Some folks just can’t let go of a grudge.
Most of the applicants rejected for membership in the Legion of Super-Heroes returned to their hum drum, uneventful lives and were never heard from again. A handful defied all odds and went on to prove themselves worthy as the Legion of Substitute Heroes. And then, there were a few whose dismissal by the Legion put their noses severely out of joint.
They decided to seek acceptance on the other side of the street, as members of the Super-Hero Club’s evil counterpart---the Legion of Super-Villains.
When you’re dealing with a series in which time-travel is common, certain incongruities can’t help but arise. In this case, DC’s readers first read about the Legion of Super-Villains years, real time, before the criminal band was formed. In fact, the criminal band was introduced after its members---and those of the super-hero Legion---had become adults.
Superman # 147 (Aug., 1961) was the readers’ introduction to the villainous Legion, an event kicked off when Lex Luthor, during one of his periodic incarcerations, appropriates parts from the prison workshop and secretly constructs a transmitter capable of broadcasting his voice through the time barrier. As Superman’s arch-enemy since they were both boys in Smallville, Luthor is aware of the Legion of Super-Heroes. He surmises that, if a heroic Legion exists in the thirtieth century, then a criminal Legion probably exists then, too. It’s a long shot, but then again, Luthor’s got nothing else to do, so he spends hours trying to contact the Legion of Super-Villains through his time-transmitter.
Because he’s an evil genius---and because there wouldn’t be a story otherwise---Luthor’s gamble pays off. The Legion of Super-Villains provides him with equipment that enable him to break jail. The LSV arrives in then-present and takes the criminal scientist aboard their spaceship.
Much like the Super-Hero Club at the time, the bad-guy version didn’t fit the notion of a “legion”, either. There were only three members, all adults, to whom Luthor---and the readers---were introduced. You had Lightning Lord, who possessed the same ability as good-guy Legionnaire Lightning Lad. Then there was Saturn Queen, with the same telepathic powers as Saturn Girl. The last villain was Cosmic King, who had the power of transmutation, just like Element Lad, who would join the super-hero Legion in two years.
There wasn’t much in the way of background for Saturn Queen and Cosmic King. She was born with her super-power; he received his in one of those beneficial lab accidents that occur so frequently in comics. But Lightning Lord---ah, he had an interesting history. He was the brother of the now-grown Lightning Lad, who gained his super-power as a boy, when he was attacked by lightning-beasts of the planet Korbal. As we discover, Lightning Lord was with his brother at the time and got his power the same way.
(A couple of years down the road, Legion fans would learn that their sister, Ayla, was also present. She also acquired lightning powers and would join the Super-Hero Club as Lightning Lass.)
While Garth Ranzz decided to help humanity as Lightning Lad, big brother Mekt took the low road, using his new-found power to commit crimes. It was a clever touch by writer Jerry Siegel, and a remarkably farsighted one, given that, at this time, the LSH was still more or less a plot device. But after the Legion received its own series, in Adventure Comics # 300 (Sep., 1962), this brother-versus-brother situation would generate some interesting intra-familial tension.
With the formalities out of the way, Luthor and the LSV get down to brass tacks. They turn their attention toward Superman and lure him to a distant asteroid in outer space. Once there, the Man of Steel finds himself trapped in a green-kryptonite force-screen. But before the villains can crank up the force-screen to lethal intensity, the adult Legion of Super-Heroes arrive to save the day. As was customary in those early days, the heroic Legion was the “big three”---Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad, only now grown to maturity. They’ve tracked the LSV through time.
The heroes square off against their evil counterparts and it’s pretty much a stalemate. Then Luthor plays a trick. Then Superman plays a better trick, and the villains are neatly trussed up for delivery to prison.
The Legion of Super-Villains makes its next appearance a year later, in Jimmy Olsen # 63 (Sep., 1962). Since its introduction, the evil Legion has gone on a membership drive and added two more members: Chameleon Chief and Sun Emperor. The LSV has returned to the twentieth century as part of a complicated scheme to free the Phantom-Zone villains and ravage the Earth. Their plot is thwarted by Jimmy Olsen, no less, which must have been a huge embarrassment. And it probably explains why the villainous Legion was so seldom seen to recruit new members---what self-respecting bad guy wants to join a group that was defeated by a doofus cub reporter? As it was, Chameleon Chief and Sun Emperor turned in their notices; they were never seen again in the Silver Age.
Remember I said how time-travel can get things all twisted around? Well, this is where things get a bit stickier.
As I noted in a previous entry, the two-part story in Adventure Comics # 330-1 (Mar. and Apr., 1965) is the most absurd Silver-Age Legion tale. Ever. In the first half, a teenage space pirate named Vorm is assigned by the pirate chief to infiltrate the Legion and destroy it from within. Taking on the identity of Dynamo Boy, and using a “power belt” to simulate a super-power, Vorm is admitted to the Legion as its newest member. (That Vorm was able to get away with using a secret device to establish his “super-power” is the first sign that, in this story, the Legionnaires don’t have the brains of a retarded tree toad---which is the only way the rest of the plot works.)
On the flimsiest of subterfuges, Dynamo Boy systematically frames the other members for violations of Legion rules, resulting in their expulsions. As their number dwindles, the remaining Legionnaires don’t question, don’t investigate, don’t connect connect the sudden rash of violations with the arrival of Dynamo Boy. Jerry Siegel’s script turns the Legionnaires into sheep led to slaughter and expects the reader to buy it. Part One ends with Dynamo Boy as the only Legionnaire left.
In the second half, Vorm moves on to the next phase of his scheme. He intends to repopulate the Legion roster with criminals, using the guise of heroes to secretly rob the universe at will. Dynamo Boy’s plan hits a snag when, during an open membership event, all of the applicants are either too lame or too honest.
Enter the Legion of Super-Villains. Now, one would logically expect this to be a teenage version of the group, contemporaneous with the time setting. But, no, these are the adult Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen and Cosmic King. They tell Dynamo Boy that they have reformed and come from the future for a fresh start. (And, yes, there was a teenage version of the LSV---those disgruntled rejectees I mentioned, remember? Be patient, friends; I’m getting to that.)
Vorm is nobody’s fool. Anyway, he’s a lot smarter than the Legionnaires in this story. He knows the three are still as crooked as Lombard Street. He admits them as Legionnaires and then lets them in on his secret plan, which they put into action. Incredibly, the Science Police doesn’t question the sudden addition of three adult Legionnaires, nor tie them in with the recent spike in criminal activity. The Legion of Substitute Heroes has more on the ball, though. The Subs know that the “former” LSV members are still evil and confront them. Unfortunately, there’s a reason why they are Substitute Heroes; the trio of super-villains clobber them but good.
Fortunately for the sensibilities of the reader, things conclude rather swiftly from this point. Dynamo Boy returns to his space-pirate buddies and deposes the chief. But before Vorm can lead them to plunder, the LSV trio pulls a double-cross, getting rid of him for good. They’ve barely had time to chortle fiendishly when they’re cornered by ex-Legionnaires Superboy, Mon-El, and Element Lad. In a mercifully brief two pages, they drop a house on the LSV and put paid to a plot that never should have gotten past Mort Weisinger’s desk.
Next, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen and Cosmic King show up again in the twentieth century, as members of the Cosmic Anti-Superman Gang, in Jimmy Olsen # 87 (Sep., 1965). The LSVers didn’t do much more than sit around and make evil-villain speeches, while Brainiac and Lex Luthor did all the heavy lifting. There was no mention of what the three thirtieth-century baddies were doing in our time-era. Mort’s writers had a tendency to use the three LSVers as utility players, whenever a Superman script called for a gaggle of foes. They did the same thing back in Action Comics # 286 (Mar., 1962), though that was in a dream sequence and not a genuine appearance of the super-villain Legion.
In keeping with that attitude, the LSV threesome makes another brief, unremarkable appearance in Action Comics # 332 (Jan., 1966). There seems to be, at least, a nod to continuity, in that we see them, along with Luthor and Brainiac, confined to an asteroid prison, the Devil’s Island of Space. Presumably, this is where they wound up after the events of Jimmy Olsen # 87, and there they remained, unable to join Luthor in escaping.
One could easily make the argument that imprisonment on the Devil’s Island of Space was the final fate of those three LSVers. They would make one more Silver-Age appearance, in their own time-era, but that doesn’t mean they eventually escaped from their twentieth-century confinement. Like I said, the Legion series frequently messed around with time-travel, and that always creates headaches. Even though, in strict chronology, the events of Action Comics # 332 occurred before anything that came later, it could very well have been that the Legion of Super-Villains time-travelled back to our era after their subsequent appearances, only to be captured by Superman and sent to the galactic hoosegow.
Or not. Maybe they did eventually escape the Devil’s Island of Space and returned to their own time for their next battle with the Legion. That’s the sticky wicket of time-travel---you can never be sure just when things happen in a given time-line.
Is your head starting to hurt, yet? Let’s move on.
“The War of the Legions”, from Adventure Comics # 355 (Apr., 1967), is the second of the two notable “Adult Legion” tales written by Jim Shooter. The first story was primarily a “where are they now?” piece, showing what happened to the various Legionnaires after they reached adulthood, utilizing a minor mystery as a framework. This second Adult Legion effort marked the final showdown between the two Legions. For the first time since the villains’ debut back in Superman # 147, they battled the adult Legionnaires of their own era.
The plot takes up immediately following the conclusion of the previous story. Moments after Superman returns to his own time, the LSV kidnaps Brainiac 5 and holds him hostage to lure the other Legionnaires into ambushes. The baddies have some extra muscle this time, having added two more villains---Echo and Beauty Blaze---to their number. Cosmic Man, Saturn Woman, Lightning Man, Element Man, and Polar Man are forced to split up and meet their foes in individual combat.
The heroes reunite to rescue Brainiac 5 from the criminals’ undersea hide-out, only to find the villains lying in wait for them. The Legionnaires, it develops, defeated only solid holographic doubles of the real LSVers. Exhausted from their earlier battles, the super-heroes are easy pickings for their revenge-bent enemies . The good guys are saved only by the last-minute arrival of a totally unexpected cavalry.
Did I say that was the last time the Legion of Super-Villains would appear in the Silver Age? Oh, silly me. I meant it was the last time the adult version of the group would be seen. Somewhere around this time, Legion writer Jim Shooter decided to show us the origin of the super-villain Legion. To avoid any more time-travel quandaries, Shooter unveiled an LSV whose members were contemporaries of the teenage Super-Hero Club.
But there was a problem. As established ‘way back in Superman # 147, only Lightning Lord started his criminal career as a teenager. Saturn Woman and Cosmic King didn’t turn villainous until they were adults. One youthful evil-doer would make a paltry “Legion” indeed.
The solution? Shooter went back through the dozens of old Adventure issues, and scrutinised the membership application scenes. The discarded applicants provided the potential membership for the teenage super-villain Legion. Shooter selected the least lame of the bunch and wrote them as being bitter enough over their rejections to want to strike back against the Legion.
As described in “School for Super-Villains”, from Adventure Comics # 372 (Sep., 1968), the Legion of Super-Villains was founded by Tarik the Mute, once an innocent bystander accidently struck in the throat by a police blaster during a shoot-out with crooks. The loss of his voice embittered Tarik and turned him against the law.
By threatening the lives of Colossal Boy’s parents (something you’d think a bad guy would have done long before this), Tarik coërced the Legionnaire into revealing the training procedures of the newly formed Legion Academy. With this knowledge, the voiceless criminal established an exact replica of the facility, only for training not would-be super-heroes, but super-villains.
Out of a student body composed mostly of nameless, detailless extras, there were some familiar faces for long-time Legion fans. Two of them I mentioned a couple of entries back---Radiation Roy, who was turned down by the Legion back in Adventure Comics # 320 (May, 1964), and Spider-Girl, who got the thumb’s-down in issue # 323 (Aug., 1964).
Another rejectee holding a grudge was Ronn Karr, who failed to impress the Legion with his ability to flatten himself to paper-thinness, in issue # 314 (Nov., 1963). He wasn’t all that impressive as a super-villain, either.
Besides Legion rejectees, there were other students we had seen before, super-powered teens who had turned criminal long before being enlisted by Tarik the Mute. The star pupil was Nemesis Kid, the traitor who had joined the Legion in order to expose the Earth to an alien invasion back in Adventure Comics # 346-7 (Jul. and Aug., 1966).
And, of course, there was Lightning Lord, who was just plain mean.
It was Shrinking Violet who, while trying to track down Colossal Boy’s missing parents, discovered the existence of the super-villain academy. However, shutting it down was a dicier proposition. A direct assault was out of the question, with the lives of Colossal Boy’s mom and dad at risk. So the Legion got sneaky.
Two Legionnaires---Superboy and Chameleon Boy (the head of the Legion’s Espionage Squad, natch)---along with two Legion trainees, Timber Wolf and Chemical King, posed as super-powered delinquents and got themselves invited to join the super-villain gang. Once in, things didn’t go as smoothly as planned, though. They had barely finished their tour of Tarik’s training facility when they were exposed as super-heroes. Even four Legionnaires and almost-Legionnaires don’t stand up too good against twenty or thirty super-powered hoodlums whupping up on them. (I have to confess to a certain guilty pleasure at seeing the sometimes-too-smug Superboy get punched out by Nemesis Kid.)
Fortunately for Our Heroes, Tarik followed the standard super-villain handbook and didn’t kill the Legionnaires on the spot. Once the super-heroes were left alone in a detention cell, all it took was a make-up kit and an ingenious application of a super-power to turn the tables on Tarik and his Legion of Super-Villains.
In the final months of the Silver Age, DC never did anything else with the teen version of the super-villain Legion. That left Lightning Lord as the only real link between it and the adult LSV we had seen so often. By then, the Legion series itself had been demoted to back-up status, first in Action Comics, then in Superboy. With a reduced page-count and no room for a crowd of Legionnaires, the writers wrote more interpersonal stories, using smaller casts. They began to take advantage of the ready-made emotional drama established years earlier by Jerry Siegel, when he made the evil Lightning Lord brother to the virtuous Lightning Lad and Light Lass. It was a vein tapped often.
It was left to the Legion writers of the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s to make greater use of the young LSV and they did, expanding both its roster and capacity for evil. The criminal group probably reached the height of its enormity in the “Here a Villain, There a Villain” saga of 1984.
As for the grown-up LSV, the twists and turns of their time-jumping finally became too unwieldy to fit easily into the later history of the group. With a hand wave, the adult version was relegated to “alternate time line” status. By then, of course, it was the teen LSV that the fans wanted to see.
All things considered, the Legionnaires probably should have been a little nicer to the applicants they turned down.