LEGION LOVED AND LOST- PART I: HARDY BOYS IN THE 30TH CENTURY"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
...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
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
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
Stay Tuned to this column next month for 'The Legion Loved and Lost'
Part 2: "Jiggly Chicks and Screwing Continuity!"
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