Deck Log Entry # 112 So, You've Failed to Become a Member of the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 1)

Rejected!


Few things are more painful to hear than to be told “We don’t want you!” Yet, for the vast majority of eager young hopefuls seeking membership in the Legion of Super-Heroes, “rejected” was the response.


These discards found their dreams dashed against the rocks. And it didn’t help matters that, even towards the candidates who applied in good faith, the Legionnaires were about as sympathetic as Simon Cowell with an ear infection. The elitist super-teens did everything but hang a sign that said “LOSER!” around the neck of every rejectee booted out the door.


The majority of these unfortunates enjoyed only a moment on the four-colour stage, leaving nearly as soon as they had entered. Some appeared for only one panel, just long enough for the Legionnaires to give them the hook. They were never seen again, no doubt returning to their home planets and taking up careers handing out Venusian slurpees at the local Kangobronc Express.


For a handful of rejectees, though, failure was a motivator. They weren’t done with the Legion, yet.


Not by a long shot.




In Adventure Comics # 306 (Mar., 1963), pint-sized Brek Bannin, of the distant planet Tharr, spends the entire night in front of the Legion Clubhouse in order to be first in line for membership try-outs. When called upon to show what he’s got, the lad, calling himself Polar Boy, demonstrates his super-power. Like the rest of the inhabitants of his world, he can radiate intense cold. We’re talking sub-zero.


It certainly impresses the Legionnaires. Too much. In seconds, their teeth are chattering and icicles are dangling from their noses. The meeting room looks like the inside of an ice cave. Then, just like that, Polar Boy shuts it off, and the temperature returns to normal.


Polar Boy has every reason to feel optimistic. He read the membership brochure. Under the age of eighteen---check. Courageous and of good character---check. A genuine super-power, which he can fully control---check and check! That’s why it comes as such a crushing blow when the Legionnaires reject him.


“Your power is unusual,” Sun Boy explains. “But it might freeze and disable us at a critical moment!”


That’s the Legion for you; everything is about them. Any reader over the age of six must have seen the lack of logic in refusing Polar Boy membership in the Legion. His power was the elemental opposite of Sun Boy’s and certainly would be useful against arch-villains. (Stan Lee certainly had that figured out when he introduced The X-Men later that same year, and included a teen-age hero with the same kind of powers.)


The matter of Polar Boy’s rejection suggests something. While the official qualifications for Legion membership were explicitly laid out in the first clause of the group’s constitution, it’s handy to assume that unofficial considerations were taken into account, too.


For one thing, it would explain why the Legion didn’t have four or five members from planets where all of the population possessed the same super-power. There didn’t have to be a codified prohibition against admitting other members with the same powers (and, as I have pointed out before, there wasn’t one), because that kind of thing sorted itself out during the Legionnaires’ closed-session deliberations.


“I’m not sure we need another shape-changer in the club.”


“I agree. Besides, Durlans are kind of creepy.”


“Tell me about it. Every time I take a sonic shower, I always get the feeling that Chameleon Boy is watching me, disguised as a soap dish or something. Ugh!


“Then we’re all decided---rejected, right?”



It would also account for how some of the heroes with less-useful abilities made it into the group:


“Look, guys, all this Luornu Durgo can do is split herself into three girls---three normal girls without super-powers.”


“Yeah, but she’s a babe!”


“Honestly---“


“Let’s just put it to a vote.”


COSMIC BOY: “Aye.” LIGHTNING LAD: “Aye.” SATURN GIRL: “No!”


“The ayes have it! The babe . . . er . . . Triplicate Girl is now a Legionnaire!”


After leaving the Legion Clubhouse, the despondent Polar Boy encounters four other teens also rejected by the Legion on the same day.


There was Night Girl, whom I mentioned last time. Her scientist-father had endowed her with super-strength, but it faded in sunshine or bright light. Fire Lad gained the ability to breathe fire like a dragon, after accidentally inhaling the vapours of a fiery meteor. The Legion rejected him, saying that his power was too unstable.


As a toddler, Chlorophyll Kid fell into a tank of powerful plant-growing solution. It left him with the ability to instantly accelerate the growth of any plant. The Legion’s response: he had great potential as a farmer, but no place with them.


And then there was Stone Boy, of the planet Zwen. Like Polar Boy, his super-power was shared by all of the natives of his world. On Zwen, nights are half an Earth-year long, so the inhabitants evolved the power to turn to solid stone, as a form of suspended animation. The hitch was, while in his petrified form, Stone Boy was completely inanimate. The Legion, not unreasonably, told him his power “was too static and would accomplish nothing.”


The Legion might not have been impressed with their super-powers, but Polar Boy certainly was. Inspired, he suggests that, maybe O.K., we can’t be Legionnaires, but we can still help people. He proposes that they form their own group---the Legion of Substitute Heroes---to pitch in and help anyway they can. Eager to regain their self-respect, the other four rejectees agree.



Flush with enthusiasm, the newly-christened Substitute Heroes construct a base within a rocky pinnacle outside Metropolis and outfit it with an early-warning monitor system. They build a rocket ship for super-swift transportation. Then, they sit and wait.

 

And wait. And wait.


There is no shortage of emergencies, but there is no shortage of Legionnaires to tackle them, either. Time after time, the Subs are beaten to the punch by the real Legion. Dejected, the Subs accept the painful truth that they are useless after all and decide to disband.


But before they can pull the plug on the big warning wall monitor, a crisis lands in their backyard---literally. Spotting dozens of strange-looking seeds littering the ground outside their base, a curious Chlorophyll Kid uses his super-power on one of them---and it sprouts into a hostile plant-man! The sun has set, so Night Girl is able to pulp the plant being with her super-strength, while Fire Lad incinerates the rest of the alien seeds with his flame-breath.


They realise that the seeds were the advance force for an invasion of Earth. For once, the entire Legion is off-planet dealing with another emergency, so it’s up to the Subs to pinch-hit for their heroes. It’s also a case of being careful what you wish for, since none of them is overjoyed at the notion of trying to halt a belligerent invasion force with their minor-league powers.


Nevertheless, they courageously track down the plant-men’s home planet, and through teamwork---tighter teamwork than the regular Legionnaires usually demonstrated, actually---they thwart the attack and destroy the plant race’s ability to wage warfare. But there won’t be any tickertape parades for the Subs when they get back to Earth. They decide to keep the existence of their group secret, to avoid stealing any glory away from the actual Legion.




Thus launched a significant element of the Legion mythos. The Substitute Heroes became a permanent, if infrequent, presence in Legion tales (which must have thrilled Buddy LaVigne, of Northbrook, Illinois, to no end---since he first suggested the character of Polar Boy in the letter column of Adventure Comics # 304 [Jan., 1963]). Over the course of their Silver-Age history, the Subs continued to display the traits shown in their introduction: self-effacing modesty, admiration for the Legion, willingness to help, and teamwork to compensate for the flaws in their super-powers. On the rare occasions when they took centre stage, they acquitted themselves admirably.


One of those occasions developed in their next appearance, in Adventure Comics # 311 (Aug., 1963). In fact, despite the title---“The War Between the Substitute Heroes and the Legionnaires”---the regular Legion makes only a minor appearance, spending most of the story trapped in a space warp. They are imprisoned there by serpent-like beings from the planet Zyzan, who disguise themselves as the real teen heroes in order to steal valuable ores from the Earth. It’s left to the Subs to solve the mystery of the “Legion’s” peculiar behavior and prevent the Earth from being reduced to a hollow shell.


Though Night Girl offers her services to the female Legionnaires stricken by Satan Girl in Adventure Comics # 313 (Oct., 1963), it isn’t until issue # 315 (Dec., 1963) that the Super-Hero Club discovers the existence of their self-appointed back-up team. Instead of forcing the Subs to disband, as they fear, the Legion is touched by their devotion and proposes a super-competition between the Subs, the winner of which will be admitted to the Legion.


Tasks are assigned, each designed to force the individual Sub to overcome the singular weakness of his super-power. The measure of their success or failure will be calculated by a “score computer”. Somewhat surprisingly, the winner of the super-contest is Stone Boy, who actually fails at his task, but earns the highest score, when he willingly concedes in order to save innocent lives. Though offered a permanent place in the Legion, Stone Boy turns it down in order to remain with his Substitute-Hero buddies.


The Subs finally get their day in the sun in “The Legion’s Suicide Squad”, from Adventure Comics # 319 (Apr., 1964). When beams projected from an impregnable citadel on the jungle planetoid Throon disable all rocket ships within a thirty-million-mile radius, the Legion is called in to restore the space lanes. Incredibly, each Legion team sent to Throon is resoundly clobbered by the mysterious beings within the citadel.


When they finally run out of Legionnaires, the Substitute Heroes take a crack at it, launching a suicide attack on the citadel. Through sheer guts and teamwork, the Subs fend off a barrage of attacks long enough for Night Girl to infiltrate the citadel and defeat their foes from within. A somewhat humbled Legion is happy to stand aside as the Subs return to a hero’s welcome on Earth.




It’s a boost for the Substitute Legion, both individually and as a group. They work hard to refine their individual skills and make them more useful. Stone Boy, in particular, overcomes the static limitation of his power. Early on, he learns how to talk while in his petrous state, and later stories indicate that he has developed the ability to localise his power, turning only parts of his body, such as his fist or his face, to stone.


Thanks to their hard-earned respect, the Subs are invited to participate on a Legion mission in Adventure Comics # 322 (Jul., 1964), after which they fade from the scene for a bit, to return in issue # 331 (Apr., 1965). Here, the Subs tackle the Legion of Super-Villains, and come off looking pretty much like rank amateurs. As a final humiliation, they are castigated for their actions when they are told that the three super-villains have reformed and are now members of the Super-Hero Legion. (Actually, the villains are still villains; it’s all part of a totally ludicrous script.)


The embarrassment causes the Subs to slink off-stage and remain out of sight until Adventure Comics # 342 (Mar., 1966). Here, the team picks up its first new members, cast-offs from the regular Legion. “The Legionnaire Who Killed” is the landmark story in which Star Boy is put on trial by his Legion buddies for violating the club’s code against killing. He is joined for moral support by his girlfriend, Dream Girl, herself a former Legionnaire who joined and quit the team back in Adventure Comics # 317 (Feb., 1964).


When his case is put to a vote, Star Boy finds himself expelled from the Legion and left adrift, until Polar Boy offers him a place on the Substitute Legion. Dream Girl, too. They both accept, but their time in the minors is a brief one---they manage to regain their Legion memberships in Adventure Comics # 351 (Dec., 1966).


The Subs picked up a third member from Adventure Comics # 342, as well. Early in the tale, before Star Boy’s troubles begin, the Legion holds another try-out session and rejects Color Kid of the planet Lupra. As might be guessed, Color Kid has the power to change the hue of any person or object.


“That’s an unusual power, but not great enough for the Legion,” says Brainiac 5. “I suggest you try the Legion of Substitute Heroes. They’re Legion rejects who’ve banded together and are doing fine work!”


Color Kid---another fan creation, submitted by Jeff Greenberg, of Los Angeles, California---was a natural for the Subs, but his official membership wasn’t shown until Adventure Comics # 351, the same issue in which Star Boy and Dream Girl left the group.


As it would develop, Adventure Comics # 351 would also prove to be the Subs’ last Silver-Age hurrah. It’s the second half of a two-part epic in which writer E. Nelson Bridwell tossed in every part of the Legion mythos he could think of. The Substitute Heroes play a crucial rôle when they are sent to the year 1966 to obtain a needed ingredient to counteract the effects of an enemy’s magic on a Legion team.


Due to plot permutations, this results in a battle between the Subs and the Legion of Super-Pets. As always, through resourcefulness and teamwork, the Subs hold their own against the overwhelmingly super-powered animals. Instrumental to the Subs’ survival is the fact that the Super-Pets are unfamiliar with newcomer Color Kid. Not only do the heroes avoid becoming Purina pet chow, but they manage to get what they came for in the process.


And something which must have pleased Jeff Greenberg of Los Angeles, California to no end---Color Kid becomes the hero of the piece when his super-power resolves the situation which formed the central problem of the saga, just in time for the final fade-out.




All in all, not a bad showing for a bunch of rejects who refused to take “Get lost” for an answer. The Subs proved that, even in the thirtieth century, wits and courage counted a lot more than super-powers when it came to being heroes.


There was another group of Legion wanna-bes who didn’t take rejection lightly, either. But being heroes was the last thing on their minds. Next time we get together, we’ll look at how that worked out for them.

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Comment by Philip Portelli on October 24, 2010 at 10:16am
Polar Boy's rejection always puzzled me as it made little sense. I did like how the Legion had blankets at the ready, though! I believe it was later stated that Brekk was too young for membership though that was never brought up in his first appearance.

Over at Mister Silver Age's forum, I wrote a piece on how Marvel's teens would fare at Legion tryouts and I speculated that Iceman (or rather Icelad) probably would have been accepted and would have made a great Legionnaire, along with Marvel Girl and Spider-Man(Boy). So Polar Boy's power was not the problem nor his control. Did we ever see him freeze a team-mate by accident? Also he really must have impressed Superboy who once needed his parents' help!

Granted, not everyone can have A-list super-powers but the Subs taught us about perseverance, patience, loyalty and that we can all be heroes if we believe in ourselves.
Comment by Randy Jackson on October 24, 2010 at 1:34pm
Interesting article. I always thought that certain Legionnaires were admitted for reasons other than their abilities. Your description of "she's a babe" makes perfect sense to me--after all, the Silver Age Legion were teenagers, and apt to make decisions that were questionable.
Comment by Commander Benson on October 24, 2010 at 4:03pm
" I always thought that certain Legionnaires were admitted for reasons other than their abilities. Your description of 'she's a babe' makes perfect sense to me--after all, the Silver Age Legion were teenagers, and apt to make decisions that were questionable."

Exactly! Of course, nothing like that was ever explicitly presented in those Silver-Age stories, even so, certain seeds were laid that indicated that membership decisions were based on personal considerations, as well as the official criteria.

A perfect case in point is Dream Girl's first admission to the Legion in Adventure Comics # 317. She shows up wearing a more abbreviated costume (though tame by modern standards) than any girl Legionnaire, and the way she's built, she may as well be wearing a sash that reads "2964 Playmate of the Year". The male Legionnaires can't do enough for her. ("Would you like to lie down on the divan?" "Can I get you a glass of kono juice?") while their female teammates give her catty looks.

After she tells them that her super-power is falling asleep and having prophetic dreams and it's time to vote, all the "ayes" come from the drooling boy Legionnaires, which outnumber the irritated girl Legionnaires' "nays".

Even though there was only that one occasion, and it was highlighted as a plot point, you're right, Randy, they're teenagers, and heir to the same kind of visceral decision-making that all adolescents are. A lot of that kind of thinking probably kept other teens from the same worlds as the current Legionnaires out of the club. Everything from mistrust (as in the Durlan example in my piece) to jealousy ("That kid from Braal might do a better job than me!") to derision ("Another Bismollian? Yeah, right. We only let Matter-Eater Lad in the club because Shrinking Violet said he was cute.") The Legionnaires were shown to be a pretty clannish bunch, like a bunch of snobby frat members, so it's easy to think of them, as a bloc, giving the thumb's-down to any applicant a Legionnaire didn't want for personal reasons.

As with all youngsters, joining the club had more to do with popularity than it did actual qualifications.

That's even evident in the group's official criteria. A candidate had to be under the age of eighteen---but a justification for that was never given. The real reason was no group of teens want to hang out with "old folks", and besides, if they start letting adults in, pretty soon the grown-ups will try to start running things.

Yeah, I'll bet there were some pretty interesting deliberations that we never got to see during those membership try-outs.
Comment by Eric L. Sofer on October 25, 2010 at 7:11am
Commander, I don't have my collection in front of me - but don't the Subs show up in the last panel to save the day in Adventure Comics #374 - "Mission: Diabolical!" (I remember it as one of the few Legion adventures where Supergirl took a stronger role than Superboy... and I hope one of your upcoming Legion based Deck Logs will be the Girl of Steel's adventures with the Legion.) Or do you not consider that Silver Age (it was from 1968... so that's kind of borderline...) Or is a one panel cameo (really all that it was...) not considerable? Just curious if you might have overlooked that one - not that I ever think you overlook anything, but you are human, after all... or from a planet where you pass for human exceedingly well! :D

xoxoxo
x<]:o){
Comment by Commander Benson on October 25, 2010 at 8:08am
Actually, Fogey, the Subs are a bit more prominent in "Mission: Diabolical". A middle sequence depicts a battle between two lawless factions---the Taurus Gang and Scorpius. For reasons too complicated to go into, a quintet of Legionnaires, in disguise, are present, having infiltrated Scorpius. Both the Science Police and the Substitute Heroes arrive on the scene to break up the gang war. Though he has the chance to stop the fleeing Scorpius goons, Polar Boy decides against it, having seen through their disguises and recognising some of them as Legionnaires.


The Subs' investigation into the matter is what brings them on stage in time to save the day at the end.

No, friend, I didn't forget that story. It simply fell out of my benchmark for the end of the Silver Age. You see, 1968 was the transition year---the period in which the circumstances in writing and art indicated a shift to the next comics era---but those circumstances took root in most titles months before December, 1968.

For example, I consider the Silver Age to have ended for Justice League of America with JLA # 63 (Jun., 1968), with the last issue that was written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky.

Another example: the last Silver-Age issue of The Challengers of the Unknown was # 63 (Aug.-Sep., 1968). Not only was it the last issue to be drawn by Bob Brown and written by Arnold Drake---both long-time Challs talent---but it also marked a thematic shift in the series, turning to stories heavily infused with the supernatural.

The Atom lost its Silver-Age flavour following issue # 37 (Jun.-Jul., 1968), the last one drawn by Gil Kane and written by Gardner Fox. Mike Sekowsky and Frank Robbins took over their respective chores for the next issue, and after that, the title merged with Hawkman.

As for the Legion, it's certainly true that more than one artist had taken a turn at the series: John Forte, Jim Mooney, Curt Swan, George Papp, Pete Constanza. But only two of those---Forte and Swan---were recognised as the Legion artists. And it was Swan who had the job when the Legion series reached it apex under Jim Shooter's scripts. By that point, the mark was set so high that the loss of Swan could only signal a downturn, the feeling---as with the other situations I described above---that the stories were no longer the same.

So for the Legion, I mark Adventure Comics # 372 (Sep., 1968), the last issue drawn by Swan, as the last Silver-Age Legion tale.

As for your suggestion---a Deck Log entry on Supergirl's Silver-Age participation with the Legion is a good one (and it's one in which Craig Shutt hasn't beaten me to the punch, yet). But it will be awhile---I'm pretty much "Legion-ed" out. My original plan was to do only one entry---"So, You Want to Join the Legion of Super-Heroes". But as I wrote it, I realised that it encompassed too much material to conveniently fold into one article. Even so, I didn't expect it to expand to four spots. So the next one will be the last Legion-based article for quite awhile.

But I like the idea, so it will go on my list of article ideas.
Comment by Patrick Curley on October 25, 2010 at 1:04pm
I always liked the Subs; as the saying goes, they were given lemons and turned them into lemonade. I especially liked the story where Stone Boy turned down entry into the big club; the writer (Hamilton?) was teaching a lesson about loyalty.

As for the Legion of Useless Powered Heroes, yeah, Triplicate Girl ranks right up there in the top class. I do remember that one time she was able to hold off Nemesis Kid, as he could only defeat one foe at a time. And another time they had her go into a museum where the number of people entering and exiting was carefully tabulated. She split herself after entering, and one of her bodies exited, thereby making sure the totals balanced.

Matter-Eater Lad got into the Legion by reminding them that no jail could hold them because he could simply eat them a way to freedom. IIRC he never did that, but I do recall him eating a meteor so that some of the Legion members could use it as a hiding place. Other than that the only time I can remember him actually using his power was to chow down on a crook's ray gun.
Comment by Commander Benson on October 25, 2010 at 3:20pm
"I especially liked the story where Stone Boy turned down entry into the big club; the writer (Hamilton?) was teaching a lesson about loyalty."

Good instincts, Pat. That story was, indeed, written by Edmond Hamilton.


"Matter-Eater Lad got into the Legion by reminding them that no jail could hold them because he could simply eat them a way to freedom. IIRC he never did that, but I do recall him eating a meteor so that some of the Legion members could use it as a hiding place. Other than that the only time I can remember him actually using his power was to chow down on a crook's ray gun."

The basic problem with Matter-Eater Lad was he couldn't accomplish anything with his super-power that other Legionnaires couldn't do as well or better. Trapped in a jail cell? Sun Boy could melt the bars, as could Ultra Boy, with his flash vision. If they're made of iron, Cosmic Boy can warp them apart with his super-magnetism. Element Lad could transmute them to hydrogen. And of course, Superboy or Supergirl or Mon-El could just rip the door off the hinges.

Actually, M-E Lad did get to demonstrate his "break out of jail" benefit on three occasions. In a sense.

When he and fellow Legionnaires Cosmic Boy and Ferro Lad and Miss Terious are caught in a cage formed by the extendable fingers of guard robots, in Adventure Comics # 351 (Dec., 1966), he frees them by chomping a hole in the "finger bars" of the cage.

He performs a similar trick in Adventure Comics # 363 (Dec., 1967), only that time it's a snare made of polymeric fibres.

And, of course, he makes a hardy, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to escape the Super-Stalag of Space, in Adventure Comics # 344-5 (May and Jun., 1966), by eating a tunnel through solid rock.

The eating-the-raygun stunt has become something of a trope associated with the boy from Bismoll. But I can only recall two occasions during the Silver Age when he pulled that stunt. The first time was as a demonstration for the other Legionnaires, in M-E Lad's debut in Adventure Comics # 303 (Apr., 1964). The only time he applied it tactically was at the end of the aforementioned Adventure Comics # 351.

(Of course, since I am going by memory, I might have overlooked another instance or two; if I have, I'm sure the Fogey will keep me straight.)

It's a neat parlour trick, but I really don't see its advantage. In order to eat the raygun, M-E Lad has to get close enough to its wielder to take it out of his hand---meaning that M-E Lad either has to dodge ray blasts or sneak up on the nogoodnik. And if he does get close enough to the bad guy to take the raygun out of his hand, wouldn't it be quicker and easier to just clobber the goon with a spanner wrench or a good left hook?

The Legion writers struggled manfully to show Matter-Eater Lad's usefulness to the group. You mentioned one of them, Pat, when M-E Lad chowed down on the interior of a large meteor to enable his Legion team to approach the planet Throon undetected, in Adventure Comics # 319 (Apr., 1964).

That was a reasonably utile use of his super-power, as was an instance in the previous issue, # 318. When a temporarily deranged Sun Boy maroons a squad of Legionnaires on a planet with no ready source of food, M-E Lad notices giant bees flying into a mountain cavern. Figuring where there are bees, there must be honey, he chews his way through the mountain until he locates the comb, providing sustenence for his fellow Legionnaires.

Once you get past those uses of his power, you can tell the writers were starting to reach.

In Adventure Comics # 359 (Aug., 1967), the Legionnaires go into action when an elevated monotrain suddenly derails. M-E Lad chomps through a flagpole in time to prevent one of the plunging monocars from being skewered on it.

But probably the biggest "oh, come on!" moment comes in Adventure Comics # 336 (Sep., 1965), when he uses his power against clouds of obscuring steam by swallowing them.



Still, he's more useful than Duo Damsel.
Comment by Philip Portelli on October 25, 2010 at 3:56pm
With the Legion, if you were in, you're in. It didn't matter what your power was but how you could contibute with it. Remember the Legion weren't too impressed with Karate Kid, either but he proved himself as one of the bravest members or the craziest, I haven't fully decided.

Still, it was a good that that it wasn't Bouncing Boy, Duo Damsel, Matter-Eater Lad, Dream Girl and Invisible Kid alone at the Clubhouse when the Sun-Eater attacked!
Comment by ClarkKent_DC on October 25, 2010 at 5:21pm
This description of Matter-Eater Lad's background makes me wonder why he made the cut for the Legion and Polar Boy didn't ...
Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on October 25, 2010 at 6:13pm
Plus, Matter-Eater Lad was quite the sculptor with his teeth.

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