I never collected The Legion of Super-Heroes as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I liked their guest appearances and the random issues I was able to get from Keith Giffen’s run. I had an old Superboy comic my family friend gave me that had an evil impostors of the team. They impressed me in Crisis on Infinite Earth, especially Brainiac 5, and I got their post-Crisis Superman appearances but couldn’t quite wrap my head around the continuity. But I never took the plunge into their regular title. The 1990s and 2000s seemed worse, with so many reboots, spinoffs, and mini-series, and continuity problems. The Legion of Superheroes just seemed like a goliath to get into. So I decided to read their first 10 appearances to see if I like them.
001 Adventure Comics 247 (1958): What an impressive first appearance! Mere words cannot express how The Legion of Super-Heroes got over big in this issue. Granted I had read reprints, flashbacks, and Alan Moore did a great pastiche of it in Supreme but seeing it in chronological context, I could see why fans demanded them back. Although the individual powers of Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Lightning Lad seem no match for Superboy, they wound up winning three separate challenges against him to see if he could join their club in the future. Of course, they had set Superboy up to get distracted and selflessly help people which is why he “lost”. The big joke is revealed at the end and they are happy he took the humiliation like a champ (he cried). I have to tell you, The Legion of Superheroes come off as very dickish here, in typical Supermandickery style, that you really have to wonder “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” Oddly when Superboy helps teach a class from the 30th century, the professor and students are very nonchalant and don’t even ask him questions or what he is doing here. It’s like everyone is in on the gag to trick Superboy.
The 30th century is a typical DC Comics vision of the future- tech heavy and total control over nature, and for no reason, a sea monster in the ocean. Although Superboy turned the tables on the Legion at the end by demonstrating he could use their powers just as well as they could, without even using his super strength, this issue is best remembered for the advantage they had over him from the cover, splash page, and bulk of the pages. Therefore, they are seen as being very powerful friends from the future. Interesting tidbit: there was a Statue of the Unknown Spaceman dedicated to the first explorer of the planet Venus.
002 Adventure Comics 267 (1959): The LHS dickery continues as not only is the Legion against Superboy once again but so is everyone in Smallville, including Superboy’s parents, Mayor, and Krypto. Superboy’s thought bubbles do portray that he does care what everyone thinks about him and tries to overcompensate to get their attention back- not very selfless, huh? But that’s a nitpick, I will excuse Superboy because he’s a teenager who needs positive reinforcement. I can’t excuse LHS though. The whole thing is a ruse (once again) but this time it’s deadly. They were looking back into their past and saw Superboy destroy property five years from his present and assumed he turned bad. So Saturn Girl brainwashed Smallville’s residents to turn against Superboy and send him to a fake Superboy planet where he is trapped in a cage made from Krytpon in a life sentence. (Decades later after Infinite Crisis, this would not been so far fetched, but it is so offensive here.) By the way, there are dozens of intergalactic unnamed space heroes who assisted with this. Anyway, a random explosion freed Superboy and exposed the Legion starts to their deadly element, sigellian. He saves them of course and explains to them the President of the United States had ordered him to secretly dispose of those vehicles to rid them of poison gas. To make the explanation even more convoluted, he said the LHS’s Futurescope was broken and that the events had occurred in the present, not five years from now. The plot-hole is self-evident.
I have to admit, I love Silver Age DC Comics because they play out like impossible riddles and there’s not way the reader could figure out how everything will go back to the status quo. There is some magical mythology that method, even though left-brained logical pedantic geeks view these stories as literal. Heck, we can’t help it since we have “progressed” so much since then. I have to wonder if comics like these are why Baby Boomers are so messed up. What did this comic teach us? That if you are accused of being naughty, you will lose your family and status and get bullied by self-appointed police who act as judge, jury, and executioner, and you have to prove your own innocence. And, since everything reverts back to the status quo at the end, there are no consequences for the authority figure being wrong or the victim.
003 Action Comics 267 (1960): The Legion meets Supergirl by doing the same trick they did to Clark Kent in their first appearance. They pretend they are teens who had guess poor orphan Linda Lee’s dual life as Supergirl and are arrogant in the process of showing off their powers, like they are superior. But wait, this is where my head exploded. Brace yourself, because the moment the Legion explains to Supergirl who they were, I then released how messed up LSH continuity will be from this moment forward: they were the children of the original Legion who met Superboy years ago (Supergirl and Superman were active at the same time, and he had told Supergirl the story of how he first met and joined the Legion when he was Superboy from Adventure 247. So instead of having that Legion just hop into Supergirl’s timeline, DC made them entirely new characters who happened to look exactly the same as the originals and have the same code-names and powers.
HAVE YOU GONE INSANE YET? As soon as I read this, I knew it had to have been forgotten, never cited, or perhaps was the reason why there were multiple Legion of Superheroes floating around timelines and comic book titles. I mean some writer had to have tried to explain this one away, right? Right?). Anyway, this Legion has more members; Chameleon Boy, Colossal Lad, and Invisible Kid. The Legion gives Supergirl a chance to join their club, just like Superboy had, and although she also shows heroism, is disqualified on a technicality- red krypronite aged her into a woman, and the club has an age limit of 18. Supergirl is very upset that she has larger breasts now and has become a “Superwoman”. The mean, dickish, anal retentive Legion (is everyone from the 30th century so condescending?) send her back, a sobbing loser. I don’t need to get into the obvious problems with this issue.
004 Superboy 86 (1961): Lightning Lad is used as a deus ex machina to save Superboy and Krypto from getting destroyed by Lex Luthor’s intelligent krypton rocks (whom he transforms into “Krypton Men”). This issue seemed more of a way to muse why Superboy knows so many people with the initials L.L. as at the beginning he and Pa Kent discuss Lana Lang, Lex Luthor, and, yes, even Lightning Lad who later saves him. The deus ex machina is has even more repercussions because Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl (notice these are the originals because the latest additions from Supergirl are not here) were watching this on their time viewer screen and decided to save Superboy. Does this mean they could help him any time he is in danger? Why don’t they choose to help him all the time? If they don’t help, would he have died or not? Do they create a new timeline each time they come back? None of these questions are tackled. The issue ends with an ominous thought from Lex Luthor, now that he knows of the existence of the Legion- he says there must be a Legion of Super-Villains in the 30th century.
005 Adventure Comics 282 (1961): We meet a new member of the Legion of Superheroes: Star Boy! He got his powers from a comet’s tail and has all of Superboy’s powers PLUS electric vision. In the flashback scene of him joining the Legion, we see Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Lightning “Boy” [sic– his name was mistakenly written like that], Chameleon Boy, and the backs of two heads- which have the same haircuts as Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad. So I am not sure if those are their parents or generic members we have no seen yet. They do not even have name on the desk like everyone else. Showing Chameleon Boy instead of Cosmic Boy means that this was Supergirl’s Legion. As far as the actual story goes, it is all about Lana Lang’s unrequited crush on Superboy. She extorts Star Boy into playing along with her to act like her boyfriend to get Superboy’s attention. Superboy not only ignores her, but pretends to date a girl from the future on Star Boy’s homeworld to make her jealous. Again, I feel sorry for the Baby Boomers who were raised on these comics when it comes to gender role expectations.
006 Action Comics 276 (1961): Once again, The Legion tricks Supergirl into thinking someone has exposed her secret identity as Linda Lee. Turns out it is Saturn Girl and she brings two super girlfriends for Supergirl to play with- Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl. It is confirmed that they inherited their powers from their parents. Saturn Girl offers Supergirl another chance to join the Legion, since they get one recruit once a year with a test. One in the 30th century Metropolis, Cosmic Boy reveals that they changed the rules to allow one boy and one girl to become members. She has to compete against Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Sun Boy, and a surprise- Brainiac 5.
Brainiac 5 says he is the great-great-great grandson of Superman’s foulest foe. He begs her not to hate him for his ancestor’s crimes. He also relates the death of Brainiac to Supergirl- he and his pet Koko were killed in a battle with Superman when Brainaic tried to shrink Earth. During the Legion tryouts, Brainiac-5 saves Supergirl from a kryptonite meteor by giving her a force shield making her immune (it gets destroyed at the end). She observes that he could have been killed and he said he would gladly sacrifice himself to save her to atone for his the original Brainiac. She muses that he is sweet! They both are inducted into the Legion together and he asks her to “be his girl” and to stay in the 30th century. She sadly goes home but view him as a long distance boyfriend. What a heart-wrencher! I really dug this story. Perhaps DC was right to have her rejected the first time to build up a momentum occasion such as this one. I guess I should have more faith. Stories like this are much better than Lana Lang’s jealous/rage games with Superboy.
007 Superman 147 (1961): The cover to this issue in a homage to Adventure 247. It’s amazing how it’s only been around 4 years later yet already the Legion has iconic scenes. This comic is also a continuation of sorts from Superboy 86, where a young Luthor hypothesized that there must be a Legion of Super-Villains. It also marks the first appearance of the adult Legion- they are now called Saturn Woman, Lightning Man, et al. Luthor gets the Legion of Super-Villains to break him out of prison and they team up to defeat Superman. Yes, this also marks the first meeting between SuperMAN and the Legion (hope you are still with me). The LSV is the opposite of the LSH: it consists of Cosmic King, Lightning Lord, and Saturn Queen. Lightning Lord is the brother of Lightning Man, and they both had received their powers at the same time when they were lads. Cosmic King is by far the most powerful- he could transmute elements, i.e. convert anything into gold or kryptonite (Cosmic King > Cosmic Man). Saturn Queen is a natural thought controller/reader just like Saturn Woman.
The adult Legion comes from their time period to save the day, but Superman is held hostage so Saturn Woman is willing to trade her life for his. Superman manages to trick Saturn Woman into turning good by making a new version of Saturn’s rings around them. They block all criminal thoughts from Saturn natives. Saturn Woman therefore becomes the heroine, and all the villains are sent to prison. All in all, it was a good story and it really seemed like the bad guys won for once, but it was short-lived. The mini-battle royal was short (two panels!), but great to imagine a longer battle in a future comic book era. Now for the bad news: 1) the comic constantly says that the LSV come from the 21st century, just like the Legion does, except we all know it’s been the 30th century from every other issue; 2) We now have seen three different Legion of Superheroes: the original teens who met Superboy, their children who met Supergirl while Superman was active, and the adult versions of the original teens; 3) Lightning Lord has white hair and look old, although his brother does not look older as an adult from his teenage years.
008 Adventure Comics 290 (1961): 30th century “Sunboy” travels back to ask Superboy to assemble parks of a super-weapon which the Legion hid in different parts of the world. It turns out that Sunboy is an impostor criminal. The fake Sunboy knew Clark Kent was Superboy due to overhearing the Legion talking, which contradicted Clark’s identity being publicly known in museums and schools in the 30th century. Superboy figures it out based on Sunboy not using the “secret handshake”, but it should be noted Superboy acted coldly to him from when they first met and he told him to close the time machine door. The Legion members were the ones from Supergirl- the children of the original Legion but Superboy does not act like they are different at the end. Therefore, this is the first issue where that version of the Legion must have been a mistake, i.e. there is only an adult Legion and a teenage Legion. Another notable thing about the passage of time is that Sunboy had passed the yearly Legion test, meaning yet another year has passed since their first appearance. So far four tests have been mentioned, which matches the real time years since their first appearance. The Legion comes off once again obsessed with the 20th century- why would they have hid all the parts of the weapon (a robot) in one time period?
009 Superman 149 (1961): Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl pay respects to Superman at his funeral in the greatest imaginary tale of all time. Lex Luthor had triumphed. Obviously, there are imaginary versions (from a different earth) of the Legion. I am not sure if they shown as teens or adults, however.
010 Action Comics 285 (1962): In one of the most historical and joyfully tearful comic books of all time, Superman reveals Supergirl to the world and she is celebrated throughout the universe. He then leaves her to defend it and she requests help from her friend Brainiac-5 from the 30th century. He sends back instructions to make a miniature ray to defeat the Infinite Monster. The Legion always knew she would be a public figure in 1962.
The early appearances of Legion of the Super-Heroes are fun. I can imagine kids from the early 1960s fantasizing about being in their super-hero club- all you had to do was imagine what your one super power was. The continuity and timelines are a mess (the 21st century was no one-off typo), but the stories are entertaining. I actually read the first 29 appearances but it is taking too long to write them up. More heroes are introduced and the Legionnaires got their own “Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes” backup. They finally used all of the Legionnaires instead of the main three and a couple of others (although Star Boy was forgotten). The recruitment drives no longer seemed to be annual- they could be done at any time and the one-male, one-female rule was just for Supergirl.