Superboy: The Wisdom of Youth, Chapter 3: A Test of Wits

by Goose Gansler

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Leaping into the fray first, Superboy led with a roundhouse right that smashed nothing but air molecules. R-Ban had already dodged gracefully out of the way. “Impressive speed,” R-Ban mocked. “A little lacking in accuracy.”

Superboy now circled the youth who claimed to be from a planet called Krypton-Beta. A quick super-vision scan showed that his opponent definitely was Kryptonian. Whether he was truly the son of Pa’s old nemesis U-Ban remained to be proven. “Just trying to put you down without racking up a lot of bruises on your face.”

“How considerate of you.” With the last syllable, R-Ban exerted his super-breath with hurricane-level force. Superboy was driven off of his feet. Summoning his flying power, he fought his way back toward R-Ban.

Super-breath, Superboy thought as he struggled against the gale. That’s probably how he affected the ball during the game. Finally, R-Ban’s prodigious lung capacity gave out, and the forceful wind stopped. Superboy’s efforts now rocketed him into R-Ban’s chest. The two tumbled and smashed through a hundred yards’ worth of forest.

R-Ban was the first to recover. He grabbed one of the smashed trees and walloped Superboy with the twenty-foot club. The wood splintered against of the Boy of Steel’s head, but the impact was nonetheless painful.

Grabbing another log, R-Ban tried to batter Superboy again. This time, however, the wood was met by the hero’s fist, and the tree cracked in half. Superboy followed up with a scorching blast of heat-vision to R-Ban’s face. The villainous youth’s hands went to his face in an attempt to protect himself. R-Ban took blindly to the air, flying wildly and making it impossible for Superboy to target him.

Rising into the air, Superboy gave pursuit. The Boy of Steel was surprised when R-Ban, having recovered, suddenly looped around and came crashing from above into Superboy’s back. Superboy plummeted to the ground, and his impact created a twenty-foot crater in the open field.

R-Ban swooped back to the felled trees and began hurling them like missiles at the staggered Smallville sensation. Superboy blocked as many as he could, but the projectiles were coming at a rapid pace. He didn’t want to just avoid them. If he did, the logs’ trajectories could take them onto Highway 2. He didn’t want R-Ban to hurt an unwary driver.

Finally, when R-Ban momentarily ran out of ammunition, Superboy took advantage of the pause and rocketed into the sky. “Come on and catch me if you can,” he shouted.

“Do you seek to flee?” R-Ban sped off in pursuit, his cape whipping about behind him.

Superboy didn’t stop until he was well outside the atmosphere, well beyond the orbits of any of the artificial satellites circling the world below. He came to a stop and turned to face R-Ban.

R-Ban didn’t try to collide with Superboy. Rather, he hurtled slightly above the Boy of Steel. He did, however, grab Superboy’s arm as he passed by.

The maneuver took Superboy by surprise, and he was helpless as R-Ban dragged him outside the orbital plane of the solar system. R-Ban’s destination was a distant comet he had located with his super-vision. Closing the millions of miles in a matter of seconds, R-Ban let go of his captive. Superboy was unable to check his momentum, and he smashed headfirst into the comet. The composite of rock and ice shattered into millions of bits of cosmic dust.

R-Ban followed up with some super-speed pummeling of the fazed Boy of Steel. Superboy tried to use his martial arts training and eventually began countering R-Ban’s blows. Still, he knew that he had gotten the worst of the fight so far, and it was clear the R-Ban had spent a lifetime with super-powers, much longer than the limited time since his own powers had awakened.

Gotta think of something else, Superboy thought as he continued to engage R-Ban hand to hand. If I keep on trying to go toe-to-toe, he’s gonna squash me.

Trick him with kryptonite? Superboy quickly discounted that idea. That was how Pa had defeated R-Ban’s father and uncles decades ago. Pa had said that the trio were scientists, albeit renegade ones. They weren’t idiots, and he didn’t figure R-Ban was, either.

Superboy pushed R-Ban away momentarily and began scanning the heavens with his super-vision. He was looking for something to use against R-Ban — a black hole, a star about to go supernova, an unstable superstring — something. Then he spotted a much more innocuous celestial body, and a stratagem formed. Should’a thought of that before, he thought, smiling.

Feinting as if he were trying to ram R-Ban, Superboy instead went hurtling by him. When the Boy of Steel didn’t turn, R-Ban took off in pursuit.

Does he think that he can escape me? R-Ban thought. The hero was too far for him to taunt via super-ventriloquistic hyper-wave, the best way to communicate in space without electronics. He would have plenty to say once he caught the young hero.

Miles were speeding by, billions at a time. The gap between Superboy and R-Ban could hardly be measured in astronomical units, but it was decreasing with each passing moment. Superboy looked back to see his gaining pursuer. He’s faster than me, he thought grimly. I couldn’t outrun him if I tried. Fortunately, I’m not trying. His frown turned to a smile.

Superboy made a minor trajectory adjustment. The gravity pull of a nearby white dwarf star had pulled him a bit off course. He kept his trans-light speed up and continued to do the little trick Pa taught him so as not to break into the time stream at such velocity.

R-Ban had closed to within a half-million miles when Superboy reached his intended destination. It was the outermost planet of a small star system. Gravity and atmosphere were similar to that of Earth. There was no intelligent life, but there was a fair amount of flora in terms of tall grass and small fruit-bearing trees.

Superboy landed and took a deep breath. “I don’t do these kind of super-sprints everyday. Hope it’s worth it.” He waited for R-Ban to arrive.

R-Ban was floating down, his cape trailing behind him. “Are you tired, or did you finally realize that you could not outpace me?” He landed softly on the ground. “I’m better than you, I’m stronger than you. I was raised on a planet twice the size of Krypton. I grew up working against twice the gravity. Even you can understand what that would mean.”

Superboy stood impassively as he listened to R-Ban rant. “Do tell,” he said derisively.

“Bah!” R-Ban snorted. “Twice the gravity, twice the effort. My muscles grew as no other Kryptonian’s had ever grown. It was only once I was mature that I was allowed to live full-time on the planet that the Triumvirate had claimed as their throne world and christened Krypton-Beta, the second Krypton.”

“Full-blooded Kryptonian, huh?” Superboy chided. “There’s only one female Kryptonian in this universe, and I know she isn’t your mother.” Besides, Power Girl hadn’t been free from her long voyage on the Symbioship long enough to have a child as old as R-Ban.

“My father found a woman on a planet called Thoron. The Thoronians were genetically compatible, almost Kryptonian except for some deactivated genes. There was a hero called Halk Kar there, who had been mutated by Earth’s sun and gravity. (*) U-Ban took a Thoronian woman, he fathered me, and he mutated my inactive Thoronian-inherited genes. So, genetically, I am fully Kryptonian.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman’s Big Brother,” Superman #80 (January-February, 1953).]

“Gee, thanks for the biology lesson,” Superboy joked. “If I wanted a boring soliloquy, I’d listen more to Mr. Kuenn in chemistry class.” He adopted a fighting stance. “I assume you still want a piece of me?”

R-Ban approached with a devious smile. “Most certainly. Your career as a hero ends here.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that.” Superboy easily parried R-Ban’s first blow. The second never reached him, either. The third missed its mark, and the fourth was caught in Superboy’s grasp.

“Sheol!” R-Ban cursed. He wrenched his right fist from Superboy’s grasp and tried to smash him with a left. Superboy dodged that and threw an uppercut in return. The impact with R-Ban’s chin sent the troublemaker flying.

R-Ban unwrapped himself from his tangled cape and rose to his feet again. “Sheol! How did you do that?”

Superboy cracked a wide grin and pointed up to the sky. “Notice anything about the sun?”

R-Ban gasped when he saw its color: red. “But… how can you…?” he sputtered. He realized now that he only had the enhanced abilities that were his Kryptonian birthright. His more amazing super-powers, without yellow sun radiation, were gone.

Superboy’s hands darted out and grabbed R-Ban’s tunic. He lifted the villain into the air and floated upward. “How can I still have all of my powers?” he said slyly. “That would be telling.” The truth was, even he didn’t know. He had learned on his first outing alongside the Earth-One Superman that red sun radiation did not affect him. (*) Maybe Kryptonians were slightly different in the Earth-Prime universe, just as those from the Earth-One universe were different than the Earth-Two universe. His powers did not appear until after more than a decade of exposure to a yellow sun. Whatever the reason, it had given him the edge to be victorious. He cocked back a fist and delivered a knockout punch to R-Ban’s head.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Year of the Comet,” DC Comics Presents #87 (November, 1985).]

As he let the unconscious R-Ban slip to the ground, Superboy scratched his head. “Now what do I do with him? If I take him back to Earth, he’ll be fully powered again, and this’ll start all over.” He pondered for a few moments and then came to a decision. “There’s air, water, and fruits to eat here. He’s not going to die here. I’ll head back to Earth and tell Pa. I’m sure he’ll come up with some solution for locking this punk up.”

Stretching out his arms, Superboy headed back out into space. He took a quick look back at the system’s sun. Red sun radiation, he thought proudly. Just like Pa said — it’s not always about who’s stronger, but who’s smarter.

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