Deck Log Entry # 110 So, You Want to Join the Legion of Super-Heroes . . . . (Part 1)

If you were a thirtieth-century teenager applying for membership in the Legion of Super-Heroes, you had no trouble getting to the front door. Ah, but getting your foot in the door was another matter entirely.

The Legion of Super-Heroes debuted in Adventure Comics # 247 (Apr., 1958), when the three charter members of the group---Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl---time-travelled back to the 1930’s to enlist Superboy into their ranks. At the time, nothing seemed significant about this tale. This was at the beginning of the Mort Weisinger era, and a good many of the Boy of Steel’s adventures involved encounters with super-powered lads from other worlds or dimensions. Nearly all of these super-teens were one-shot, never to be seen again. They were throwaway characters, concocted to provide Superboy fans with something more flamboyant than plots involving small-time racketeers or another secret-identity-protecting gambit.

But the Legion was different. It had legs. There was something about the notion of Superboy buddying around with other teenage heroes a thousand years in the future that struck a chord with the fans. They asked to see more of the Legion, and Weisinger had no problem complying. It was easier on the writers, anyway; now, they didn’t have to keep coming up with new teen heroes every time a Superboy story called for them. And since the Legionnaires could travel through time, when Supergirl debuted in 1959, they became handy super-pals for her series.

After a dozen appearances, the Legion developed a continuity. But it was a jerry-rigged one, cobbled together from various elements thrown in by different writers of different stories in which the Legionnaires appeared. The Legion details added by one writer would sometimes contradict those established by another. Originally, Lightning Lad was called “Lightning Boy” and he generated lightning bolts by clapping his hands. Cosmic Boy possessed super-magnetic vision, given to him by “special serums”. These early differences were erased by later modifications that became the standard because they worked better.

The matter of Legion membership was another one of those things that took time to settle. Those early Superboy stories that involved the group featured only Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. Yet, three teens scarcely constituted a Legion of Super-Heroes. Gradually, new members were added to the roster. Some of the inductees were central characters in a Superboy plotline and establishing them as new Legionnaires was as convenient an excuse as anything. Others had simply been minor background figures who were “promoted” to membership when a script called for more than three Legionnaires.

Because the Legion was still in a “plot device” status, few details were given on the actual application process to join the group, or the criteria. (Except in the cases of Superboy and Supergirl, of course; their enlistments in the Legion served as the plots of the stories.) All that the readers were told was that each member of the Legion possessed one “special” super-power (and usually that was to put Superboy’s many powers in contradistinction).

The first real effort to rarefy acceptance into the Legion was a stipulation that only two members, one male and one female, would be admitted onto the team per year. (Action Comics # 276 [May, 1961]) Later this requirement was further narrowed to only one new member annually. (Adventure Comics # 290 [Nov., 1961]) Legion mavens (and they are a hardcore bunch) have attempted to account, in the Legion’s fictional history, for this tightening of the standard. The truth of the matter is, though, that it was a discrepancy created because the later writer, Robert Bernstein, hadn’t known what the earlier writer, Jerry Siegel, had wrought.

These were the kinds of headaches that had to be remedied when the Legion graduated to its own on-going series, beginning in Adventure Comics # 300 (Sep., 1962). Now, Mort Weisinger set about to create a seamless Legion mythos, just as he had with Superman, and “Ye Olde Editor” hoped that the fans had forgotten about those early contradictions.

By then, the group membership had grown to a number worthy of the name “Legion”. The official roster included every youth who had been ever shown to be a Legionnaire up to that time---a total of sixteen super-heroes! Obviously this made for some crowded stories, which the writers got around by tending to feature the same six or seven Legionnaires, while having the others appear as extras, whenever the larger team needed to be seen. Some of these lesser heroes spent a considerable amount of time in the background---it wasn’t for a year and a half after her introduction that Shrinking Violet got her first line of dialogue. (For the record, it was “Me, too!”) And, for reasons that made him inconvenient to be around, Star Boy was simply omitted, not to reappear, except once as a headshot on the membership board, until three years later.

With such an unwieldy number of regular characters, the writers were probably begging Mort not to add any more Legionnaires. On the other hand, Legion fans, captivated by the notion of a super-team composed of nothing but teenagers, were besieging DC with their own ideas for youthful heroes. So many that, starting with Adventure Comics # 307 (Apr., 1963), Mort added a “Bits of Legionnaire Business” section to the Legion Outpost letter column, featuring readers’ suggestions for new members.

So what do you do when you have a series that already contains more characters than is manageable, but the readers want more? One solution lied in a then-recent Legion story. “The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy”, from Adventure Comics # 301 (Oct., 1962), revealed how the roly-poly Chuck Taine had made the grade to become a Legionnaire. To set up that flashback, the tale began with the latest Legion membership drive. It didn’t take long to winnow down the number of eager applicants. Wealthy young Lester Spiffany tried to buy his way into the Legion and got told where he could shove his wallet. Another hopeful, calling himself Storm King, was caught using a hidden device to make it appear as if he could control the weather. A trio of Triplicate Girls gave him the bum’s rush.

It was this sequence that gave Weisinger the answer to the demand for more teen characters: don’t introduce them as new Legionnaires, but as applicants to be rejected by the Legion. That way, fresh characters could be seen, but they wouldn't be around for the long haul. Starting with Adventure Comics # 305 (Feb., 1963), stories would periodically include Legion try-outs, usually in the first couple of pages before the main plot kicked off.

Mort was able to use these cattle calls to boost reader interest in another way. Some of the suggestions for new members submitted by the readers showed up as characters seeking to join the Legion. It was a perfect use for them since, frankly, most of the proposed heroes were not that well thought out and the reasons to reject them were pretty obvious. But it didn’t matter---most of the fans were thrilled just to see their creations in four-colour print.

It was mainly through seeing these applicants shot down that the criteria for Legion membership began to emerge. Most notably, to be a Legionnaire, one had to possess a natural super-power, not one that relied upon gimmicks or technology. The story of the Legion’s first attempt to recruit Supergirl established an upper age limit for joining---eighteen years old. For another thing, the Legion was now holding try-outs so often that the old one/two-new-members-a-year restriction had apparently been abolished. (Actually, Mort and the regular series writers simply ignored that such a policy had ever existed.)

But it wasn’t until Adventure Comics # 324 (Sep., 1964) that the qualifications that made one eligible for Legion membership were codified. Many times the readers had been told that the supreme law of the Legion was its constitution and occasionally a Legionnaire would cite a snippet from it. But it wasn’t until Adventure Comics # 324-5 that the entire document was presented. The first section, right out of the gate, addressed the eligibility criteria:

To qualify for membership in the Legion of Super-Heroes, a candidate must be under the age of 18; must have at least one genuine super-power, which he or she can fully control; and must be courageous and of good character.

Next time out, we’ll look at how those three simple provisions made the Legion of Super-Heroes one of the toughest super-teams to join. That same pesky clause also meant that, once in the club, there was no guarantee that you’d stay a Legionnaire, either.

Views: 942


You need to be a member of Captain Comics to add comments!

Join Captain Comics

Comment by Eric L. Sofer on September 29, 2010 at 7:31am
"Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero" - Of course. Head smack, head smack, head smack!

So now we know the secret of the seventh super-hero - he was the thirteenth Legionnaire, not the seventh! :)

I thought I had remembered Mon-El's membership being referred to as honorary... thank you for placing it for me. I also remember he was considered to be called upon only in emergencies... because a dying, weakened super hero could really be of great use, huh? Put him and Kid Psycho on a team, that would work well. :D

And yes, it is quite some nuisance that we cannot edit our posts. Now back when I was board moderator... um, actually, back then, we were hosted on another board, so never mind my whining... :)

Comment by Commander Benson on September 28, 2010 at 9:53am
"I can accept him being either sixth or tenth pretty easily."

Actually, correcting an error I made in my count, it should be that Superboy was either the sixth regular Legionnaire or the ninth. But since we can't edit our comments here, it's just too much trouble to go back and fix it.
Comment by Philip Portelli on September 28, 2010 at 9:05am
That's for your spot-on research. I always felt that Superboy gradually became more involved with the the Legion, probably because it gave him a peer group. He wasn't the lone super-hero anymore.

I can accept him being either sixth or tenth pretty easily. Still the Legion approaching him was not their usual M.O. as they seemed to enjoy making applicants try out!

Notice how NINE Legionnaires debuted in Supergirl stories! Superboy was lucky to meet Star Boy, though that was an update to an earlier tale! Marsboy, I believe.
Comment by Commander Benson on September 28, 2010 at 8:36am
". . . [C]an 'Secret of the Seventh Legionnaire' be reconciled into your summary? (And does honorary member Mon-El fit into this list, or is his admittance later than what you've so excellently compiled here?)"

Never fear, Fogey, your head will remain squarely on its shoulders. Neither situation contradicts what I posted already.

"The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero" (which is the title I believe you meant) appeared in Adventure Comics # 290 (Nov., 1961)---and established Sun Boy's induction into the Legion. Because Adventure Comics # 290 came out after Action Comics # 276 (May, 1961)---in which Brainiac 5 and Supergirl joined the Legion---it doesn't contradict my list.

True, the character of Sun Boy was introduced in Action Comics # 276, but he was simply a candidate then and didn't make the grade on that attempt to join. In "The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero", every other Legionnaire shown had already been established as a member. Including Brainiac 5. Thus, Sun Boy was the thirteenth Legionnaire.

While we're on the subject of Action Comics # 276, there were two other applicants shown who later became Legionnaires---Shrinking Violet and Bouncing Boy. The order of their admission to the Legion is relatively simple to determine as well.

The Legion story in Adventure Comics # 301 (Oct., 1962) is primarily a flashback telling the story of how Bouncing Boy earned his place in the Legion. Page 13, panel 1, shows the scene of BB's swearing-in ceremony. The Legionnaires present are the ones already on my list, plus Sun Boy and Shrinking Violet.

Sun Boy, Vi, and BB were all first seen as applicants in Action Comics # 276. Sun Boy made the team next, in Adventure Comics # 290, as the thirteenth Legionnaire. Since Shrinking Violet is already a Legionnaire at the time of BB's induction, and all the other Legionnaires were old, familiar faces, that means that Vi was the fourteenth Legionnaire, and BB was the fifteenth.

Ultra Boy became the sixteenth Legionnaire is Superboy # 98 (Jul., 1962).

That brings us to the matter of Mon-El.

His Legion membership creates no contradiction with my order, either, because he did not become a member of the Legion until "The Face Behind the Lead Mask", from Adventure Comics # 300 (Sep., 1962). Mon was the seventeenth member.

I was ready to give you a smack for repeating the commonly heard notion that Mon-El was inducted as an honorary member. (The Sannings' site insists on that, as well.) But it's based on a mid-stream change of sorts.

In the Smallville Mailsack appearing in Superboy # 100 (Oct., 1962), Mort Weisinger responds to a letter from a fan thusly:

Mon-El is liberated from the Phantom Zone and becomes an honorary member of the Legion of Super-Heroes in the September issue of ADVENTURE COMICS.

However, in that September issue---# 300---Mon-El is briefly freed from the Phantom Zone, thanks to formula XY-4, to defeat Urthlo. Upon which Mon is told, "Because you saved us, Mon-El, we hereby vote you as our club's newest member! We admire you so greatly that you will not have to pass our usual super-initiation test!"

Notice nothing said about it being an honorary membership. Flat out, he is told that he is the club's newest member. His next appearance with the Legion comes in Adventure Comics # 304 (Jan., 1963), in which he plays a key rôle at the end. Mon's status with the Legion is mentioned twice---by Lightning Lad and by Saturn Girl, and neither time is it as an honorary member.

The notion that Mon-El was first an honorary Legionnaire came from Mort's comment in Superboy # 100 and that expectation is reïnforced by the assumption that Mon wasn't made a regular member because of his confinement to the Phantom Zone. However, none of the dialogue which refers to his membership during the time he is a Legionnaire while imprisoned in the Zone says anything about an honorary membership. And, in fact, the comment about the other Legionnaires admiring him so greatly supports the idea that they went ahead and awarded him a full-fledged membership on the basis of that respect.

In my opinion, what actually appeared in the story overrules what Mort said in a letter column, and it is further supported by strong implication, in the fact that Mon-El is never referred to in any story as an honorary member.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on September 28, 2010 at 7:28am
Commander... don't hate the messenger... but can "Secret of the Seventh Legionnaire" be reconciled into your summary? (And does honorary member Mon-El fit into this list, or is his admittance later than what you've so excellently compiled here?)

That's very keen work on your part sir, and this also provides some writer (if they cleave to the original stories) a great opportunity for a story to show exactly when and why the Legion promoted Superboy to full membership - along with a possible subplot of how they differentiated between honorary members, Legion reserve, etc.)

Comment by Commander Benson on September 28, 2010 at 5:08am
"Where do you place Superboy's membership, Commander?"

Heh. I never realised it until you asked me, but, honest to God---outside of putting his membership before Supergirl's---I never thought overmuch about where I put Superboy in the order of Legion membership. Once I started to think about it, the more I discovered that I didn't have a ready answer. So, I set down to do the research---research that took me from the beginning to the end of the Silver Age.

Like most issues dealing with the early Legion, the stories themselves are lacking in many specifics. And there are a couple of things that cloud placing precisely when the Boy of Steel became a full-fledged Legionnaire and what heroes preceded him.

Obviously, as the charter members, the Big Three---Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl---were the first members.

The first twist in the question of Superboy's membership arises in the first Legion story in Adventure Comics # 247 (Apr., 1958). On page 3, panel 2, Cosmic Boy states specifically that they are installing the Boy of Steel as an honorary member. I thought about writing that off as a mistake, just as I do the presence of the "fringe Legionnaires" in that story. But I held off until I saw where my research took me.

If one goes by strict chronology of the subsequent stories, the next identifiable Legionnaires were Chameleon Boy and Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid, from "The Three Super-Heroes", Action Comics # 267 (Aug., 1960). (I'm setting aside the "children of the original three Legionnaires" nonsense.)

After that, came Legionnaire Star Boy, as seen in Adventure Comics # 282 (Mar., 1961).

Then, we see Triplicate Girl and Phantom Girl are Legionnaires, at the beginning of "Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends", Action Comics # 276 (May, 1961). At the end, both Supergirl and Brainiac 5 are inducted into the club.

When the Legion attempted to sign up Supergirl, there was none of this "honorary member" nonsense. They wanted her as a full-fledged Legionnaire. It doesn't make sense that they would want her as a regular Legionnaire, but restrict Superboy to honorary status, so that means one of two things: either Superboy was actually inducted as a full-fledged Legionnaire, back in Adventure Comics # 247; or at some point between then and Action Comics # 276, the Boy of Steel was "promoted" to regular status.

And there is another wrinkle.

Included in Giant Annual Superboy # 147 (May-Jun., 1968) was the new story, "The Origin of the Legion". Now, this wasn't the first time the origin of the Legion was revealed. That came in a text piece published in Adventure Comics # 352 (Jan., 1967). But the four-colour story in Superboy # 147 fleshes out the events.

Of particular notice in "The Origin of the Legion" are the details behind Triplicate Girl and Phantom Girl becoming Legionnaires. According to the story, Cos and LL and Saturn Girl (who have been the only Legionnaires seen or implied in the story thus far) are made honorary members of the Science Police. "Some days later," Triplicate Girl is inducted into the Legion, followed immediately thereafter by Phantom Girl.

Over on Jo and Terri-Anne Sanning's excellent site on the Silver-Age Legion, they interpret the description "some days later" as being broad enough to allow for the admissions of Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Invisible Kid, and Star Boy into the Legion (as follows the order that the earlier stories came out) before Triplicate Girl and Phantom Girl.

I disagree with this. If four heroes had become Legionnaires before Triplicate Girl and Phantom Girl, why would "The Origin of the Legion" jump over them to show TG and PG's inductions? The intent of the writer, E. Nelson Bridwell, clearly was to show that TG and PG were the next Legionnaires to join.

So, if we make the official order . . .

Cosmic Boy/Lightning Lad/Saturn Girl
Triplicate Girl
Phantom Girl

. . . where does Superboy fit into this?

Another piece of information comes from the second Legion tale, "Prisoner of the Super-Heroes", Adventure Comics # 267 (Dec., 1959). On page 2, panel 2, Superboy reflects, "I met [Cosmic Boy] and his fellow members in a stirring adventure over a year ago . . . ." (Italics mine.)

It's difficult to accept that the Legion went an entire year without enlisting any more members (later references to admitting only one/two members per year set aside; as Pat Curley pointed out, it would take an ungodly amount of time to build a decent-sized membership at that rate). That means, as much as my fond memories want to insist that the earliest Legion roster was Cos and LL and Saturn Girl and Superboy only, logic would insist that it actually wasn't that way very long.

The way that works the best for me is this:

Sometime shortly after establishing the Legion, in order to give some "street cred", the Big Three enlist Superboy as an honorary member. At that point, they aren't sure the Boy of Steel intends to ever give them anything more than wishing them "Good luck" and the time of day. But, by being able to say that the legendary Superboy/man is an honorary Legionnaire, it gives them enough status to stay in business long enough to earn the credibility of the Science Police and other authorities.

Then, as shown in "The Origin of the Legion", Triplicate Girl and Phantom Girl join.

In Action Comics # 267, the Legion makes its first attempt to recruit Supergirl as a full-fledged Legionnaire. By the logic I expressed above, that means that sometime before this, the Legion "upgraded" Superboy's membership to regular status.

Because, in that same story, Chameleon Boy and Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid are also shown to be Legionnaires, it raises the question of exactly when Superboy was promoted to regular membership---before those three joined or after, just prior to the Big Three heading off to sign up Supergirl? That one could go either way.

So, to answer your question, Philip (I know---finally), I put Superboy's place in the order like this:

Cosmic Boy/Lightning Lad/Saturn Girl
Superboy (honorary member)
Triplicate Girl
Phantom Girl
Superboy (regular member--possibly)
Chameleon Boy/Colossal Boy/Invisible Kid
Superboy (regular member--no later than this)
Star Boy
Brainiac 5/Supergirl

In other words, by my reckoning, Superboy was either the sixth regular Legionnaire or the tenth.
Comment by Philip Portelli on September 27, 2010 at 7:17pm
Where do you place Superboy's membership, Commander? Is he the fourth Legionnaire? Did Triplicate Girl and Phantom Girl join before or after him? Could Brainiac 5 really have been behind the scenes in Adventure #247, helping the Founders through time?

Was Superboy a member in name only at first and really joined later? Everybody seems to have different views on this!
Comment by Commander Benson on September 27, 2010 at 10:59am
"ITEM: Re: that panel from Adventure 323. Explanation: 'Here, you Legion applicants---you come to the swearing in ceremony of our newest Legionnaire to see what the Legion of Super-Heroes is really about. And it's NOT a kids club---you'll find that out shortly!'"

I had originally disagreed with CK's suggestion that the anachronous Legionnaires in that panel were simply witnesses to Superboy's swearing-in. But the way you phrased it there, Fogey, actually makes it palatable. I can go with that.

"ITEM: Some people base their knowledge of the LSH history and order of membership on the sourcebook that was released for the DC Super Heroes Roleplaying Game... which was a pretty good book, with a lot of really nice art. I seem to recall that that book showed Supergirl joining before Superboy. But I'm not sure it can be considered canonical to the comics."

Generally, given all the mistakes in continuity that crept into the DC mags themselves during the '70's, I find anything produced outside the comics as untrustworthy as to fact and thus, not canonical. Such things as sourcebooks are breeding grounds for fan writers' Neat Ideas to be inserted.

To the point, my recollexion of the Supergirl-joined-before-Superboy theory pre-dates the LSH sourcebook, which I've never read, anyway. I hate to go by memory, but I believe the Supergirl-joined-first theory was first promulgated in the old "Legion Outpost" fanzine. I have the first seven or eight issues of that fanzine, to check, but please don't ask me to unbury them from wherever I've lain them to rest some thirty-mumble years ago.

In any event, the explication that you and CK came up with is simpler and neater.

"I'm pretty sure the Legion's earliest stories predate the human bible, E. Nelson Bridwell . . . ."

I am too---including Adventure Comics # 323, which is the crux of this discussion---since Bridwell didn't come to work for National Periodical until 1965.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on September 27, 2010 at 7:33am
ITEM: Re: that panel from Adventure 323. Explanation: "Here, you Legion applicants - you come to the swearing in ceremony of our newest Legionnaire to see what the Legion of Super-Heroes is really about. And it's NOT a kids club - you'll find that out shortly!"

ITEM: Some people base their knowledge of the LSH history and order of membership on the sourcebook that was released for the DC Super Heroes Roleplaying Game... which was a pretty good book, with a lot of really nice art. I seem to recall that that book showed Supergirl joining before Superboy. But I'm not sure it can be considered canonical to the comics.

ITEM: If you really need an explanation... the stories WERE originally titled as "Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes." So if you consider that they were being related by a person, instead of a consistent and perfectly accurate historical record... okay, never mind, that one is a little too far afield.

Still and all... it would have been nice if Mort would have had his writers consult the Legion bible, or whatever they used to keep continuity. (I'm pretty sure the Legion's earliest stories predate the human bible, E. Nelson Bridwell... :) )

Comment by Philip Portelli on September 26, 2010 at 4:42pm
I remember one theory that Adventure#247 was Superboy's introduction to the team. As he lived in the past, it may have been considered an honorary membership. He wasn't shown attending meetings. In fact, most of his Legion encounters took place in his own time. Later, he regularly attended meetings and took a more active role on the team. Therefore the flashback from #323 was Superboy's public induction and by that time, more Legionnaires had joined including Brainiac 5, though I'm sure the Legion kept Superboy and Supergirl seperated at first, before the whole "super-hypnosis" thing!


Latest Activity

ClarkKent_DC replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
""The Rose and the Thorn" feature debuts in Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #105,…"
49 minutes ago
ClarkKent_DC replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"The ever popular Lady Cop (also seen over here and on the following pages in the thread):"
55 minutes ago
Jeff of Earth-J replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"Thought I'd end the month with some classic villains from Tracy's Golden age (the…"
1 hour ago
Dave Palmer replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"The Week of the Spider draws to a close, but raises a few questions A three-eyed Spider and there…"
2 hours ago
JD DeLuzio replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"During the short-lived 90s reboot, Baby Huey dreamed he was the world's finest detective:"
3 hours ago
The Baron replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"Police in a Pod revolves around the crime-solving efforts of a young policewoman and her new…"
11 hours ago
Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) posted a discussion
11 hours ago
Richard Willis replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"I'm using Eric post as justification for my spying cover"
12 hours ago
Dave Palmer replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"The Spider is a very busy detective"
14 hours ago
Tracy of Moon-T replied to The Baron's discussion Movies I Have Seen Lately
"I feel like this movie is the imaginary world the GOP believes they are protecting themselves from…"
15 hours ago
Jeff of Earth-J replied to The Baron's discussion Movies I Have Seen Lately
"THE PINK ANGELS (1971): "Six rugged motorcyclists gather on the side of the highways to plan…"
16 hours ago
JD DeLuzio replied to Steve W's discussion Comical Comic Cuts
"That'th the firtht thing I thought of."
19 hours ago

© 2023   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service