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.
Polar Boy is rejected by the Legion because his power might cause the other Legionnaires to freeze up on a mission. So here’s the first thing that’s different about the Legion applicants in this story—most of them have powers which are actually very useful, and the Legion’s grounds for rejecting them are not well-supported by the story. In Polar Boy’s case, many established Legionnaires have powers that, if misused or not controlled, could hurt or disable their fellows—Sun Boy, Ultra Boy, Lightning Lad—hell, what if Colossal Boy stepped on someone?
Rejected, Polar Boy walks sadly through a gallery of statues of the Legionnaires (like the statue Sun Boy melted with his dangerous heat power a few issues back!) His life’s dream is over, and he doesn’t know what to do. He is approached by four other Legion-rejected, would-be super-heroes: Night Girl, Stone Boy (“Stoneboy” here), Chlorophyll Kid and Fire Lad. Together, the five decide to form their own Legion. Showing that they still believe in the Legion, despite being rejected, they agree to be there to help and support, not to try and compete.
Like Polar Boy, Fire Lad was told that his flame breath is too dangerous. He might set things on fire by accident on a mission. I think a more legitimate reason to reject him would simply have been that he’s got the same powers as Sun Boy. Chlorophyll Kid has an idiotic origin (he fell into a vat of plant food as a baby) but an impressive power to control the growth and behavior of plants. Why he was rejected isn’t even explained, but it seems like a tactical error. Night Girl’s limitation to have power only in darkness does seem like a reasonable cause for rejection, as does Stone Boy’s inability to do anything but turn to immobile stone. (Ironically, Stone Boy was later the first substitute to be offered full Legion membership.)
The sixth classic member of the team, Color Kid, is not in this story.
The Subs build their own headquarters, hollowing out a cave in a rocky mountain and setting themselves up like the Justice League of old. They have flight belts, gifts from the Legion to all “worthy applicants,” but never mentioned previously. Alas, on every mission that looks like a chance for them to prove themselves, the Legion winds up making it there first. At least, that’s the case until an alien invasion keeps the Legion so busy that they overlook the fact that the invaders have bombarded the Earth with strange seeds. Chlorophyll Kid uses his growth power to investigate, and they learn that the seeds are going to grow an invading army of planet men. It’s up to the Subs to stop them.
It’s an auspicious start for the Legion’s new writer, who would quickly usher them into their first (of many) golden age.
Firsts: Legion of Substitute Heroes, Polar Boy, Night Girl, Chlorophyll Kid, Stone Boy and Fire Lad.