Superman’s life as Superbaby, recounted in the old Superboy comics (but no longer in accepted continuity), is different. For one thing, there are no products (that I know of) and the masses remain unaware of the Superbaby aspect of Superman’s career. Another difference is that Superman’s mis-adventures as Superbaby do not foreshadow his future greatness, but depict the young Kal-el as a potential menace to the world, only kept in check by the stressed-out Ma and Pa Kent. In fact, the defining feature of the Superbaby stories can be summed up by the words of a fleeing bystander on the cover of Superboy #167: “Superbaby doesn’t understand! What he thinks is fun -- is destroying the world!” Kal-el’s amazing powers are certainly foreshadowed, but we are shown a raw power being used that is not understood or controlled by its user. Reading these stories, it’s a wonder that Superbaby ever made it to Superboy, much less Superman!
Superbaby’s earliest exploits occur on the planet Krypton. Although Kal-el has sometimes been shown as a helpless infant, unable to walk, when Krypton was destroyed, all of the Superbaby stories depict Superbaby as about 2-4 years old, regardless of the era in his life (Krypton, living on the farm, living in town). Despite the name, he is not a crawling baby, but is able to walk and talk (and he is often shown talking improperly, saying “me” instead of “I”). Exposure to Kryptonite over the years had caused Superboy’s super-mind to forget certain details of his early life on Krypton. Thanks to a mind-prober machine in the Kents’ basement, Superboy was able to recall his life on Krypton, and his sessions under the mind-prober were recounted in Superboy back-up tales in the early 1960s. According to The Comic Reader #175 (Dec. 1979), p.59, the first story using the mind-prober was in Superboy #79 (1960); that story was reprinted in Superboy Spectacular #1 (1980).
Superboy #106 (July, 1963) has the fourth story recalled from the mind-prober ray, showing a meeting between Superbaby and Braniac before the explosion of Krypton. The first story using the mind-prober had shown that Superboy had encountered a replica of Smallville and The Kents themselves on Krypton. This fourth story shows another encounter. Braniac has stolen Superbaby and taken him to a planet with a yellow-sun, so Kal-el is able to fly and use the super-powers he will later acquire on Earth. Using his x-ray vision, Superbaby sees Pa Kent bowling on Earth. The super-powered child causes havoc with Braniac, who returns him to his home, vowing to get revenge on Krypton for the humiliation he has endured at the hands of Superbaby.
Superbaby didn’t stay too long on Krypton. His dog, Krypto was shot into space by Jor-el (Lara left him briefly over this, as recounted in the first mind-prober story) and soon, Kal-el himself was bound for Earth. Most accounts of Superman’s origin show the rocket heading straight from Krypton to Earth -- they ignore the story of Superbaby’s adventure en route to Earth! According to a diagram published in Superboy #157 (June, 1969), a “runaway asteroid” in our solar system was the “scene of Superbaby’s first feat.” Following that incident, “Superbaby’s rocket jars against an alien space craft laden with weird machines. One of these created a duplicate of Superbaby, which grew up to become Super-Menace.” I’ve no idea in what issues these two events occured.
At any rate, Superbaby landed on Earth to be found by the Kents, who were still living on their farm at the time. The Kents’ found that the young Kal-el was tearing up his outfits too easily, so they created clothing for him from the super-material they found in his rocket. This story was told in Superboy #78 (again, according to The Comic Reader) and reprinted as the first story in Superboy Spectacular (1980). The Kents’ moved into town and tried desperately to keep Superbaby’s powers hidden from the rest of the world. In Superboy #119 (March, 1965), Superbaby accidentally travels so fast that he breaks the time barrier, travelling into the far future. In the following issue, Superbaby accidentally travels into the past. Looking too intently in that story causes him to unwittingly activate his heat vision, burning a hole in the ground. In #124 (Oct. 1965), Superbaby is weakened by Kryptonite, which were the green eyes of another child’s teddy bear. (That issue, as well as #130, 167, and 196 are among the few times that the Superbaby story was portrayed on the cover of the comic.)
In Superboy #167 (July, 1970), Superboy’s infantile understanding of the world threatens its existence. Kal-el wants a globe, but doesn’t like the one he is given. He sees the moon and decides to take his paint set and paint it. Landing on the moon, he sees the Earth below -- a perfect globe for him to have. But the “globe” is too small and he wants to blow it up big, like he did his other globe. He blows into volcanoes with his super-breath, causing chaos throughout the world. Fortunately the smell of Ma Kent’s pancakes brought him back home before he destroyed the earth.
In Superboy #189 (Aug. 1972), Superbaby’s poor understanding of his powers caused a barn to collapse on Pa Kent. The Kents are stressed-out trying to raise a super-powered child and Superbaby (using his super-hearing) overhears them talking. “No one can ever know how hard it is raising a Super-Tot!” Ma Kent cries. “Any bit of childish mischief can end in disaster! ...These continual accidents! I can’t take it anymore! What do we owe him? He’s not our child!” A tearful Superbaby hears these words and decides to run away. “They not my mommy and daddy? *Sniff!* Clark have no real parents,” he says. “Me not need Daddy and Mommy! Me go live by myself!” And off he flies into the night. Superbaby tries to have fun on his own, but everywhere he goes, he causes trouble. Everyone thinks he is bad, so he decides to get bad, mean parents (“Then i can’t scare them or make them cry!”). He soon finds bad parents, a pair of criminals who use Superbaby to rob places of their riches. The Kents suspect Superbaby’s involvement in the crimes and hunt down the criminals who are using him. Superbaby saves them from the criminals’ guns and all is restored to normal, with Superbaby returning to the loving Kent home. But this story showed that raising a Superbaby was not as fun for the Kents as his exploits were for us to read!
“The Misadventures of Superbaby” was briefly a back-up feature in the early 1980s New Adventures of Superboy series. In issue #11 and #19, Superbaby is showing interacting with other children (including Lana Lang) wearing his super red and blue clothing. Since he didn’t wear glasses at the time, young Clark Kent looks like, well, what he was: a child version of Superman. He even wore a minature red cape. Somehow Lana never noticed this.
According to Bridwell’s “35 Years of Superboy” article (which originally appeared in New Adventures of Superboy #1), the first Superbaby story was in Superboy #8 (1950). In 1968, a full comic was finally published devoted to Superbaby’s adventures. This was in Superman #212, an 80-Page Giant, which also had a story of a Supergirl baby. Supergirl appeared on the cover of the issue, showing the reader Superman’s baby pictures, to the embarrassment of the Man of Steel in the background. One of these days, I hope to obtain this comic!
I suspect that Superman has been reduced to his baby form on more than one occasion. The one instance I know for certain occured in an issue of Action Comics in early 1962 (I don’t know the issue number, unfortunately; the ad for that issue appeared in Superboy #94). For Christmas 1985, DC published a 98-page digest titled “Super Jrs. Holiday Special.” I don’t have this comic either, but the ad shows baby versions of Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and The Flash, drawn in a more cartoony style than the manner in which Superbaby is depicted.
Now, of course, Superman is portrayed as not having
acquired his powers until the end of his Smallville
days. Not only are we prevented from reading new
stories of “Superman when he was a boy,” but new ones
starring Superbaby as well. Apparently this is what the
fans want today. If that is so, then I shall stick to
the back issues. After all, I still have yet to obtain
that special 80-Page Giant I mentioned!