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: 1162

Comment by John Dunne on May 12, 2013 at 9:53am
Hi Commander,

I'm really intrigued by the Supergirl/Saturn Girl post-hypnotic suggestion blast on Superboy. The art scans clearly prove your point that it was in fact Supergirl who was responsible for the hypnosis and NOT Saturn Girl.
I'd be really interested to know where the original error was made and why so many people did not pick up on it either in the beginning or in the many years that have followed. I have found numerous Superman/Legion fan-sites over the years that state it was Saturn Girl and it is most-notably 'officially' mentioned in the Krypton Companion.
Was Saturn Girl responsible for..say....an 'earlier' post-hypnotic suggestion? It's very strange that people would so frequently mix up Saturn Girl and Supergirl when it is clearly stated in the footnotes. Is it possible that it was later CHANGED to Saturn Girl somewhere in the comic book canon? I read somewhere that Saturn Girl did in fact create a later post hypnotic suggestion in Superboy's mind but that this was to keep him out of the 30th century.
I'm sure there must be a reason as to why this error originated.

Any thoughts?

Comment by Commander Benson on May 12, 2013 at 10:58am

Well, Mr. Dunne, I can offer you fact to one of your questions, and opinion to the other.

 

No, there was no earlier instance of Saturn Girl implanting a post-hypnotic suggestion in Superboy's mind.  In fact, under the standards that then-Superman family editor Mort Weisinger established, even Saturn Girl's mental powers weren't strong enough to affect the Boy of Steel.  This is evidenced---much later, but still during Mort's reign as editor---in "The Outcast Super-Heroes", from Adventure Comics # 350 (Nov., 1966).  As you may recall, this was the first half of the two-parter which saw a green-kryptonite cloud surrounding the thirtieth-century Earth's atmosphere.  Because of that, Superboy and Supergirl could no longer participate on Legion missions.  But, to ensure the super-cousins wouldn't inadvertently reveal critical knowledge about the future, they submitted to a selective brainwashing, to remove their memories of the Legion and the future.

 

Notably, Saturn Girl couldn't just zap them with a mental blast to do the job---because the Boy and Girl of Steel would have been immune to her power.  Instead, they underwent delicate operations in which green-kryptonite capsules were implanted in the segments of their brains which contained their knowledge of the Legion and the thirtieth century.

 

But, going back to the original matter of making Superboy forget critical details of his own future life whenever he returned to his own time, that problem probably hadn't even been considered---by either Weisinger or the readers---until the death of Lightning Lad in Adventure Comics # 304 (Jan., 1963), when Supergirl and Lori Lemaris showed up for L.L.'s funeral.  Even though Supergirl had been inducted into the Legion before that issue, this was the first time that both Superboy and Supergirl appeared with the Legion at the same time.

 

No doubt that made quite a few veteran Superman and Legion fans think, "Hey, wait a minute . . . !"

 

Mort must have received quite a bit of mail from fans demanding to know why Superman had been surprised by Supergirl's arrival on Earth, when, as Superboy, he had already met her on Legion business.  Jerry Weismann's letter was just the lucky one of the bunch that Weisinger printed, and he probably didn't print it until he had come up with an answer.  And Mort played by his own rules---yes, Saturn Girl wasn't powerful enough to affect the invulnerable Superboy's brain, but another super-powered Kryptonian---Supergirl---was.

 

And, as you so keenly noted, the Legion stories were consistent on this point throughout the Silver Age.

 

So how did the error originate, you ask?  Well, that's the opinion part.  But I think it's a pretty accurate one.

 

One of the things that demarked the Bronze Age was a shift in the writing style.  The addition of more characterisation to the heroes.  This came about mainly because of a sea change in the writers.  For various reasons, most of DC's Silver-Age writers---Fox, Broome, Drake, and others---were no longer writing for the company.  Three of those others were Weisinger's regular stable of writers:  Edmund Hamilton, Jerry Siegel, and Otto Binder.  For that matter, Weisinger himself was gone, having retired in 1970.

 

To fill the vacuum, DC took on former fans turned professional.  Fellows like Cary Bates and Gerry Conway and Mike Friedrich and Denny O'Neil.   Unlike the previous generation of DC writers, these "Young Turks" had grown up reading Silver-Age DC comics.  You'd think that would be a good thing, at least in terms of maintaining continuity.  But it wasn't.

 

They were cocky and eager to put their fresh twists on DC's characters by inserting some Marvel-style characterisation.  But they were also overconfident in how well they thought they knew the characters.  They half-remembered details, missed little things in what had been established during the Silver Age, but they were too impatient and too sure of themselves to actually go back and reference the old material and make sure of what they thought they remembered.

 

That, I suspect, is the main reason for all the slightly-off (and some not-so-slightly-off) errors which crept into nearly all of DC's titles in the 1970's.  (In fact, all of those errors provided me with the very basis for my "But I Always Thought . . . " series.)  Another reason, I believe, was that these Young Turks had their Neat Ideas that they wanted to make part of the canon and they didn't want to be hobbled by any earlier stories that would contradict their Neat Ideas.  So they ignored the old details when they had to.

 

I don't recall precisely when Saturn Girl became the one responsible for Superboy's post-hypnotic suggestion.  In fact, the matter that there was one was almost never mentioned.   But I'm certain that, the first time it did come up in the Bronze Age, whomever wrote that story erroneously remembered it as Saturn Girl being the one to do the post-hypnotic hocus-pocus, and he was so sure he was right, he didn't bother to go back to one of the old Adventure stories and double-check.

 

And, as you know, misinformation begets misinformation.  By the time of the cyberage, Legion fans---most of whom weren't old enough to have read the Legion's run in Adventure Comics---took what they read in the Bronze-Age Legion tales as gospel.  And when those Legion fans put that mistaken belief on the Internet, either in Legion-based websites or on Legion message boards or chat rooms, it perpetuated.

 

Fan sites are even less prone to actual research than DC's Young Turk writers were.  Very few of them actually go back to the original stories to cull their information; they simply go to other sites to collect what they need/want.  And if the information on the other sites is wrong, well, guess what?  Misinformation begets misinformation.

 

Of all the DC titles and series of the 1970's to suffer sloppy errors (generally, the Superman and Action Comics titles did not---because they were edited by Julius Schwartz who, like Mort Weisinger, was an editor of the old style, who knew the material and ruled with an iron hand), the Legion saw the most of these gaffes.  Probably because the Legion of Super-Heroes had always been the DC series most influenced by the fans.  But, as you saw if you read all three parts of my Legion "But I Always Thought . . . ", the errors were abundant.

 

Hope this gives you something of the answer you were looking for.

 

Comment by John Dunne on May 12, 2013 at 12:12pm

This is great! So it is possible that a writer changed it to Saturn Girl in a later story, rather than an error in memory which was made by a fan on a website or in one of the encyclopedias? I always presumed it was an error on the part of the fans rather than a writer.

I seem to remember a later story when the 30th century earth was surrounded by Green Kryptonite and Superboy and Supergirl had to be 'brainwashed' into forgetting all about the 30th Century. I can't remember anymore details about this or when it was written.

If this was early on, perhaps it was later ignored....... as I know Supergirl participated in The Great Darkness Saga which was in the early 1980's

Comment by Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas on May 12, 2013 at 1:09pm

@John Dunne: that story is from Adventure #350-351, and has been mentioned in this thread.

Comment by John Dunne on May 12, 2013 at 1:24pm

ooops........must have missed that. I really should read the thread properly!

Comment by John Dunne on May 12, 2013 at 1:28pm

The question I still have is that post Adventure 350-351, did either Supergirl or Superboy participate inLegion adventures? Was the Green Kryptonite cloud only temporary?

Apologies that I missed that section of the thread first time round!

Comment by Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas on May 12, 2013 at 4:10pm

The cloud was supposed to last a whole year IIRC.  But it was turned into blue kryptonite by Color Kid of the Legion of Substitute Heroes in #351.

Comment by Dandy Forsdyke on May 12, 2013 at 4:56pm

Just found this blog and it answers a lot of questions - thanks. :-)

Comment by Commander Benson on May 13, 2013 at 6:26am

"The question I still have is that post-Adventure 350-351, did either Supergirl or Superboy participate in Legion adventures? Was the Green Kryptonite cloud only temporary?"

 

"The Outcast Super-Heroes"/"The Forgotten Legion" is most noted for what it intended to do.

 

Two things about that two-part epic stand out . . . .

 

1.  It's a veritable "kitchen sink" story.  Myriad elements of the Legion and Superman mythos are drawn into the tale:  the Legion of Substitute Heroes, the Super-Pets, the Legion Reserve, R. J. Brande (his introduction, actually), Smallville High School, Master Mxyzptlk.  Every Legionnaire makes an appearance, even if just a one-panel walk-on.  And there are nods to Jor-El and Lara, as well as past Legion matters, such as Satan Girl and Computo the Conqueror and the Civil War of the Legion.  Not surprisingly, it was written by E. Nelson Bridwell, that walking encyclopædia of DC lore.

 

2.  The conclusion sees a big reset button pressed, revoking nearly all of the events that had contributed to much of the Legion series' drama over the previous year.  Bouncing Boy regained his super-power; Matter-Eater Lad lost all of the excess weight he had gained in Adventure Comics # 345; Lightning Lad regrew a flesh-and-blood right arm to replace the one he had lost to the Moby Dick of Space; and Star Boy and Dream Girl were readmitted to the Legion.  This was in addition to the central problem of the story being resolved---the matter of the green-kryptonite cloud surrounding the Earth of A.D. 2966 which forced Superboy and Supergirl to leave the Super-Hero Club.

 

There was actually a reason for all of this "undoing".  Besides just making a contingent of Legion fans happy, that is.  The following account was brought to light by Nelson Bridwell, in an interview conducted in the mid-1970's by a staffer with the "Legion Outpost" fanzine.

 

Adventure Comics # 350-1 was intended to be Superboy and Supergirl's swan song in the Legion series.  Editor Mort Weisinger felt that the Legion had grown popular enough to stand on its own and no longer needed Superboy to prop it up.  Furthermore, writing the super-cousins out of the series would remedy a couple of problems.

 

First, it would remove two of the Legion's four heavy-hitters.  It was difficult to construct truly menacing situations when Superboy or Supergirl or Mon-El or Ultra Boy was capable of squelching most threats by page two.  And while Supergirl was pretty much ignored and Mon and U Boy could be conveniently away on missions "on the other side of the galaxy", Superboy's presence in the title was pretty much mandated.  Removing the Boy and Girl of Steel from the series would pretty much resolve that problem.

 

Second, dropping Superboy and Supergirl from the series would avoid those sticky questions about them learning things from their own future, which always seemed to pop up.

 

So the idea was to come up with a reason why the super-cousins could no longer participate in Legion missions.  Hence the green-kryptonite cloud which had somehow become magnetised to the thirtieth-century Earth's atmosphere.  And the script gave the cloud some other properties which precluded Element Lad from changing the green k to something harmless. 

 

Moreover, the story insisted that the cloud was going to be there for at least three years.  But since we're talking comic-book time, rather than real time, that meant "as long as it was handy as a plot device."

 

To compensate for the loss of Superboy and Supergirl, the script saw Bouncing Boy and Star Boy and Dream Girl back on the team, and fixing Lightning Lad and Matter-Eater Lad's physical problems was thrown in for good measure.

 

That was the idea, anyway.

 

The monkey wrench in the reduction gear arose when, in the eleventh hour---after issue # 350 had hit the stands and # 351 was just about to go to press---DC publisher Jack Liebowitz got cold feet over the future of the Legion series without Superboy and ordered Weisinger to keep the Boy of Steel in the title.  (Presumably, Liebowitz didn't care one way or the other about Supergirl; she just happened to benefit from the contrivance that kept her cousin in the club.)

 

Weisinger and Bridwell were forced to rewrite the ending and reconciled the problem of the green-k cloud in the last three panels of the story---through a means which, as Mort stated later in a lettercol response, one shouldn't ask his science teacher about its veracity.

 

So, to answer your question, Mr. Dunne; yes, Superboy and Supergirl continued to participate in Legion adventures for the rest of the series run in Adventure Comics, with the Boy of Steel maintaining his nearly constant presence.  But the original idea was to send them back to the twentieth century for good after issue # 351.

 

Hope this helps.

 

 

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