Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “One of us is a Traitor!” (Adventure Comics #346)

Here is possibly the most ground-breaking story in Legion history—the one that changed the game forever. For the first eight years of its existence, the Legion had been written by seasoned pros—Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton. All experienced and capable, but all also years past their teen years. America invented the very concept of the teenager, and it was in the 1950s and 1960s—the era of the Legion’s birth—that teens began to be recognized as a distinct body of people. They weren’t children, they weren’t adults, and it was considered rather difficult to communicate with them, to “reach” them, because they had their own ideas and pretty much their own secret language. Adults who tried to speak that language inevitably came off sounding like oafs. And teen characters written by adult writers came off a little too stiff, a little too-good-to-be-true.

Along came 13-year-old Jim Shooter. It might not be correct to call Shooter a fan. He was a young man trying to help support his family, who had read comics and had definite opinions about them, and who thought he could bring a fresh voice to them while making some much-needed income. He succeeded at both, submitting to editor Mort Weisinger an unsolicited, 46-page Legion epic, script and pictures. Against all odds, Weisinger bought it. It was the longest Legion story yet published, previous two-parters being only 32 pages in length. And it added four new Legionnaires!

Fortunately for Shooter and his readers, Sheldon Moldoff inked this first part, in Adventure Comics #346. Even Shelly couldn’t quite render young Shooter’s pencils into fine illustrations. The art is creditable, but, after Curt Swan’s recent efforts, it’s a step down.

But, story-wise, it’s a whole new experience. Rather than beginning with a meeting, with Superboy arriving at the clubhouse, or with any other common-place scene, it begins, James Bond-style, with Cosmic Boy saving the life of a hapless construction worker. This would not be Cos’s only save of the issue, making it pretty clear that Shooter liked the character. Might that be because Cosmic Boy, square-jawed and black-haired, looked quite a bit like the teen author?

From there, we’re treated to something unusual—four Legion applicants, all four of whom are successful. The admittance process has apparently changed. First we learn for the first time that applicants have been subjected to qualifying tests prior to demonstrating their powers to the assembled members. The Legion is getting more sophisticated about this. It makes sense that you’d want to get all the, “Are your powers generated by a machine?” nonsense out of the way up front. And the members vote on applicants! That’s never been shown before. In the past, there’s either been a small panel of judges, or one Legionnaire has just rendered a decision.

We still have some Bastard People sightings, though: Superboy saying, “Skip the alibis, Cosmic Boy. Take your seat and let’s get this show on the road!” when Cos justifiably shows up late; Phantom Girl, saying “I don’t need a Legion tenderfoot to tell me my duty!” (Although I’ll lighten up on PG, for uttering the delightfully bad bit of dialogue, “Holy Cheese! I’ve been mousetrapped!”)

Something else different to the Legion: the structure of part two of this issue is the old JSA / JLA formula, with Legionnaires breaking up into small groups and flying to different parts of the world. We only see the first of the three missions here, so, sadly, we don’t get to really know any of the new Legionnaires except Karate Kid, and most of that “getting to know you” time is spent with Phantom Girl casting aspersions on him.

But that aspersion-casting session also illustrates a new, more readable storytelling style. Uttering perhaps the most words she has ever spoken, Phantom Girl spends ten panels advising Cosmic Boy that she believes Karate Kid is a traitor in their midst. Under Hamilton’s or Siegel’s hand, I’ve no doubt that scene would have played out thus:

Panel 1:

Cosmic Boy: The guards—Unconscious!
Phantom Girl: Kid, what happened?
Karate Kid: Someone knocked me out from behind!

Panel 2:

Commandant: The attackers stole sleep gas from our vault!
Cosmic Boy: The door has been torn open by two hands!
Phantom Girl: Hands that used Karate Blows!

Panel 3:

Cosmic Boy: Where was Karate Kid during the attack?
Commandant: By the vault!

Panel 4:

Phantom Girl: That tears it, Cosmic Boy! Karate Kid is the traitor!

The conversation style is more leisurely, more realistic, and thus much more readable. We’re also treated to much larger panels than we’ve previously seen, at four per page. All of this is reminiscent of the mature Marvel style of the mid-1960s, and, indeed, Mark Waid has said that Shooter’s intent was to bring the Marvel style to DC.

Brainy is leader for the last adventure of his short (and oft-interrupted by Saturn Girl) term.

The Anti-Bastard award goes to Cosmic Boy, for remembering innocent until proven guilty, and not jumping to conclusions. (How refreshing!)

This is the first time the Legion story has taken up the whole issue, with one 23-page story. The previous record for a story in one issue was “The Legion of Super-Monsters,” at 17 pages.

Firsts: Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad, Nemesis Kid, Khunds

Membership: 22

Roll Call: Cosmic Boy, Shrinking Violet, Chameleon Boy, Superboy, Phantom Girl, Lightning Lad, Light Lass, Nemesis Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad, Karate Kid

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