Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who the Heck is Dev-em?

Most casual DC Comics or Superman fans could probably name the best known survivors of Krypton’s destruction. There’s Superman and Supergirl, of course. The Phantom Zone criminals. The citizens of Kandor. Krypto the Super Dog. A few might remember Beppo the Super Monkey.

But I’ll bet not one in a thousand would remember Dev-em.

Who the heck was he? He was a teenaged delinquent on Krypton, committing minor acts of vandalism and petty theft. But he was at least smart enough to be the only person on Krypton who paid attention to Jor-el’s warning that the planet was going to explode.

Dev-em builds a suspended animation tube inside a lead-lined bomb shelter. This gets tossed into space when the planet explodes and eventually drifts to Earth.

This happens in Adventure Comics #287 (June 1961), written by Superman’s co-creator Jerry Siegel.  On Earth, the still-delinquent Dev-em manages to zap Superboy into the Phantom Zone. He then disguises himself as Superboy and commits some acts of super-vandalism to ruin the Boy of Steel’s reputation. Bringing Superboy back, he flies off into the future to leave poor Kal-el to his fate.

The big bully.

Smallville’s police chief Parker believes Superboy’s explanation, but figures no one else will. So the cover story they come up with is that some red kryptonite temporarily turned Superboy evil. Why that explanation is more believable than the truth (or why it would make the citizens of Smallville feel safer—“What? You mean the teenager who can crush the entire planet like a flea can be turned evil by some weird fluke at any time?”) is beyond my ability to explain. But there you go.

That story is a little weak, mostly because its dénouement is unsatisfying. But three years later, in Adventure Comics #320 (May 1964), Siegel tied up this particular Kryptonian loose end.

Superboy is visiting the Legion of Superheroes in the 30th Century when he again meets Dev-em. But Dev has apparently reformed and is on a secret mission for the Inter-Stellar Counter-Intelligence Corps (ICC) to smoke out and catch the leader of the evil Cosmic Spy Legion.

But the ICC decides Superboy is better qualified for the job. Dev-em seems fine with this, but Superboy can’t help but think Dev might be resentful. 

Of course, there soon comes a point in which Superboy’s life suddenly depends on where Dev-em’s true loyalties lie.

Dev-em was an interesting addition to the Superman mythology, though we never saw much of him after this. After he proves he’s now a good guy, he’s asked to join the Legion, but decides to stay with the ICC.

That was an undoubtedly wise decision on the part of the Superman creative team. The Legion already had two members (Superboy and Mon-el) with identical powers to Dev-em, so there was really no place for him in terms of telling interesting stories.

But poor Dev-em seems to have been largely forgotten. I know he popped up for a few frames in the epic Legion story arc “The Great Darkness Saga” from 1982 and it’s possible he had a few other appearances over the years. But for the most part, the writers of the Legion of Superheroes, Superboy or Superman never really found a good slot for him.

It’s no wonder no one remembers who the poor guy is.

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