“The Secret Power of the Mystery Super-Hero” – Adventure Comics #307, April, 1963

After gentling into his Legion-writing career by focusing his first story on all-new characters with “The Legion of Substitute Heroes,” Edmond Hamilton plunges into the first-string this issue, and gives us a powerful new Legionnaire to boot!

A group of raiders led by the villainous Roxxas is taking much needed natural and technological resources from far-off planets. The Legion is enlisted to help, but their numbers are limited right now—too many members are off on other planets. So, apparently breaking their rule about only taking on one new member annually, they decided to interview applicants and see if they can expand their ranks right now. (From this point on, I think the “once a year” rule is forgotten.)

They interview a young man who can turn everything green. (sort of a limited version of Color Kid, but I guess even the Substitutes have standards, so they held out for the guy who could at least manipulate the entire visible light spectrum!) They also interview a boy with a “camera eye,” who can show images from the past. Sort of a visual companion to Antennae Boy from a few issues back. Maybe they went into business together? Neither of these candidates have names.

And then there’s Mystery Lad, Jan Arrah, who will not reveal his super power except to one member. Saturn Girl volunteers, and recommends Mystery Lad for membership. Of course, longtime readers know that Jan Arrah is Element Lad, who can change any one element to any other at the atomic level. During the course of the story, Hamilton goes to the trouble of pointing out that Jan’s power does not work on chemical compounds, only pure elements. (I don’t think I ever knew that, and, indeed, it was forgotten later. My first exposure to Element Lad had him changing himself (a being made of chemical compounds) into rubber (the chemical compound C5H8 plus proteins, fatty acids, resins and sterols.)

Mystery Lad joins and accompanies the Legion on their quest to capture Roxxas. It’s a long battle across a few worlds, and, along the way, Jan surrenders himself to Roxxas, revealing to the Legion that he is the one Roxxas was looking for on all of these raids. Roxxas’s men wiped out Jan’s people, who all had the power of alchemy. He wants Jan to help him in his criminal endeavors. Jan chooses to die instead. Fortunately, Invisible Kid has tagged along and saves Jan. (It’s never quite explained how Invisible Kid got from his one-man ship into Jan’s one-man ship. I guess that’s an exercise for the student.)

Cosmic Boy is very clearly the leader in this story, casting doubt on my assumption that Saturn Girl’s stolen election a few issues back was allowed to stand unchallenged. Or maybe Mort didn’t tell Hamilton that Saturn Girl was the leader now. Or maybe it was in the same memo that would have informed the new writer that these stories were set in the 30th Century. So far, Hamilton’s scripts have claimed the 21st. And after Jerry Siegel had finally figured it out!

Firsts: Element Lad

Membership: 18

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