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by: Max Burbank

1994 was a year of difficult transitions for me. I was thirty-two. I got married, had a lovely honeymoon on Prince Edward Island and returned to a job I hated, a brand spankin' new condo mortgage and an empty bank account. The wife and I wanted a for real house someday soon and kids to play in it, preferably ours. She was about to start Grad school and I'd been offered the job of supervisor at the job I hated, which paid more, but pretty much placed me squarely in lower management. I'd have to enforce policies I loathed and document the infractions of folks I'd been working with.

In First Corinthians, Paul says...

..."When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." Of course in context, Paul's talking about the clearer perception one will achieve upon death, not agreeing to wear a tie to work and snitch on your pals, but it's basically the same deal.

I sucked it up. I put away childish things.

The Legion of Superheroes were entering their fourth continuity reboot in less than a decade. And for the first time since I was seven years old, I refused to follow the story. Didn't buy the new book, didn't find out if in this new continuity the same Legionnaire's got married or died valiantly or grew up to be battle scared Lesbians…

I let them go.

It's going to take two installments of my "Hey Dork" column to consider the Legion. Why? Because their story is older than I am by four years. They made their first endearingly goofy appearance in Adventure Comics in 1958. The three founding members you meet had their names printed right on their chests, like some cheesy ass, Nineteen Seventies vinyl Halloween costume! They had badges on their shoulders that said "Superhero Club"!

The three super teens from the future spend the entire issue screwing with Superboy's head in what turns out to be a bizarre hazing ritual to initiate him into their 'Legion', and end up giving him a medal that says 'Superhero Number One"! As God is my witness, I am not making this up! Apparently, 1958 was the year for DC characters to wear wordy medals on their chests. Just seven months later, Bizarro made his first appearance.

I had to do some serious backtracking to figure out all the shit the Legion had been up to. They hit the stands in '58; I started reading comics in '69. Luckily for me, DC always had a glad hand with reprints, filling the back pages of their "80 page Giants" for only a quarter, and later their "100 page Giants" for only a dollar. Since they paid no residuals to their writers and artists it didn't cost them a dime, and the geeky pre acne crowd ate it up. I got the history of future in bits and pieces, and that made me a more rabid fan than ever. There were all sorts of veiled references to past tragedy! Who the hell was Ferro Lad and what killed him? Was Timber Wolf a robot or a man? Duo Damsel used to be Triplicate Girl and now she didn't want to talk about it? HELLO?! Screw her, I wanted to talk about it! You kids today, you just Google info from some fan site or if your parents are free and easy with allowance or leave their credit cards lying around, you can order back issues. Not me, baby. I had to wonder and salivate. I'm not proud of the salivating. I'm just being honest. My therapist says it's the only way to heal.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. This isn't a Legion History article. There are excellent shrines to obsessive-compulsive disorder that do that far better than I ever could. You can check this one out to get the flavor...

Though it only takes you through 1968, or if you're the kind of guy (let's face it, if any girls are this into the Legion, they're smart enough to hide it) who has to turn all the knobs on his stove to off, count to nineteen, leave the kitchen, come back in and repeat the procedure nineteen times and you think Star Trek continuity is mind numbingly simple, try this site. It's either the Eight Wonder of the Modern World or a cry for help so loud it makes God's ears bleed.

No, this column is about what made the Legion of Superhero's (Or "Legion of Stupid Queeroes" as I called them, cementing my reputation as the Oscar Wilde of Franklin Elementary second grade) one of the greatest comic mags ever.

LSH had it all over the years. In many ways they were the most sublimely idiotic comic on the rack. And yet they introduced multiple tropes that have been used ever since. Their code names and unpronounceable real names would have made Rob Liefeld blush. And, like all good futurism, the thirty six years of continuity I followed did a much better job of reflecting the hopes, dreams and fears of the times in which they were written than predicting anything that might ever happen.

I took to the LSH the moment I stumbled upon them. What seven-year-old boy wouldn't? They were a club. I knew all about clubs. Kids at my school formed them all the time, with one of the defining features being me not allowed to join. But if I lived in the Thirtieth Century and had a unique super power (One of the Legion's Iron clad rules for no reason was that NO SUPER POWERS BE DUPLICATED! Sorry ESP Urchin, Saturn Girl can already read minds!) the Legion would let me join for sure! How did I know? Simple. The Legion of Superheroes was the nerdiest dork fest this side of chess club.

They were teenagers and yet they had a clubhouse! A CLUBHOUSE, for God's sake! My teenage cousin (The only teenager I knew) didn't have a 'clubhouse', unless you count the dumpster behind Kappy's Package store, where they paid winos their collective allowance to buy a sixpack of Genesee Cream Ale and give them one bottle to split. Me and my looser friends, we had a clubhouse. The LSH was a bright yellow 1950's style rocket ship with red fins turned upside down and shoved into the ground.

They met there to take roll call, recount Heroic Missions and audition new members. Our clubhouse was made of cast off lumber scraps from a local construction site and featured a lot of exposed rusty nails. WE met there to hide from bullies and pray that one day we'd have a Playboy to look at.

And the Legionnaire's were all swell. You have to understand, I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts where the Sixties didn't happen. We just stayed in the late Fifties until 1977 when Saturday Night Fever came out and most of the town said 'All right, I guess we can do that' and rejoined pop culture. I grew up in a town where you could get a Hardy Boys book out of the school library, pass it around amongst your pals and never once think of how relentlessly gay it was.

My family did the sixties. My folks listened to Dylan and the Beatles, held one or two Peacenik fundraisers. I had some black light posters and really long hair. But, see, we were the only ones doing it. A major reason I couldn't get into any schoolyard clubs I didn't form myself. I secretly longed to be skipping the sixties like every other kid I knew, but my folks wouldn't allow it. They'd both gone to Swarthmore.

I think a whole lot of kids must have skipped the sixties, 'cause the LSH was a very popular book and it was a complete rejection of everything counterculture. Question authority? My ass! The Legion was Boyscouts and campfiregirls with flight rings! They were squeaky clean, law abidin' short haired, neat-o kids who's hormonal drives were totally satisfied by thinking about holding hands, and they had SUPER POWERS! If anyone in my school got, say, heat vision, they'd just use it to climb to the top of the Darwinian Recess heap, Roasting every ass they had to along the way. The LSH were everything I longed to be; mighty yet nice. Man, after I got me some powers and a haircut, they'd have LOVED me!

Need proof they'd have signed me up? Jim Shooter published his first LSH story at age THIRTEEN!

Look at those acne scars! Can you imagine what this poor bastard looked like at Thirteen?! If he could sell a Legion story to DC, certainly I could join the Legion. Except that it was in the future. And not… you know… real or anything.

SIDEBAR! Jim shooter deserves a column all his own. His meteoric path from boy genius to head of Marvel to getting fired to founding three, count them, three failing independent comic companies, is well worth telling. Plus, he is a creepy looking dude.

Why was the Legion so intriguing? After all, Stupid was its strong suit. It was stupid in spades, it was the event horizon of a stupid so stupid it seemed as if nothing stupid could escape it. Doubt me?

LEGION ROLL CALL!! Superboy, Cosmic Boy, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy, Star Boy, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Bouncing Boy, Supergirl, Saturn Girl, Dream Girl, Phantom Girl, Invisible Kid, Karate Kid, Light Lass, Shadow Lass, Lightning Lad, Element Lad, Ferro Lad, Matter-Eater Lad-

Matter-Eater Lad? MATTER-EATER LAD? All those boy, girl, lad, kid and lass surnames weren't stupid enough, we gotta get ourselves a MATTER-EATER LAD?!

Okay, see, Matter Eater Lad, or Denzil Kem (his real name) is from the Planet Bismoll. As in Pepto Bismoll. Get it?

"Over a period of eons, microbes on that world made all food poisonous. As a result, evolution there transformed the inhabitants so that they could eat anything - glass, metal, chemicals, etc. - without being harmed in the least!"
- Adventure Comics #316, 1962

Someone threatening the Legion with a ray gun? No sweat, Matter-Eater lad will eat it! Legion trapped in a Kryptonite prison even Superboy can't bash his way out of? No Problemo! Matter-Eater Lad will snack their way to freedom! Dream Girl assaulted by a Khundian crush machine masquerading as her Unitard?! OH BOY!!!

I masturbated countless times thinking about Dream Girl.
Or I would have if I'd known how.

This is in your face, Shatner-esque, genius level stupidity we're talking about here! And while Matter-Eater Lad (I just love even writing that) was the epitome of Legion Stupidity...

click to enlarge

...(unless you'd like to argue he was less stupid than the Legion of Super Pets) he was far from alone. Bouncing boy (Chuck Taine) could get really… well, fat. And in his fat form he could bounce good. Like a giant Super ball. Duo Damsel (Luornu Durgo) was this chick that could split into two people. She used to be triplicate girl, but one of her selves got killed by Computo, the mad sentient computer built by Legionaire Braniac Five, who's distant ancestor was Superman villain Braniac. Now turning into two (or three) people is a great super power for a highly paid Super Escort, but in a fight with the Fatal Five? 'Cause there's, like, FIVE of them!

But despite this stupidity, or perhaps because of it, the LSH also created some serious comic book cliché's. And the first time a cliché comes along isn't cliché at all, it's brilliant, otherwise it wouldn't have become cliché. Sure everybody and their cousin in the long john masked vigilant trade is all brooding and dark these days, but that doesn't mean "The Dark Knight Returns" wasn't awesome.

LSH had a hat a hat trick with Ferro Lad.

I masturbated countless times thinking about Ferro Lad.
No, I'm just kidding. Or… AM I?!?

Before Ben Grimm, before Dr. Doom, Ferro Lad was hideously ugly and had a huge chip on his shoulder about it. That's one. Two? He was pretty much created to die! And who created Ferro Lad? Thirteen year old Jim Shooter, who also drew the issue, Adventure comics #346, July 1966. Which makes Shooter only nine years my senior, which means I may already have peaked and be well into a middle aged downward spiral! And his peak was editor in Chief at Marvel! If my bottom is correspondingly lower, someone reading this better be ready with a backhoe in about nine years. I'll wait now while you make a joke incorporating the word 'backhoe' and a reference to a deviant sex act for financial gain.

The storyline that introduced Ferro lad used another trope that's now a comic book staple, the 'traitor in our midst' plotline. Ferro Lad joined up at the same time as Princess Projectra, Nemesis Kid and Karate Kid. It soon became clear that one of them was… A TRAITOR! (HINT: The name is dead give away!) Remember Terra of the Teen Titans? Classic traitor in our midst storyline, so classic it was recently revamped for the very cool Titans cartoon with the very cool theme song by the nearly threateningly weird Puffy Ammi Yumi, who also have a cartoon about them where they are white preteens who speak perfect English instead of Japanese Barely Legals who sing English phonetically.


Okay, come November of '66, a deep space probe spots… IT! A.K.A the Sun eater, a cloud that eats suns for food and can destroy entire Galaxies! How many classic Star Trek plots does anyone want to list here? Star Trek didn't premier until September of '66, so Shooter's story had to have been finished before he ever heard Leonard Nimoy say 'Fascinating, Captain, it appears to be a creature of pure energy.' In one of eight or nine episodes. Over at Marvel, the 'House of Ideas', Galactus, devourer of worlds had first appeared, and there's every chance Shooter was, how you say… inspired? But at DC they were still pretty entrenched in a personality free, light action zone. I've said in another column that it was Denny O'niel who brought Marvel style scope to DC, but Jim shooter was in their clearing brush for Oniel's trailblazing.

One month later, Ferro lad carries an absorbatron bomb into the Sun Eater's heart...

...destroying it… and himself! His comic book lifespan had been about six months, and writers would have Legionnaire's moaning about his death at the feet of his statue for decades to come! I don't know if Shooter planned on killing him from his introduction or not, and I can't be bothered to pour through the countless pages of interviews that have been done with him to figure it out, but lets just say if you're tragic enough to wear a mask all the time, you're tragic enough to die saving the earth.

And here's my favorite image from that story arc. Superboy is originally going to carry the absorbatron bomb, but not only is he too important to the universe (since back in the past he's destined to become Super MAN), plus, he's already been weakened by the Sun Eater on account of it ate a lot of Red Suns which apparently Supes has an allergy to second only to Kryptonite. So Ferro lad pops him one in the kisser, knocks his lights out, takes the bomb and heads out to certain death. How many times have you seen THAT scene?

Now I'm not arguing that the LSH introduced all or any of these heroic cliches. You can find them in books, plays, movies, operas (if you're a big nancy wiener) all sorts of media prior to comics. But the LSH respected it's readers intelligence enough to use a language of plot generally reserved for older audiences at a time when DC comic book readers were treated as if they just graduated from Bazooka Joe.

Here's another Trope the LSH pretty much invented. A superteam getting their asses handed to them. Shadowlass unwittingly releases Mordru, a very powerful sorcerer the Legion apparently has locked up in its basement. Superboy and Mon-el (A Daxamite, a race related to Kryptonians and every bit as powerful) and a few more legionnaires… Make a run for it! Seriously, the most powerful teen heroes in the galaxy turn tale and run like hell, not just out of the general area, but back in time! I remember reading this two issue arc and thinking "Shit! These guys are scared!" What the hell scared Superboy? Well, how 'bout this?

They hid in Superboy's time, disguised themselves and licked their collective wounds. I'd never seen anything like it, and it made you give a crap. You believed these guys were in danger, and Shooter had already set the precedent that Legionnaires could die. This wasn't the Justice League or World's Finest, where if somebody got croaked you knew it was a 'hoax' or 'imaginary tale'. You'd be surprised how hard it is to give a crap about Superboy. I'll wait a moment while you try. See? Plus, it was the best work artist Curt Swan ever did for my money, and both issues had bang up covers by the master of the silver age, Neal Adams.

The LSH was a great combo platter. One moment it was just the damn stupidest book you'd ever read in your whole entire life. Dorky looking teens in tight pajamas were trying out for the Legion and looking worse than the shit you see on American Idol, all the girls were crushing on Superboy like the future was one long beach party movie, the ability to get really fat counted as a Superpower;

...and at the same time people died, people got maimed, your best friend might be a spy from a race hell bent on planetary genocide, serious god damn shit! And it was this combination that made LSH one of my most favorite comic books, because that's what my life was like as a kid. Ridiculous, because what second graders life isn't? You have no control over anything, at any moment your parents might make you wear a suit with shorts for picture day or decide dance class would be good for your coordination. But at the exact same moment, there were race riots, Jackie got a lapfull of JFK's brain, kids just the right age for the Legion could be seen coming home in boxes every night on the evening news.

I was hooked. Where Sunboy went, so would I. If Colossal Boy was up for a cosmic beer run, I'd go shotgun. And Saturn Girl was not just a stone hotty, she was mature. She'd appreciate the intricacy of my well honed Stratego game. Not give me a friggin' Indian burn like that asshole Whitney Perry.

Stay Tuned to this column next month for 'The Legion Loved and Lost' Part 2: "Jiggly Chicks and Screwing Continuity!"


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