Just for fun, I’ve decided to rank the Silver Age Legion of Super Heroes. This is my list, so if you disagree, please create your own. I’d love to see it.

 

Here are the guidelines I’ve set for myself for this list:

 

  • The Silver Age ends in 1968—the end of 1968
  • Only active, full-time Legionnaires are being considered. No Subs, Reservists or Honorary members, and nobody that was a member for one story but was expelled afterwards.
  • Rankings will be based on each character’s potential and actual contributions to the team. It’s entirely possible that a character I think is pretty awesome is ranked pretty low—or vice versa.

 

Characters will be ranked in several areas:

 

  • Intangibles – what, beyond their powers and abilities, did they bring to the team? For instance, if a character helped significantly boost morale, made a major scientific contribution or brought great leadership, that character would likely get extra points.
  • Perceived Value – Looking at the character’s powers and abilities, what should they bring to the table for the team.
  • Actual Value – Looking at the stories, what did those characters actually do with their powers and abilities? What contributions did they make?

 

I’ll tell you all right now, there are gonna be some surprises.

 

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Not quite.

Steve W said:

Ok, it's day two, so I'm sticking my neck out and I'm gonna suggest it's Mon-El.

2. Superboy

 

Intangibles – 6 – Inspired the Legion

 

Perceived Value – 10 – I think you’d have to expect great things from the last son of Krypton.

 

Actual Value – 9 – This really isn’t his fault. Frequently he had to be either sidelined or neutralized in a story for it to last longer than a page or two. Because of this, he generally didn’t have quite the impact for the team that you’d expect.

 

Total: 25

 

 

 

 

3. Cosmic Boy

 

Intangibles – 7 – Founded and led the Legion

 

Perceived Value – 9 – Having control over magnetism is extremely useful, especially if one uses one’s imagination.

 

Actual Value – 9 – I would have to say that he performed his Legion duties to the best of his ability—not to mention sympathy points for that abomination of a costume he wore in the 70’s (just kidding on that last one).

 

Total: 25

4. Chameleon Boy

 

Intangibles – 6 – Led the Legion Espionage Squad

 

Perceived Value – 9 – Having a shape-changer on the team, especially one like Reep is decidedly a large advantage.

 

Actual Value – 10 – Reep usually seemed to be in the midst of all of the Legion’s adventures, whether in the forefront or working undercover. He performed his duties well and efficiently.

 

Total: 25

Since Mon-El was the Li'l Capn's favorite, I'm going to to pretend  he ranks higher than Chameleon Boy, if that's all right.

You're right that Kal-El was sidelined a lot. On the other hand, he was in the vast majority of Silver Age stories, so he was available to be sidelined. He should get points for participation and promptness, given that most Legionnaires showed up on a more spotty basis or almost never, and he had a much more difficult commute! (I'm looking at you, Chemical King.) So he's definitely at least #2, and I'm sure you can find some people who'd argue #1. He was the inspiration for the team, after all (until 1986, which is outside your parameters).

That being said, Saturn Girl deserves the #1 spot by my lights. She'd have been my first pick, too. 

Superboy definitely showed up; no question about that. However the Legion's foes were generally ready for him (and Supergirl, Mon-El and Ultra Boy) or the situation negated his powers or for some other reason he was largely ineffective. That's why he and some other heavy hitters aren't ranked higher. That being said, when I started my rankings I expected to see him higher as well.

Once again I would love to see lists from other people. I do not consider my list to be the final word on the matter--nor do I want to.
Throughout the Silver Age I wished that we would see more of the Legion and less of Superboy. The Legionnaires were interesting and Superboy had his own comic book, as well as his appearances as Superman. Adventure Comics too often seemed like a Superboy title and the Legion were supporting characters. Eventually we did get to see the Legion without Superboy, especially after Crisis wiped out Superboy. Like a lot of things be careful what you wish for. There have been many wonderful Legion stories over the years and this may be nostalgia talking, but the Legion has never been quite "right" to me without Superboy. He really is the "heart" of the Legion. He, along with Supergirl, was the inspiration for their formation, and somehow, despite retcons, it still shows.

I don't think saying this diminishes the Legion in any way, but for me the Legion works best as a part of the Superman Family. Of course, many times he had to be sidelined or otherwise the story would be over by the second panel. Looking back, it was fun to see Superboy just hanging out with other super characters and just enjoying his friends, something he really couldn't do in

I had much the same experience, Dave. I wanted to see more of the Legion because some of them had genuinely interesting powers, and I wanted to see some clever use of them. Again, Chemical King leaps to mind here. Also Element Lad. If only John Broome had written the Legion ...

Also, the presence of Superboy made Mon-El superfluous, so he was often "on a space mission" or some such. That's probably the origin of my enthusiasm for the character, that he was an underdog of sorts, only able to show his stuff when the spotlight-hogging Teen of Steel wasn't around. Or maybe I just liked the costume.

Anyway, as you say, we got what we thought we wanted with Crisis, only to discover that the Legion without Superboy just felt "off." They were like a phantom limb of the Superman Family.

Just a quick note regarding under-utilized Legionnaires like Chemical King and Element Lad, I'm not going to hold their lack of use against them.  It's all about what they did when they were used.

Moving on:

5. Supergirl

 

Intangibles – 5 – Despite all she brought to the team, I don’t really feel like she brought anything particularly noteworthy beyond her powers and abilities.

 

Perceived Value – 10 – Kryptonian and everything that comes with it.

 

Actual Value – 9 – Suffered from a lot of the same lack of effectiveness as Superboy, although I think to a slightly lesser degree. Once again, not her fault, but I’m working with what’s in the stories.

 

Total: 24

6. Mon-El

 

Intangibles – 5 – Beyond being ridiculously powerful otherwise, at least in the Silver Age he didn’t bring much else to the team.

 

Perceived Value – 10 – Daxamite and everything that comes with it.

 

Actual Value – 9 – Superboy syndrome strikes again. In his case, it was much more the “Mon-El is out in space on a mission” sort of thing, but even when he was used in a story, he generally wasn’t very effective, which was kind of surprising as I’m imagining his weaknesses were generally less well known than that of Kryptonians.

 

Total: 24

7. Element Lad

Intangibles – 5 – He brought himself, and really that’s enough.

Perceived Value – 10 – Having someone on your team that can change any object into another object should be an exceptionally useful power.

Actual Value – 8 –  I suppose that rather than “Superboy Syndrome” I could call this “Flash Syndrome”. I’m sure it wasn’t easy using EL in a story without figuring out a way he wouldn’t end it in a single panel. Hence, he wasn’t used often, and rarely in a story with serious stakes. What he did bring was pretty good, but he rarely got the chance.

Total: 23

And now for a question: was an upper limit ever established of how much matter Jan could actually convert at one time? Part of the reason I’m asking is the story where Superboy and Supergirl were forced to quit the Legion because of the Green Kryptonite dust surrounding Earth that Color Kid eventually turned into Blue Kryptonite. Why couldn’t Element Lad have turned into, say, helium or hydrogen or some harmless gas? And is Color Kid really that powerful that he can change all of that Kryptonite in such a quick fashion? Seriously, just how powerful was Color Kid? That’s a lot of mass to change the composition by changing it’s color.

Randy Jackson said:

And now for a question: was an upper limit ever established of how much matter Jan could actually convert at one time? Part of the reason I’m asking is the story where Superboy and Supergirl were forced to quit the Legion because of the Green Kryptonite dust surrounding Earth that Color Kid eventually turned into Blue Kryptonite. Why couldn’t Element Lad have turned into, say, helium or hydrogen or some harmless gas? And is Color Kid really that powerful that he can change all of that Kryptonite in such a quick fashion? Seriously, just how powerful was Color Kid? That’s a lot of mass to change the composition by changing it’s color.

You're so close to the money, Randy, that I suspect you read the story that answers your question, and just the details elude you.

It was Adventure Comics #350 where the kryptonite cloud encircled Earth, and with Superboy and Brainiac Five watching, various Legionnaires tried their powers against the cloud. It wasn't Element Lad, but Cosmic Boy, who found his powers inadequate for the task at hand.

"I flopped," thought Cosmic Boy. "My power isn't great enough for a titanic job like this. Earth's field is too strong."

Lightning Lad and Sun Boy also tried their hand with no results.

"My most powerful bolts have no effect on this confounded cloud," says Lightning Lad.

"I'm projecting the heat of an exploding supernova," says Sun Boy "the hottest thing in the universe -- but this green K is completely heat resistant!"

None of that makes much sense -- green K is lightning and heat resistant? Tell that to Superman, and all the times he destroyed green K with his heat vision!

But then the Legion brought out its (seldom used) big gun: Element Lad.

"I'll use my element-changing power to turn the kryptonite into harmless helium gas," he thought. "But wait! I never expected this! Suddenly the dust is sparkling like a fireworks display!"

Two panels later, Brainiac Five delivers the bad news.

"Your hunch was right, Element Lad," he says. "If you'd used any more power on the green K dust, you would have caused a chain reaction that could destroy Earth!"

So the plot called for the most powerful Legionnaires to fail, but for Color Kid to succeed.

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