Deck Log Entry # 99 "But I Always Thought . . . .": the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 2)

Still with me? Good, because we have quite a few more long-held Legion of Super-Heroes myths to puncture. In fact, this time, we’re going to take apart what are probably the two biggest and most fervently believed misconceptions about the Legion. Let’s get right to it.

 

 

 

 Legion Myth 2: Saturn Girl Planted a Post-Hypnotic Command in Superboy’s Mind So When He Returned to His Own Era, He Would Forget Everything He Learnt About His Own Future.

 

Time-travel stories are tricky business.

As the Silver-Age editor of the Superman family of magazines, Mort Weisinger had to juggle adventures across three separate time periods. His Superman stories occurred in what was then the current day, while the Superboy tales---the adventures of Superman when he was a youth---took place in the 1930’s. And the Legion of Super-Heroes series, in which the Boy of Steel took a prominent part, was set in the thirtieth century. With the same character being featured in all three settings, Mort and his writers had to do a bit of juggling to keep Superman’s time-line straight.

Sooner or later, though, there was bound to be a slip-up. And there was. But leave it to Mort Weisinger to find an explanation.

It happened innocently enough. 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 1930’s Smallville to enlist Superboy as its newest member. Accompanying the Legionnaires to their own era, the Boy of Steel was treated to a tour of the Earth of the future, including a stop-off at a thirtieth century ice cream parlour, before being formally introduced to the three current members. Then Superboy was given an initiation test, at which he proved he had the stuff to become a Legionnaire.

So far, so good.

A little more than a year later, Weisinger introduced one of the most significant developments of his Superman mythos. In Action Comics # 252 (May, 1959), Superman was astounded to discover that he had a teen-age cousin, Kara, who came from a Kryptonian city which had survived the destruction of their home world. There, life had gone on as normally as possible, and Kara had been born to Zor-El---brother to Superman’s father, Jor-El---and his wife, Allura. As Kara entered her teens, disaster befell Argo City and just before the end, her parents rocketed her to Earth to join her cousin, Superman.

Garbed in a costume similar to her cousin’s, she took the identity of Supergirl. For years, Superman kept her existence on Earth hidden, as his “secret emergency weapon”, while he trained her in the proper use of her super-powers. In Kara’s down time, she posed as orphan Linda Lee and resided at Midvale Orphanage.

In many ways, the Supergirl stories had their own particular charm. The readers watched her mature in her use of her powers and grow into the rôle of a super-heroine, something which was only infrequently touched on in the stories of Superman as a boy. Eventually, her performance came to the attention of the Legion of Super-Heroes in the thirtieth century, who, with the benefit of a thousand years of hindsight, was well aware that she would someday become the World’s Greatest Heroine.

 

Once again, the three original Legionnaires travelled back to the twentieth century, this time to offer Supergirl membership, in Action Comics # 267 (Aug., 1960). They employed the same approach that they had used to gain Superboy’s attention, and Kara, thrilled at the offer, accompanied the Legionnaires to the future. They gave the Girl of Steel the same tour, right down to the visit to the nine-interplanetary-flavours ice cream parlour, before getting down to business.

Things didn’t go quite as smoothly for Supergirl, as they did for her cousin. She fulfilled her initiation admirably, but a quirk of fate denied her admittance to the Legion. They gave her another shot, though, in Action Comics # 276 (May, 1961), and that time, she made the grade.

This is where Mort’s time-era juggling began to wobble. It may not have been obvious at first, but the problem became clear when Superboy and Supergirl, both Legionnaires, attended the funeral of Lightning Lad in Adventure Comics # 304 (Jan., 1963). If Superboy served in the Legion with Supergirl, why was he so surprised as Superman, when Kara first arrived on Earth, back in Action Comics # 252?

The super-cousins appeared together in a couple more Legion missions before reader Jerry Weissman, of Providence, Rhode Island, finally called Weisinger on it, in a letter appearing in the letter column of Adventure Comics # 333 (Jun., 1965):

 

 I get mixed up when I see Superboy and Supergirl together in the Legion. Supergirl came to Earth when Superboy had grown up to be Superman. Therefore, he shouldn’t know about her since this would reveal something about his future. Does he take a serum, or hypnotize himself, or something, when he returns to his own time? I’m all bedfuddled.

 

“You’re close,” Mort replied. “Supergirl uses post-hypnotic suggestion to make the Boy of Steel forget about her when he returns to twentieth-century Smallville.”

That’s right: Supergirl. Not Saturn Girl.

Weisinger’s explanation became official with the next issue, # 334 (Jul., 1965). “The Unknown Legionnaire” was one of those rare Legion adventures in which Supergirl played a large part, and it didn’t take long after the super-cousins appeared side by side that a footnote was inserted, establishing that Supergirl had implanted a post-hypnotic suggestion in Superboy’s mind so that he would forget her existence when he returned to his own time. Thus, paving the way for his total surprise as an adult when cousin Kara landed on Earth.

Logically, the extent of Supergirl’s post-hypnotic command included anything that Superboy might learn about his future life while he is participating on Legion missions. During the pitched battle against the sentient rogue mechanism Computo the Conqueror, in Adventure Comics # 340-1 (Jan. and Feb., 1966), the Legionnaires are forced to take refuge in the long-abandoned Batcave. Here, Superboy learns of how, as an adult, he will become good friends with the Gotham City hero, the Batman. Once again, a footnote from Weisinger reminds the readers of the Girl of Steel’s post-hypnotic instruction.

Within the Batcave, Brainiac 5 discovers two devices which ultimately led to Computo’s destruction. As Superboy returns home through the time-barrier, the post-hypnotic command takes effect and he finds he can no longer recall just how the Legion saved the day.

 

But that was Supergirl’s doing, not Saturn Girl’s---and never was.

 

 

 

Legion Myth 3: The Legion Has a Provision Prohibiting Members with Duplicate Powers.

 

Not in the Silver Age, it didn’t.

This is one of the first myths to come from fans taking a later development and then believing it has always been that way, even back during the Silver Age.

The first Legion reference to an official rule against the duplication of super-powers, thus requiring an applicant to have a unique super-power, did not occur until the story "The One-Shot Hero!", which appeared in Superboy # 195 (Jun., 1973). This is the tale which introduced the character ERG-1---later to be known as Wildfire. During ERG-1's Legion audition, he demonstrates several powers which mimic those of extant Legionnaires; nevertheless, he is rejected for membership.

The reason for his disqualification is provided by then-Legion leader Mon-El: "I'm afraid you're not Legion material! You've demonstrated you can imitate many of us . . . but according to our rules, ERG, every member must possess a unique super-power all his own!"

This prohibition is reïnforced in the story "Last Fight for a Legionnaire", from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes # 212 (Oct., 1975). During the events of this tale, the Legion rejects for membership six applicants who hail from home worlds of certain Legionnaires and possess the same powers inherent to all from those particular planets. The reason provided for their disqualification is the same as it was for ERG-1:

CHAMELEON BOY: "The Legion only accepts one member with a particular power!"

COSMIC BOY: "Except Superboy and Supergirl . . . but they're special! We made that rule to promote diversification."

 

Sure, clearly, the Bronze-Age Legion had adopted such a rule (as ridiculous as it is), but the Legionnaires weren’t quite so picky back in the Silver Age.

The first section in the Legion Constitution---printed in Adventure Comics # 325 (Oct., 1964), but restated several times throughout the group’s run in that title---sets forth the prerequisites for Legion membership:

 

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.

  

You see? There is no stipulation that an applicant possess a unique or distinctive super-power; merely a genuine, fully controlled super-power.

Now it’s obvious that . . . huh? What was that from the back? Back in Adventure Comics # 317 (Feb., 1964), didn’t Dream Girl change Lightning Lass’s power because it duplicated that of her brother, Lightning Lad, and otherwise, she would have had to leave the Legion?

Well, no. I mean, yes, Dream Girl altered Lightning Lass’s super-power, but no, not because it violated Legion rules by duplicating her brother’s power.

Originally, Ayla Ranzz possessed the power to cast lightning. She acquired this power, along with her twin brother, Garth Ranzz, and her older brother Mekt, after being caught in the electrical discharges of lightning beasts on the planet Korbal. Later, her brother Garth was involved in the incident that led to the formation of the Legion of Super-Heroes and he took the identity of Lightning Lad.

When Lightning Lad was apparently killed in Adventure Comics # 304, eventually Ayla took his place in the Legion as Lightning Lass. In Adventure Comics # 312 (Sep., 1963), Lightning Lad was restored to life, and for the next several issues, alongside his equally-powered sister.

Then, in Adventure Comics # 317, a platinum-blonde beauty calling herself Dream Girl attempts to join the Legion with the specific intent of getting certain Legionnaires expelled from the club. Dream Girl’s motives are noble, however. She possesses the ability of precognition and one of her prophetic dreams showed these particular Legionnaires---of whom Lightning Lass was one---being killed during a space-mission. Her aim is to engineer the expulsion of these ill-fated members before they can be assigned to the mission and thus, thwart their deaths.

Once admitted, Dream Girl entraps the target Legionnaires into situations in which they violate some provision of the Legion Constitution. In the case of Lightning Lass, Dream Girl rigs the explosion of an experimental generator that removes Ayla’s ability to wield lightning. As a result, Dream Girl insists on Lightning Lass’s ouster from the Legion.

During the course of the tale, several excerpts of the Legion Constitution are cited, but none of them address a prohibition against a duplication of powers, or even come close to anything like that. Lightning Lass is expelled from the group, but because she no longer meets the requirement to possess a genuine super-power.

At the conclusion of the story, when Dream Girl’s noble intentions are revealed, Lightning Lass is still pretty hacked off. Not only were Dream Girl’s actions unnecessary---she misread the events of her dream---but, as Ayla complains, “. . . I lost my power of super-lightning, so I’m still expelled!” In other words, thanks for nothing, bitch!

Before Ayla can start spreading catty rumours about her down at the ice cream shop, Dream Girl tells her:

“Since your power wasn’t needed, because it’s the same as that of your brother, Lightning Lad, I used Naltorian science to cause that electric explosion which changed your super-power!”

Ayla gives it a test and discovers that she now has the power to reduce the effect of gravity on specific objects, making them super-lightweight. She changes her super-hero sobriquet to Light Lass and spends the next several issues deciding on a new chest insignia.

So you see, boys and girls, the change in Ayla’s super-power had nothing to do with any kind of Legion rule against members having the same power. It was because of the perception that her power was redundant---and, for that matter, that was a presumption on the part of Dream Girl. The other Legionnaires had no such opinion.

Nor would the readers expect that they would have. After all, the Legion had knowingly admitted members possessing the same super-powers in the past: Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, Ultra Boy, and Star Boy (before his Kryptonian-like powers wore off, leaving him with just the ability to induce mass). And it tried to enlist Dev-Em of Krypton, who told them that he had better things to do.

Now, granted, the Legionnaires would have to be idiots not to want as many Kryptonian-powered members as they could sign up, but they probably didn’t need more than one Triplicate Girl or Matter-Eater Lad. But they wouldn’t need a rule in the Legion Constitution to keep any other applicants from Cargg or Bismoll out of the club. The stories had shown that the Legionnaires really didn’t need much of a good reason for refusing membership to someone. (Polar Boy, anyone?)

So, no, the Silver-Age Legion had no rule prohibiting duplication of powers.

 

 

 

 

 

 




 

 

 

 

Views: 616

Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on February 15, 2010 at 2:45am
Yet another amazing examination, Commander. If I wore a hat, it would be off to you.
Comment by Luke Blanchard on February 15, 2010 at 2:52am
What reason was given for the rejection of Polar Boy? I've long wondered.
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on February 15, 2010 at 3:04am
According to the DC Database, his powers were too uncontrollable. If only there had been an organization of super-powered peers he could have joined that might help him control those powers. Instead, there was just the Legion.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on February 15, 2010 at 7:55am
Commander,

A great piece, but I've two pieces of trivia for your consideration and discussion.

You noted, "Once again, the three original Legionnaires traveled back to the twentieth century, this time to offer Supergirl membership, in Action Comics # 267 (Aug., 1960)." Actually, I believe that these were purported to be the children of the original Legionnaires... all of whom looked exactly the same and had the same powers... yeah, okay, it was a stretch. But it DID keep the time frame consistent; Superboy served with the original Legion, and Supergirl with the second Legion - in the era of Superman, so the timing proceeded consistently. If it were done today, it might make a good story; internal continuity and all.

And a comment to you about Ultra Boy. I propose to you that Ultra Boy wasn't supposed to have all the super powers of Superboy or Mon-El - at least not at his inception. (Mind you, this is all speculation and inference, but still... I get to do that. I am the Silver Age Fogey... :) For his first appearances, Ultra Boy showed Pentra/Penetra Vision and Flash Vision and "super" X-Ray vision (super because it could affect lead; and it can be argued that it wasn't a separate power because back in the day, X-Ray vision and Heat/Flash vision were the same power.) I don't have my books here to research when exactly Ultra Boy became a "backup" Superboy - but I'm positive it wasn't in his first appearances.

Great column here - the substantiation of the "mythbusting" is terrific, and it's always a pleasure to read your Deck Logs.

I remain,
Sincerely,
Eric L. Sofer
The Silver Age Fogey
x<]:o){
Comment by Commander Benson on February 15, 2010 at 8:26am
"What reason was given for the rejection of Polar Boy? I've long wondered."

The precise reason that the Legion rejected Polar Boy was given by Sun Boy: "Your power is unusual, but it might freeze and disable us at a critical moment."

Kind of spurious, if you ask me. That "disable us at a critical moment" business could hold true for a number of Legionnaires' powers---including Sun Boy's.

Comment by Randy Jackson on February 15, 2010 at 8:33am
Something I've been curious about, since I missed much of the mid-to-late-1970's/1980's Legion--did Wildfire ever display those Kryptonian like powers, such as super strength? I would think those would be much more useful than his energy powers in most instances.
Comment by Luke Blanchard on February 15, 2010 at 8:59am
Thanks, gents.
Comment by Commander Benson on February 15, 2010 at 9:09am
Fogey, your points are certainly worth mentioning, and I did consider them in preparing my article.

True, in Action Comics # 267, the text did insist that those Legionnaires were the children of the original "Big Three", and you're probably right about the reason for that---to keep Supergirl's involvement with the Legion separate from Superboy's. So Mort, or the writer, wasn't completely unaware of the potential conflict of having the youthful super-cousins appear together.

The problem was that distinction was tossed aside almost as soon as it was introduced. On Supergirl's next shot at joining the Legion, in Action Comics # 276, there was no nonsense about it being the second generation of Legionnaires. The Girl of Steel was joining the same group as her cousin had as a boy.

And, thus, forcing die-hard Legion fans to go through all kinds of explicatory gymnastics in order to come up with a rationalisation for why the original Legionnaires claimed to be their own children back in Action Comics # 267. Even mentioning it, I felt, would have added a complication to my article that really didn't need to be there. It's a moot issue, since DC did away with that notion immediately, and I didn't want to have my readers lose track before I got to my central point that it was Supergirl who did the Svengali act on Superboy, and not Saturn Girl.

And you are correct about Ultra Boy. In his debut, in Superboy # 98 (Jul., 1962), and for his next several appearances, he possessed only the vision powers you outlined.

Then, in Adventure Comics # 314 (Nov., 1963), Ultra Boy was, without explanation, shown to possess the standard set of Kryptonian-type super-powers---super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, super-vision, flight---with the proviso, set forth clearly in a footnote, that he could only use one of his super-powers at a time.

Since the thrust of the plot of that issue was how the villain Alaktor had transferred the minds of Hitler, Nero, and John Dillinger to take over the bodies of the three mightiest Legionnaires, no doubt Ultra Boy's powers were ramped up to put him somewhat on a par with Superboy and Mon-El. (This is the story that established Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy as the three Heavy Hitters of the Legion.)

Two issues later, in Adventure Comics # 316 (Jan., 1964), Ultra Boy plays a major part in that tale, and it includes a flashback to his origin and adds some details. There is a sequence which shows that "after some experimentation", Ultra Boy discovered that the ultra-energy which gave him his vision powers could also be channeled into other super-powers, such as "ultra-strength", "ultra-speed", flight, and invulnerability.

This would have made a workable solution for U Boy's new-found powers, except for one snag. The same flashback also insisted that Ultra Boy discovered he could possess additional powers before applying for Legion membership. That screws up the time-line, again. It would have worked just fine if U Boy had learnt to use his ultra-energy for other powers after he had joined the Legion; after all, he already had the job. But by making it retroactive to before he joined, that confused the issue. At the very least, it forced a rewrite of his origin story in Superboy # 98 when it was reprinted in Superboy (Giant Annual) # 147 (Jun., 1968). Originally, U Boy's Legion initiation required him to ferret out Superboy's secret identity using the only powers he had at the time---his vision powers; the rewrite forced by Adventure Comics # 316 now insisted that part of the initiation requirements was that he was limited to using only his vision powers.

Not a big deal, I guess, but unnecessary.

I mentally tossed a coin as to whether or not to include Ultra Boy as one of the Kryptonian-like powered Legionnaires in my article---because I knew that he wasn't originally intended to be one. I figured whether I included him or not, someone would be commenting on why I did or didn't. I decided to go ahead and put him in the mix. Mainly because for some many years in Adventure, U Boy was considered one of the Heavy Hitter triumvriate, but also because I knew the revision from issue # 316 technically insisted that the Legion knew about his other super-powers when they signed him on. I figured someone would point that out.

In my own personal sense of Legion history, Ultra Boy didn't discover that he could gain other powers until after he joined---it works more smoothly that way---but I was caught in revisionary details.

Thanks, as always, for your cogent observations, Fogey.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on February 16, 2010 at 7:36am
Commander,

Thank you for your good responses - and perhaps you can supply me one more while we're on the ultra subject. Do I recall that a couple of the Legion's Adventure stories showing (or re-showing) Ultra Boy's origin were John Forte art - except for the one or two panels of Curt Swan art from Superboy #98. I don't blame them; those are a couple of gorgeous panels (not that Curt Swan did too many that weren't...)

But as you can usually research this with far greater alacrity than I, I was hoping you could examine this and confirm it for me. Thank you!

x<]:o){
Comment by Commander Benson on February 16, 2010 at 8:30am
Fogey, I immediately recalled two retellings of Ultra Boy's origin, and---somewhat to my surprise---both were done completely by John Forte.

The first time was in that issue I talked about before---Adventure Comics # 316 (Jan., 1964). Most of page 4 is a retelling of U Boy's origin. Two of the panels replicate the two panels from the telling of his origin in Superboy # 98. At first blush, one simply assumes they took those two panels from Superboy # 98 and reprinted them in Adventure Comics # 316. But I took a close look at them. Yes, it's John Forte's work. He drew it very closely to Curt Swan's panels, good enough to fool someone looking at them casually. But there are just enough differences between Swan's panels and the ones in issue # 316 to definitively say it was Forte's work. He may have been tracing Swan's art, or he simply might have been drawing 'way above his level for those two panels.

Then Adventure Comics # 331 (Apr., 1965)---"The Super-Moby Dick of Space"---has a one-panel relook at U Boy's origin. It's the panel in which the galactic patrol is seen slicing open the space dragon and freeing Jo Nah's runabout. That was also drawn by John Forte, and again, it took after the Swan panel. Only it is slightly different from either Swan's panel or Forte's own earlier rendition of it. It's a bit less detailed.

Those are the only two that come to mind right now, Fogey. If I think of any others, I'll post a note here.

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