Deck Log Entry # 146 The OTHER Legionnaire Who Killed (Part 2)

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.

 

 

 

REPORTED SIGHTINGS.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

REBUTTAL TESTIMONY.

 

 

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.

 

Their letters all appeared in the Smallville Mailsack from Adventure Comics # 311 (Aug., 1963).

 

Todd wrote:

 

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?

 

Steven said:

 

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.

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Comment by Commando Cody on September 8, 2012 at 11:47pm

I really don't have much to add except that stealing your dead brother's body and then pretending to be him is really creepy.

Comment by Randy Jackson on September 8, 2012 at 11:59pm

I'm still trying to figure out how she fooled anyone (well, Sun Boy wasn't fooled, but what about the rest of them?)). I can buy a woman masquerading as a guy just fine, but masquerading as your dead brother in front of all these people who know him almost as intimately as you do if not moreso. 

I also wonder if the Legion wasn't looking for any reason to sideline Bouncing Boy.  It seems to me over the years (at least, during the Silver Age) that they did everything they could to keep him out of danger, almost as if they knew that letting him become a Legionnaire was a mistake no matter how much they liked him.

Comment by Randy Jackson on September 9, 2012 at 12:02am

I will give DC credit for sidelining Mon-El in this story, so there wouldn't be the obvious, "so you say you're Lighting Lad, eh? Hold on one second while our friend here gives you a quick examination".

Comment by Commander Benson on September 9, 2012 at 1:12am

"I'm still trying to figure out how she fooled anyone . . . I can buy a woman masquerading as a guy just fine, but masquerading as your dead brother in front of all these people who know him almost as intimately as you do if not moreso."

 

Actually, this one--for me, at least---isn't too difficult to accept, if one squints a bit.  Ayla would obviously be familiar with her brother's voice and syntax and mannerisms.  And she probably learnt many of the Legion basics from him.

 

True, she wouldn't know any of the intimate details about his fellow Legionnaires, the sort of things that only he would know---"Hey, Lightning Lad, remember that joke we pulled on Element Lad at the last Klordny festival?"  But she could, and probably did, cover that up by continuing to claim that her memory was still spotty, from the effects of Zaryan's freeze-ray.

 

" . . . Sun Boy wasn't fooled . . . ."

 

Nope, and forget about such dubious tip-offs as "Lightning Lad" having no Adam's apple, or the back of "his" neck not being tanned.

 

Here's the moment when I think Sun Boy really figured out that a girl was posing as Lightning Lad:

 

 

"I also wonder if the Legion wasn't looking for any reason to sideline Bouncing Boy. It seems to me over the years (at least, during the Silver Age) that they did everything they could to keep him out of danger, almost as if they knew that letting him become a Legionnaire was a mistake no matter how much they liked him."

 

It's fortunate timing that you made this comment, Randy, for it touches---in a general sense---on a point that you in particular have been making about the Silver-Age Legion several times, now.  And that point is going to be a large part of my conclusions in my wind-up piece, next time out.

 

 

 

Comment by Commando Cody on September 9, 2012 at 2:35am

They should have made Sun Boy and Lightning Lass a couple after the way he verified that she was a girl!

It's bizarre that everyone assumed that "Lightning Lad" no longer had powers rather than just asking "him".

I went back and reviewed this story and found a couple of items of interest:

Apparently, LL's costume has nothing to do with his powers. It was just the normal attire that he wore and the lightning bolts were just a coincidence. At least in the later flashback that shows his sister with him, she is in civvies (they still don't show their older brother being there, because no one has thought of him yet).

Also, how is he going to join a group that he is a charter member of?

Apparently, one of the perks of being a Legionnaire is that you get to keep any stolen property that you recover!

Comment by Commander Benson on September 9, 2012 at 4:39am

"Apparently, LL's costume has nothing to do with his powers. It was just the normal attire that he wore and the lightning bolts were just a coincidence. At least in the later flashback that shows his sister with him, she is in civvies.   (They still don't show their older brother being there, because no one has thought of him yet.)"

 

Taking the last part of that first, Cody, actually, Lightning Lad's older brother---later named Mekt Ranzz---was not only thought of before Lightning Lass, he actually appeared before she did, as well.  Almost two years before.

 

Superman # 147 (Aug., 1961) carried the story "The Legion of Super-Villains".  This is the debut of that eponymous group of baddies.  Early in the tale, the trio---Cosmic King, Saturn Queen, and Lightning Lord---boast of their origins to Lex Luthor.  In his sequence, Lightning Lord describes how he and his brother, as boys, were caught in the electrical discharge of the lightning-beasts of Korbal.

 

As the section I've attached below depicts, Lightning Lord describes how and his brother went their separate ways---one becoming a hero; the other, a villain.  (This may have been the first description of how Lightning Lad received his super-power; frankly, I didn't feel like bothering to check.  But it's before L. Lad's origin solidified.  Note, Lightning Lord's account states that he and his brother were caught by the lightning beast while they "explored some woods" on Korbal.  As of yet, no mention of their space-flyer forced to land on the planet, nor of trying to get the lightning-beasts to recharge their ship's batteries.)

 

 

This earlier description of Lightning Lad's origin makes it tough to reconcile the later one---the one with Ayla Ranzz---that appeared in Adventure Comics # 308.  Clearly, when Edmond Hamilton wrote "The Return of Lightning Lad", he was familiar only with the basics of Lightning Lad's origin, and was unaware of the added detail of his brother Mekt being present, as written by Jerry Siegel in "The Legion of Super-Villains".

 

It finally got smoothed out into the commonly known Silver-Age origin in Adventure Comics # 354 (Mar., 1967).  In this issue, a featured text piece---from the on-going series,"Know Your/Meet the Legionnaires"---covered Lightning Lad and Light Lass.  This provided the familiar background of how the three Ranzz siblings were returning from a party when their flyer's batteries died and they had to land on Korbal.  This was the first time that Lightning Lad's older brother was named---Mekt.

 

As for the outfit that Lightning Lad wore in the Adventure Comics # 308 version of his origin, yes, there, he is already in costume.  Die-hard Legion mavens have made heroic attempts to explain that, and his thought-balloon about winning "membership in the Legion of Super-Heroes."  But the fact of the matter is that it was simply an oversight by Hamilton and the artist, John Forte.  However, with regard to Forte drawing Lightning Lad in costume during his origin flashback, it could also be that Mort Weisinger directed him to do so, to make reader identification easier.

 

Later tellings of the siblings' origin---Superboy (Giant Annual) # 147 (May-Jun., 1968), Superboy # 172 (Mar., 1971), et al.---put the three youngsters in mufti, as they would have been.

 

It is worth noting that the version which appeared in "The Legion of Super-Villains" depicts the two Ranzz brothers in outfits similar to the costume later adopted by Lightning Lad.  This makes a certain sort of sense.  One can envision Garth taking the clothes he wore at the time and making simple embellishments to turn it into a distinctive costume. 

 

However, their attire also implies that Garth and Mekt were twins, an notion later undone by the introduction of Ayla Ranzz.  So, possibly, that's another wrinkle to be ironed out.

 

It all goes to what I've discussed several times:  for the first three years of the Legion's existence, it was simply a plot device, and details were added incidentally with no idea of maintaining any more than a basic consistency in the group's appearances.  Thus, there were a lot of discrepancies. 

 

Then, the Legion received its own series, in Adventure Comics # 300 (Sep., 1962), and it didn't take long for Mort Weisinger to discover that Legion fans were a tenacious bunch.  They paid attention to details---the new ones and the old---and, to paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, Mort had "some 'splainin' to do."

 

In many of those instances, Weisnger came up with plausible explanations, something he was pretty facile at doing.  But some of those contradictions could just not be reconciled.  In those cases, Mort hoped the fans would forget about them, or maybe he figured if he ignored their questions, they'd stop asking.

 

The circumstance of depicting Lightning Lad already in his super-hero costume at the time of his origin is one of those mistakes that just can't be explicated.  At least, not without jumping through a lot of scripting hoops.  And it's really not worth the effort.  It's easier to simply chalk the error up to developmental pains.  That's the best response to many of those early discrepancies, such as Lightning Boy having to clap his hands to generate lightning or Cosmic Boy having received "super-magnetic eyes" from a special serum.

Comment by Philip Portelli on September 9, 2012 at 5:29am

I was surprised that they didn't think up some type of exo-suit or padded costume for Ayla's disguise to justify the difference in height, body mass and body shape!

Cosmic Boy: "Lightning Lad is alive after all this time!"

Sun Boy: "Yes, and he was able to keep his girlish figure!"

Of course, it would silly to expect the Legion to have anyone give the suddenly not-dead Lightning Lad a medical exam!

Lightning Lass finally gave the team a female member with a truly offensive power except for Supergirl. But in Adventure Comics #317, they turned her into Light Lass, able to make things super-light. Oddly enough, that issue reintroduced Star Boy and changed his power into making things super-heavy! Gravity was on someone's mind that day!

Comment by Commando Cody on September 9, 2012 at 3:22pm

Taking the last part of that first, Cody, actually, Lightning Lad's older brother---later named Mekt Ranzz---was not only thought of before Lightning Lass, he actually appeared before she did, as well.

Thanks for clearing that up, Commander. It's hard to keep the timelines straight with all of the different titles that the Legion (and their adjuncts) appeared in.

You would think that DC would have created character histories that would have allowed writers to check facts before writing a story. But comics were considered such an ephemeral medium that I guess no one considered continuity important - at least until features such as the Legion attracted such devoted fans who paid attention to discrepancies (and made Weisnger's life a living hell!).

Comment by Fraser Sherman on September 12, 2012 at 7:35am

Commander, was it established at that point that Garth, Rokk and Imra were in fact founding members? I know they were introduced first, but even the original story presented them as one of many--was it ever confirmed before the Legion origin a few years later? I'd check this myself, but all my issues are still in boxes.

The points about Lightning Man show why some of the later Legion writers grumbled about Adult Legion stories tying their hands as far as death and relationship issues. Though I always enjoyed them.

It always amazes me how they kept bringing up rules for excluding members or suspending them in the early issues (Dream Girl's debut did it too).

Comment by Doctor Hmmm? on September 12, 2012 at 8:20am

Here's the moment when I think Sun Boy really figured out that a girl was posing as Lightning Lad:

Commander, even after all these years, I still wasn't expecting you to pull that joke.  As funny as it is, it's even funnier coming from you.

Bravo, Sir!

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