Previously, Commando Cody suggested that Lightning Lad, of the Legion of Super-Heroes, violated the Legion code against killing. In Adventure Comics # 304 (Jan., 1963), the Legionnaire destroyed the space-cruiser piloted by the interplanetary criminal Zaryan the Conqueror. Nothing in that sequence indicated that Zaryan had been able to escape the destruction of his spacecraft.
The issue raised by Commando Cody’s charge is . . . why did the Legion of Super-Heroes subsequently fail to take procedural action against Lightning Lad for causing Zaryan’s death---a direct violation of the Legion Code?
In the last session, I reviewed the information regarding the accused, the victim, and the sole witness to the incident, the Legionnaire known as Saturn Girl. I also reviewed the known facts of the incident.
My one-man board of review now reconvenes to examine the factors which may have had a bearing on the Legion’s failure to prosecute Lightning Lad for his apparent violation.
RESPONSE TO THE INCIDENT.
In the immediate aftermath of Adventure Comics # 304, it’s clear as to why the Legion did not initiate procedural action against Lightning Lad. He was killed in the same action that caused Zaryan’s death. Lightning Lad’s actions, however rash, prevented the major death and destruction that the rogue attack would have inflicted on the Earth. Any indictment of Lightning Lad would have been a mere formality, pointlessly causing disproportionate injury to the slain Legionnaire’s legacy.
In other words, why kick mud on a dead hero?
However, in the ensuing months, certain events occurred which should have forced the Legion to reëxamine the question of Lightning Lad’s violation of the Legion Code.
The final panel of “The Stolen Super-Powers” carried a note to the readers, suggesting that Lightning Lad might one day return. At the time, there was no way to determine if this was a foreshadowing of actual events to come, or if it was simply a narrative hook to keep fans interested in the series
There’s no question that the memory of the fallen Legionnaire was kept alive for in the scripts for the upcoming months. The next few stories contained some reference to Lightning Lad’s noble sacrifice. The otherwise joyful event of Mon-El’s permanent release from the Phantom Zone, in Adventure Comics # 305 (Feb., 1963), was book-ended by grieving Legionnaires visiting the shrine to their dead comrade.
But a mere three issues later brought the most startling remembrance of Lightning Lad, yet.
“The Return of Lightning Lad” opens with an honour guard of Legionnaires draping the Legion’s new official flag over his transparent coffin. During the solemn ceremony, Bouncing Boy is stunned to see Lightning Lad’s arm twitch. Cosmic Boy writes it off as a trick of the mind caused by their plump buddy’s deep grief.
Fortunately for B.B., any plans to schedule him for a mental competency hearing are scratched when the other Legionnaires see the “body” move, as well. They open the casket and haul out a clearly alive Lightning Lad. Anyway, he looks and sounds like Lightning Lad, but he claims to be unable to remember anything after he was hit by Zaryan’s freeze-ray.
His fellow Legionnaires accept that, but ever the cynic, Cosmic Boy pulls Sun Boy aside and draws a somewhat questionable inference. Cos suggests that if Lightning Lad’s memory has been impaired, then “his super-power may also have been affected by his death-like experience! He may have lost his power!”
If he no longer possesses a super-power, Lightning Lad cannot remain in the Legion. He must be expelled. Sun Boy is aghast at the idea. It’s unfair to welcome Lightning Lad back to the land of the living and then, in the next moment, tell him he’s out of the club. Nevertheless, Cosmic Boy holds firm.
Of interest, with regard to this board of review, is the fact that Cosmic Boy and, at least, some of the other Legionnaires have no problem with following Legion procedure regarding membership qualifications. Even to the point of coldness---if Lightning Lad has lost his super-power, then he’s out! Yet, there is no discussion of his apparent violation of the Legion Code by causing Zaryan’s death.
It may have been that the Legionnaires just hadn’t gotten around to that one, yet. Still, Cosmic Boy was pretty quick on the trigger in raising the matter of Lightning Lad’s possible expulsion. Saturn Girl was absent for this story; maybe Cos was waiting for her to return, so that she, as the Legion’s leader, could initiate the official charges.
Instead of taking the immediately obvious tack and having Lightning Lad demonstrate his power right then and there, Cosmic Boy and Sun Boy decide to take their revived buddy along on the next few Legion missions and test his power secretly.
Thus begins a coy game of “Does He or Doesn’t He?”---both for the Legionnaires within the fictional tale and for the fans reading it. Sun Boy becomes convinced that, if called upon to do so, his back-from-the-dead buddy will not be able to cast lightning. So he decides to cover for Lightning Lad. Every time L.L. has to use his power, Sun Boy secretly manipulates his own control of light and heat to make it look like their old pal is just as mighty as ever.
The story depicts the action in such a way that the reader cannot be sure if Lightning Lad really is firing off bolts of super-lightning, or if Sun Boy’s machinations are only making it seem so. The Legionnaires, especially Cosmic Boy, are also sceptical.
In the climax to the adventure, though, to the surprise of everyone, Lightning Lad is able to unleash a barrage of electricity to defeat the villain of the piece!
Sun Boy is particularly astonished. You see, the reason he was so certain that Lightning Lad was powerless was he had deduced that Lightning Lad wasn’t Lightning Lad, at all! From various clues, Sun Boy realised that it was Garth Ranzz’s twin sister, Ayla, in disguise. And, naturally, Sun Boy assumed that Ayla did not have her brother’s super-power.
It all comes out in the last-page wash. We learn that when Garth Ranzz’s space-flyer was forced to land on Korbal, his sister was with him, and she was caught in the same blast of energies discharged by the lightning-beasts as her brother was. Both of them had acquired the power to cast lightning.
Ayla, though, had kept her power a secret. However, after her brother’s death, she kidnapped his body, disguised herself as Lightning Lad, and took his place in the casket, pretending to “come to life.” In that way, she intended to carry on his work.
In a way, she would. In her own sex and costume, Ayla Ranzz is inducted into the Legion, on her own merit, as Lightning Lass.
With the addition of Lightning Lass to the roster, the gloom of her brother’s shadow lifted off the next few Legion stories. Some fans assumed this was the development hinted at in the final panel of “The Stolen Super-Powers”. Lightning Lad would, indeed, remain dead; yet, he would “return”, as well, in the character of his sister, Lightning Lass.
Other readers were a lot sharper than that. At least three of them, we know for sure---Todd Walters, of Ithaca, New York and Steven J. Gerstein, of New Rochelle, New York and Caroline Dove, of Wildwood, Nebraska.
In issue No. 155 of SUPERMAN, in the story entitled “The Downfall of Superman” . . . you also had Samson and Hercules in the same adventure. At the conclusion of this story you revealed that Hercules was COSMIC MAN (Cosmic Boy grown to an adult) and Samson was LIGHTNING MAN (Lightning Lad grown up)! Now, if Lightning Lad is dead, how could there ever have been a LIGHTNING MAN? Am I correct in assuming, therefore, that Lightning Lad’s death will not be permanent?
In ACTION COMICS No. 289, in the story “Superman’s Super-Courtship”, Supergirl and Superman traveled into the far future and discovered that SATURN WOMAN (Saturn Girl, grown up) was married to LIGHTNING MAN (Lightning Lad as an adult). Yet, in ADVENTURE No. 304, Lightning Lad died to save Saturn Girl. So the only possible way for Lightning Lad to marry Saturn Girl is for him to be brought back from the dead.
And Caroline really didn’t pull any punches:
Who are you kidding? You’ve got all of America’s comic book fans crying their eyes out, grieving at Lightning Lad’s death, except that you and I know that he never really kicked the bucket. I call the attention of your readers to the story “The Legion of Super-Villains”, in SUPERMAN No. 147, which shows LIGHTNING MAN in one of the sequences. Since he is our deceased friend, Lightning Lad, grown up, obviously he will be brought back to life. Right?
If you asked Superman editor Mort Weisinger, he knew all along that he wasn’t pulling any wool over the keen eyes of Legion fans. And while Mort was known to equivocate from time to time, I think he genuinely did respect the readers’ savvy in this instance. He responded:
Right! Ever since we published the story which told how Lightning Lad died, we received hundreds of letters similar to the proceeding from sophisticated readers who guessed that Lightning Lad’s demise would only be temporary. We did not print any of these letters so that his revival could come as a surprise bombshell.
Weisinger goes on to explain that the actual shocker wasn’t in the depicted death of Lightning Lad, but rather in the grim and incredible fashion in which he is restored to life---a resurrection which can only take place at the cost of another Legionnaire’s life!
“. . . We defy you to guess which member volunteers to die in his place!” he concludes.
Since the testimony in this session ran overlong, this board hereby adjourns until the next court date, when it will review the final evidence and submit its conclusions.