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.
This was the first clause of the Legion Constitution, the one which stipulated the criteria for joining the super-hero club. Straightforward, short, and easy to understand. Nevertheless, lots of folks who didn’t meet one or more of those requirements still showed up at Legion HQ on try-out day. Let’s break it down, shall we?
“A candidate must be under the age of 18 . . . .” Now, this one didn’t come up very much as a reason for rejection, but at least one instance when it did resulted in uncomfortable feelings all around.
No rationale was ever provided as to why the Legion excluded adults. At least, not in-story. The real-world explanation was that Mort Weisinger cannily knew that a club composed of teenagers would appeal to his youthful audience. But the age restriction was easily the most self-filtering of the membership criteria. Few adults would want to join an organisation in which they would be surrounded by annoying youngsters all of the time and take orders from a Legion leader almost half their age.
Still, there were a couple of shots at it. The middle-aged Universo made a forced attempt to join the Legion in Adventure Comics # 349 (Oct., 1966), only to be told flat-out by Superboy, “You’re too old!” This wasn’t a case of a dirty-minded geezer wanting to hang out with a bunch of nubile young super-heroines, though. Universo wanted Legion membership in order to gain access to its time-bubbles for nefarious purposes.
The situation in which the Legion’s age requirement was most significant arose in “The Three Super-Heroes”, from Action Comics # 267 (Aug., 1960). This was the tale of the Legion’s first attempt to recruit Supergirl into its ranks. Though the Girl of Steel handily outstripped the competition in performing the most impressive super-feat, she hit a snag when accidental exposure to red kryptonite aged her to adulthood.
Sorry, but thanks for playing our game, the Legion told her, showing---as it would constantly---how hard-core the group was about its membership requirements. Certainly, the Legionnaires had to know that the effects of red k were only temporary and Supergirl would be back to bobby-soxer age in due time. It’s absurd that they would reject someone with Kryptonian super-powers on a technicality. But, like all teenagers, the Legionnaires tended to take themselves too seriously, and this wouldn’t be the last time they came off looking snotty because of it.
This incident would provide a necessary distinction after Mon-El joined the Legion. In the letter column from Adventure Comics # 330 (Mar., 1965), a reader pointed out that the time Mon-El spent in suspended animation, plus his thousand-plus years in the Phantom Zone, made him well over the eighteen-year-old age limit of the Legion. Not a problem, replied Mort Weisinger. He said the determining factor in the age limit was the candidate’s physical age, not his chronological age. Weisinger referred to Supergirl’s rejection as having established this fact. (You’ve got to hand it to ol’ Mort---or more likely, his assistant, Nelson Bridwell---he was able to wiggle out of a tough question, and give a precedent, to boot.)
“ . . . Must have at least one genuine super-power . . .” This one makes sense. Take away Green Lantern’s power ring, and you’ve got Hal Jordan, ordinary guy. Not much use against, say, Starfinger or the Time-Trapper. Same thing with the Atom. Without his size-and-weight controls, the only use Ray Palmer would have to the Legion would be as Brainiac 5’s lab assistant---maybe. It’s a lot harder to deprive a hero of an innate super-power. Yet, there were a few Legion applicants who didn’t get the memo.
In part one, I mentioned the self-styled Storm King, who tried to finagle his way into the club by pretending his command of the elements came from a natural ability, instead of the weather-control device hidden in his belt. Not too long after that came Dynamo Kid, who applied to the Legion in Adventure Comics # 305 (Feb., 1963) by demonstrating the same electrical powers as the then-deceased Lightning Lad. The Kid got his rejection slip when Saturn Girl figured out that his power came from a miniature “hyper-battery” hidden under his cape.
In Adventure Comics # 314 (Nov., 1963), the scientist Alaktor applied for membership. Like Universo, he too was over the age limit, but the principal reason he got the boot was that his line-up of impressive abilities stemmed from his “Marvel Belt”. (Also, like Universo, his purpose in joining the Legion was to gain access to the club’s secrets.)
After that, the word must have gotten out, because no more gadget-based candidates showed up for quite some time. Then, in Adventure Comics # 355 (Apr., 1967), Lana Lang took a shot at joining the Legion. Superboy had taken her to a Legion meeting as a reward for her not trying to snoop out his secret identity. (Too bad Lex Luthor never thought of that; “Hey, Superboy, what are you going to give me for not trying to kill you this week?”) It happened to be membership try-out day, and because there wouldn’t have been a story otherwise, Lana conveniently had brought along her Insect Queen outfit and bio-ring.
Despite her impressive demonstration, which included spider-webbing Bouncing Boy to the floor, Lana was turned down when Invisible Kid pointed out that her powers were not natural, but came from her alien bio-ring. Being in tight with Superboy never hurts, though; Lana got Legion Reserve status out of it.
The requirement to possess a genuine super-power was a real killer. Not only did you have to have one to get into the Legion, you had to hold onto it if you wanted to stay there. A few Legionnaires learnt this the hard way.
In Adventure Comics # 302 (Nov., 1962), Sun Boy discovered that his power of light and heat, gained through a saturation of atomic radiation, had worn off. He also found out that his Legion pals were less than sympathetic. When it appeared that there was no chance of him regaining his powers, the Legionnaires wasted no time taking his nameplate off the table and telling him to clean out his locker.
When Sun Boy eventually did get his powers back, suddenly he and the Legionnaires were all buddy-buddy, again.
So hard-core were the Legionnaires about this that Lightning Lass was scared spitless that she would be kicked out of the club when she lost her electrical powers in Adventure Comics # 317 (Feb., 1964). Fortunately, she was spared the looks of scorn and derision when it was revealed that, instead, her power had simply been changed, to that of being able to make things light-weight.
Bouncing Boy got the heave-ho when an accident robbed him of his super-power, in Adventure Comics # 321 (Jun., 1964). BB was pleased when the other Legionnaires, showing unusual kindness, made him a member of the Legion Reserve. But what that meant was he was the one who got stuck with “watching the clubhouse” whenever the real Legionnaires were out having a good time. (“Oh, and as long as you’re there, Chuck, would you mind polishing the mission-monitor board? Thanks, buddy!”)
“ . . . A super-power, which he or she can fully control . . . “ This is the detail which knocked a great many Legion hopefuls out of the running. “Hey, I’ve got a super-power!” they thought. “Why waste time learning how to use it right?” Bad thinking. The Legion wasn’t the X-Men. It wasn’t its job to teach you how to properly control your power; you had to have it down pat going in.
Antennae Boy was the first to find this out, when he applied in Adventure Comics # 305. He had the ability to receive and make audible radio broadcasts from stations anywhere on Earth, even if they originated in the past or future. He hadn’t bothered to work on his volume control, or station selection, and he got even more static from the Legion. Rejected!
Jungle King suitably impressed the Legionnaires, in Adventure Comics # 309 (Jun., 1963), with his ability to mentally control wild beasts. Until he turned his back on a savage borlat (kind of a six-legged tiger) to take a bow and his mental control lapsed. Fortunately, Sun Boy’s intervention kept Jungle King from becoming borlat-chow. Rejected!
A couple of applicant misfires had almost fatal results to the Legionnaires. In Adventure Comics # 320 (May, 1964), Radiation Roy discovered that he could not control the intensity of the radioactivity he emitted, or even turn it off, at will. Spider Girl, from Adventure Comics # 323 (Aug., 1964), had prehensile control of her hair, á la Marvel Comics’ Madame Medusa. Unfortunately, Spider Girl’s command of her long tresses wasn’t nearly as inhuman. She almost strangled Brainiac 5 and Phantom Girl before getting her act together. Rejected and rejected!
Even if they possessed a genuine super-power which they could fully control, some would-be Legionnares possessed abilities that were flawed or just too lame to earn them a membership. You can’t really blame them for being overly optimistic. After all, Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad made the cut. But they really should have known better.
Night Girl had been imbued by her scientist father with super-strength almost as great as Superboy’s. You’d think she’d be a shoo-in for Legion-hood, when she applied in Adventure Comics # 306 (Mar., 1963). Unfortunately, she came from Kathoon, a sunless world, and her super-strength dissipated in the sunshine or bright light.
Green Kid, who had the power to turn anything, unsurprisingly, green, and Camera Eye, whose Cyclopean eye could project an image of anything he had ever seen, were given excuses by the Legionnaires for rejection, in Adventure Comics # 307 (Apr., 1963). But the fact was they were pretty limp-wristed super-powers, as was the ability to flatten himself to paper-thinness displayed by Ronn Kar, just before he was rejected in Adventure Comics # 314.
In Adventure Comics # 342 (Mar., 1966), Calamity King applied to the Legion claiming that “accidents and disasters happen wherever I go” was a super-power. Besides an implied question of control, the Legion didn’t want its own Joe Btfsplk around fouling things up and he was shown the door before it could collapse.
“The Sacrifice of Kid Psycho”, from Superboy # 125 (Dec., 1965), was a rare instance of the Legionnaires showing compassion in the case of a Legion reject. Kid Psycho was a mutant, born with the power of mind-over-matter. This included the ability to project impenetrable force shields and to travel through time, by psychically “drilling” through the time-barrier. Pretty damn impressive. The Legion thought so too, until it discovered that each use of his power shortened his life span by one year.
Kid Psycho was unaware of this, and the Legion delivered its reason for rejecting him as kindly as possible. Even so, the Kid still offered his services, and in recognition of his willingness to self-sacrifice, he was made a member of the Legion Reserve.
And then, there were the dregs, such as the twin-noggined Double-Header, from Adventure Comics # 323, who put a whole new angle on the expression “arguing with yourself.” Or Eyeful Ethel, whose body was covered with functioning eyes, and the Mess, who had the power to attract dirt. Both appeared in the same single panel in Adventure Comics # 330. All of them were rejected and I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you why.
“ . . . Must be courageous and of good character.” This requirement rarely got more than a lick and a promise. The Legion never seemed to devote much attention to just what kind of character a candidate had. Not until the end of the Silver Age and the establishment of the Legion Academy was there any explicit indication that there was a preparatory pipeline for admittance to the club. There were some hints that some preliminary checks were done, such as in the medical examination which revealed Kid Psycho’s life-threatening condition. But pretty much, all an applicant had to do was knock on the door and say “Check me out!” This led to a few bad eggs getting their Legion fraternity pins.
Command Kid made it into the Legion, in Adventure Comics # 328 (Jan., 1965), on the strength of his ability to create life-like illusions. He proved to be an effective Legionnaire, but his arrogant, obnoxious manner grated on his fellow members. That should have been the first clue that he was secretly working to destroy them. After Saturn Girl and Element Lad thwarted his scheme, they discovered that Command Kid was blameless---he had been possessed by a demon after his spaceship had crash-landed on the taboo planet, Preztor. Since the now-exorcised demon had been responsible for his illusion power, as well as his evil-doings, Command Kid left the Legion.
In what gets my vote as the most inane Legion story ever written (at least in the Silver Age), the youthful space-pirate Vorm infiltrated the Legion as Dynamo Boy. Over the span of two issues, Adventure Comics # 330-1, Vorm undertook to eliminate the Legion as a force for good, so his band of renegades could loot the universe at will. In a series of events that strained credulity to the breaking point, Dynamo Boy managed to expel the entire Legion membership and replace them with villains. In an already outrageous tale, three of the expelled Legionnaires showed up in the last two-and-a-half pages to save the day.
The greatest threat to the Legion from within developed in Adventure Comics # 346-7 (Jul. and Aug., 1966). During a major membership drive, the Legion inducted four new members---Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad, and Nemesis Kid. From the get-go, hints were dropped that one of the rookies was a traitor, using his Legion status to sabotage Earth’s defences. That would pave the way for the invading forces of an alien planet to conquer Earth.
Suspicions ran heavy as the veteran Legionnaires realised one of the newcomers had betrayed them. But it was an inadvertent thing which unmasked Nemesis Kid as the guilty party. In a rare thing for a Silver-Age Legion adventure, the Kid got away. His power to inevitably defeat one foe at a time, when confronted by nine angry Legionnaires, instead teleported him out of their reach.
So, your fondest hope has been to join the Legion of Super-Heroes, but instead of “Congratulations, Legionnaire!”, you’re told “Sorry, we don’t need you!” After drowning your sorrows in a few Martian milk shakes from the interplanetary ice cream parlour, what do you do now?
Tune in next time for a look at how some of the other rejectees dealt with it.