Continuing the story of Legionnaires in a prison camp, departing writer Edmond Hamilton reminds us that a Stalag is not a place for amusing hijinx, contrary to what Hogan’s Heroes would have us believe. Some modern readers may not even get that reference to a TV sitcom about Allied inmates in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. Today, many consider Hogan’s Heroes to be in bad taste, since Nazis and their atrocities aren’t funny in the slightest. I was recently told by a friend from Germany, however, that the show is still watched there, and very popular.
We wrapped last issue with Blockade Boy and Matter-Eater Lad, having just escaped, being caught by the villainous Nardo. Now they await death at his hands, but Blockade Boy, heroic to the end, uses his power to transform himself into a steel shield and saves Matter-Eater Lad’s life. Nardo vows to execute the Legionnaire later, to make an example of him.
Edmond Hamilton’s final Legion tale is an adaptation of Stalag 17, a Broadway play which became a film, about prisoners of war in a Nazi prison camp. Word comes to the Legionnaires that Brainiac 5 is a prisoner of war. A team goes to free him, and winds up being captured themselves by Nardo, the commandant, who has nuclear energy in his veins. They’re separated by gender, the boys awakening in a barracks already inhabited by other super-powered heroes from other worlds, including Plant Lad, Blockade Boy, Weight Wizard and Shadow Kid.
The film Stalag 17 opens with two Allied inmates escaping through a tunnel, only to be shot by guards. In the Legion story, a hapless Durlan who is locked by exposure to a chemical weapon in the form of Superboy, tries the same escape and dies on the wrong end of a blast of kryptonite force rings.
Edmond Hamilton’s first Legion Adventure adds a very important element to the franchise: The Legion of Substitute Heroes. Not only do Hamilton and Forte create five new heroes out of the gate on their first team-up, but they create the idea that there’s a backup team for the Legion. That’s something no other team up till now really had—Not the Justice League, The Justice Society, or the Fantastic Four. Oh, a lot of Golden Age heroes had squads of sidekicks and admirers who would step in to help when their idols were indisposed, but no one had a formal team of super-powered substitutes… not until the Legion did. It not only expanded the simple number of super-heroes in the Legion’s universe, it added to the richness of their history.
It all begins with Polar Boy, Brek Bannin of the planet Tharr. Tharr is a desert world, and its inhabitants have developed the power to generate cold in order to protect themselves from extreme heat by “neutralizing heat vibrations.” Vibrations? Well, yeah, but I had to stop and think about it, and re-read some basic physics. Thermal energy is the energy of molecules moving—vibrating. Hamilton, as I’ve mentioned before, was a real science fiction author. He’s including real science here, where Jerry Siegel generally did not. I wonder, though, if less educated readers noticed the difference.