Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Menace of the Sinister Super-Babies” (Adventure Comics #338, November, 1965)

At long last, the Time Trapper! This guy was set up months ago, but has only been teased thus far. Now we see him in all his glory, living in a post-nuclear holocaust world in the far future. He’s a tyrant who apparently rules with an iron fist. As one of his slave-vassals observes, “When the master laughs, the universe trembles.” He meets with a beautiful woman named Glorith of Balduur, who is set to do his bidding in the past and end the Legion of Super-Heroes forever.

It’s yet to be explained, in the course of all these stories where he’s been mentioned, how the Legion first encountered the Time Trapper, and why they, out of all the heroes of history, would be a target for him. It would not be explained for a long time to come. Readers presumably were to accept that he was the villain and they were the heroes, so of course they were after each other.

This story is credited to Jerry Siegel, yet the hook were given in the first few pages is pure Edmond Hamilton: the Time Trapper gives Glorith an hourglass and asks her to give it to one of his slaves. That man will be freed and showered with riches. Instead, he’s de-aged, and then devolved, to the point that he becomes a pool of protoplasm—the source of all life. It’s a page right out of Hamilton’s early story, “The Man Who Evolved,” a story so depressing that Hamilton’s wife, science fiction writer (and screenwriter for The Empire Strikes Back) Leigh Brackett, confessed she hated it.

So again I suggest that either the credits are confused, or Siegel and Hamilton’s ideas were blended more than the credits suggest during story conferences. Perhaps Hamilton plotted this story and didn’t have a chance to script it. The players aren’t here to tell us.

Glorith is to take the hourglass back to the 30th Century and use it on the Legion, devolving them all out of existence. Or would it? Let’s ask Proty II how much it does or does not suck to be a pool of protoplasm.

Back in the 30th Century, we get another glimpse of the lifestyles of the young and Legionary. Invisible Kid is the subject of a scheming girl’s desire to marry him. “I’m too young!” he thinks desperately, and he’s relieved when Saturn Girl calls. Does being too young mean he wants to play around with other girls, or that he’s waiting for someone like Chemical King to show up? Matter-Eater Lad has his own apartment, and his parents are staying with him for a while. Element Lad lives next door. Coincidence? Or is there an apartment complex that caters to teens from outer space? Or did the United Planets assign them housing? We may never know… Chameleon Boy, we learn, has taken a job as an actor in a video drama, where he uses his shape-changing ability to lower the special effects budget. Beast Boy would borrow a page from this book a dozen years later in the pages of Teen Titans while a member of Titans West.

All the Legionnaires are summoned back HQ, where we’re told Brainiac 5 is the Legion’s leader (when did that happen?) and thence to an amusement park, where Glorith touches every damn one of them with the hourglass. But, thanks to the presence of the Fountain of 1,000 Chemicals, they don’t devolve into protoplasm, only into babies. Fountain of 1,000 Chemicals? Really?

Uncle Time Trapper bribes the babies into liking him, then sends them off to rob the bank where Uncle Billy lost $8,000 in It’s a Wonderful Life. Apparently, since Uncle Billy’s misfortune, they’ve added guards armed with AR-15s to make their customers feel safer. I know I would feel much safer knowing the guy standing behind me while I deposited my paycheck could pump 150 rounds into me in a second just by flexing his pinky. I note as well that the Aryan with the AR-15 is the only one Ultra Baby does not knock on his ass.

While the kids are robbing the bank, the Time Trapper nips over to the department store where Ralphie asked Santa for the Red Ryder BB gun and grabs a toy catalog. This he uses to tempt the tot Legionnaires into fetching their own “toys”—a real train, the only prototype of a lifelike robot, and some “jelly beans,” which are, in fact, giant gemstones.

The Trapper then devolves Glorith as punishment for “fumbling the task,” although it seems having the baby Legionnaires at his disposal worked out pretty well for him.

But, missing that big picture, the Trapper flies the kids to a planet whose elemental makeup will complete their transformation into blobs of protoplasm; and thus he ensures his undoing. Promised candy, the frustrated Legionnaires pitch tantrums, and Element Lad turns the Trapper’s ship and its Iron Curtain of Time generator into Candy.

The Trapper turns out to be about as frightening a villain as Lost in Space’s Dr. Zachary Smith. He is easily tricked into restoring the baby Legionnaires by Brainiac 5, who then strands him under a sort of portable Iron Curtain of Time. How Superboy can refer to this revealed Bozo stand-in as “An Evil Mastermind” is beyond me. Which, I guess, confirms that this is a Jerry Siegel story. Well, that and the sudden swap of Brainiac 5 for Saturn Girl as team leader.

A real comedown, after all the buildup. It would be left to future writers to restore the menace and terror of the Time Trapper.

Roll Call: Superboy, Star Boy, Ultra Boy, Chameleon Boy, Matter-Eater Lad, Saturn Girl, Element Lad, Light Lass, Invisible Kid, Brainiac 5

 

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  1. Pingback: Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read - "The Five Legion Orphans" (Adventure Comics #356, May, 1967) - Steven H. WilsonSteven H. Wilson

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