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?

Supergirl is thrilled to be invited to join the Legion, which Superman has told her about. Strangely, and completely unnecessarily, given time travel, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Saturn girl claim to be “not the ones [Superboy] knew,” but the children of that original trio. I don’t believe this idea was ever mentioned again. If it was, it was only so that it could be explained away. It’s clear in later stories that Superboy and Supergirl joined the same Legion at the same time, relative to the 30th Century.

In the future, Supergirl literally sees the same sights her cousin saw—and in scenes using almost the same dialogue from Binder’s earlier script—when the kids visit an ice cream parlor and fly by an interplanetary tour ship.

And, while it takes four pages for the Legion to show up, Siegel and regular Supergirl artist Jim Mooney pack a lot into the final nine, distinguishing themselves by expanding the Legion mythology in some big ways. First, Mooney cements the look of the uniforms. On the splash page of the story, we see the Legionnaires we would come to know for the next decade or more. And Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad’s awkward devices of shooting beams from their eyes and clapping are gone.

The idea that many of the Legion members’ powers are simply inherent to people born on their respective planets is introduced, although, ironically, it’s brought up in a story where half the Legionnaires (Colossal Boy, Invisible Kid and Lightning Lad) do not have such native powers, and two of them were actually born on Earth. We also see some of the first glimmerings of what would develop into a pretty rigorous code of Legion by-laws, including that no one over 18 could be a member (that would change during the Paul Levitz run of the 70s and 80s) and that they could only induct one member a year. That one obviously wasn’t thought through, or the original three Legionnaires would have been pushing 40 by the time the LSH expanded its ranks to over 20 members. Indeed, it wouldn’t be too many years before they inducted four new members at a time.

But Siegel and Mooney’s most significant contribution was doubling the size of the Legion. Although Al Plastino had shown us originally that there were at least four more members, none of them spoke or were named until now. This pair added Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid to the team’s ranks. In many ways, this feels like the first Legion story, because of all of these expansions of the lore.

So, while the tale is derivative and ends up with Linda not making the Legion because of a cheap red kryptonite trick, I’ll forgive Siegel for it and his previous excesses (I mean, hell, I guess we can forgive the creator of Superman pretty much anything, can’t we?) because he and Mooney finally made the Legion into the Legion. (And while Curt Swan was the backbone of the team, Mooney is easily my favorite of the Superman family of artists from the 1960s.)

Firsts: Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy

Membership: 7 (Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Superboy, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy) plus the as-yet unnamed Brainiac 5, the unnamed boy beside him at the end of Adventure 247, and the unnamed girl (likely Triplicate Girl) at Superboy’s interview, for a total of ten Legionnaires.

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