Titans: Analyzing Subject Thirteen and their dark Superman connection


Once we’ve processed the Trigon’s deluded illusion castings and Dick’s subsequent possession, we can start preparing ourselves for the newest arrival in the Titans universe: Kon-El and Krypto.

Somehow, we have to entertain ourselves for an entire year while we wait for Titans season 2 to hit the DC Universe streaming lineup. Thankfully, we have Young Justice Outsiders, which premieres on January 4, to keep us occupied in between our Titans re-watching sessions. As we eagerly wait for the Titans team to return to the DC Universe, we’re already diving into multiple fan theories and end of the season highlights. And the concluding scene with Subject 13 and his glowing-eyed dog is on our most memorable Titans moments list.

Titans starts streaming internationally on Netflix on January 11 (minus the US and China, of course), so if you’ve made it this far in the article and you haven’t watched Titans yet because you aren’t a DC Universe member, then you’re probably just chaotically scouring the web for pre-binge watch spoilers. We might not know why you’re self-sabotaging all the cliffhangers in Titans first season, but we still support spoiler sleuthing ventures. Regardless, if you aren’t familiar with who the escaped clone of Superman (or Jon Lane Kent, depending on the universe) is or you just need a refresher on your House of El lore, we have you covered.

Also known as Conner Kent, Kon-El, and Superboy, based on the Superman coat of arms tattooed on his arm, Titans’ version of Subject 13 might more closely resemble Kon from The New 52 DC Comics hero and Superboy’s reentry into the DC Comic timeline in the Adventures of Superman. During the same issue that features the death of Superman, issue no. 500 also rebirthed Superboy.

Given Titans showrunner Greg Walker’s remarks on Superboys post-credit scene, we don’t exactly know what comic book issues will inspire his on-screen rendition. Walker spoke Entertainment Weekly regarding what we can anticipate from the stream service’s adaptation of Kon-El:

"It’s still brewing. What I can say is that we still want to take the same dimensionalized and psychologically grounded approach that we do with the other characters and apply that same pressure to Conner Kent and see what shakes out when you put a character like that through that test. You know, questions of identity, questions of powers, questions of your place in the universe. These are all questions that are interesting for any kind of Superman character, and are really interesting for Conner."

It seems like we can expect to see the same overall heroic character, who also deals with his own impossible to avoid flows and internalized regret. However, Walker’s ambiguous statements about Conner Kent made us reread some (or a lot) of Superboy’s comic cameos, and we’re already noticing some parallels in his brief Titans debut.

DC Universe Titans season one, episode 11, “Dick Grayson.” Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

The Titans finale post-credit scene alludes to Conner’s debut in the Adventures of Superman, where he was created as a thirteenth experiment and clone of Superman, during Project Cadmus’ trials involving genetic engineering with Superman’s DNA and Lex Luthor’s genetic makeup. In short, Kon had a complicated history even before he was born. (And, by the way, he was born from Cadmus’ experiments as a 16-year-old boy, so he was a teenager even from the day of his birth.)

After Clark Kent fought Doomsday, Cadmus literally stole Superman’s body and tried to replicate the Man of Steel’s DNA with Experiment 13 (and technically with their 12 other failed experiments). After all, Metropolis needed to fill its super savior void. Although Kon does have some evil genius DNA in him, he’s still proven himself a worthy hero of the city, Earth, and the universe throughout his comic history.

Since Titans’ incarnation of Superboy will likely play on the same cycle of life and death between our favorite brood of Kryptonians, we can assume that in the current timeline Superman is either dead, missing, or wrongfully presumed dead — whether he “perished” fighting Doomsday or not is still subject to speculations.

The duality of Kon’s genetic makeup gives him a lot of apprehension throughout his comic history. Since Superman, the man who gave Superboy the name “Kon-El.” is a role model to him as a hero and as a person, Kon wants to be like him. However, he’s also in perpetual fear that he’ll end up like Lex Luther and wield his powers for nefarious reasons.

The Cover of Teen Titans Vol. 3 (2003) #24. Photo Credit: DC Comics.

Teen Titans Vol. 3 delves into his inborn imposter syndrome. After issue no. 23, Kon does temporarily tap into his inner Luther (thanks to a subconscious trigger implanted in the super teen’s brain by Luther himself) and tries to defeat the team. He doesn’t stay evil for long since the same Teen Titans run also transitions into Kon’s redemption arch as a hero, where he also copes with residual PTSD from his Luther-dominated attack.

Because we can assume DC Universe will use Superboy’s clone of Superman origin story as fuel for Titans season 2 and beyond, we can also predict that Kon-El might play a hero and villain at periodic points throughout the series. Though Trigon reigns as the interdimensional bad guy in the series, Kon could be a substitute adversary for the unofficial Titans team after they overthrow Rachel’s dad.

Similar to the comics and DC TV’s Arrowverse, Cadmus isn’t necessarily a benevolent organization. Sure, its comic counterpart did create a new addition to the SuperFam, but Cadmus did attempt to control Superboy in the comics for their own antagonistic purposes. Kon’s breakout moment in the Titans finale could parallel the rebellious Cadmus scientists who helped comic Kon breakout from his human-sized test tube.

Aside from the similarities between Kon’s arch as a hero and villain, thanks to Cadmus, the corporation could also play a larger role in the Titans universe beyond just creating Superboy (and potentially Krypto, which would change the superdog’s origin story).

If you want to read up on any of the possible incarnations or inspirations from his comic runs (that Titans season 2 and beyond could use in its productions), we did siphon through some Superboy-related comics to create a reading order.

As a note: we’ve bolded some of our favorites runs, in case you’re restricted by time before season 2 debuts.

  1. More Fun Comics (his debut in the DC scene is in issue #101)
  2. Adventures of Superman (he makes his first appearance in issue #500)
  3. Superboy Vol 4 (1994)
  4. World’s Finest Three: Superboy/Robin
  5. JLA: World Without Grown-Ups
  6. Young Justice (1998)
  7. Superman Vol. 2 (2000)
  8. Teen Titans Vol. 3 (2003)
  9. Infinite Crisis
  10. Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds
  11. Adventure Comics: The Boy of Steel (2009)
  12. Superboy Vol. 5 (2011) (this also kicks off his first solo run during the rise of the New 52)
  13. (The New 52) Teen Titans Vol. 1 (2011)

Also. Titans finale toys with themes of triumph and defeat. light

While Superboy has some cameos in a few other comic runs, such as Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day and Superboy and the Ravers, the above list will give you critical context into his character development and story arch through DC history.

Whether you read some of the essential runs listed above or and of Kon-El’s sporadic featurettes (like Icon #15, Static #14, Green Lantern Vol. 3 #81, or Batgirl Vol. 1 (2000) #39-41), we’re sure you’ll become a Superboy stan before you officially see his on-screen face.

Do you have a favorite Superboy comic panel you hope to see in DC Universe’s Titans? Or do you think we missed a Superboy comic book appearance that you think we should have added our Kon-El reading order? Let us know in the comments below.