Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Tornado Twins” (Adventure Comics #373, October, 1968)

“Can you spot the clever comic clues? Who are the Tornado Twins?”

So the cover of Adventure Comics #373 teases us. As befits their name, Dawn and Don, twin redheads with familiar super powers, take the world by storm.

We open in a 30th-Century school, where students don headsets and watch slideshows—gasp!—while awake! A busybody inspector tells their teacher that he’s setting education back a thousand years by not using “good, old-fashioned sleep learning!” Um, if it’s an old-fasioned method, how is he setting education back by not using it?

But we learn quickly that these students can’t sleep through their lessons. They’re Legionnaires and must be always on call. Sun Boy and Phantom Girl demonstrate by flying out of the classroom to deal with an emergency. Of course, the leave a lot of other students there. Who are they? Geek Squad?

So kids in the 30th Century learn by sleep-study. And we know the Legionnaires sleep. Couldn’t they just do this at night? The fact that they don’t suggests that sleep-learning doesn’t happen during the normal sleep cycle, but while students are artificially put to sleep. That’s pretty chilling, really. Not only do the kids not get the much-praised social interaction of school, teachers don’t actually have to have the skills to, well, teach. And active young minds don’t have the opportunity to actually discover the world around them. Not a pleasant vision of the future—and that’s coming from someone who quite enjoys sleeping in class.

Before the emergency call reaches them, we see Karate Kid “just passing by” Princess Projectra’s palatial apartment. She’s just brought him to the indoor swimming pool when the call comes for them to report for a mission. Poor Kid doesn’t even have the chance to lament that he didn’t bring his swimsuit (nudge nudge!) Shooter was still building the romance between these two, and doing it organically.

We check in on Element Lad, on a date with a girl named Marya. She complains that she hasn’t seen him lately. He explains that’s because “being a Legionnaire is a full-time position.” Good thing, I guess, that there’s no one around to tell Marya that, while Element Lad was not dating her, he also was not going on missions. Clearly not a Shooter favorite, Jan Arrah did not appear in the young author’s Legion run until 14 issues in, as part of “The Outlawed Legionnaires,” which featured the entire team. (He did appear in stories by E. Nelson Bridwell during that time.) He was included again in the second issue of the Mantis Morlo story, but only for a few pages as part of the team on Daxam—where he was performing the only trick Shooter seemed to think of for him: turning things to Helium. When he appeared to battle the Tornado Twins, he had been absent for nine issues. (Maybe he was giving private chemistry lessons to new recruit Condo Arlik?)

Superboy and Brainiac 5 are playing war games together, in what’s probably the longest stretch of interaction the two have ever shared. Fans of the Legion animated series would be happy, no doubt, to see these two close friends finally actually talk to each other. Hopefully the words, “And what are your intentions with my cousin?” were not uttered during this exchange.

The emergency call that pulls all of these Legionnaires away is at the United Planets Vehicle Research Center, where crooks are stealing valuable prototypes. When the Legion arrives, the Tornado Twins are there, and have already swept up the evildoers. They introduce themselves asDawn and Don Allen – astute readers probably figured out right away that they were descendents of Barry Allen, the Flash.

Back at HQ (still prosaically called, “The Clubhouse,”) Val is recovering from his humiliating encounter with Don Allen by beating the crap out of a robot. Another emergency call comes in, and the Legionnaires head for a mine where some V.I.P.s are trapped underground. The Legionnaires are attacked (and defeated) by mine robots. Jan changes one of them to (surprise!) helium, but Phantom Girl is inexplicably stunned when she puts her fist through one (this is never explained), Karate Kid gets the snot beat out of him by robots (who were no doubt drinking buddies of his workout ‘droid) and then the ceiling caves in. Superboy is felled by Kryptonite and can’t dig his friends out, so it’s left to Don and Dawn to save the Legion and the V.I.P.s. (The V.I.P.s, btw, are forgotten throughout the “rescue” sequence, and only shown at the end, thanking “Mr. Allen” and dissing his sister.

After researching their backgrounds, the Legion decides to offer the Allens membership. It’s inexplicably turned down, and then a brawl breaks out. Said brawl results in newspapers proclaiming the Legion failures as they lionize the Tornado Twins. Calls for help stop coming in to the clubhouse, and R.J. Brande even threatens to cut off the Legion’s funding.

One final emergency call rounds things up, as the Legionnaires investigate the landing of an alien ship in Central Square, and it turns out to house a giant statue of the Flash, hero from the 20th Century. The Allens reveal themselves as the Allens, and explain that everything was a setup to garner publicity for the Barry Allen Memorial Institute’s Flash Day. So presumably the Vehicle researchers, the mine owners and R.J. Brande were all in on the gag.

Win Mortimer takes his first crack at the Legion, finishing and inking Shooter’s layouts. The result is a different look—more experimental, slightly more stylized than Swan and Abel, but still solid illustrating.

Bastard People Alert? The idea that the Allens discredited the Legion to the point that distress calls stopped coming in and R.J. Brande was threatening to withdraw their funding, all in 24 hours, is hard to swallow. As is the idea that Don and Dawn behaved the way they did, just as a gag, and wrote it off with “Thanks for being good sports.” Only in the gosh-golly-gee environment of Sixties pop culture could anyone believe that Val, at least, wasn’t still hating Don Allen’s guts the next day. Plus, Kryptonite? Really, Allens? You planted Kryptonite in the mine? What if it had killed Superboy?

Finally, “Clever comic clues?” The kids come right out and give their family name. The “clue” that’s bragged about at the end is just sad. Chapter Two is titled “Those Fun-Loving Allens—Super-Heroes.” The acronym is “FLASH.” Did you get that?

No, I don’t think I’m insulting your intelligence.

Did you get it?

I bet you didn’t get it.

Roll call: Sun Boy, Phantom Girl, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Element Lad, Superboy, Brainiac 5

Firsts: Tornado Twins

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