Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read: “The Adult Legion!” (Adventure Comics #354, March, 1967)

This is one of my all-time favorite Legion adventures, despite the fact that it tells the tale of a much-depleted membership, and, apparently, that it was forced on young Jim Shooter by his crusty old editor, Mort Weisinger. Shooter nonetheless did the idea proud, taking the Legion credibly forward, and, along the way, creating two new permanent Legionnaires (never mind that they were doomed to die someday), as well as the Wanderers and a mystery named Reflecto.

It’s a gripping cover, isn’t it? A memorial hall to a bunch of dead Legionnaires, only one of whom readers had met at the time, and he had died in the previous issue. This was the first of many ways that the Legion would let us know that Andrew Nolan, Ferro Lad, was gone, but not forgotten.

I first encountered this story, not in two issues of Adventure Comics but in DC Super-Stars #3, the May, 1976. DC Super Stars, alongside Four Star Spectacular and Super-Team Family, were favorites of mine. They presented reprints of classic stories of Superboy, Wonder Woman, the Justice Society and DC’s little-remembered space heroes like Captain Comet and Space Ranger. All but Four-Star eventually became devoted to new material (which was still pretty amazing), and none lived 20 issues. They represented the last gasp of the reprint giants, and the heyday of the Bronze Age, when a young fan could afford to read old material without paying premium prices for back issues or hardcover collections.

The Ernie Chua cover for that reprint was not only gorgeous, it added another wrinkle to the story, suggesting that the “present-day” teen Legionnaires were seeing their future selves on Superboy’s “Future Screen.” Why the hell Superboy would have a future screen, much less would show to his friends their fates, we won’t even discuss. It was an eye-catching concept for a cover. And that haunting dialogue, “Some of us will marry, some will die, but what about the rest of us?” has stuck with me all these decades later.

To slip into my William Dozier voice, a sunny day in 30th Century Metropolis brings the familiar sight of a high-flying hero piercing the time barrier to visit the Legion headquarters. But what’s this? Is that Legion headquarters? And who is this decidedly non-teenaged son of Krypton?

Yes, it’s Superman landing in Legion Plaza, thinking, “I wonder why Legion has called me after all these years. I’m heading for a time when they’re all adults.”

More to the point, Clark, why and when did the Legion stop calling you? This question is never answered. We’re just led to believe that, sometime before a lot of the heroes got married and gave up their tights, Superman stopped coming around. He missed Light Lass’s wedding, and it’s implied he missed Shrinking Violet’s as well. And he missed the building of a new Legion headquarters, which takes up a city block and, for the first time that we know of, has living space for all the Legionnaires. Of course, “All the Legionnaires” is now apparently eight people. Before he meets any of his grown-up comrades, Superman tours the memorial hall and the exhibit for married Legionnaires. Those seem to be open to the public. I was always fascinated by the silhouettes in the foreground as Supes passes through memorial hall—who were they? Not Reflecto, Chemical King, Shadow Lady or Ferro Lad.

And yes, this is our first glimpse of Tasmia Mallor and Condo Arlik, who, eleven and seventeen issues later, would appear in person and join the Legion as Shadow Lass and Chemical King. We also see a grave marker for Power Boy, presumably Jedediah Rikane.

Brainiac 5 comes out to meet his old friend, a pipe clamped between his teeth. I loved this touch, Querl appropriating one of the mannerisms of the dashing scientists of 1950s SciFi movies, not to mention Reed Richards and the Metal Men’s own Dr. Will Magnus.

Brainy takes Superman on a tour, putting him in radio contact, and then “quantum projection” contact, with ten retired Legionnaires, several of whom have married and had children, two of whom (Bouncing Boy and Colossal Boy) have lost their powers. Many of returned home, or to their spouse’s homes—to Lallor, to Rimbor, to Xanthu (misspelled “Xantho” here.) It’s not clear where Light Lady nee Light Lass is living, just that she’s not on Earth.

And then Superman is pulled into the briefing that is the reason he was summoned here, where he meets the current active members, including new inductees Timber Wolf (formerly Lone Wolf, and inexplicably not seen lo these past 27 issues since his first appearance) and Polar Man. All available members have been called because someone has been infiltrating Legion HQ, and it seems it’s someone who knows all the secrets only a member would know.

After some nasty encounters with a green-hooded figure, and a few arguments, Superman deduces the identity of their intruder: Ferro Man, Douglas Nolan, twin brother of the Ferro Lad who died, as far as readers reckon time, just last month. Seems the poor guy’s been mind-controlled by the Legion of Super-Villains.

A solid, engaging story with a hook. But it still begs that question from the reprint cover: “What about the rest of us?”

Indeed, there are six super-heroes missing from this story, who had been members as of the previous issue: Sun Boy, Karate Kid, Projectra, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, and Supergirl. We know that three of these would die before Earth One itself ceased to exist in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Projectra, of course, would stop being Projectra. But why two of the most popular Legionnaires, Sun Boy and Chameleon Boy, are omitted is anyone’s guess. And we’re told the Subs disbanded. So what about Fire Lad, Chlorophyll Kid, Color Kid and Stone Boy?

This story would control the direction of the Legion for a long time to come, until it was finally dismissed as an alternate future.

Roll Call: Superman, Brainiac 5, Cosmic Man, Lightning Man, Timber Wolf, Element Man, Saturn Woman, Polar Man

Visited/Contacted: Ultra Man, Phantom Woman, Mon-El, Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Duo Damsel, Matter-Eater Man, Colossal Man, Star Man, Dream Woman, Light Lady

Firsts: Timber Wolf as a Legionnaire, Bouncing Boy / Duo Damsel as a couple, Shadow Lass, Chemical King, Quantum Queen, Reflecto, Douglas Nolan

 

One thought on “Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read: “The Adult Legion!” (Adventure Comics #354, March, 1967)

  1. Pingback: Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read - "Escape of the Fatal Five" (Adventure Comics #365, February, 1968) - Steven H. WilsonSteven H. Wilson

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