Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Legionnaires’ Super-Contest!” (Adventure Comics #315 – December, 1963)

The Legionnaires leave Earth to give a presentation at a conference, satisfied that all is well because their wrist monitors are tied into the Universe Monitor at their clubhouse. It shows them, ostensibly, everything that’s going on all over the universe. It was a gift from the people of Thar in return for all the help the Legion has given them. It’s never mentioned in the story that the people of Thar are Polar Boy’s people.

Clever alien criminals, planning to loot all of the glass on Earth for use in producing deadly weapons, send a faked signal to the Legion’s wrist monitors, showing them all is well in Metropolis, even as they’re sucking up literally every shard of glass in the city.

Enter the Legion of Substitute Heroes, of whose existence the main Legion is unaware. They fight off the invaders and save Earth’s glass. (You can’t make this stuff up. Unless you’re Edmond Hamilton, of course.)

Alas for the Subs’ desire to remain anonymous, lest their authoritarian idols force them to disband, Superboy uses his X-Ray vision to scan Earth (just in case, I’m guessing?) and sees the invasion. The Subs are busted in mid-save. Now aware of their existence, the Legion must sit at an imposing table with name placards before them whilst they decide the Subs’ fate. (What’s with the placards, anyway? Like the applicants and wannabes who visit aren’t going to know the Legionnaires’ names? I always wondered if they had notes on the back, like “Don’t forget to be a dick to someone today.”)

Apparently, the reminders don’t work. The Legionnaires not only don’t order the Subs to disband, they agree to hold a contest to allow one lucky member to join the real Legion. Each Sub is assigned a big brother or sister from the Legion to help them through an admission test.

So, I read this issue right after watching the 2016 film Goat, about fraternity hazing. That made this story a little uncomfortable. The Legion is a little frat-ish at times, and this is one of them. Polar Boy helps unfreeze two scientists. Night Girl defeats a solar-powered tyrant called Sun Woman. Fire Lad provides natives of an asteroid with an eternal flame. Chlorophyll Kid splits a mountain so that some other natives can get water from a lake (no Prime Directive in this space opera!) Finally, Stone Boy must save villagers from a dragon, a task at which he fails.

But you know Stone Boy’s gonna win the contest—the are multiple references to how useless his power is, plus Saturn Girl is his sponsor. She seems to be Hamilton’s favorite. The selection of who wins the contest is done “by computer,” with no explanation as to who programmed the computer with what algorithm. It was the 1960s. Outside of Nora Ephron’s parents when they were writing Desk Set, pretty much no one understood that computers could not think for you. Hamilton being an SF author, though, I’m sure knew it. He probably just meant to imply that an impartial decision was being made.

Stone Boy, of course, refuses the invitation in the last panel and stays with his friends. The Subs still have only five members—we’re nearly 30 issues out from Color Kid’s first appearance, and it was a long time after that before they took anyone else new.

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