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.

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Comment by ClarkKent_DC on September 26, 2010 at 3:30pm
Can't all those other people in that panel just be witnesses to the swearing-in?
Comment by Commander Benson on September 26, 2010 at 7:44am
"Yeah, if they'd ever observed that one per year rule . . . it would have been a pretty small legion indeed."

An excellent observation, Pat. If Mort and his writers hadn't (wisely) dispensed with that idea, it would have taken the better part of a decade before the group even approached being a legion. I wish I had thought of that when I wrote my article.

"The Brainiac 5 'revision' is part of one theory that Supergirl was inducted before Superboy, to allow Brainy and the others to be there behind the scenes during Adventure #247."

Yup. In fact, some Legion die-hards came up with the Supergirl-joined-before-Superboy theory to explicate two discrepancies. The first being the presence of other Legionnaires in that first Legion story.

The second was the quandry created by this panel, from "The Eight Impossible Missions", from Adventure Comics # 323 (Aug., 1964) . . . .

The scene above purports to be the occasion of Superboy's swearing-in ceremony as a Legionnaire. Yet, it includes several other members whom were seen to join after Adventure Comics # 247---including Brainiac 5, who joined at the same time as Supergirl did, in Action Comics # 276 (May, 1961).

The theory proposes some fol-de-rol about Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl being too awe-struck by Superboy/man's reputation, so they decided to enlist his cousin first. Then, once she was in the group, they went for the Boy of Steel himself.

Like you, Mr. Portelli, I don't agree with that. Besides the reason you pointed out---it doesn't hold with what the Legionnaires told Supergirl when they tried to recruit her, it just doesn't feel thematically right that the Legion went after Supergirl first. Nor can I envision the Big Three being so self-conscious about approaching the Boy of Steel for membership.

That panel from Adventure Comics # 323 I regard the same way as I do the presence of fringe Legionnaires in Adventure Comics # 247: it's a mistake which doesn't need addressing or reconciling.
Comment by Randy Jackson on September 25, 2010 at 9:13pm
Protys. Lots and lots of Protys.
Comment by Philip Portelli on September 25, 2010 at 8:19pm
The Brainiac 5 "revision" is part of one theory that Supergirl was inducted before Superboy, to allow Brainy and the others to be there behind the scenes during Adventure #247. I never agreed with that since the Legion told Supergirl that Superboy had met them.

As for their original one-time costumes, they were trying to fulfill Superboy's "future-hero" expectations, they were in an even more retro mood or everyone's favorite: chronicler's error!
Comment by Patrick Curley on September 25, 2010 at 7:50pm
Yeah, if they'd ever observed that one per year rule along with the out at 18 rule it would have been a pretty small legion indeed. Of course, they never actually kicked anybody out for reaching the age of majority that I can recall, and there were several stories showing the "Adult Legion".
Comment by Philip Portelli on September 24, 2010 at 7:02pm
Most people forget that Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy and Shrinking Violet were rejected in their first appearance in favor of Supergirl and Brainiac 5. BB's induction was shown but not the other two. In fact Sun Boy turns up as a member in Adventure #290 after his two panel debut.

It is intereresting how several Legionnaires' powers were later expanded on like Sun Boy, Ultra Boy and Star Boy.
Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on September 24, 2010 at 12:47pm
Good stuff as always, Commander. I always enjoy a little bit of Legion history.
Comment by Commander Benson on September 24, 2010 at 12:15pm
" You noted that in 'The Legion of Super-Heroes' (Adv. 247) that Cosmic Boy, Lightning Boy, and Saturn Girl weren't exactly a legion, and I agree with you---but I think the second last panel of the story showed three or four or five more members (including a chap in the foreground recolored in reprints to look like Brainiac 5.)"

I didn't overlook that point, Fogey; I deliberately avoided going into it. For the same reason that, in an earlier post, when I made mention of Supergirl's first attempt at joining the Legion, I omitted the nonsense about the Legionnaires recruiting her being the children of the original charter members. To wit, bringing it up and then explaining how it was later ignored and/or rationalised by those die-hard Legion fanatics, would have taken me too far off track from the topic of the article.

The matter of showing several Legionnaires in that first story was one of the things I had in mind, and addressed albeit obliquely, when I wrote "The Legion details added by one writer would sometimes contradict those established by another."

True, while that first Legion story didn't name them, it implied as strongly as possible that there were several other Legionnaires in addition to Cos and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. It's been one of the great hurdles that has had to be broached by those hardcore Legion mavens who attempt to find a way to convert every writer's discrepancy into an actual part of the Legion history. Usually by insisting that the other Legionnaires present were members that we already knew (but wearing different costumes then) and sliding Superboy's induction to later in the Legion's history when it had aquired more teammates. DC also indulged in this fiction by, as you pointed out, re-colouring one of the "fringe Legionnaires" to resemble Brainiac 5.

Personally, I never worried about it---I understood that, as with all series, in all media, there are early glitches (such as an early episode of MacGyver which insisted that Mac was a Viet Nam war vet; later, the producers' response was "Er---just forget about that.") and ignored the items that were clearly discarded, such as Cosmic Boy's magnetic "eyes" and Lightning Lad clapping his hands to make electricity.

(If somebody held my feet to the fire and insisted that I come up with an explanation for those fringe Legionnaires in the first story, my pet theory would be that Cos and LL and Saturn Girl were too impatient to wait until they had signed on more real Legionnaires before seeking out Superboy as a member, but they also figured that the Boy of Steel wouldn't be too impressed with a Legion of Super-Heroes composed of only three members. So they went out and hired youngsters to pose as Legionnaires for Superboy's benefit, so the Legion wouldn't appear to him to be a lame effort by three young heroes to form a club.)

For the record, there were no "fringe Legionnaires" shown in "Prisoner of the Super-Heroes", from Adventure Comics # 267 (Dec., 1959). True, the story did show "a crowd of super-beings flying through space" toward the Superboy planet. But these were twentieth-century-era heroes, many of them adult, and there wasn't even a hint of implication that they were Legionnaires.

You keenly spotted that I did use the phrasing "featured" on purpose. The first time any Legionnaires, other than the "Big Three", were shown and specifically named was in the aforementioned "The Three Super-Heroes", from Action Comics # 267 (Aug., 1960). These were Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, and Invisible Kid, and this was only the third story to reference the Legion. So yes, the Legion was shown to have acquired additional, specific members early on. But for many stories, those new characters were there only for atmosphere, while it was Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl who were the central Legionnaires. That's what gives old-timers like you and me the impression that it was only the Big Three in the Legion for a considerable time. That's why I used the word "featured"---it didn't contradict fact, but it acknowledged that general feeling.

I could probably make an entire Deck Log entry out of showing all the discrepancies between those early Legion stories and the "official Legion history" as finally developed after it acquired its own series. The fact of the matter is, those discrepancies resulted from "too many cooks" and the Legion's early status as a plot device, with no eye toward it ever being a series.

Thanks, as always, for you kind words, Fogey. As a fellow of my vintage, your observations and comments bring with them a cachet that only someone who lived through the Silver Age, as we did, can have.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on September 24, 2010 at 7:28am
Commander, you're spot on with all of this, except, I think, for one possible point. You noted that in "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adv. 247) that Cosmic Boy, Lightning Boy, and Saturn Girl weren't exactly a legion, and I agree with you - but I think the second last panel of the story showed three or four or five more members (including a chap in the foreground recolored in reprints to look like Brainiac 5.) I didn't have any problem considering that it was a legion, and that the three "charter members" were the ones who got to induct and haze the Boy of Steel.

Still, you did specifically phrase it as "featured", and you're right; the Adult LSH, the Prisoner of the Super Heroes (which, IIRC, also showed a spate of other Legionnaires), Legion of Super Traitors - they did seem to focus entirely on Rokk, Garth, and Imra...

Otherwise - Deck Logs on the LSH! WOO HOO! Cannot wait to read the rest of these!!!



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