The Grand Comic Book Database credits Hamilton and Forte with bringing us an ambitious adventure—a tale of time-travel, war, young love, betrayal and the origins of three civilizations. And, along the way, the Legion will divide into opposing camps and fight a war against each other. That couldn’t happen, you say? Well, it did happen, right here in these pages. That makes no sense, you say?
Well, ya got me there. It makes not one damn bit of sense. But, hey, did I mention it was ambitious? And, look, Lightning Lad has his real right arm on the cover, and his robot arm on the story inside. Maybe if we think really hard about that, we won’t think too hard about how idiotically the Legionnaires are behaving in this story.
Here’s what happens: Phantom Girl finds an artifact buried in a mountain in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Superboy and Light Lass unearth it, and find it’s a plaque, written in Kryptonese, commemorating the war between Krypton and Earth. Carbon dating shows it’s from “Millions of years ago!” Pretty surprising, and probably not at all shocking to a young reader in 1965. Decades later, most readers would be aware that there were strong factions on either side of the question of whether the Earth was that old, or only 6,000 years old.
Of course, neither Earth history nor Kryptonian history records such a war; so the Legionnaires, urged on by Superboy, decide to us time bubbles to go back and find out what happened. Saturn Girl leads a team to ancient Krypton, Brainiac 5 to prehistoric Earth.
Turns out that Krypton at that time was in the midst of an anti-science backlash, and Superboy’s relative (but—SPOILER!—probably not his ancestor) Zat-El leads a group of scientists who want to flee persecution and go to Earth, that being where El family legend has it all the cool kids hang out. Again at Superboy’s urging, the Legion pitches in and helps Zat-El’s people prepare for their journey, including helping them wrangle the “tame lizards” whom the Kryptonians want to bring to the virgin planet Earth.
Yep, according to this story, the Legion and the Kryptonians introduced dinosaurs to Earth. A bold suggestion, and one which also dates this story at about 230 Million Years before Superboy’s time.
Does the Legion have any qualms about helping the Kryptonians and possibly changing history this way? Apparently not. And it only gets worse from here. But first, we get to trip over a huge scientific inaccuracy. Superboy is shocked when the colonists arrive in the Sol system and discover that Earth is orbiting a red sun. Lightning Lad reflects that, “Young suns are often red and turn yellow as they get older.”
So, Garth, did you always suck in astronomy class, or is that robot arm screwed in too tight and applying pressure on your brain? ‘Cause stars don’t turn red until late in life, during their red giant phase. On the science front, though, Brainiac 5 correctly states that there were “no men on Earth” in the time they’re visiting. As far as we know, that’s true. The earliest fossils suggesting the existence of modern humans are 200,000 years old. Even our primitive ancestors are believed not to have appeared until 6 million years ago. So, the Legion arriving at the time the dinosaurs showed up means they’re well ahead of humanity. Of course, they’re also most likely arriving before Pangaea, the supercontinent, split up. Since its existence was first proposed in 1912, the writer is not off the hook for missing that detail.
We learn that Atlantis was a colony of the world of Vruun, an apparently long-gone world which the Legionnaires are nonetheless required to learn the language of? I suppose the reason being that there are still colonies which speak derivatives of that language. Lori Lemaris’s distant ancestor is there to provide us a touchstone, though whether this Atlantis has any place in Aquaman’s history, I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know.
And then the war starts. Oboy…
The war is forced and patently idiotic. Like all wars, yes, but still, it’s unbelievable. The Atlanteans demand the Kryptonians leave. The Kryptonians demand the Atlanteans leave. Like the whole planet Earth isn’t big enough for two city-sized colonies from other worlds. And the Legionnaires take sides! No one says, “Hey, let’s find a peaceful solution!”
Nor does anyone ask the question about indigenous peoples. No, humanity hadn’t shown up yet, but they were going to, and then it would be their world. Maybe it was assumed that one or both of the colonies were actually humanity’s ancestors? If so, it was never discussed. No, the Legion is more concerned with making sure this silly war is fought humanely. The Atlanteans demonstrate their “shock guns,” and Brainiac 5 thinks, “We couldn’t aid them if they used deadly weapons… it’s against our code.”
You mean taking sides in a pointless and stupid war 230 Million years in the past is okay by your code, Brainy? Kudos to Saturn Girl, at least, for observing that the war needs to be stopped when it looks like it might hurt someone. Gee, ya think? War is bad for people’s health? Who knew?
Lori Lemaris’s ancestor gets the award for most embarrassing line, to Superboy: “Please prevent this catastrophe… for me!” she says as a nuclear missile is headed for her city. For you? Not for, like, all the people who are about to die? Yeeesh.
Fortunately, Mon-El stops the war before it (literally) goes nuclear, and Brainy discovers that the Atlanteans can’t breathe Earth’s air long-term. So Star Boy makes Atlantis super-heavy and sinks it into the sea (I can’t… I can’t even…) and suddenly the Earth is big enough for the two of them… even though they’re still taking up exactly the same amount of real estate.
I mentioned the credits at the top. I did so because I think there’s still room for dispute. Comics.org notes that they had originally credited this story to Siegel, but DC Comics assigns it to Hamilton. I think there’s a lot of reason to believe Siegel had a hand in this. For one, it plays fast and loose with time travel, which is one of his glaring signatures. For another, it’s grounded in Krypton and Superboy, which Siegel’s stories about the Legion usually were. It even sort-of guest-stars a Superman supporting character. And the science in it is bad, bad, bad. When English major Denny O’Neill (or was it Mike Friederich?) used the, “Earth’s sun used to be red” gag in JLA years later, I was not surprised. But for a real SF writer to do it is pretty much sacrilege.
In fact, the only suggestion I see that Hamilton had a hand in this story is that it refers to “flying rings,” instead of “flight rings.” His previous script, which came right after Siegel introduced the “flight rings” in the Bizarro story, also used this slightly different term.
Maybe they collaborated? I’d be interested to hear more arguments, or any evidence from comics historians. Either way, this is a fun story for imaginative adventure, but a dog for plot and accuracy.
Roll Call: Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl, Brainiac 5, Light Lass, Star Boy, Saturn Girl, Colossal Boy, Superboy, Element Lad, Lightning Lad, Triplicate Girl, Mon-El