Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Origin of the Legion!” (Superboy #147, June, 1968)

E. Nelson Bridwell turns out one more Legion story for this 80-page Giant edition of Superboy, celebrating the team’s 10th Anniversary year. Pencils and inks are by Jimmy Olsen regular Pete Costanza. And the subject is, as advertised, the long-awaited origin of the Legion. We’ve known since Adventure #350 that R.J. Brande, the richest man in the universe, bankrolls the group. But it’s startling for modern readers to realize that Brande, who was created by Bridwell, was unheard of for nearly the entire first decade of the group’s existence. He had only appeared twice before this. It was this story, more than any other, which turned that trend around and made him a pivotal figure, not only a donor, but the man who founded the group and gave it its start.

Garth Ranzz opens the story, leaving Winath, his parents and his twin sister Ayla, as he goes to Earth to search for clues to the whereabouts of his missing brother, Mekt. On the interstellar passenger liner, he meets Rokk Krinn of Braal. At 14, Rokk is an adult under the laws of his world, and he’s going to Earth to work and make money. When the liner enters the Sol system and stops at Saturn, which seems to be a well-known spacemark even to two boys from other systems, Imra Ardeen and R.J. Brande come on board. Garth gets excited seeing Imra (“What a dish!”) and Rokk gets excited seeing a guy who has a lot of money. You get the sense that Rokk probably comes from a lower-than-middle-class family on Braal. That’s supported by the fact that, years later, his mother, father and brother Pol would all be living on Earth.

As they arrive on Earth (a destination Imra is visiting we know not why—she doesn’t stop and swap particulars, as the boys did), two thugs make an attempt on Brande’s life. That is to say, they attempt to make an attempt. Imra, reading their minds, realizes they’re going to assassinate Brande, and warns Garth and Rokk in time for them to save him.

A little bit of sloppiness here: Imra has always sworn—or at least has sworn since it became useful story point—that she is pledged not to read the minds of others at random. It violates their privacy. Yet she reads these men’s minds. Did she have probably cause to do so? It’s not made clear. She shouts, “Look out! Those men are reaching for guns! They’re going to kill Mr. Brande!” Now, to be fair, maybe she saw the gesture of reaching for the guns and thought it was enough. Maybe she had a telepathic sense, which she cannot help having, of malice. Or maybe she didn’t use her telepathy at all, and just had sharper eyes than anyone else.

Still, after the assassins are nabbed, she has no compunction about pulling their motives out of their minds. It would be interesting to know the ethics of Titanian telepathy. I doubt the authors at the time gave it much more thought than the stories required, although Shooter did seem to have more in his head than he put on the pages.

Brande orders the kids to visit him the next day, and they nervously agree. At that meeting, he proposes the Legion of Super-Heroes, with Garth, Rokk and Imra as charter members. They protest they’re too young, but he tells them the tale of Superboy and Supergirl, who weren’t too young to fight for truth, justice and the American way, which one assumes evolved into the United Planets’ way. The kids agree, with Rokk rationalizing, “Well, I came to Earth to get a job! This sounds like a good one!”

Interesting point, that. It’s been mentioned once, so far, in reference to the Legion oath, that Legionnaires do not take money for their services. It’s about to be the focus of a whole story, in fact. But here, Rokk clearly assumes he’s getting paid. From what we’ve observed of him, he probably couldn’t afford to hang around if he wasn’t. So, do the Legionnaires get paid? I mean, I suppose it’s possible that Rokk’s family didn’t need money, but couldn’t afford to support him. Maybe three hots and a cot was all he came to Earth for. But I suspect that the real answer is, yes, they get a salary, and they’re pledged not to take money on top of it, like union members and public servants who are actually held to any standard of ethics.

The story takes us through the building of the clubhouse (no, it wasn’t a crashed spaceship, though that was a cute, unpublished story too), the writing of the Legion Constitution, and the inductions of Triplicate Girl and Phantom Girl, who are named by Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, respectively. (The first three were named by Brande, and their costumes designed by a firm he hired.) Interestingly, Saturn Girl proposes having all member required to continue their educations. No doubt that was a message to readers (“Stay in school, kids!”), but it’s also a perk for someone like Cosmic Boy, who probably was resigned to apprenticing a trade until now.

And there you have it. The origin, ten years later, of the largest super-hero group this side of the Avengers, and the only one to take two dozen kids into battle on a regular basis.

Roll Call: Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl (and, in cameo, Invisible Kid, Light Lass, Chameleon Boy, Brainiac 5, Shrinking Violet, Element Lad (remember him? It’s been months!), Colossal Boy, Mon-El, half of Ultra Boy, and some guy’s head. Of the five missing boys, my money’s on Star Boy.)

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