From the Archives: Deck Log Entry # 32 A Forgotten Gem: Adventure Comics # 342 (March, 1966)

“The Legionnaire Who Killed”


Editor: Mort Weisinger  Writer:  Edmond Hamilton  Art: Curt Swan (pencils); Sheldon Moldoff, George Klein (inks)



“Talking head” stories, as a rule, don’t go over too well in comics.   One of the strengths of the comic-book medium lies in its ability to depict super-hero-type action in fantastic environments, and when a story doesn’t deliver that, many fans feel cheated.  This was especially true back in the Silver Age, when the readership tended to be younger.  We didn’t want psycho-drama; we wanted to see Green Lantern kick Sinestro halfway to Alpha Centauri.


That’s why a story like “The Legionnaire Who Killed” proved to be so remarkable.  It was a tale almost completely bereft of action and posed no physical threat to Our Heroes.  Yet, this masterful drama by Edmond Hamilton gripped the reader from page one and didn’t let go until the last panel.


I need to speak for a moment about Edmond Hamilton and the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Largely, it is Jim Shooter whom the fans credit for more sophisticated stories, stronger characterisation, heavy emotional drama, and overall, elevating the Legion series from a juvenile level.  To be sure, Shooter took the Legion to its highest point, but most of the things he gets credit for bringing to the series actually started in the Adventure scripts that came out of Hamilton’s typewriter.


Such Hamilton stories as “The Lone Wolf Legionnaire”, “The War Between Krypton and Earth”, “The Super-Moby Dick of Space”, and “Hunters of the Super-Beasts” introduced the first believable nuances of romance, obsession, and, what the young readers probably most identified with, feelings of alienation in the teen-age heroes.  Hamilton also wrote the first true Legion saga with his two-part Starfinger tale.


Yet, none of those other tales displays Hamilton’s literary skill as much as “The Legionnaire Who Killed”.  It is no accident that this tale consistently makes most Silver-Age fans’ list of favourite Legion stories.




One look at the cover of Adventure Comics # 342 shows that this will not be a run-of-the-mill Legion story.  The focus is on seldom-seen Legionnaire Star Boy, holding the body of the outlaw he has killed.  On the dead man’s chest is a large smear of blood.  This was a real eye-opener in those days.  Any trace of blood was virtually taboo then.  Whether hero, villain, or fringe character, all wounds, no matter how grievous, were almost always depicted with nary a drop of the red stuff.


The story proper opens with a scene of the Legionnaires not on currently on missions enjoying a rare moment of relaxation.  Except for Star Boy, who wanders among his pals too busy mooning over Dream Girl to join in the fun.  Though Star Boy had been established as a Legionnaire since his first appearance in a Superboy story back in 1961, it wasn’t until Adventure Comics # 317 (Feb., 1964) that he had any real participation in a Legion story.  This was the same issue that saw Dream Girl’s debut as a character and a Legionnaire.  At the end of that tale, Dream Girl resigned her membership, and the fans were left with vague hints that Star Boy had taken more than a professional interest in her.


Adventure Comics # 342 confirmed it.  The boy from Xanthu was carrying an Olympic-sized torch for the girl from Naltor.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one.


Travelling to the jungle planet of Karak to meet his parents, Star Boy is told by explorer Jan Barth that he has just missed their departure.  And that’s the good news.  The bad news is Kenz Nuhor, from the planet Naltor, has just landed with blood in his eye.  He’s stuck on Dream Girl in a big way, but since falling in love with Star Boy, she doesn’t even know Nuhor is alive.


Overcome with jealousy, Nuhor aims a ray gun at Star Boy.  Jan Barth draws his own pistol, but Nuhor blasts him, fatally.  When Star Boy attempts to use his mass-induction power, it is reflected back by a special shield Nuhor is carrying.  The weight of his own legs increased tremendously, Star Boy crumples to the ground.


Nuhor takes a few seconds to gloat; then he’s distracted by Dream Girl’s arrival in a space cruiser.  This gives Star Boy time to grab Barth’s ray gun and fire it at Nuhor, killing him.  (One wonders why Nuhor, being from Naltor himself, didn’t see this coming.)


That is the only bit of standard comic-book action in this story, and it’s over by page five.





It’s a clear case of self-defence, and Dream Girl’s eyewitness testimony gets Star Boy off the hook with the Science Police.  But that’s the least of his problems.  When he gets back to the Legion clubhouse, he is informed by a group of grim-faced Legionnaires that he will stand court-martial for breaking the Legion code against killing.


As the current Legion leader, Brainiac 5 will prosecute, while Superboy volunteers to act as Star Boy’s defence counsel.  The Boy of Steel disagrees with the absolute rigidity of the Legion Code.  He’s invulnerable, but most of his fellow members are not, and he feels that the Code should be amended to permit Legionnaires the use of lethal force if necessary to protect their own lives.


Brainiac 5 appoints Saturn Girl to head a presiding board composed of herself, Chameleon Boy, Ultra Boy, Element Lad, and Duo Damsel.  And Star Boy is hauled off to a detention cell.


The next day, the trial begins in earnest.  There is no dispute of Dream Girl’s testimony, but when Star Boy himself takes the stand, Brainiac 5 goes right for the jugular.  He points out several instances in the past where other Legionnaires’ lives were in jeopardy and they were able to use their super-powers to save themselves without killing.  Brainiac 5 demands to know why Star Boy didn’t do the same thing.


I did, protests Star Boy, but Nuhor’s shield reflected my super-power back on me.  There was nothing else I could do, he insists.


Then Brainiac 5 produces an exhibit of the scene on Karak, with figures of Star Boy, Nuhor, and the surrounding landscape. 


“Yes,” confirms Star Boy, “this miniature scene shows everything just as it was the moment before I fired the ray gun!”


“I ask that you direct your super-power,” says Brainiac 5, “at the model tree’s foliage, just over the model Kenz Nuhor’s head!”


Star Boy does so, and before the eyes of all present, the limb of the model tree breaks from the super-heaviness and falls on the model of Kenz Nuhor.


“If you had directed your super-power at the real foliage,” Brainiac 5 points out, “it would have pinned down Kenz Nuhor without need to kill him!”


It is the most masterful moment of the trial---not only for the characters in the story; it’s an eye-opener for the readers, too.  Leafing back to the actual scene at the beginning, it’s all there:  Star Boy, Nuhor, the near-by tree, the foliage overhead.  The opportunity to use the tactic suggested by Brainiac 5 was right there, before Star Boy’s---and our---eyes.


The prosecution rests.




As the defence counsel, Superboy knows he’s up against it.  He spends the night reviewing thousands of video-tapes of the Legionnaires in action, looking for something that will give him a chance to overcome the damning evidence presented at trial.  Finally, just before the court-martial reconvenes, he thinks he’s found it.


Appearing in court, Superboy challenges the validity of the charges.  There is a precedent, he states.  Another Legionnaire has killed in self-defence---and that Legionnaire is the prosecutor himself, Brainiac 5!  Superboy runs a video-tape of Brainiac 5 gunning down a man to save his own life.


The Legion’s leader is unfazed.  For Superboy has made an error worthy of one of Jack McCoy's assistants on Law & Order.  He failed to watch the end of the tape, which shows clearly that the “man” Brainiac 5 shot was a robot, a fact known to the Legionnaire when he pulled the trigger.


“Your ‘precedent’ is of no value, Superboy,” rules Saturn Girl.


The defence rests.




The Boy of Steel does some out-of-the-box thinking.  During the final summations, he tries a final desperate deception intended to prove his point that the non-invulnerable Legionnaires should be permitted to take lives to save their own.


And Brainiac 5 sees right through it.  However, it provokes him into making a startling statement during his closing argument.


“I agree with Superboy that a change in the Code to allow the taking of life in self-defense should be studied in the near future!”


Star Boy leaps up and shakes his defence counsel’s hand.  “I’m cleared!”  But, to paraphrase the old punch line---“Not so fast, Kallor!”


Brainiac 5, showing that he has the soul of Hamilton Burger, continues, “No change that may be made in the future alters the fact that Star Boy broke the Code as we have it now!  You’ve seen the evidence!  I demand the extreme penalty . . . expulsion from the Legion!”


Then Superboy addresses the board.


“Will you expel Star Boy, shatter his career, just because he defended himself from a ruthless murderer?  Think . . . you may be in that position yourselves some day!  I ask you to acquit him!”


Now, Star Boy’s fate is in the hands of the Legion membership, all of whom have seen and heard all the evidence, either in the courtroom or via distant monitors.




In retrospect, it’s not a surprise that the script singled out Star Boy as the centre of the drama.  That could only have been Mort Weisinger’s hand in it.


Between Adventure Comics # 247, the debut of the Super-Hero Club, and Adventure Comics # 300, when it became a regular series, the Legion was little more than a plot device.  Continuity was minimal, largely because there was little need for it---the Legionnaires existed merely to move things along.  And whenever a super-youth was needed for a Superboy story, it was a convenient excuse to make him a member of the Legion.  This hap-hazard fashion of membership created particular difficulties later, when the Legion got its own series and the characters had to be dealt with on a regular basis.


One of the more prominent problems was the presence of too many members with Superboy-level powers.  Besides the Boy of Steel himself, there was Mon-El, Supergirl, and Ultra Boy.  That was a headache for story plotting, since it was virtually impossible to come up every month with a menace that any one of those four couldn’t whip by the end of page two, while the rest of the Legionnaires sat around, playing Spaceopoly ®.  Since Superboy’s appearance was mandated, that meant that Mon-El and the others were almost always tied up on “missions at the other end of the galaxy.”


As if that wasn’t bad enough, then there was Star Boy, another hold-over member from the “Hey, let’s make him a Legionnaire; we’ll never use him again, anyway” days.  When introduced in Adventure Comics # 282 (Mar., 1961), he too had Superboy-style powers.  Unlike the others in that group, Star Boy had never been more than a one-shot character, and no doubt, Weisinger would have preferred just to forget he ever appeared.


He certainly tried to.  Nothing was seen of the boy from Xanthu for over three years.  But then the #%$@#$!! fans starting asking about him.  So, in the letter column in Adventure Comics # 308 (May, 1963), Mort explained that Star Boy was away on a “detached service” mission for the Legion.  His face began to appear on Legion monitor boards, and finally, with a radical change in his super-powers, he joined the regular cast.


I suspect that it was his lack of a true Legion history that marked him for disaster.  Even after being added to the Adventure Comics cast, Star Boy rarely appeared.  He didn’t have even the modest fan base that the other, longer-running Legionnaires did.


Or so Mort thought.




The voting sequence takes only two pages, and it is about as static a scene as one will ever see in a comic-book adventure.  But it is as much of a cliffhanger moment as the Fatal Five showing up in Metropolis.  At first, it looks good for Star Boy.  The other members who are invulnerable agree with Superboy’s views on self-defence and vote “not guilty”; and the female Legionnaires---except for Saturn Girl, who was always something of an ice queen---are on Star Boy’s side because of his romance with Dream Girl.


His advantage erodes, as more Legionnaires weigh in.  It stands 9 to 8 for acquittal, when the last two Legion votes are tallied.  For the record, they are Matter-Eater Lad’s and Invisible Kid’s.






By a vote of 10-to-9, Star Boy is found guilty of breaking the Legion Code and is expelled from the Legion.





If Mort Weisinger believed he was getting rid of a “nothing”character in dumping Star Boy from the Legion, he very shortly found himself woefully mistaken.  So much mail flowed in about “The Legionnaire Who Killed,” it filled two monthly letter columns.  Nearly all of the fans applauded the overall story, but they were similarly overwhelming in angrily taking DC to task for expelling Star Boy.


As Mort himself stated, in “The Legion Outpost” of Adventure Comics # 346 (Jul., 1966):  “We seem to have stirred up a real hornets’ nest with ‘The Legionnaire Who Killed.’ And most of the letters are against conviction for Star Boy.”


Either Weisinger had underestimated the popularity of the character, or Edmond Hamilton had invested Star Boy with such a genuine pathos and humanity that the fans readily sympathised with him.  It was probably a bit of both.



In any event, Hamilton produced an impressive story.  The last place a Silver-Age DC fan expected to see a courtroom drama was in a Legion story.  One of the most powerful aspects to the tale was the fact that Hamilton did not fall back on the usual comic-book contrivances of having the accused hero’s crime turn out to be a hoax, or the result of a frame-up by an enemy.  No, Star Boy actually committed the killing for which he stood court-martial.  The question was---was Star Boy’s act justified or not?


This engaged each reader on an ethical level, according to his own opinion on the subject of a hero’s use of deadly force in self-defence. 


A “code against killing” had been de rigueur for DC’s super-heroes since 1940, when Jack Liebowitz and Whitney Ellsworth sought to shield the company from the “morality police” of Fiorello LaGuardia’s reform movement.  Superman and his fellow DC cape-and-tights brethren would no longer kill, a prohibition which continued on to the Silver Age.  The ban frequently resulted in some contrived situations, bending the scripts over backwards to avoid having a DC hero kill a foe, no matter how deadly a threat the villain posed, even to the very world.


To many readers, a code against killing represented one of the ideals of the Silver Age and they accepted the plot contortions.  To others, such a thing seemed impractical.  Not that they wanted wholesale bloodshed, but certainly, it was permissible for a hero to use deadly force to save his own life, or those of innocents, if there was no other way.


But what happens when the ideal conflicts with necessity?  That was the crux of Edmond Hamilton’s story.


It’s been over forty years since Adventure Comics # 342 hit the stands, and the topic is still being debated by comics fans.  “Thought-provoking” was not an adjective that one applied often to Silver-Age DC stories, but “The Legionnaire Who Killed” offered it in spades.

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Comment by Philip Portelli on July 13, 2012 at 12:43pm

Yes, it's a classic Legion story that was later echoed in several Avengers' stories where a court martial takes place, especially when Hawkeye killed Egghead.

Some points/comments:

  • It was established that Naltorians cannot "see" their own deaths thus Kenz Nuhor never "saw" it coming though perhaps Dream Girl did.
  • It also introduced Calamity King and Color Kid, both who would have an impact on Star Boy.
  • The point that Nuhor already murdered someone in cold blood was never really an issue apparently.
  • You seldom see a super-hero affected by his own power.
  • Star Boy seemed really surprised by the court martial. Did he forget the Legion's code against killing?
  • Could the Legion legally detain Star Boy? If he wanted to, could he have just left?
  • About Brainiac 5's solution, yes it worked but he wasn't under any pressure and is a super-genius! Star Boy was in a "kill-or-be-killed" situation and besides, a super-heavy branch could have killed him anyway!
  • Superboy really did a poor job as a defense lawyer, didn't he?
  • The girl Legionnaires seem to vote with their hearts. In Adventure #317, they voted against Dream Girl becoming a member because of her beauty.
  • Odd that Dream Girl's first two appearances had voting involved.
  • Not to beat a dead horse, but why was honorary member Jimmy Olsen allowed to vote? Was it because there would have been an even number of Legionnaires voting? I guess Star Boy couldn't vote. He would have acquitted himself!
  • Star Boy and Dream Girl immediately join the Legion of Substitute Heroes, though we never see them in action with that team.
  • But did that make Star Boy somehow part of the Legion Reserve?
  • Not that it mattered, he rejoined in Adventure #351 and wasn't that a "Sur Prise"!! ;-)
Comment by Commander Benson on July 13, 2012 at 3:09pm

Some interesting points, as usual, Philip. There are a few things to be said about some of them . . . .

"It was established that Naltorians cannot 'see' their own deaths thus Kenz Nuhor never "saw" it coming though perhaps Dream Girl did."

That must have been established some time after the Silver Age, because I don't remember coming across it during the Legion's Adventure Comics run. Still I might have missed it---I had little interest in Dream Girl as a Legionnaire.

The point that Nuhor already murdered someone in cold blood was never really an issue apparently."

Nope---except that under the law (and understand, I am applying 20th-century conventions to a 30th-century premise), the fact that Nuhor had just committed murder lends to the reasonableness that he intended to use deadly force against Star Boy, thus supporting a legal justification of Star Boy's use of deadly force against him.

But as far as the Legion code against killing goes, Nuhor's status as a murderer had no bearing. Though Mort himself was inconsistent on the matter, as "The Legionnaire Who Killed" presented it, there was no justification for killing a sentient being, not even self-defence.

"Star Boy seemed really surprised by the court martial. Did he forget the Legion's code against killing?"

More likely, he equated the Legion Code with the law, at least unconsciously. When he was cleared by the Science Police, he assumed the Legion hold the same. If he had thought about it, he would have realised that was a misassumption. And he was also probably thinking more about getting on that vacation with Dream Girl than anything else.

"Could the Legion legally detain Star Boy? If he wanted to, could he have just left?"

Again, understand, we're applying 20th-century precipts to a 30th-century civilisation---things can change in a thousand years. However, under the standing law, no, the Legion could not involuntarily detain Star Boy.

But---and you knew that was coming, didn't you---something to bear in mind through all of the procedures and protocols in the story: the Legion was a private organisation, not beholden to observe the due process of State-conducted jurisprudence. Upon joining the Legion, the inductee agrees to abide by all of the rules and regulations of the organisation. That's a voluntary acceptance of the infringement of certain liberties.

Now, certainly, the Legion's private status, and the covenant placed upon the membership, doesn't permit it to violate the law. Undoubtedly, Jim Shooter added that business about holding Star Boy in a detention cell because it added to the drama of his plight, and one wouldn't expect a fourteen-year-old writer to be aware of the distinctions between organisational rules and the law.

Under the law, if Star Boy had said, "Screw the detention cell, I'm headed for the pub down the street and diving into a jeroboam of Saurian brandy!", the Legion could not have legally detained him. However, it could act upon it as a violation of Legion rules and take whatever action the club protocol prescribed. The penalty for a Legionnaire who refuses to submit to detention while the subject of a court-martial was most likely immediate expulsion. Since Star Boy was fighting to avoid expulsion, it would hardly serve him to commit another, more cut-and-dried expulsionary offence.

So what would be the point of locking Star Boy in a detention cell, anyway? Well, most likely, he was sequestered to prevent him from unduly interfering with the court-martial process, either overtly, by perhaps sneaking a look at Brainiac 5's case preparation notes, or by concealing or altering evidence; or casually, by attempting to sway his fellow Legionnaires' attitudes toward him.

"About Brainiac 5's solution, yes it worked but he wasn't under any pressure and is a super-genius! Star Boy was in a "kill-or-be-killed" situation and besides, a super-heavy branch could have killed him anyway!"

I've heard those arguments before, and sorry, but they are all so much blather.

First, it scarcely takes a twelveth-level effector brain to look at the branch over Kenz Nuhor's head and figure, "Hey, maybe I can drop that on him!" Robin the Boy Wonder would have thought of it.

The fact that Star Boy was under pressure is no excuse either. The status of being a Legionnaire carries the fact that a Legionnaire will be involved in dangerous, highly stressful activities on a routine and frequent basis. A super-hero accept this grim fact when he becomes a Legionnaire. Moreover, a Legionnaire is expected to perform competently under such dangerous, high-stress situations. This expectation is also accepted by a Legionnaire.

Furthermore, because of the Legion's status as a law-enforcement organisation, the public imposes a higher standard on its members. It's one thing if Joe Doakes, shoe-salesman, panics when a robbery goes down in the bank while he's trying to deposit his paycheque. Presuming a sedate background, Joe Doakes has no training or experience with immediate, critical situations. So society and the law gives Joe some slack.

But a police officer confronted with a critical situation---ah, the public expects more of him. And rightfully so. The police officer has had the benefit of practical training, education, and experience in such things. There is a higher expectation that he will act properly in critical situations, including those of life and death. And that higher expectation also applies to a Legionnaire. No, the fact that Star Boy was under pressure was no excuse.

As to the "kill or be killed" situation, certainly, Star Boy's actions were legal. It fits the generally accepted standard for when a person is authorised to use lethal force. However, the Legion code against killing does not allow for the use of lethal force at any time (yet, another condition of membership that a Legionnaire willingly accepts). There is no self-defence arguement.

Certainly, as you said, a super-heavy branch falling Kenz Nuhor's noggin could have killed him. That's the operant word---"could". Dropping the super-heavy branch on Nuhor may not have killed him, or it might have (which would put Star Boy in the exact same situation he was in). However, where a super-heavy branch is a "might or might not" kill, zapping him with a ray gun was definitely going to kill Nuhor. Star Boy, under the Legion standard, was expected to use the method with the greatest possibility of the subject surviving.

"Superboy really did a poor job as a defense lawyer, didn't he?"

He really didn't have much to work with. The Legion Code is quite clear and unambiguous.

Does the Code prohibit a Legionnaire from causing another's death, no matter what the circumstances?

Yes, it does.

Did Star Boy cause someone to die?

Yes, he did.


"Not to beat a dead horse, but why was honorary member Jimmy Olsen allowed to vote?"

That's a sticky question, but not for the reason you may have in mind, Philip. It could be that honorary Legionnaires have the privilige of voting in Legion courts-martials. In fact, that could be one of the small things that distinguishes the status of an honorary Legionnaire from that of a simple Legion Reservist, like Lana Lang.

However, if honorary Legionnaires do, indeed, have the privilige of voting in courts-martials, then where was Pete Ross's vote? That's the problem---not why could honorary Legionnaires vote, but why only one---Olsen--did and the other--Ross---not?

"But did [Star Boy and Dream Girl joining the Legion of Substitute Heroes] make Star Boy somehow part of the Legion Reserve?"

Joining the Subs made both Star Boy and Dream Girl members of the Legion Reserve. According to the text piece containing the Legion Consititution published in Adventure Comics # 326 (Nov., 1964), the Legion Reserve is defined as "consisting of worthy former members, rejected members, honorary members, and the Legion of Substitute Heroes". That means, as Subs, both Star Boy and Dream Girl were Legion Reservists.

However, one could argue that Star Boy was a Legion Reservist, anyway. That same text piece on the Legion Constitution specifies:

Any Legionnaire expelled from the Legion, but not retained as a Reservist, must submit to being hypnotically brainwashed to remove all memory of Legion secrets.

Since Star Boy was not submitted to a brainwashing---he was shown simply walking out of the Clubhouse---it could be surmised that the Legionnaires agreed to retain Star Boy in the Legion Reserve, even as they were removing his name from his aerocar parking space.

Comment by Luke Blanchard on July 13, 2012 at 5:45pm

Arguably we can't assume the Legion's code had no legal force. In "The Lone Wolf Legionnaire!" in Adventure Comics #327 a man who has been sent to a prison world explains that he was sentenced "under the law that forbids joining the Legion of Super-Heroes under false pretenses". He says he aimed to sabotage the Legion's emergency board "to further a crime plot". A guard responds, "No wonder you were sent here! The emergency board is vital to the law enforcement of the universe!" So there were laws relating to the Legion and it possibly had official status despite its character as a privately-funded club. Possibly its members had police powers. If so, the laws conferring them may have included provisions requiring them to comply with the code. (Perhaps also, to not modify it without consulting the government).


Likewise, it may be that the Legionnaires were legally required to imprison Legionnaires under investigation for violations of the code serious enough to possibly warrant expulsion in order that they might be handed over the Science Police if found guilty of a crime.

Comment by Richard Willis on July 13, 2012 at 6:37pm

This reminds me of the "Black Sox" scandal in baseball, as dramatized in the movie "Eight Men Out". The White Sox players accused of taking bribes to throw the World Series are acquitted under the law. Notwithstanding, the newly established Commissioner of Baseball banned the accused players for life.

I have a little trouble wrapping my head around the "no killing" prohibition beginning in the 1950's. Out of one side of their mouths they praised the U.S. military for winning WWII while simultaneously condemning any comics character killing anyone, regardless of the necessity. In recent years I was also baffled by the modern comics fans who uniformly praise our current and former military, but can't deal with Wonder Woman's killing of Maxwell Lord. Wonder Woman was faced with an enemy wielding arguably the most dangerous weapon on earth, a mind-controlled Superman. Being a soldier, like I once was, she took the only action possible, killing Lord. Only psychopaths enjoy killing, but no one can realistically say there is never any justification.

Comment by Commander Benson on July 13, 2012 at 8:32pm

"Arguably we can't assume the Legion's code had no legal force. In 'The Lone Wolf Legionnaire!' in Adventure Comics #327 a man who has been sent to a prison world explains that he was sentenced 'under the law that forbids joining the Legion of Super-Heroes under false pretenses'. He says he aimed to sabotage the Legion's emergency board 'to further a crime plot'. A guard responds, 'No wonder you were sent here! The emergency board is vital to the law enforcement of the universe!' So there were laws relating to the Legion and it possibly had official status despite its character as a privately-funded club."


Respectfully, I have to disagree with the conclusions you draw from the "Lone Wolf Legionnaire" example.


The fact that the Legion is a private organisation with its own internal rules does not mean that the club is removed from the laws that protect society. 


To employ a similar example from real life:


Every state in the U.S. has a law prohibiting one from from falsely posing as any kind of law-enforcement officer. 


Now let's say that there is a private corporation, Weapsarus, that provides critical security systems and weaponry to law-enforcement and military agencies.  Weapsarus is contracted with these organisations to do so.  And because of the sensitivity of its operations and the need for precision in constructing the armaments it delivers, Weapsarus has an internal policy that any Weapsarus employee who shows up for work with alcohol in his system---not intoxicated, mind you, but any amount of alcohol in his system---will be terminated immediately.  This is an internal company policy which newly hired employees are informed of and agree to before signing on with Weapsarus.


Now, let's further suppose that Joe Anarchist disguises himself as a police officer, infiltrates the Weapsarus main compound and attempts to plant a bomb.  Before he can do so, he is apprehended.  Joe Anarchist is then charged with posing as a law-enforcement officer, breaking-and-entering through artifice, attempted damage to property, attempted detonation of an explosive device, and attempted murder---all jurisdictional laws that attach to all elements of our society, private and public.


But the fact that Joe Anarchist is charged with these offences against Weapsarus doesn't extend the force of law to Weapsarus' internal policies.  If Weapsarus catches one of its employees with a .01 blood-alcohol content, it cannot have the employee arrested; the employee cannot be charged under the law.  All Weapsarus can do is fire him.  Because the prohibition against alcohol is still strictly an internal policy.  The fact that there were laws protecting Weapsarus---as they do all elements of society---doesn't make the private company's internal policies laws.


Just as the Legion code against killing is an internal policy.


Furthermore, the notion that the law---i.e., the Science Police, in the Legion's case---has a principal input and bearing on the Legion's code against killing doesn't hold up by the internal events of "The Legionnaire Who Killed".  The Science Police determines that Star Boy's killing of Kenz Nuhor was self-defence and does not charge him with a crime.  Per the story, that ends the S.P.'s involvement with the matter.


If there were a direct link between the Legion Code and the law, then the S.P. would have detained Star Boy and had a direct influence in the procedure of Star Boy's court-martial.  But, the S.P. did not.  The entire matter was handled privately by the Legion.


Now, again, this is by 20th-century standards of law and private status---as I stressed when I addressed Philip's comments. By the time of the 30th-century, the law could very well have shifted in its relationships with private organisations to create the circumstances which you suggest, Luke.  I won't disagree with you on that basis.

Comment by Commander Benson on July 13, 2012 at 8:47pm

"This reminds me of the 'Black Sox' scandal in baseball, as dramatized in the movie 'Eight Men Out'. The White Sox players accused of taking bribes to throw the World Series are acquitted under the law. Notwithstanding, the newly established Commissioner of Baseball banned the accused players for life."


That's an even better example of the separation between the law and private internal policy than the one I provided above.  Despite the fact that the eight White Sox players were charged and subsequently acquitted under the law, they were still held accountable to professional baseball's rules.  Commissioner Landis couldn't have the eight players tossed in jail---that is not a pervue of any private organisation---but he surely could ban them from professional baseball, and make his determination under less demanding standards than the law's "proof beyond a reasonable doubt", on top of that.


As far as DC---or then, National Comics---showing a certain amount of hypocrisy in prohibiting its heroes from killing, that's true, for all of the reasons you espouse, Mr. Willis.  But DC was trying to protect the goose that was laying its golden eggs.


By chance, I was asked not too long ago about the early Golden-Age Superman's occasional outright killing of criminals and why that changed.  I was able to determine the motivating forces---thanks to some on-line research on the history of censorship in America, some biographic knowledge of National owner Harry Donenfeld, and information provided by Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the American Comic Book, by Gerard Jones (Basic Books, 2004).

Before owning National Comics, Harry Donenfeld was one of the largest publishers of "girlie pulps" and "art books" (read: portraits of lots of sexy, naked girls) in New York.

In 1939, a reform movement launched by New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia joined forces with various public watchdog groups to impose censorship of such "salacious" material, and operations like Donenfeld's were forced to shut down or scale 'way back on the overt sexuality.

After Superman became a tremendous hit, Donenfeld became something of a public figure in his rôle of being National's owner/publisher. He appeared on radio and in advertisements to promote their Cash-Cow of Steel. That's when his past as a "smut-peddler" came back to haunt him.

With the girlie-magazine industry shut down, the watchdogs turned their sights on comic books. In May of 1940, Sterling North, the literary editor of the Chicago News wrote a scathing article condeming comic books. North charged that the rampant violence in comics encouraged emulation by the youth of America, by catering to their basic violent instincts. Naturally, the Do-Gooders of Morality jumped on this.

Gerard Jones's words, from Men of Tomorrow best describes National's response to this imminent crisis:

Liebowitz [Jack Liebowitz, Donenfeld's partner and the power behind Donenfeld's throne] and Ellsworth [Whitney Ellsworth, editor of the Superman magazines] sat down immediately to develop a code of acceptable behavior for superheroes, the first of its kind. The censorship that had killed the girlie pulps and hurt the Spicies was barely a year in the past, and Liebowitz knew that as soon as the protectors of public decency realized that Harry Donenfeld was responsible for Superman, they'd be going over the pages with a magnifying glass. Harry might enjoy baiting censors, but that didn't fit the Liebowitz plan for building a children's entertainment empire. In one early episode, Superman had torn the wings off the bad guys' plane and let it crash in a fireball. Batman, for his part, had jumped in a fighter plane and machine-gunned a Kong-like monster. Liebowitz and Ellsworth decreed that no DC hero would ever knowingly kill anyone again.

It was at that point that Superman and Batman adopted codes against killing and ameliorated their more rough-shod tactics.


The fact that our boys in uniform were killing German and Japanese soldiers right and left to win the World War II was certainly something that Donenfeld, Liebowitz, and Ellsworth supported and applauded.  But their bigger concern was keeping Superman printable and profitable.  And to do that, their heroes had to go on record as saying "Any kind of killing is bad."

Comment by Fraser Sherman on July 13, 2012 at 9:20pm

I don't feel the hypocrisy problem is really there: The principle that it's legal and acceptable to kill someone in combat doesn't translate into "therefore, it's okay to settle things with duels to the death" even in the real world. A Superman who kills would be much more destructive than a couple of soldiers, even well-armed ones: It's basically a check on him running amuck (though I've noticed more than a few stories where it happens without comment--the diamond-creature in JLA 9, for instance). The LSH modeled their code on his. There's never been any sign the no-kill heroes believe nobody should ever kill anyone, anywhere for any reason.

The Black Sox is a good comparison, though not entirely--the book Eight Men Out shows the commissioner was more concerned with shoring up baseball's reputation than actual justice (cheating, it seems, was rife in the game at the time).

On Naltor, I don't recall any indication that Naltor precognition works like the Mad Thinker, able to predict everything. From what we've seen of Dream Girl, it's sketchy and erratic: Maybe Nuhor saw Star Boy collapsing, crushed by his own power and that convinced him he was going to win.

I do believe the question of Pete Ross's absence was brought up in the letter column. The story brought out a lot of amateur legal theorists trying to prove that clearly Star Boy should have gotten off.

It is indeed memorable. In the good way.

Comment by Commander Benson on July 14, 2012 at 12:02am

True, the Black Sox Scandal is an imprecise comparison when it comes to the search for justice and the motivation behind Commissioner Landis' ruling. But it is a perfect analogy when it comes to delineating the separate powers of the State and a private organisation. A not-so-incidental separation that was overlooked by many of those "amateur legal theorists" who argued for against the validity of Star Boy's conviction.

Most of those arguments I have seen---either in those letters published long ago, in "The Legion Outpost" or on contemporary Legion-based sites---rely on claims that Star Boy's trial violated due process, as we understand it in our society's system of jurisprudence. Even allowing that the same system would be in place a millennium from now, the action against Star Boy was not a trial in the sense of the American legal justice system. It was a private proceeding taken in accordance with the rules of the organisation, i.e., the Legion.

The legal procedure and the Legion procedure, while similar in basic structure, were two different things. And, as the Black Sox analogy demonstrated, the outcome of one procedure didn't dictate the outcome of the other.

I agree with you, Mr. Sherman, that the situation with DC imposing a code against killing wasn't, at least, a knowing hypocrisy. While a war itself may be regretable, no-one argues against the wartime killing of an enemy trying to kill us. Certainly, the suits at DC weren't arguing that. They did impose a code against killing on their heroes, but that was a pragmatic decision intended to keep their comics from becoming a target of the reform movement do-gooders. That was in 1940; some thirty months later, when America became embroiled in World War II, that's only when the code against killing appeared superficially to be hypocrisy.

In fact, with World War II, DC's code against killing effectively painted their characters into a corner. Over at Marvel Comics, the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch were slaughtering German and Japanese soldiers with glee---and no doubt, to the cheers of their youthful readers.

But that pesky old code against killing hamstrung DC's major characters from taking a real involvement in the war. That was one of the plot contortions I mentioned. The concept of sending Superman and Batman to war, but not killing anybody in the process was ridiculous. So DC sidestepped the question by, largely, giving its headliners only a secondary involvement in WWII---fighting saboteurs and spies and war profiteers.

You're right about how a Naltorian's prognosticative power works---it's sporadic. So Nuhor would not have necessarily foreseen his own death. I was just being snarky when I wrote that line.

And, yes, the question of Pete Ross's absence from the court-martial vote was brought up in "The Legion Outpost". In Adventure Comics # 345 (Jun., 1966), to be precise. At the conclusion of his published letter, reader Jimmy McNew, of Bristol, Virginia, wrote:

. . . [T]here is a way to get Star Boy back in the Legion. Call it a mistrial! All the Legionnaires were supposed to vote, but Pete Ross didn't. I'm sure he would vote for acquittal. I demand a RECOUNT!

To which Mort Weisinger---or by this time, probably his assistant, Nelson Bridwell---replied:

Who are you, an amateur Perry Mason? How can you be so sure Pete would vote "Not Guilty"? And even if he did, it would only make the vote even. Who'd decide the case then?

Comment by Fraser Sherman on July 14, 2012 at 6:43am

That's it. The LSH columns from that era are always fun to reread.

Comment by Philip Portelli on July 14, 2012 at 6:52am

It's possible that Pete Ross excused himself from voting as he may have felt that his very limited Legion participation shouldn't let him vote on such an important matter. Actually that's what Jimmy should have done!

Superboy keeps bringing up that Mon-El and Ultra Boy agree with him on changing the Legion Constitution. It would have been nice to hear them say it! Especially with UB right there.

As for Star Boy's training and working under pressure, my point was when police are forced to kill someone, the first question is "Why couldn't they have just wounded him?" Or do some trickshot like they do on TV? Because life doesn't work that way! In comics, 99% of the time, the hero can defeat the bad guy without killing him. Star Boy couldn't, not this time. The Legion may have thought it unjustifiable but the readers did!

And if Weisinger wanted to pare the Legion down, it didn't work! By the time Star Boy rejoined in Adventure #351, there were already three new members (Karate Kid, Princess Projectra and Ferro Lad) and Thom brought Dream Girl and Bouncing Boy back with him!


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