Deck Log Entry # 100 "But I Always Thought . . . .": the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 3)

Welcome back! As far as misconceptions regarding the Silver-Age Legion of Super-Heroes go, I’ve pretty much gotten the bile out of my system. So we’ll wind it up with a look at some of the minor mistaken beliefs which fans have taken to heart. These don’t crop up too often. Not because they are largely disbelieved, but because they aren't as widespread as those I discussed on my last two outings.

All set? Let’s go . . . .

Legion Myth 4: As a Reward for So Faithfully Keeping His Knowledge of Superboy’s Identity a Secret, the Legion Made Pete Ross an Honorary Legionnaire.

That’s not what happened. But let’s go back a little first . . . .

Shortly after his introduction into the Superboy mythos as Clark Kent’s best friend, Pete Ross, general all-around good Joe, got a unique chance to prove his loyalty. In “Pete Ross’ Super-Secret”, from Superboy # 90 (Jul., 1961), Clark and Pete go on a week-end camping trip. That first night, after they have turned in, a thunderstorm rolls in and creates a near-by emergency requiring Superboy’s attention. With Pete asleep, Clark switches to his alter ego. However, a bolt of lightning momentarily lights up the sky and awakens Pete. He witnesses Clark changing to Superboy, unbeknownst to the Boy of Steel.

Instead of rushing down to the Smallville town square and shouting out “Superboy is Clark Kent!”, as Lana Lang always seemed ready to do if she had ever nailed it down, Pete decides to keep what he knows secret from everyone---including Clark, realising that his best buddy “mustn’t be disturbed or hampered in any way by my knowledge!”

Pete Ross was not a regular character in Superboy stories, but he appeared frequently, sometimes as a main player in a particular tale, sometimes as just a walk-on. But from that fateful night on, he was almost always shown to provide subtle assistance to Clark. He would intervene in situations that might inadvertently reveal Clark’s super-powers, or provide distractions to let his pal slip away to become Superboy. And each time, the Boy of Steel would gullibly think, “How fortunate that happened!”

Superboy # 98 (Jul., 1962) is considered a landmark issue in Legion history. For one thing, it introduces the character of Ultra Boy. In “The Boy with Ultra Powers”, Legion applicant Ultra Boy is dispatched from the thirtieth century to 1930’s Smallville to complete his initiation test: to discover, on his own, Superboy’s secret identity. Thanks to an accident in space, Ultra Boy possesses various vision powers similar to the Boy of Steel’s. (Sometime later, that would be backfitted to include most of the Kryptonian-type super-powers, with the limitation that U Boy could only employ one power at a time.)

Most Legion fans consider this tale significant for another reason, too. A sub-plot has Pete Ross concerned over the security of his diary, which includes the info that his pal Clark is Superboy. Instead of just ripping those pages out and putting a match to them (not to mention the fact that putting that stuff down on paper was pretty stupid to begin with, Petey boy!), he decides to rent a safety deposit box at the Smallville Bank.

The two plots dovetail when Pete is accidentally locked in the vault. Without enough air for Pete to last very long, Superboy is summoned, but Our Hero is stymied: the vault is lead-lined, so he can’t use his X-ray vision to examine the lock’s tumblers and read the combination; and if he just rips the vault door off, an installed explosive device will detonate, and bye-bye, Pete. However, Ultra Boy spots Pete’s dilemma and shows up to save the day, since his penetra-vision can see through lead.

After U Boy establishes his bona fides, Superboy welcomes him to the Legion and then takes off to handle the next emergency. U Boy, wondering why a kid like Pete needs a safety deposit box, uses his penetra-vision to snoop. Reading the diary, he discovers what a swell guy Pete is, keeping Superboy’s secret like that. Marla, the Legion Senior Advisor and actor Kent Smith look-alike, decides that Pete deserves a reward.

An honorary membership in the Legion, right? Nope.

Marla gives Pete a coin which will entitle him to attend a meeting of the Legion of Super-Heroes . . . as an honored guest.

Not an honorary membership, just a chance to watch the Legion sit around the council table and maybe see a few rejected applicants get the boot. But Pete sure gets all choked up about it.

So just when did Pete get his picture up on the Legion roster board? The first mention of his honorary status came from Mort Weisinger, in the Smallville Mailsack letter column of Superboy # 102 (Jan., 1963). Reader Ed Kenny, of Worchester, Massachusetts, wrote in, asking for the complete list of Legion members. It probably came as something of a surprise to Superboy fans when Mort concluded the list with “honorary member, Pete Ross.” As with so many of Weisinger’s letter-column pronouncements, this was validated in a subsequent issue---Adventure Comics # 323 (Aug., 1964), when Pete and Jimmy Olsen attend a Legion meeting to determine the next leader of the club. Both he and Jimmy are clearly established as honorary Legionnaires. (Jimmy was awarded his in issue # 72 [Oct., 1963] of his own title.)

“O.K., commander, if you’re so smart, if it wasn’t for keeping his mouth shut about Superboy’s secret I.D., just why did the Legion make Pete an honorary member?”

Good question. Unfortunately, no story ever explained it. That’s probably why most fans glom onto the events of Superboy # 98 as the reason. They’re extrapolating. But, if you’re going to do that, there is a better story to pin it on.

The title of the story, “The Day Pete Ross Became a Robot”, from Superboy # 100 (Oct., 1962), pretty much describes the plot. When Superboy departs for a Legion meeting, Pete cannot resist the urge to scope out his pal’s hidden trophy room in the basement of the Kent house. While fooling around with an anti-gravity belt, Pete accidentally damages the Superboy robot left to protect Smallville while the Boy of Steel was away.

Using the anti-gravity belt, a spare Superboy costume, and his wits, Pete fills in for the robot, handling every emergency that arises. However, he is unable to repair the damaged robot and he’s certain to be found out, once Superboy returns. As it develops, in the future, the Legionnaires had witnessed Pete wrecking the robot on a time-monitor. (They used to view the twentieth century a lot in those days; I guess it was their version of reality TV.) While Lightning Lad was ready to rat Pete out the instant Superboy arrived, Ultra Boy talked them into letting Pete solve the problem himself.

Whenever Superboy was out of the room, they tuned in on Pete and saw him solving one problem after another, and without super-powers (which always seemed to impress the Legionnaires). They come to admire Pete’s resourcefulness and ingenuity. But when they see that Pete doesn’t know a diode from a servometer, Ultra Boy zips back to Smallville and repairs the Superboy robot at super-speed. When the real Boy of Steel gets back to his own time, he is none the wiser.

If you’re looking for a story to justify Pete Ross’s honorary Legion membership, this one makes more sense than “The Boy with Ultra Powers”. But the fact of the matter is the reason that Pete was an honorary Legionnaire was never specified.

Legion Myth 5: The Villain Mordru the Merciless’ One Weakness is Being Buried Underground.

This is one of the first errors in fact about the Legion mythos to appear in the 1970’s. This was during the interval between the cancellation of the Legion back-up series in Action Comics and its takeover of the Superboy title in 1973. The Legion was struggling to stay afloat by appearing in an occasional second story in the back of Superboy. These tales were quite a step-down from their glory days and such sagas as their battles against Computo or the Sun-Eater.

These back-up Legion stories were simple plots, involving usually only two or three Legionnaires, and they lacked much drama. They were pretty much throwaway adventures, and it’s not surprising that the writers got sloppy about the details of Legion lore.

One of those back-of-the-book tales was “Curse of the Blood-Crystals”, from Superboy # 188 (Jul., 1972), and on the splash page, writer Cary Bates commits one of those mistakes. The Boy of Steel imprisons the villainous wizard Mordru the Merciless beneath a pile of earth and rocks, with both of them insisting that burial underground is the murderous mage’s one weakness.

Subsequent stories involving Mordru would expand on this weakness by stating that the loss of the wizard’s near-omnipotent powers was a psychosomatic reaction due to an intense phobia of being buried alive.

I’m going to give Mr. Bates the benefit of the doubt and allow that he was simply jazzing up Mordru’s actual, Silver-Age established weakness, and that it wasn’t an outright flub, from not reading the villain’s first appearance in Adventure Comics # 369-70 (Jun. and Jul., 1968).

In the first half of that two-parter, a flashback tells of the Legion’s foray against Mordru the first time the sorcerer tried to conquer the Earth. The Legionnaires found themselves helpless to prevent Mordru, with his almost limitless power, from laying waste to Metropolis. Mon-El comes up with a plan. While the other Legionnaires distract the dark lord, Mon and Superboy swoop in at super-speed, from opposite directions, and encase him in an airless steel block. The lack of air causes Mordru to lapse into a deep coma.

That’s Mordru’s one weakness---no air. Of course, burying him so sufficiently that all air is cut off will do the trick, but that’s not the only way to do it. It’s not the underground part that’s integral to neutralising him as a threat---it’s the lack of air.

Legion Myth 6: When Duo Damsel is in Her Singular Form, She Possesses Double the Strength of a Normal Girl.

Any discussion of which member of the Legion of Super-Heroes is the most useless has to include Duo Damsel. She gets my vote.

Her super-power is the ability to divide from one teen-age girl into two. Other than that, all she’s got going for her is whatever skills she receives from Legion training. Admittedly, being able to be in two places at the same time comes in handy on Legion Espionage Squad missions. But in direct action, it’s not all that helpful. It wasn’t much more impressive when she was still Triplicate Girl, and could become three girls, instead of two.

You have to feel sorry for Duo Damsel fans---and there are Duo Damsel fans---because justifying her presence in the Legion is quite a reach. The most often-heard rationale is that she is valuable to the Legion because she is the only Legionnaire who can defeat Nemesis Kid, the Legion villain who has the power to defeat any one foe. That flaw in that argument is so obvious that I don’t even have to include it as a Legion myth to debunk.

The problem is her power to split herself into two otherwise normal girls isn’t much good in a fight, so the Duo Damsel fan club has had to struggle mightily to say otherwise. They seemed to find a straw to grasp at in Adventure Comics # 369, the opening half of the aforementioned Mordru tale.

For those who came in late, rookie Legionnaire Shadow Lass accidentally releases Mordru from his airtight prison and, boy, is he pissed! Enough to scare the bejeesus out of Superboy and Mon-El, the Legion’s mightiest members. They use the time cube to make a run for it, but thanks to a panicky Duo Damsel at the controls, they wind up in twentieth-century Smallville, the first place that Mordru will look for them.

The four Legionnaires decide to go into hiding and abandon their super-hero identities. Superboy, of course, changes to Clark Kent, and Mon-El once again becomes “cousin” Bob Cobb, dropping in on the Kents for a visit. Meanwhile, Duo Damsel and Shadow Lass pose as “Marie Elkins” and “Betsy Norcross”. They blend into normal Smallville life, hoping to elude Mordru’s notice.

It’s tough to hold their super-powers in check, particularly for Superboy, and it gets tougher one afternoon when two trucks are about to collide on Main Street. Neither Clark nor Bob dare use their powers---that’s how scared they of tipping off Mordru. Duo Damsel, however, takes action. She lifts a heavy school sign and hurls it under the tyres of one of the careering trucks, flipping it out of the way of the other vehicle.

The grateful drivers thank “Marie”. One of them observes how heavy the school sign was. “But in an emergency, people sometimes do things that are beyond their normal strength!”

“They double their strength, you might say,” replies Clark Kent, with a knowing wink for the girl Legionnaire.

That was the hook that the Duo Damsel fans had been waiting for. This meant that she possessed twice the normal strength while in her singular form. Sure, it does! Superboy said so, right?

Not hardly. Sure, the school sign was heavy, weighing perhaps as much as fifty pounds. But for a healthy girl who engaged in regular extensive exercise, as no doubt all Legionnaires did, lifting a fifty-pound sign would not be all that remarkable a feat. And Clark’s remark about doubling their strength was nothing more than a sly acknowledgement that Duo Damsel done good.

In other words, those fans are reading more into that scene than was meant. Jim Shooter had been writing the Legion for three years at that point, and if he had any intention of giving Duo Damsel super-strength, he would have done so much earlier and been more direct about it. Furthermore, special sections on the origins and powers of the Legionnaires had been published more than once, and never had any kind of double strength been attributed to Duo Damsel.

Nice try, though.

There you go, folks. Thanks for sticking with me---not just for these last three articles on Legion myths, but for a full hundred Deck Log entries. I’ve tried to entertain and inform, though I probably do a whole lot better at the informing part. But if you’ve had a quarter of the fun reading them as I’ve had writing them, then I haven’t done too terrible a job.

Views: 521

Comment by Luke Blanchard on February 23, 2010 at 1:21pm
I could swear I've seen that explanation of why Pete was made a member in a story, but I can't place it (or swear that it was a Silver Age story). I thought it was "The Eight Impossible Missions", but it isn't. Perhaps Pete or Superboy thinks he doesn't know why Pete was made an honorary Legionnaire, and a caption explains?

The panels from Adventure Comics #369 seem to me more than a straw. The final panel reads just as if Duo Damsel has done something super and Clark is winking about it. In the earlier panels she doesn't just pick up the sign, she tosses it just so, without obviously straining. It looks to me like an idea to pep her up that Shooter tossed out and didn't take further.
Comment by Commander Benson on February 23, 2010 at 1:23pm
"The panels from Adventure Comics #369 seem to me more than a straw. The final panel reads just as if Duo Damsel has done something super and Clark is winking about it. In the earlier panels she doesn't just pick up the sign, she tosses it, without obviously straining. It looks to me like an idea to pep her up that Shooter tossed out and didn't take further."

Or it could be that Shooter expected fans to question Duo Damsel's ability to toss such a heavy sign---I don't; I've seen females in good enough shape to lift and toss a fifty-pound sign---so he came up with the "in an emergency, people sometimes do things that are beyond their normal strength" line to justify it. It's true enough, though it doesn't happen nearly as often as fiction would have us believe.

It reads to me like a one-time event that Shooter needed to explicate.

You could be right, though. But if so, as you pointed out, Shooter didn't take it any further. So the norm is still that Duo Damsel has no especial strength in her singular form.
Comment by Commander Benson on February 23, 2010 at 1:33pm
"Perhaps Pete or Superboy thinks he doesn't know why Pete was made an honorary Legionnaire, and a caption explains?"

If so, it came after the Silver Age. I've never run across any footnote of that sort in the Silver-Age stories, and given the fact that Pete only appeared with the Legion twice in the Silver Age---Adventure Comics # 323 and # 369-70---it's not likely I'd have missed it.
Comment by Luke Blanchard on February 23, 2010 at 3:00pm
I couldn't find it in the stories I thought I might've seen it in. It's possible my memory is just playing tricks.
Comment by David Warren on February 24, 2010 at 9:35am
I'm with Luke on remembering something about Pete becoming an honorary member.
I thinking it is in a Superman story, not a Legion story. Pete is an adult recalling his youth in Smallville.
No idea on where this could be
Comment by Commander Benson on February 24, 2010 at 9:59am
" I'm with Luke on remembering something about Pete becoming an honorary member.
I thinking it is in a Superman story, not a Legion story. Pete is an adult recalling his youth in Smallville.
No idea on where this could be."

The adult Pete Ross made only one appearance in the Silver Age---in "The Superman Super-Spectacular", from Action Comics # 309 (Feb., 1964)---and I have that issue in front of me. Going through it, there is no mention of his honorary membership in the Legion, or how it came about.

His next appearance as an adult came in "I Can't Go Home Again", from Superman # 270 (Dec., 1973)---well past the Silver Age. But I checked it, anyway. No mention of his honorary membership there, either.

But here's the thing: if there is a post-Silver-Age reference to how Pete became an honorary Legionnaire, and it insists that he earned because of the events in Superboy # 98, then it falls under the umbrella of common errors made in the 1970's and beyond---since nowhere in "The Boy with Ultra Powers" is Pete awarded an honorary membership in the Legion.
Comment by The Baron on February 25, 2010 at 6:26pm
That Mordru story - the one where the Legionnaires essentially run and hide back in the 20th Century - was the first LSH story I ever read. It was reprinted in one of those giant-sized comics that they used to do back then. It's funny that I see Mordru more often these days fighting the JSA.
Comment by Randy Jackson on February 26, 2010 at 11:52pm
Commander, I know you aren't looking for more myths to bust, but perhaps you could tackle the one about Batman carrying guns at some point.
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on March 2, 2010 at 12:08pm
According to Adventure #323, Proty (Brainiac 5's sentient pet) knows that Superboy is Clark Kent but not that Pete already knew that. He challenges Pete to do something super--display a power, that is. Pete writes the Boy of Steel's identity on a lead tablet so Superboy can't read it but Proty can. Proty accepts this as a display of Pete being able to read minds. Pete then has a flashback to that fateful camping trip.
Comment by Fraser Sherman on August 28, 2016 at 9:45am

Coming late, after reading your recent SIlver Age quiz with the Pete Ross question--I think you're actually underestimating the error in the Mordru theory--the climax of Shooter's original two-parter emphasizes that he's only trapped underground because his own powers have fused the rock into something as hard as inertron (IIRC at least). So it's not as if he couldn't normally blast out if buried. I suppose it can be explained as him getting a phobia as a result of that, but like you I've always found it annoying (possibly Bates needed some way to deal with an otherwise invincible foe).

I had no idea about the Duo Damsel theory--I always took it as Clark joking about her impressive stunt, not a joke that she had actual power. It reminds me of one TV writer who said fans love to take stuff like this seriously--a statement that "I've been doing this longer than you've been alive" is never a tossed-off line, it must be a canonical statement how long the speaker has been doing this that long.


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