Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge” (Action Comics #287, April, 1962)

At DC, Silver Age comic stories tended to be laid out differently than modern comics, in that the splash page was not a page of the story, but a representative piece of artwork and a text box that summarized what was about to happen, like jacket copy on a book. Marvel abandoned this style immediately—in the first issue of The Fantastic Four—but DC continued it up into the 1970s. The first Legion story to omit this representative splash was (I believe) in Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #220. Part of the reason for this sort of “internal cover” was that not every story was represented on the cover, back in the days where a standard comic book contained two or three stories. Did anyone read the” jacket copy?” Good question. But it was there. Continue reading

Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Legion of Super-Traitors” (Adventure Comics #293, February, 1962)

Seven months out from the premiere of its own series, the Legion adds yet another associate legion to their mythos. The last one was villainous. This one isn’t even human. (Okay, eventually the Legion wouldn’t be all human either, but those days are far off! Begs the question, though, why couldn’t the super-animals just be regular Legionnaires? You may laugh, but I have had three colleagues, dogs, who were considered members of the Fire Department.)

Jerry Siegel co-creates the Super-Pets, appropriately with primo Super-artist Curt Swan, drawing the teen Legionnaires for the first time. (His first Legion story was “The Legion of Super-Villains,” in which they were adults.)

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero!” (Adventure Comics #290, November, 1961)

At the outset of this story, the reader might be fooled into thinking, “Finally! A Legion story with full participation by seven members!” The splash page, after all, shows Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Brainiac 5 and the three founders all flying into action to hide pieces of a dread weapon.

But it’s not to be. This is a Sun Boy solo story—and really not even that—in which the other Legionnaires make only cameos. They hid the weapon pieces a while back. It all begins with Tom Tanner, Clark Kent’s unknown doppelganger, escaping from reform school and hopping a train to freedom. “Freedom,” in this case, is Smallville, where he learns that he looks exactly like somebody named Clark Kent, whom everyone likes. Apparently, they like him so much that they don’t feel comfortable asking, “Clark, why are you wearing an orange suit like a prisoner would wear?” Hey, maybe they thought it was one of those crazy new fashion trends the kids were into those days.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Legion of Super-Villains!” (Superman #147, August, 1961)

As promised at the end of “The Army of Living Kryptonite Men”, an adult Lex Luthor, imprisoned, makes good on his promise to track down the Legion of Super-Villains, which must exist, he reasons, if there is a Legion of Super-Heroes. His method of tracking them down is pretty hilarious—he offers to repair all of his fellow inmates’ broken radios, and, while doing so, steals one part from each of them in order to build a future transmitter. Did the radios with missing parts actually work when he was done? We’re never told. I guess it doesn’t matter, since, after building the future transmitter, he quickly secures the means to escape.

“Calling the future!” he says into his transmitter. (I love it!) These were the days, if you don’t remember them, when a lot of Americans still didn’t dial phones. They picked them up and told an operator who they wanted to talk to. So Lex wasn’t behaving that out of character for someone of his time, but still… The whole future, Lex? All of it?

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-read – “The Secret of Mon-El” (Superboy #89, June, 1961)

Disclaimer: Some of these reviews may sound give the impression that I don’t actually enjoy these stories, because I point out their flaws. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I collected them, am re-reading them, and I review them because these stories and their creators have meant so much to me throughout my life. I can point out mistakes and plot points that I, as an author, would hopefully not have made. But I, as an author, have not brought to readers a fragment of the joy that these creators have. Their sheer imaginative power is nothing short of wondrous.

Robert Berstein had not written any Legion stories to date. He was the regular Superboy writer for three years, however, and co-creator, with George Papp, of Mon-El. Unlike Edmond Hamilton and Otto Binder, he did not have a science fiction pedigree, nor was he, like Jerry Siegel, a godfather of all super-hero comics. He was actually a playwright and composer, who had largely written crime and war comics before being assigned to the Superman line in 1959. He had created the Phantom Zone only two months before Mon-El’s first appearance.

The second half of Mon-El’s origin is a wonderful trip through the world of DC Silver Age comics, and the time period itself, to a certain extent. We open with Clark Kent sitting in his high school classroom. That Clark is in a sweater vest and tie is hardly surprising. That all the other boys are actually wearing suits looks pretty funny to a modern reader. What happens in the classroom has absolutely zero to do with the Mon-El story, but is worth noting simply for its humor, and as another example that Clark’s Kryptonian hormones must have been raging at this point in his life, ’cause the boy just ain’t acting normal.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-read – “Superboy’s Big Brother” (Superboy #89, June, 1961)

This is not really a Legion story, but it is a story which introduces a Legionnaire, so it’s included in the chronology. The Legionnaire in question is Mon-El, otherwise known as Lar Gand of the planet Daxam. Daxam is apparently similar, environmentally, to Krypton, and so its inhabitants are super-powered on Earth, just as Superboy is.

I have no idea if Mon-El was created with Legion membership in mind. It seems unlikely for a couple of reasons. One, why would he be needed on a team that already includes Superboy and Supergirl? While the Legion had yet to establish a “no duplication of powers” rule, as they later would (and they would play fast and loose with it even then!), it still doesn’t make much sense to add a pseudo-Kryptonian to the lineup. Also, Mon-El gives his age as “at least 18,” which might make him too old for membership.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read: “Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends” (Action Comics #276, May, 1961)

So, wow, Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney once again significantly expand the Legion mythos in this story, bringing them from eight members to double digits, and introducing three prospective Legionnaires to boot. One wonders if, as the editorial staff planned the story lineup for 1961, they made a conscious decision to bring the Legion up to a fighting strength where it might rightly be called a “legion.” Action #276 introduces, not one, not two, not even three but six new or potential Legionnaires! Okay, we had seen Brainiac 5 way back in Adventure #247, but he was never named. And I think it’s safe to say that the black-haired boy next to him in that issue was fellow-applicant Bouncing Boy. In Star Boy’s intro, there was an unnamed redheaded boy that I think can be safely considered to be Sun Boy and an unnamed blonde girl who, again, was probably Duo Damsel. So, as of this issue, I believe there are no more “shadow” Legionnaires (or Legion applicants) in the membership status below.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read: “Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes” (Adventure Comics #282, March, 1961)

Legion creator Otto Binder returns with George Papp on art for another solo-Legionnaire guestappearance, this time introducing a new Legionnaire, Star Boy. The title is a misnomer, because, while we do see six other Legionnaires in this story, in cameo during a flashback, Lana only interacts with the new kid.

As she often does, Lana begins this issue bemoaning the fact that Superboy really doesn’t notice her. She, on the other hand, sleeps with pictures of him plastered all over her room, and wants only to know the joy of being his steady girlfriend. Trying to take her mind off her woes, she goes to the movies, only to see a picture in which the female lead is plotting to make her man jealous by seeing another man. Lana likes the idea, if only there were a boy in the world that could be a believable rival to her ideal, Superboy.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read: “The Army of Living Kryptonite Men” (Superboy #86, January, 1961)

Another Jerry Siegel/George Papp adventure begins with Superboy discussing Lex Luthor with his parents, and reflecting how important the initials “L.L.” are in his life. We’re still at the point in history where every Legion story must begin with Superboy or Supergirl. They were still supporting characters only as they make their fourth appearance in four years.

Superboy points out that not only Lana Lang and Lex Luthor carry the initials “L.L.,” but that Lightning Lad does too. He shows Ma and Pa the Legion statuettes the team gave him after the (lamentable) affair on the Superboy planet. From here on out, if the Legion statues who up, you know there’s going to be an actual Legionnaire somewhere in the story. This was the device for reminding readers that the Legion existed. (Actually, I believe there was one time when the statues did not herald a Legion appearance, and that was when they were instrumental in the creation of the Composite Superman in World’s Finest Comics #164.)

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read: “The Three Super-Heroes” (Action Comics #267)

Nine months passed between the second and third appearances of the Legion, and this outing was again scripted by the legendary Jerry Siegel, who did so poorly by the team in December of 1959. He does better this time, though largely by adapting Otto Binder’s original script for “The Legion of Super-Heroes” in Adventure Comics #247, and placing Supergirl in Superboy’s place.

Supergirl / Linda Lee experiences the same meet-ups with Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy as Superboy did, with the Legionnaires making it clear that they know her secret identity. At this time in history, Linda’s secret identity had the added wrinkle that the public was not allowed to know Supergirl existed. So, while she switched into costume to go on adventures, she was never allowed to be seen. The Legionnaires aid her on three occasions in which acting as a super-hero would reveal her existence to the world. So at least they’re more benevolent this time out. Perhaps that’s because Linda is a girl?

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