Here’s a story which you need to be able to put aside logic in order to enjoy. And there are things to enjoy in this story, as long as you don’t mind your favorite character being marginalized in order to make the Substitute Legionnaires look good. ‘Cause, believe me, with the possible exception of Colossal Boy, no regular member of the Legion comes out of this story looking good.
A bellicose planet called Throon begins using force rays from a deadly citadel (The Citadel of Doom!) on the planet’s surface to cripple spaceships. They cripple any ship which passes within 30 Million Miles of their world. The Science Police lament that this will cripple interstellar commerce, and, indeed, we are shown planets in the galaxy where children ask why there is no food, and parents say because no one can deliver food to us via space travel.
Sounds nasty, right? There’s one problem here: 30 million miles is a measure of distance which is about the same as the average distance between Earth and Venus. And getting this close to Throon is crippling space travel all over the galaxy? So you’re basically telling me that every ship in the galaxy must, at some point in its travels, not only pass through Throon’s solar system but must come within a third of an astronomical unit of the planet? It’s disappointing when good science fiction writers don’t do their homework.
The Legion is called upon to help stop the deadly beams being projected from the Citadel of Doom. They know this is going to be a tough mission, so they use a random chance machine to pick who leads the team, and which Legionnaires go. This is the single stupidest idea ever introduced into a Legion story. I guess it’s an attempt to teach kids the logic behind the draft that was currently feeding what would later become a very unpopular “police action?” But, seriously, if you’re going to try and take out a heavily fortified facility with known anti-aircraft and anti-super-power capability, you don’t leave the team assignments to chance! You make a plan and you pick the people with the best powers to carry it out! Military strategy is not a democracy. Everyone does not get a fair chance to be the hero.
Nonetheless, they not only use this process, they use it twice. Wow. The first team leader selected is Brainiac 5. His first act as team leader is to try and disqualify Saturn Girl, because this mission is too dangerous for a girl. This is not the first time Brainy has done this, either. Fortunately, Saturn Girl shoots him down this time. Does that make up for the fact that she has shirked her responsibility as Legion leader to allow this random chance farce to occur? LemmethinkaboutthatNO.
But, really, Brainy, “Too dangerous for a girl?” How about “too dangerous for a bunch of minor children?”
Three teams are sent. All of them fail spectacularly, and pretty much are shot down wholesale as the approach the citadel. Only Superboy and Colossal Boy get any spotlight here, Superboy being the first to fall prey to the Citadel, and Colossal Boy being the only other one to actually do something other than fly by and then plunge to the ground.
We’re led to believe that all the stricken Legionnaires are either dead or dying. And this leads to another bizarre oversight: the Legionnaires are concerned when Superboy falls, but Brainy, as team leader, tells them that on life does not matter. It’s okay if they all die, as long as the Citadel is brought down.
Except… Brainy… um, that one life is… Superman’s? Ya don’t think him dying at 15 or so is gonna, I dunno… break history?
So, with all the Legionnaires down, the Substitute Heroes come to the rescue, Polar Boy grimly telling them that they’ll probably all die. In fact, the male Subs intentionally sacrifice themselves in a frontal assault so that Night Girl can save the day. What? The first three Legion squads just get knocked down while flying, but the subs make a sustained assault? Why aren’t these kids Legionnaires again? And Night Girl saves the day by drilling through the planet, which at least three of the Legionnaires could have done at any time.
All this sloppiness leads to the payoff—the Subs riding down the street in a parade, celebrated as heroes. These nice guys finally get their due, and that’s what’s supposed to make it all worthwhile.
And you know what? It does.
Roll Call: Superboy, Bouncing Boy, Sun Boy, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, Brainiac 5, Star Boy, Triplicate Girl, Element Lad, Lightning Lad, Invisible Kid, Cosmic Boy, Shrinking Violet, Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Matter-Eater Lad, Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy, Light Lass — Every Legionnaire except Supergirl!