins Kal-L in the fight against the Anti-Monitor.
In the "paradise dimension", Superboy-Prime secludes himself from the others, using crystals to replay events from his life on Earth-Prime. His favorite memory is of his ninth birthday party, which he watches repeatedly. Superboy-Prime becomes frustrated and angry, and he tries to reach out to Kal-L, whose attention is focused on Lois' failing health. Alexander comes to believe that the reason behind Lois' failing health is the paradise dimension itself, and persuades Superboy-Prime to help him return to reality. Alexander also shows Superboy-Prime the negative aspects of the post-Crisis Earth. Superboy-Prime hesitates until he overhears Kal-L say: "I wish this world would let him grow up. He'll never be Superman here". Finally, Alexander shows him the deaths of his parents and girlfriend in a car accident on the post-Crisis Earth.
These changes include:
As a result of these actions, "punching time", and "retcon punch" have come to be internet and comic-book fan slang for retcons and changes to canon that do not make popular sense.
Speedy traps Superboy-Prime in the Phantom Zone, using an "emergency Phantom Zone arrow". Superboy-Prime breaks free, exclaiming that the Phantom Zone is for "bad guys". Left with no other option, Jay Garrick, Wally West, and Bart Allen drive Superboy-Prime into the Speed Force, and banish him to a world bathed in red sunlight, where he remains for four years.
Hours later, an older Bart Allen, dressed in his grandfather's costume, emerges from the Speed Force and tells the heroine Doctor Light to warn the other heroes that Superboy-Prime has escaped. Superboy-Prime reappears during a battle between Alexander Luthor and the heroes freed from his tower. Upon his return, he wears a power suit modeled after the Anti-Monitor's armor, which constantly feeds him yellow solar energy and boosts his power levels. During the battle, Black Adam discovers that his magic has little effect against Superboy-Prime. Superboy-Prime knocks Adam away from the tower, and his opponent is transported to Earth-S. Superboy-Prime insists that Luthor reinstate Earth-Prime as the only existing Earth. After Superboy-Prime attempts to kill Wonder Girl, an enraged Conner Kent attacks him. Conner and Superboy-Prime battle until Conner's wrist is broken and he charges Superboy-Prime, sending them both headlong into Alexander Luthor's vibrational tuning fork. The machine explodes, and the alternate Earths merge into one. Superboy dies from injuries sustained during the explosion while Superboy-Prime survives.
Alexander and Superboy-Prime join the Battle of Metropolis and quarrel about their contingency plan. Since their tower has been destroyed, Alexander is prepared to settle for taking over New Earth instead of creating a perfect Earth. Upon hearing of the new plan, Superboy-Prime refuses to help Alex, as he believes New Earth to be hopelessly inferior.
When Batman, Wonder Woman, Kal-El, and Kal-L arrive to save Metropolis, Kal-L confronts Alex about his role in the destruction. Meanwhile, Bartflash.jpg by Bart Allen, who is outraged by Superboy-Prime's murder of Conner. Superboy-Prime escapes Bart and flies toward Oa intending to destroy it and spark another Big Bang which would recreate the universe with himself as the sole hero. Although the majority of the Earth's heroes are in pursuit, Superboy-Prime eludes capture. He is confronted by the Green Lantern Corps in deep space. Superboy-Prime breaks through a 300-mile thick wall of pure willpower generated by the Green Lantern Corps. Upon reaching the other side, he battles and slaughters thirty-two Green Lanterns. The battle provides the two Supermen time to attempt one final plan. They grab Superboy-Prime and drive him through Rao, the red sun of Krypton. The heat melts away Superboy-Prime's armor, and severely weakens all three Kryptonians, who then land on Mogo. Though the three are sorrounded by Kryptonite, Superboy-Prime savagely beats Kal-L, who is all but dead when Kal-El intervenes.
Superboy-Prime claims that he is better than Kal-El, and that his Krypton was superior to Kal-El's. Kal-El responds: "It's not about where you were born. Or what powers you have. Or what you wear on your chest. It's about what you do... It's about action." Although nearly powerless, Kal-El knocks Superboy-Prime out before collapsing himself, but members of the Green Lanter Corps manage to save Kal-El.
A year later, Superboy-Prime sits in his cell and is watched over by a special cadre of Green Lanterns, including Guy Gardner, when the Guardians of the Universe discuss whether they should question him.
Geoff Johns stated on the scene, "It’s a subtle thing – he’s looking at his belt, and he’s contemplating who and what he is... for us, him being naked was an acknowledgment of stripping himself down to being this kid again, and being completely absorbed in what he’s done, and what he’s going to do."
When the Sinestro Corps attack Oa, Superboy-Prime is released from his imprisonment and joins them. He becomes one of the Anti-Monitor's heralds, and wears the uniform of the Sinestro Corps along with a variant of the power suit he wore during Infinite Crisis. Calling himself Superman-Prime (in part due to the legal disputes over the Superboy name), he arrives on Earth and battles a large group of heroes while flashing back on his life so far. He reveals that he did not believe Sinestro when he said that the Multiverse has been restored, and has only gone along with the Anti-Monitor's plans so that he may one day get revenge on him for the destruction of Earth-Prime. Superman, Power Girl, and Supergirl arrive and stop him, only to have him escape as the sun rises, restoring his powers. Afterwards, Superman-Prime brutally battles Ion. Superman-Prime and the Green Lantern-powered Daxamite have an all out battle throughout the state of New York. Prime is already slightly as powerful as Ion but when he exposes him to lead, Superman-Prime gets the upper hand, defeating him. When the Anti-Monitor is wounded by the Guardians and the destruction of War World, Superman-Prime impatiently flies through his chest and throws him into space, then battles both the Sinestro Corps and Green Lantern Corps, until a Guardian willingly sacrifices himself to destroy Superman-Prime. However, instead of dying Prime is warped into another universe.
In Countdown to Final Crisis, following the conclusion of the Sinestro Corps War, Superman-Prime is now wearing a costume similar to the black suit worn by Superman shortly after his resurrection and has discovered the existence of the new Multiverse, traversing it in the hopes of finding Earth-Prime. He arrives on Earth-15 and attacks that world's Lex Luthor, blaming him for Alexander Luthor's failure to make the universe "perfect". He promptly kills that world's heroes and destroys the planet.
He then flies to his new base of operations in the Source Wall where he had been torturing Mister Mxyzptlk into helping him recreate Earth-Prime. It was revealed that Superman-Prime is 19 years old and according to Mxyzptlk, his growth is temporary and the result of his cells absorbing energy from his last "encounter". Mxyzptlk escapes with the help of another prisoner, Annataz Arataz, an alternate version of Zatanna from Earth-3. Annataz is killed when Superman-Prime grows angry and gives up on using magic to achieve his goals.
In issue #16, he appears on the Monitors' satellite headquarters and threatens Solomon to help him find Earth-Prime. In the following issue, Solomon tells him that if he releases Forerunner, he will show him what he wants, and in issue #14, he does so. Solomon then tells Prime that Earth-51 is his perfect Earth, and it is in ruins due to the fighting between Monarch's Army, the Earth-51 heroes, and the Challengers. Prime leaves the satellite with the intent to confront Monarch. Superman-Prime confronts and fights with Monarch in issue #13, becoming slightly injured after Monarch exposes part of his suit. In a fit of rage, Superman-Prime redoubles his attack on Monarch and while his temporarily Oan Guardian-boosted powers begin to fade he rips open the chestplate of Monarch's containment armor, resulting in a huge explosion of quantum energy that seems to destroy the entire universe of Earth-51.
Shortly after the events of Geoff Johns' Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes storyline, the Time Trapper finds Superboy-Prime lost in time. He decides to use him to destroy the Legion and sends him to the 31st century, where he crashes in a farm outside of Smallville.
He appears much younger than he did when he was last seen in Countdown to Final Crisis (having used up the power he had absorbed from the dying Guardian, which made him look older), and appears to be wearing the tattered remains of his black Superman-Prime uniform. He encounters the elderly couple who own the farm, and they refer to him as "Superboy," which enrages him. Despite returning to a younger appearance after the events of Countdown, he still thinks of himself as a man, rather than a boy. After killing the xenophobic farming couple, he makes his way into Smallville and visits the Superman Museum, where he is enraged that Superman is regarded so highly. His rage is greatly increased when he visits the hall of villains in the museum, and finds the statue commemorating him to be locked in a back storeroom. Apparently he is regarded as merely a footnote in Superman's history, an annoyance who was defeated by Conner Kent and Sodam Yat, and ultimately has no impact on history as it stood. This sends him in to a tantrum, in which he wrecks the museum and kills security guards and police officers. In the middle of his tantrum, the museum tour guide (a holographic recreation of Jimmy Olsen) tells Prime of the Legion of Super-Villains.
He learns that the evil Legion followed a code of evil, inspired by a dark being whose "name was never spoken." Prime, resolved to be a villain with more of an impact than any other enemy of Superman, sets out for the prison planet of Takron-Galtos, and frees Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen, and Cosmic King. Unlike most denizens of the 31st century, they all recognize Prime and seem overjoyed to see him. The dialogue seems to imply that Prime was the dark being whose example the villains follow.
After freeing the prisoners, Prime burns a huge S shield into the prison planet, determined to turn the shield from a symbol of hope into a symbol of terror. Learning of the prison break, the Legion of Super-Heroes resolves to call Superman from the 21st Century. Superman, and the historical records, imply that no one from New Earth are aware of what happened to Prime after the Sinestro Corps War. Although being on Earth-51 at the same time as him, Kyle Rayner, Jason Todd, and Donna Troy never encountered or identified Prime themselves.
Superman and Brainiac 5 decide to bring in two other versions of the Legion to combat the new Legion of Super Villains, led by Prime, with Superman convinced the only way to neutralize the threat of Prime is to redeem him.
Despite the presence of a great deal of characters, Geoff Johns has stated that the story is Superboy-Prime's story.
In Legion of 3 Worlds, Superboy-Prime dons his original armor once more, taking it from a statue in the Superman museum. Since this was part of a museum display, it is unclear if this armor is functional or merely decorative.
His reaction to psionics has not been fully explored, although Martian Manhunter is shown to be able to read his mind. When Nightshade attacks Superboy-Prime with darkness, he shows a deep achluophobia.
Superboy-Prime also has a fear of the Flash Family, due in large part to them pushing Superboy-Prime into the Speed Force, where they imprison him under red sunlight to depower him for several years until he breaks out. He reveals his continued fear of them, when during the Sinestro War, he is confronted by Wally West and Jay Garrick, whom he admits with a stutter "I d-don't like Speedsters!" This fear is again on display in Legion of Three Worlds, when he lapses in to a fearful stutter while recounting his battle with the Flashes during Infinite Crisis. Kal-El and Kal-L defeat Superboy-Prime by flying him directly through Krypton's red sun Rao, destroying his armor and diminishing their powers in the process. Afterward, the Green Lantern Corps imprisoned him inside a "Junior" Red Sun Eater which similarly depowers him.
When asked how Superboy-Prime's battle with the Teen Titans got out of control so quickly, editor Dan DiDio said, "Superboy is a teenager raised in isolation, with raging hormones, a huge chip on his shoulder, and the powers of a god. He never learned how to keep his powers or emotions in check, so when confronted, the situation escalated and he had no idea on how to defuse it. Think of a situation where you, as a teenager, lost your temper. Now imagine you have the power to crush a planet. Do you think that situation would have ended differently? This is the moment where Superboy-Prime crosses the point of no return and becomes the greatest threat the universe will ever know."
After the publication of Infinite Crisis #5, Johns said at the Wizard World LA convention: "That took me a long time to break, because I thought Superboy-Prime needed to view the world so narrow. You can see how his world view is so narrow and so black and white and realistically that is not going to work anymore." Originally, Superboy-Prime started out coming into Crisis as corrupted and evil, but the take on the character didn’t work for Johns. "I said to Dan I think Prime does it by accident and is horrified. That panel where’s he’s looking at his hands and goes 'I didn’t mean to do it,' that for me is the entire story for Superboy-Prime. He didn’t mean to do this stuff. What’s worse... making a mistake and fessing up to it or doing something bad and saying ‘You made me do it?’ Superboy-Prime is a very simplistic character who has become very complex.
When asked if Superboy-Prime was irredeemable or not, Johns replied "I think it’s a split. You saw his reaction when he did what he did in Infinite Crisis, but at that same time, he’s walked over that line. Does he think he can walk back? Should he? Does this universe even matter to him anymore? Is it the fact that, now that he’s got a big dent on his car, another one won’t matter? If he’s already on that path, is he going to continue on it, or is he going to really try and work and go back?"