Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Face Behind the Lead Mask!” (Adventure Comics #300, September, 1962)

This is the beginning. This is the day. After four years as guest-stars in other strips, the Legion of Super-Heroes begin their own regular series in Adventure Comics. This tri-centennial issue proudly proclaims on its cover, “Featuring Superboy in ‘Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes!'” Of course, there is only one such tale in this issue, and it’s the second feature. Ah well…

It doesn’t begin well: “Inside this Metropolis clubhouse, in the 21st Century…” Sigh… Jerry and Mort, once again couldn’t keep track of what time period these kids lived in. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Or maybe they were deliberately screwing with readers, just to see if anyone noticed. At any rate, this is the first Legion story that begins with the Legion, and in the 20th Century with Superman or Supergirl. Although, just as in Superboy and Supergirl stories, our first glimpse of the Legionnaires is of statues of them, not of the actual people. But the “Hall of Heroes” shows us, for the first time, that Shrinking Violet is now a member. She hasn’t been seen or mentioned since her first appearance as a candidate. Nor, ironically, does she appear in this story.

Indeed, only the big three and Sun Boy are present at the Clubhouse, and their powers are out of control. That gives us a good excuse to hear how each of them gained their powers. Pretty awkward exposition, but it’s good for new readers to see. It’s also the first time we get the traditional explanation for Cosmic Boy’s powers—that he’s from the planet Braal, where everyone has them. In his first appearance, he claimed a special serum gave him his powers.

They summon Superboy, hilariously, by pulling the giant circuit breaker labeled, “Pull down to summon Superboy.” This causes Clark Kent’s desk lamp to flash in 20th Century Smallville, pulling him away from an argument with Lex Luthor and some brooding moments spent watching his friend Mon-El in the Phantom Zone.

But Superboy is little help. He arrives in time for the World-Wide Police (no Science Police yet!) to tell the Legion they have sixty minutes to rein in their powers or be exiled from Earth. On their heels arrives Urthlo, a figure in a lead mask, who tells the Legion that he is responsible for messing up the Legion’s powers. (Since Luthor has already appeared, one cannot help but wonder if many readers missed that “Urthlo” was an anagram.) Urthlo not only can turn the Legion’s powers on and off, he also has kryptonite vision, so Superboy can’t stop him either.

Saturn Girl conceives the plan which defeats their foe. She reveals that she has developed a cure of Mon-El’s lead poisoning. He can now be released from the Phantom Zone and take on Urthlo. The catch? The “cure” is only temporary. Once Urthlo is defeated and revealed to be a robot built by Lex Luthor, Mon-El must return to the zone. First, though, he’s made a member of the Legion.

Superboy resolves to find a cure for Mon-El yet, maybe someday when he’s Superman… Oh, Clark… I love you, but you make my brain hurt. If you’d cured Mon-El as Superman in the 1960s, he wouldn’t be in the Phantom Zone in the Legion’s time, now would he?

Bastard People Count: Four. When Cosmic Boy’s powers go out of control, Sun Boy screams in his face, accusing him. When Sun Boy develops the same problem, Lightning Lad is no less accusatory. Saturn Girl decides all the other Legionnaires are probably evil doubles. And when Superboy arrives, even he assumes his friends are deliberately misusing their powers. Nobody goes for the simpler answer: some outside force is affecting them.

Firsts: Mon-El joins the Legion, Shrinking Violet is a member, the Legion are the stars of the story.

Membership: 17 with Mon-El’s initiation and Shrinking Violet’s status confirmed.

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