Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Return of Lightning Lad” (Adventure Comics #308 May, 1963)

Edmond Hamilton was on a roll in the Spring of 1963, as his third story brought his count of characters introduced to the Legion mythos up to eight. We open with the Legionnaires saluting their new flag, and Cosmic Boy reflecting how sad it is that Lightning Lad didn’t live to see it. Kind of an odd reflection, really. Of all the things a teenage boy misses by dying, getting to see a new flag isn’t the first that leaps to mind.

As Saturn Girl and Mon-El leave on a mission, she instructs the remaining Legionnaires to drape their new flag over Lightning Lad’s crypt, where his strangely non-decomposed body lies in state beneath miniature lightning bolts. Saturn Girl is very clearly in charge here, so either Hamilton found that memo from Mort Weisinger about the leadership change, or Imra took Rokk aside and had a word with him about bossing the troops on her watch.

Miracle of miracles, when they go to drape the flag, they find Lightning Lad alive. His memory isn’t what it should be, causing Cosmic Boy to speculate that his powers might also be affected. Sun Boy seems to take this to heart and conspires to hide Lightning Lad’s missing powers—without ever finding out if they are, in fact, missing! It seems like a crazy leap of illogic, and, after many of Siegel’s stories, had me thinking, “Here we go again! Do these guys ever investigate their wild conclusions?”

Turns out Sun Boy has a very good reason for believing that Lightning Lad is depowered—although it also involves a bit of an assumption. He’s noticed that “Lightning Lad” has a tan line on the back of “his” neck, as though long hair had recently been cut short. “He” also has no Adam’s apple. So this is a girl who looks enough like Lightning Lad to fool everyone who knew him. Sun Boy makes two assumptions: This is Lightning Lad’s twin sister, and she has no powers. The first assumption is correct; the second is not.

The “twin sister” thing is a little jarring. Identical twins are the same sex, so the odds of Ayla looking so much like Garth that no one can tell the difference are pretty low. And no discussion is given as to how Ayla, who looks nothing like a boy when she’s her “real” self, made herself look male. Maybe she used the sex-change drugs that Shvaughn Erin would later employ? (Oh, and the use of the names “Ayla” and “Garth” here takes some license. The twins had no given names as yet.)

Ayla does have Garth’s powers, it turns out. She was caught in the same blast of lightning from the beasts of Korbal that gave her brother his powers. Lightning Lad’s origin is presented twice in this story. The first time, it’s Cosmic Boy remember how it was related to him when Lightning Lad “joined the Legion.” The second, it’s a quick recap that includes his sister. What isn’t mentioned at all is that we’ve seen this origin before, as related by Lightning Lord. We can only assume that neither Garth nor Ayla wanted to admit to their friends that there was yet a third lightning-powered sibling. In addition to the reference to, “When he joined the Legion,” which is an odd way to refer to one of the founders, Cosmic Boy’s retelling has LL hoping that his new powers will qualify him for membership in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Of course, later history would tell us that there was no such Legion until Lightning Lad traveled to Earth and helped start it. But none of that had been established yet.

We end the story with yet another dropped hint that it may yet be possible to revive Lightning Lad. For now, however, Lightning Lass is welcomed by “The Girl Legionnaires.” They, by the way, do not include Phantom Girl, whom we haven’t seen since her first appearance.

Firsts: Lightning Lass, Proty, The Legion Flag

Membership: 19

3 thoughts on “Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Return of Lightning Lad” (Adventure Comics #308 May, 1963)

      • Correction — that spread IS in Legion Archives Volume 1, which lacks a contents page, so I didn’t have the source. So someone named them way back, and the names weren’t featured in actual stories for a while. The GCDB lists the publication date as February, 1962, but, alas, does not list a script credit.

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