“Too bad the girls weren’t on the level about those romances, but who knows what the future may bring?” Element Lad’s sentiment in the last panel brings out the most significant aspect of this Legion adventure: Jerry Siegel’s stories had heart, for all the grief I give him. In this one, readers are titillated, really for the first time, with what would later become a key feature of the Legion stories—who’s in love with whom, who’s sneaking off to a romantic setting to snuggle, whose feelings for a fellow Legionnaire are going to tip the story in a different direction? After six years, it’s nice to fully recognize that a group of teen boys and girls, living and working together, are going to show an interest in each other.
We’ve seen instances already—Phantom Girl’s devotion to Ultra Boy, Star Boy’s fascination with Dream Girl, Shrinking Violet’s love at first sight with Duplicate Boy. But this is the first time we’ve seen kissing, complimenting, and all out canoodling on a big scale, as the girls, mind-controlled by an alien queen, seduce the boys in order to lead them to their deaths.
Around this time in popular entertainment, the battle of the sexes was fair game for a good story. Betty Friedan had just published The Feminine Mystique, Gloria Steinham had just donned bunny ears to do an expose of the Playboy Club, and second wave feminism had been born. Women’s struggle for equality was in the news, and TV, movie and comic book writers were happy to be topical.
But middle-aged male Jerry Siegel wasn’t exactly down with it, from a modern perspective. As our story opens, Saturn Girl calls in her female colleagues and tells them it’s time to begin “Operation Betrayal.”
Skinny little Light Lass, who let us not forget has recently been mistaken for a boy, is using her “Cellular Trim-Ray” when she gets the call. “Shedding those excess pounds will have to wait,” she reflects. Excess pounds? Does the Legion have a therapist, ’cause, damn, this young woman has some body image issues. And, if there’s a magic device that shaves off excess pounds safely, why doesn’t Chuck Taine own one?
BTW, Light Lass’s new emblem is finally visible in this issue—it’s a cloud, not the feather we later became accustomed to. It looks a bit silly, if I’m honest. Good thing it was changed.
The female Legionnaires, at Saturn Girl’s direction, pick male Legionnaires to target and destroy. Triplicate Girl picks three of them, since she can split into three people, but then she agrees to “share” with Shrinking Violet. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, they being only six female Legionnaires and 13 male ones. They don’t need to “share.” Anyway, the girls lead the boys off to their respective dooms, pretty much all of them doing so in and around a carnival they’re all attending. The only really noteworthy scenes here are Saturn Girl’s seduction of Superboy, who thinks to himself that he’d better respond because it would be ungallant not to, and Light Lass’s interlude with Element Lad. It’s been noted elsewhere by fans that Element Lad, who was consider by fans decades ago to be the first gay Legionnaire, is uncomfortable in this scene, because romancing girls doesn’t leave him in his element.
But he does seem to warm up to Light Lass, and he does express regret, at the end of the story, that their romance wasn’t real. I’ll leave it alone other than pointing out again that he was enamored of the one female Legionnaire who had a history of being mistaken for a boy.
The story does no good for gender equality. The girls are being mind-controlled by the queen of the planet Femnaz, where males were long ago banished for mansplaining science to their betters. Femnaz? Wow, and here I thought Millennials had invented the term “Feminazi!” Or at least Rush Limbaugh did. But maybe this a portmanteau of “Feminine Amazons” — which is kind of a silly construction. It’s also odd that they make a point of saying that they brainwashed all the others with simple hypnosis, but that they had to use an edit of Superboy’s recorded voice to control Supergirl. Um… why?
The Femnazians learn the error of their ways when the boy Legionnaires save them from their own folly, which is by the way the same danger the mansplainers were warning of. So the Femnazians recent hating men, and remove their mind-control. The girl Legionnaires fly off and save the boys they had left to die. We assume they all made it back to them in time. Be awkward if they didn’t.
Still, it’s important to remember the significance the Legion has in the development of super-heroines. At six female vs. 13 male, they’re nowhere near equality, but they’re doing better than most groups of the time, which had only a single female member: Justice League, Doom Patrol, Fantastic Four, Metal Men. The Avengers wouldn’t have more than one female member at a time until around 1966, when the Wasp and the Scarlet Witch became active at the same time. The Justice Society even made their token female member—Wonder Woman—their secretary, at least until 1948 when Black Canary joined, and the two worked together. But, 20 years later, Wonder Woman had to drop out of the JLA to make room for Canary.
There’s a roll call again this issue, but it lists only 15 Legionnaires. All 19 appear in the story.
“Until you starve to death?” The guy can transform elements, dear.