For the last couple of entries, we've been talking about Lightning Lad's rôle in the death of interplanetary criminal Zaryan the Conqueror. This prompted the question from correspondent Commando Cody, "Why didn't the Legion then charge Lightning Lad with violating the club's code against killing?"
It's a good question, and as we shall see, Cody wasn't the first one to ask it.
To the point where we left off---Adventure Comics # 311 (Aug., 1963)---the Legion could not be faulted for failing to investigate Lightning Lad in the matter, as the same action had resulted in the Legionnaire's own death. As a matter of propriety and practicality, charging Lightning Lad with breaking the code would have been pointless.
In fact, there is a suggestion that, had Lightning Lad lived, the super-hero club would have looked into the matter. In “The Return of Lightning Lad”, from Adventure Comics # 308 (May, 1963), the Legionnaire appeared to have returned from the dead, but lost his super-power in the process. As mentioned in the last session, Cosmic Boy was insistent on expelling the now-powerless Lightning Lad from the club. This was despite whatever emotional turmoil it might have caused Garth Ranzz.
The point became moot, though, when it was discovered that the “resurrected” Lighting Lad was actually his twin sister, Ayla Ranzz, posing as the slain Legionnaire.
Thus, through Adventure Comics # 311, Lightning Lad remained dead and beyond the reach of any disciplinary procedure. However, in the letter column of that issue, editor Mort Weisinger, responding to a number of fans, revealed that Lightning Lad would be restored to life in the following issue.
THE RETURN OF THE ACCUSED TO JURISDICTION.
In “The Super-Sacrifice of the Legionnaires”, from Adventure Comics # 312 (Sep., 1963), Mon-El, who had been pretty much absent since his release from the Phantom Zone seven issues earlier, returns to Earth after searching for a means to resurrect Lightning Lad. He reports to his hopeful fellow Legionnaires that he has failed. Even the great biologists of his home world, Daxam, were unable to provide a means to bring the dead back to life.
Or so Mon-El tells them.
Mon and the others travel to a deserted world with an atmosphere that constantly discharges bolts of lightning. Here is where Lightning Lad’s transparent sarcophagus has been relocated and here is where Saturn Girl is waiting. They give her the bad news.
Early in the Legion’s formation, Saturn Girl had pledged to never use her super-power of telepathy to intrude on the privacy of her fellow members’ thoughts. In her grief at Mon-El’s failure, however, her self-control slips, and she is startled by the stray thought she has picked up from Mon. Incredibly, Mon-El does know a way of restoring Lightning Lad!
Confronted with the hard reality that her brother isn’t coming back, Lightning Lass weeps uncontrollably over his coffin. WIth two sobbing females on his hands, Superboy, ever the softie, issues a stirring challenge.
“We’ve often accomplished feats that were considered impossible when others asked us! Now we’re going to do something for our own lost comrade . . . we’ll find a way to revive Lightning Lad!”
Like a losing football team pumped up by its coach’s half-time pep talk, the Legionnaires rally around the Boy of Steel. “Superboy’s right!” says Saturn Girl. “We’ll search the whole universe, if necessary, to find the way!”
The first step is to run a Google-search on the Legion’s “mechanical-librarian” computer, collecting several hits on the topic “revival of life”. Narrowing it down to a handful of the most likely possibilities, Our Heroes split up into small sub-teams to check them out. A suspicious Saturn Girl ensures that she’s paired up with Mon-El.
The Legionnaires give it their best shot. The blue sun of Galaxy AB-213. The legend of the undying Taroc creature. The radium-capsule of Skor. All methods advertised to raise the dead---and each one of them has a hitch which makes it useless in restoring Lightning Lad. Worse yet, in his frustration, Mon-El’s guard slips and Saturn Girl catches another “glimpse” of his thoughts.
Mon-El could revive Lightning Lad right now---but doesn’t want to!
She’s had enough of this. She tricks Mon-El into taking her to Daxam, where one of that world’s physicians inadvertently spills the beans. Saturn Girl demands the whole truth and Mon agrees to admit all.
Summoning all of the other Legionnaires involved back to Lightning Lad’s resting place on the lightning world, Mon-El reveals the information that he’s been hiding.
The biologists of Daxam had, indeed, devised a method for returning life to the dead. A unique conductor is attached to the dead subject and a live person. This conductor is of a sophisticated and complex design. When the living person is struck with a sufficient jolt of electricity, his life-force will transfer, via the conductor, into the dead subject, making him live, again.
But such a miracle comes with a terrible cost. The donor whose life-force is used dies!
As soon as he’d been able to sneak away, Mon-El had intended to secretly use the device himself, to sacrifice his own life-force to revive Lightning Lad. And, yes, the conductor will suck the life out of super-beings such as himself or Superboy just as completely as it will out of regular folks.
Naturally, being Legionnaires, everyone present volunteers to trade his life for Lightning Lad’s.
They decide that the only fair way is for all of them to have an equal chance. Each Legionnaire grips a conductor running to the body of their fallen comrade and holds a steel rod up in the air. The lightning bolts eternally crashing overhead will provide the power. It’s a grim and deadly lottery, with the “winner” being the one whose rod is the first to be struck by a bolt.
Yet, one Legionnaire, Saturn Girl, is determined to make the sacrifice. Unknown to her fellow Legionnaires, she holds a rod made of duralim---an element which actually attracts lightning. She’s doctored the rod to make it look like the steel ones held by the others.
It turns out that it is not Saturn Girl’s time to die---as determined as she was to die for Lightning Lad, there was someone even more determined that she live. Instead, Chameleon Boy’s shape-changing pet, Proty, lured Saturn Girl away then took her place. The Legionnaires discover this when, in death, the little protoplasmic creature reverts to its true blobby, yellow form.
The good news is---Lightning Lad lives again! It is a bittersweet occasion of joy and loss, as the resurrected hero retakes his place in the Legion.
Oh, and that “killing Zaryan the Conqueror” thing? Nobody brings it up throughout the rest of the series. Ever.
As to the real-life, behind-the-scenes reason that the Legion was never seen to address the question of Lightning Lad’s hand in the death of Zaryan, I’m tempted to guess that it was because Mort Weisinger and his writers never thought of it. But that rather short-changes them. More than any other series produced by DC, the Legion of Super-Heroes took many of its elements and developments from suggestions by its fans, and you can bet that Mort paid attention to the Adventure Comics mail that came over his transom.
Weisinger also had an advantage. DC’s top-tier super-team title, Justice League of America, featured characters who were stars of their own magazines or series. Thus, JLA writer Gardner Fox was hogtied when it came to introducing any developments in the book that would have an impact on the heroes in their parent titles.
But, except for a few of the characters---principally Superboy and Supergirl---no such restriction bound the Legion. That gave Mort’s staff the latitude to impose permanent, life-altering changes on the various members. As the writers got their sea legs, more disaster would be imposed on the Legionnaires. Featured players would suffer death and dismemberment, lose their super-powers, or find themselves kicked out of the club.
So, while the idea of writing a story behind Lightning Lad’s killing of a foe might not have occurred to Mort and company immediately, it would have eventually. Especially when, as discussed below, at least one reader had written in, pointing out Lightning Lad’s apparent violation of the Legion code.
The problem for Weisinger here was Lightning Lad was one of the few Legionnaires who couldn’t be tinkered with too much. Several earlier stories had established that Lightning Lad would grow up to be Lightning Man and still solidly a member of the Legion. And as the letters from Todd Walters and Steven Gerstein and Caroline Dove had shown, Legion fans possessed impeccable memories. Mort knew that any story involving court-martialing Lightning Lad for the death of Zaryan would not have any lasting impact. Should L.L. be convicted and expelled, the Adult Legion appearances had established that it would eventually be undone.
I suspect that Weisinger did like the idea of examining the consequences to a Legionnaire who killed. However, when it came time to write a story around it, the central character turned out to be Star Boy, whose future life was unwritten.
As to the matter of providing an in-fiction explanation for the Legion’s failure to take action against Lightning Lad, after he had been restored to life . . . well, that is the purpose of my one-man review board.
Once Lightning Lad was revived and returned to duty with the Legion, he was subject to the club’s rules and regulations. In this unique case, death had been only a delay to the club’s procedures.
After a consideration of all the evidence and testimony, I conclude that the Legion of Super-Heroes failed to pursue the matter of Lightning Lad’s possible violation of the Legion code for one or more of the following reasons:
1. The Legion Code against killing did not apply.
There is no direct evidence that Zaryan the Conqueror was killed in Lightning Lad’s assault on the villain’s space-cruiser. Zaryan’s death was not shown “on panel”, nor was his body shown afterward.
True, the level of destruction to Zaryan’s ship, as seen in the single panel showing Lightning Lad’s actual assault, makes it highly unlikely that Zaryan survived. But, remember, we are dealing with thirtieth-century technologies, some of them alien to Earth. One-man survival pods, personal protective force-fields, even teleportation, are all within the scope of futuristic technology and were seen in other Legion stories.
The sole witness to the incident, Saturn Girl, immediately departed that area of space, understandably, to rush the injured Lightning Lad to Earth and possible medical aid. But as a consequence, no-one remained to inspect the wreckage of Zaryan’s spacecraft and check for either survivors or victims.
Quite possibly, the Legion took the concept of habeas corpus at its literal meaning---“that you have the body.” Without clear indication that Zaryan had died, perhaps it chose not to accuse Lightning Lad of violating the Legion code.
2. Even if Zaryan had died, Lightning Lad did not violate the Legion code against killing.
This one is a bit tricky because it involves a precedent not yet set at the time Lightning Lad was restored to life. That is the matter of Star Boy’s court-martial and expulsion from the Legion after he caused the death of Kenz Nuhor in “The Legionnaire Who Killed”, from Adventure Comics # 342 (Mar., 1966).
A quandary in the substance of the Legion code against killing resulted from this story. It’s best looked at in chronological order.
The Smallville Mailsack of Adventure Comics # 316 (Jan., 1964) published a letter from Barney Palmatier, of Santa Monica, California. Mr. Palmatier wrote in, raising the question forty-eight years before Commando Cody did:
I see that you have brought Lightning Lad back to life, for which we are all grateful. But when Zaryan the Conqueror’s ship was destroyed by Lightning Lad, Zaryan was also destroyed. Therefore, since it is against the code of the Legionnaires to destroy life, he should be expelled from the Legion. Right?
To this, Mort replied:
It is against the code to destroy life ruthlessly or in a wanton manner. It is not against the code to destroy life in self-defense . . . Lightning Lad gave up his life to stop a diabolical villain. He deserves nothing but praise for his heroic deed.
An eminently reasonable explanation, one that would have made my Deck Log Entries on this subject unnecessary---except for the matter of “The Legionnaire Who Killed”, which came along two years later.
One of the key issues raised during Star Boy’s court-martial was the matter of self-defense. As presented here, the Legion code against killing did not provide for the right to self-defense. It was a violation of the code for a Legionnaire to kill---period.
This lack of a self-defense provision is the reason why Superboy volunteered to defend Star Boy from the charges. He, along with the other invulnerable Legionnaires, believed that their fellow members should have the right to kill to prevent their own deaths. The Boy of Steel’s efforts to exonerate Star Boy concentrated on demonstrating why a self-defense proviso was a needed thing.
Ultimately, he even persuaded the prosecutor, Brainiac 5, of this. However, it didn’t stop the court-martial from going forward. Star Boy had violated the Legion code as it currently existed---without the right to self-defense. In the end, the lad from Xanthu was found guilty and kicked out of the Legion.
Yet, this was clearly a contradiction of Mort Weisinger’s earlier claim that the Legion code did permit Legionnaires to kill, if necessary to save their own lives. By now, he should have known that the hard-core Legion mavens would jump on that. At least one did---Alan Anderson, of St. Petersburg, Florida. His indignant letter appeared in Adventure Comics # 345 (Jun., 1966):
You’ve finally gone and done it! Your latest story, “The Legionnaire Who Killed,” simply has no basis. In your January, 1964 letter column, you stated: “It is against the code to destroy life ruthlessly, or in a wanton manner. It is not against the code to destroy life in self-defense.” Admit, you blew it!
With his own words hurled back at him, Mort could only offer a mea culpa and weakly argue that it didn’t matter, anyway:
True, we forgot about that provision in the code. But Brainiac 5 proved that Star Boy could have used his power to beat the killer without doing him in. So the expulsion still stands.
This is the kind of thing that gives loyal series fans fits. Devotees of Sherlock Holmes have applied contorted trains of thought into justifying how many wives Doctor Watson had or to his war wound, cited variously as in the shoulder or the leg. The same could be said for die-hard Legion-lovers and the matter of the Legion code providing an exception for self-defense. Fan sites have debated it for years.
Which is why I find the last of the possible reasons the most compelling . . . .
3. As they did often, the Legionnaires ignored their own rules.
It’s been discussed here before that, as much as the Legionnaires presented themselves as responsible and adult, they were still only teen-agers, on the cusp of maturity. So many of their actions were based on the whims and superficial concerns of adolescents. Our own Randy Jackson has raised this point a few times.
You have the hair-trigger emotional responses. In “The Stolen Super-Powers”, the other Legionnaires are so chaffed by Saturn Girl’s behaviour that, at the mere mention of Zaryan, they immediately jump to the conclusion that she is in league with the criminal. During the events of “The Legionnaires’ Super-Sacrifice”, Saturn Girl believes that Mon-El is withholding his knowledge because he is jealous of Lightning Lad.
Not only are they insecure about each other, but like all teens, they are insecure about themselves. In “The Fantastic Spy”, the secret details of Legion operations are being leaked to criminals. Immediately, thoughts turn to the possibility of a traitor in the organisation, but no fingers have been pointed. That doesn’t keep Matter-Eater Lad from worrying about his status with the group.
“Since I’m the newest member,” he says, “and my loyalty hasn’t been proven yet, I---I can’t help feeling you veteran Legionnaires suspect me!”
Perhaps part of M-E Lad’s insecurity comes from his awareness that his super-power is a pretty lame one, by Legion standards. To be sure, the most obvious examples of the Legionnaires’ cliquishness and adolescent thinking appear in their membership-offering.
Many times, the Legion seems to have accepted new members on the basis of personality alone. The events of “The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy” scarcely justify his induction into the Legion. He gets in because he’s the funny fat kid. The Legionnaires admit it themselves when B.B. is left behind “to guard the ship” in “The Legion of Super-Monsters”. Once he is out of earshot, his buddies admit that their plump pal is jolly and they like him, but his power of super-bouncing doesn’t help much on missions.
On the other hand, Polar Boy, whose power of super-cold clearly would be of benefit, is rejected. Polar Boy meets all of the qualifications for Legion membership; he’s also noticeably smaller, and probably younger, than the Legionnaires. To them, it would be like having one’s kid brother tagging along. So he’s shown the door on the flimsiest of excuses. (“It might . . . disable us at a critical moment!”)
Even Star Boy’s court-martial saw some cracks in the Legionnaires’ official deportment. During the vote for verdict, all of the female Legionnaires---except Saturn Girl---voted for Star Boy’s acquittal out of sentiment for his romance with Dream Girl. It wasn’t the first time Dream Girl was responsible for the teens voting with their hormones. Back in Adventure Comics # 317 (Feb., 1964), Dreamy was admitted to the Legion, the girl Legionnaires outvoted by the boys, responding to the blood rushing out of their brains.
While they played at being adults, the Legionnaires all too often displayed their immaturity by letting their impulsive emotions override their own policies.
The failure to indict Lighting Lad for the death of Zaryan might have been simply one more example of the cliquish Legionnaires giving into their adolescent whims.
Not all of them. Cosmic Boy was certainly a hard-liner, as seen by his insistence that L.L. be expelled for losing his super-power, as he believed, back in “The Return of Lightning Lad”. On his home world of Braal, its people were considered adults at fourteen---probably owing to a faster maturity rate---and Cos had been the first Legion leader. He understood the tremendous responsibility of being a Legionnaire.
Notably, Cosmic Boy was absent during the events which saw Lightning Lad return to life. Without his influence, the issue of Zaryan’s death wasn’t raised. Nor was it likely to be, given that the Legion members who were there for Lightning Lad's revival included Lightning Lass (his sister), Sun Boy (his best friend), and Superboy (who believed that the Legionnaires should have the right to kill in self-defense).
And then there was Saturn Girl, whom Legion fans had already pegged as Lightning Lad’s girl friend, based on the fact that Action Comics # 289 (Jun., 1962) had shown them married, as adults. Moreover, she was the current leader of the team. Any move to prosecute Lightning Lad would have to get past her.
The other Legionnaires still had fresh memories of their experience with Saturn Girl as a tyrant. They were probably more than glad to let the matter of Lightning Lad’s violation slide, rather than see the return of “Imra, the She-Wolf from Hell”.