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.
“The Five Legion Orphans” was only 12 pages long. To fill the rest of the book, one would expect that perhaps a new Superboy adventure would have been commissioned. Perhaps another outing by Otto Binder, who had given us “The Six-Legged Legionnaire” last issue. What we got, instead, was the closest Silver Age readers were going to get to an explanation of why Star Boy first appeared with powers identical to Superboy, and, when he showed up again after missing 19 Legion adventures, was suddenly equipped only to make things super heavy.
The explanation comes in a text box added to the last panel of 356’s reprint of “Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” a story written by the aforementioned Otto Binder.
A note on the Grand Comics Database entry for this reprint says that Star Boy was “partially refried from Adventure #195.” Partially refried? Like the beans?
A young man in a turban and jumpsuit shows up at Kent’s General Store, asking Clark if he can supply Superboy’s home address. Clark explains that nobody knows that, and wonders if this strangely garbed young visitor is from some foreign land. He doesn’t have time to call ICE, however, because an emergency erupts on the street outside. A live electrical cable has fallen right next to a truck full of nitroglycerine. Continue reading
I’ve already reviewed this story just recently, but that was before I started the Legion re-read. So, in addition to linking the original review of that issue of Superboy (which I had just happened to pick up at a dollar sale, if memory serves), here’s a few thoughts.
This is one of Legion co-creator Otto Binder’s few stories to be found in a Legion collection. In addition to this, he wrote only “The Sacrifice of Kid Psycho,” which I’ll be talking about in a few days, the first appearance of the Legion, “Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes” (which was really just the first appearance of Star Boy, and did not involve the Legion), and “The Six-Legged Legionaire,” again about Lana as Insect Queen. Clearly, Binder had a fondness for Lana, but he actually wrote no headline stories for the Legion. The closest he came was their first guest-shot in Superboy.
Firsts: Insect Queen
In a short-and-sweet entry from regular Superboy creators Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan, Clark Kent is surprised to see five of his pals from the future land a time sphere in the middle of Smallville. He’s the only one who’s surprised, though. Apparently, the Legionnaires have sent a message “by rocket,” alerting the townspeople of their impending visit. The Legion flag flies proudly in the town square, and a proclamation welcomes the distinguished visitors.
Shyeah, this kinda thing happened every day in my hometown in 1964. Rocketgrams, visitors from the future, what can ya do? It’s all parta bein’ small town America, amiright?
Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan create another new Legionnaire, like Mon-El, not billed as such at the outset, and, like Mon-El, slated to be one of the power-houses of the Legion. In this issue, however, he has only the power of “Pentetra-Vision,” a power broader in scope than Superboy’s X-Ray vision. Eventually, he would be shown to have all of Superboy’s powers, but only to be able to use one of them at a time. (Ironically, Star Boy, in his first appearance, had all of Superboy’s powers as well. He would trade those for a single power. As of this issue, however, Star Boy had not appeared again.)
Ultra Boy comes to Smallville with his elder friend, Marla. They wear the same red and green “action costumes” (why Marla wears a version of Ultra Boy’s costume is never explained) and report via a “cosmic scope” to a secret headquarters. Their mission: to find Superboy so that Ultra Boy can discover his secret identity. Marla reminds Ultra Boy that he’s in trouble if he fails in his mission. Oooh, these guys seem like bad news!
At the outset of this story, the reader might be fooled into thinking, “Finally! A Legion story with full participation by seven members!” The splash page, after all, shows Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Brainiac 5 and the three founders all flying into action to hide pieces of a dread weapon.
But it’s not to be. This is a Sun Boy solo story—and really not even that—in which the other Legionnaires make only cameos. They hid the weapon pieces a while back. It all begins with Tom Tanner, Clark Kent’s unknown doppelganger, escaping from reform school and hopping a train to freedom. “Freedom,” in this case, is Smallville, where he learns that he looks exactly like somebody named Clark Kent, whom everyone likes. Apparently, they like him so much that they don’t feel comfortable asking, “Clark, why are you wearing an orange suit like a prisoner would wear?” Hey, maybe they thought it was one of those crazy new fashion trends the kids were into those days.
Disclaimer: Some of these reviews may sound give the impression that I don’t actually enjoy these stories, because I point out their flaws. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I collected them, am re-reading them, and I review them because these stories and their creators have meant so much to me throughout my life. I can point out mistakes and plot points that I, as an author, would hopefully not have made. But I, as an author, have not brought to readers a fragment of the joy that these creators have. Their sheer imaginative power is nothing short of wondrous.
Robert Berstein had not written any Legion stories to date. He was the regular Superboy writer for three years, however, and co-creator, with George Papp, of Mon-El. Unlike Edmond Hamilton and Otto Binder, he did not have a science fiction pedigree, nor was he, like Jerry Siegel, a godfather of all super-hero comics. He was actually a playwright and composer, who had largely written crime and war comics before being assigned to the Superman line in 1959. He had created the Phantom Zone only two months before Mon-El’s first appearance.
The second half of Mon-El’s origin is a wonderful trip through the world of DC Silver Age comics, and the time period itself, to a certain extent. We open with Clark Kent sitting in his high school classroom. That Clark is in a sweater vest and tie is hardly surprising. That all the other boys are actually wearing suits looks pretty funny to a modern reader. What happens in the classroom has absolutely zero to do with the Mon-El story, but is worth noting simply for its humor, and as another example that Clark’s Kryptonian hormones must have been raging at this point in his life, ’cause the boy just ain’t acting normal.
This is not really a Legion story, but it is a story which introduces a Legionnaire, so it’s included in the chronology. The Legionnaire in question is Mon-El, otherwise known as Lar Gand of the planet Daxam. Daxam is apparently similar, environmentally, to Krypton, and so its inhabitants are super-powered on Earth, just as Superboy is.
I have no idea if Mon-El was created with Legion membership in mind. It seems unlikely for a couple of reasons. One, why would he be needed on a team that already includes Superboy and Supergirl? While the Legion had yet to establish a “no duplication of powers” rule, as they later would (and they would play fast and loose with it even then!), it still doesn’t make much sense to add a pseudo-Kryptonian to the lineup. Also, Mon-El gives his age as “at least 18,” which might make him too old for membership.
Legion creator Otto Binder returns with George Papp on art for another solo-Legionnaire guestappearance, this time introducing a new Legionnaire, Star Boy. The title is a misnomer, because, while we do see six other Legionnaires in this story, in cameo during a flashback, Lana only interacts with the new kid.
As she often does, Lana begins this issue bemoaning the fact that Superboy really doesn’t notice her. She, on the other hand, sleeps with pictures of him plastered all over her room, and wants only to know the joy of being his steady girlfriend. Trying to take her mind off her woes, she goes to the movies, only to see a picture in which the female lead is plotting to make her man jealous by seeing another man. Lana likes the idea, if only there were a boy in the world that could be a believable rival to her ideal, Superboy.