Deck Log Entry # 98 "But I Always Thought . . . .": the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 1)

I've avoided doing a "But I Always Thought . . . " piece on the Legion of Super-Heroes because, frankly, it was just too easy. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. You couldn't get through a year's worth of Legion stories in the 1970's without coming across at least one significant discrepancy from what had been well-established in Legion lore back in the Silver Age. And, besides, I'd pointed out enough of them in message-board posts. I just couldn't bring myself to take the easy way out and simply regurgitate items I had already discussed.

Then, in the past week, on another board, on another site, I came across two of those errors misstated as fact. Aarrghhhhh!!!! I feel like Sisyphus, but I'm going to roll that boulder one more time.

It makes sense, I guess, that the Legion of Super-Heroes series would see the most post-Silver-Age mistakes. Those 1970's Legion tales were written mostly by fans-turned-writers, and of all of DC's Silver-Age efforts, the Legion was the one that had its direction most dictated by its readers. The fans turned the Legion from a throwaway idea introduced in Adventure Comics # 247 (Apr., 1958) to a full-fledged series in issue # 300, some four years later. The fans submitted ideas for heroes and heroines; a select few of them appeared as characters in Legion stories, and an even fewer number were good enough to become regular players. By the end of the Silver Age, the leader of the Legion was determined not by a writer’s notion, but by an annual readership election.

In 1969, the Legion lost its star-standing in Adventure to Supergirl and was moved to the back of Action Comics (a move enacted by Superman editor Mort Weisinger who, after being ordered by publisher Jack Liebowitz to give the Girl of Steel her own magazine, did so in order to avoid adding an additional title to his workload), where it muddled along with a reduced page-count and lackluster adventures until it was cancelled outright with Action Comics # 392 (Sep., 1970).

But the Legion’s loyal followers would not let the series die. A huge groundswell of fandom made itself heard, with a popular fanzine, “The Legion Outpost”, by Harry Broertjes and Mike Flynn, as the flagship. Noted comic professionals, such as Dave Cockrum, Cary Bates, and Murray Boltinoff, contributed to the ‘zine, joining in the support for the teen-age super-hero club. DC heard them. In less than a year following the group’s excision from Action Comics, new Legion stories began to appear in the back pages of Superboy. In a reply of history, the Legion’s popularity surged to the point where, in 1973, it took over the magazine, just as it had done to the Boy of Steel in Adventure Comics a decade before.

It wasn’t a seamless transition, though. Gone were the veteran Legion writers, Edmond Hamilton and Jim Shooter, along with iron-fisted editor Mort Weisinger. They were replaced by enthusiastic, but less detail-oriented scribe Cary Bates and editor Murray Boltinoff, to whom continuity was never a real consideration. That’s when errors started slipping in, annoying to the long-time Legion faithful, but unnoticed by the tanalised readers just jumping on the bandwagon.

As I have often said, “misinformation begets misinformation”, and the new fans grew into old fans never knowing any different. That’s where I come in.

O.K., gang, settle down and let the ol’ Commander tell you how things really were. And I’ll start off by scratching the itch that set me off in the first place.


Legion Myth 1: Lana (Insect Queen) Lang Was an Honorary Legionnaire.

No, she wasn’t.


Thanks, guys. That’s it until next week . . . . What’s that? You want more details? Oh, like my word isn’t good enough.

Truth to tell, it isn’t---not if I want to have any chance of putting this one to rest once and for all. (Actually, there’s no chance of that, but by putting it all down here, I can just cut-and-paste my response to the next time somebody makes that misstatement.)

The fact of the matter is Lana Lang, teen-age snoop, general pain-in-the-ass, and Superboy’s kinda-sorta girlfriend, wouldn’t have had a chance of having any status with the thirtieth-century Legion of Super-Heroes if it hadn’t been for a chance occurance that took place in Superboy # 124 (Oct., 1965) and kicked off the events of “The Insect Queen of Smallville”.

While picking wild flowers in a field outside of Smallville one morning, Lana receives a telepathic cry for help from an alien. The insectoid-like creature had been exploring our world when a dead tree toppled upon him, pinning him to the ground. Lana puts her shoulder to the task and pulls the tree trunk off of the alien creature. Before he departs in his spaceship, the grateful being rewards Lana by giving her a “biogenetic ring”. In short order, Lana discovers that the ring enables her to assume insect and arachnid forms. After checking out how it works, Lana does the expected thing for any character in the DC universe who gains a unique ability---she decides to become a super-heroine. Not that she’s being all that altruistic about it, as she thinks, “. . . I can do other super-feats rivaling those of Superboy, and become just as famous!”

Designing a yellow costume with an insect motif, Lana patrols Smallville and, by adopting various bug qualities, performs good deeds, beating the Boy of Steel to the punch. Ever the gallant goof, Superboy refuses to use his x-ray vision to peer behind “the Insect Queen’s” mask, insisting that it wouldn’t be---er---cricket.

Ultimately, though, Lana’s near-pathological determination to prove that Clark Kent was Superboy blows her own secret identity. In an attempt to keep Clark from sneaking away to respond to an emergency as Superboy, Lana changes to a caterpillar-girl and wraps him in a coccoon. Needless to say, Clark outwits her, preserving his secret. The stunt revealed Lana’s own, however, and she gives up her super-heroine career.

Lana’s subsequent appearances as the Insect Queen were minimal. She used her bio-ring in Superboy # 127 (Mar., 1966) to assist her archæologist father on an Egyptian dig, and then it went back in the closet until the events of Adventure Comics # 355 (Apr., 1967). “The Six-Legged Legionnaire” opens with a most remarkable act on the part of the snoopy redhead. By sheer chance, she stumbles upon a certain opportunity to learn Superboy’s secret identity and, incredibly, finds the conscience to turn away. As a reward, the Boy of Steel takes Lana with him on his next trip to the thirtieth century to attend a Legion meeting.

As it turns out, it’s membership try-out day at Legion headquarters, and Lana, thanks to the convenience of IITP, has brought along her bio-ring and Insect Queen duds. She takes one look at some of the other losers applying for Legion membership and figures she has a shot. Actually, she delivers a pretty good audition, but she still gets the thumb’s-down, anyway. It seems that Lana forgot to read the Legion Consitution, particularly the part that stipulates that a candidate must have at least one genuine, natural super-power. And since Lana’s powers come from her bio-ring, she’s turned down for Legion-hood, given some lovely parting gifts, and told to sit with the other wash-outs.

Things work out for her when a sudden emergency develops. A would-be tyrant, Oggar-Kon, is attempting to conquer Ice City, in Antarctica, and barring that, will melt the frozen continent, causing coastal upheavals all over the Earth. A team of Legionnaires is dispatched to deal with Oggar-Kon, and Lana pursuades Superboy to take her to Antarctica, too. For a tin-plate, Oggy does a pretty good job of holding off the Legionnaires. He even manages to take out the Boy of Steel with green-kryptonite dust. Thanks to Lana’s ingenuity as the Insect Queen, she rescues the striken heroes, setting up Oggy’s capture by Chameleon Boy. In recogition of Lana’s actions, she is made a member of the Legion Reserve.

Got that? The Legion Reserve. She was not made an honorary Legionnaire.


The concept of a Legion Reserve was birthed in Adventure Comics # 321 (Jun., 1964), when a laboratory mishap neutralised Bouncing Boy’s power, turning him slender. Having matured since Sun Boy lost his super-power back in issue # 302, the Legionnaires, instead of kicking Bouncing Boy to the curb, establish the Legion Reserve and make Chuck the first reservist.

Chuck Taine made infrequent appearances in the series after that and his status as a Legion Reservist was iterated. At the end of Adventure Comics # 351 (Dec., 1966), Chuck regained his super-bouncing power and rejoined the Legion.

The next individual to be given Legion Reservist status was Kid Psycho, introduced in Superboy # 125 (Dec., 1965). Gnill Opral of the planet Hajor was born with an enlarged brain, giving him mind-over-matter powers, including the ability to mentally project impenetrable force-fields. Taking the name Kid Psycho, he attempted to join the Legion, only to be rejected for humanitarian reasons, after a medical examination disclosed that every time he used his powers, his life span was shorted by one year. Realising that Kid Psycho might be a handy guy to have around in an emergency, the Legion appointed him as a Legion Reservist and designated him as “Secret Weapon Number One”.

And then Lana---Legion Reservist, not honorary Legionnaire.

Over the course of several issues of Adventure, portions of the Legion Constitution were published. Issue # 326 (Nov., 1964) carried the excerpt of the Constitution that contained the provision for the Legion Reserve:

The Legion Reserve, consisting of worthy former members, rejected members, honorary members, and the Legion of Substitute Heroes, shall be prepared to go into action in the event of an emergency when the active members are away on missions or otherwise unable to respond.

This is an important distinction. Being a Legion Reservist does not equal being an honorary Legionnaire. One can be a Legion Reservist also by being a worthy former member (as Bouncing Boy was) or a rejected applicant (such as Lana Lang).

Mort Weisinger and his writers also took care to show the same distictions in certain dialogue and texts.

Adventure Comics # 370 (Jul., 1968) contains the back half of the two-part adventure which introduced Mordru the Merciless. An early development in this half of the story---"The Devil's Jury"---finds that the four Legionnaires who have fled to twentieth-century Smallville have lost their memories of being heroes. Pete Ross, alerted to the situation, calls for a meeting with Lana Lang. This occurs on page 11. On panel 2 of that page, Lana asks Pete, "What's the pitch?", and Pete responds (italics mine): "I know you’re a Legion Reservist---and I'm an honorary Legionnaire!"

If they were both honorary Legionnaires or if being a Reservist was the same thing as being an honorary Legionnaire, then Jim Shooter’s dialogue would make no sense.

And the final pages of Adventure Comics # 365 (Feb., 1968) consist of a multi-page feature on the origins and powers of the Legionnaires. Jimmy Olsen, Pete Ross, Lana Lang, and Kid Psycho all receive entries with accompanying text. The information provided on all four clearly specifies that Olsen and Ross are honorary Legionnaires, while Lana and Kid Psycho are Reservists.


Maybe the procedural differences between an honorary Legionnaire and a Legion Reservist were never strictly defined, but it’s clear that they were different statuses and not intended to be the same thing. The insistence that Lana Lang was an honorary member of the Legion is a result of a sloppy and careless attitude toward detail.

And speaking of sloppy and careless attitudes toward Legion history, wait til you see what’s coming next.


Views: 481

Comment by The Baron on February 10, 2010 at 11:04am
Whenever I see one of these discussions of errors or misperceptions regarding continuity, I am reminded of something Terrance Dicks, the former script editor of Doctor Who (And if I was as organized a thinker as the Commander, oh, the articles I could write about the continuity oddities of that show!), is supposed to have said: "'Continuity' was whatever the writers could remember on a given day."
Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on February 10, 2010 at 12:04pm
Ah, glad to see you back, Commander. Good stuff as usual.
Comment by Martin Gray on February 14, 2010 at 1:58pm
What could the difference have been? It can't have been that one bunch was more useful than the others ie we can't say honorary Pete's ability to keep a secret is more useful than reserve Lana's insect powers, but Jimmy Olsen was also honorary, rather than reserve. yet he had his powers which, like Lana's, were not natural.

If the honararies were part of the reserve, and neither side was the more useful, how the heck could it possibly matter which status was bestowed on whom? Obviously, you're right, but I'm not sure how you might care. Or do you not care beyond putting the facts straight again?
Comment by Martin Gray on February 14, 2010 at 2:07pm
PS - what's a 'tin-plate' in the contest of Oggar-Kon?
Comment by Terence Stewart on February 14, 2010 at 2:12pm
Hmph!
Comment by Commander Benson on February 14, 2010 at 2:23pm
Well, we did see some distinctions, but the problem is, they weren't quite distinct enough.

In Adventure Comics # 342 (Mar., 1966), in the voting to determine whether or not Star Boy would be expelled from the Legion, after he killed Kenz Nuhor, Jimmy Olsen, a honorary Legionnaire, was on the list of voting members. But Chuck Taine, the former Bouncing Boy and then-Legion Reservist, was not. This implies that honorary Legionnaires have voting privileges that Reservists do not. Yet, Pete Ross, also an honorary Legionnaire, wasn't on the list of those casting votes.

In Adventure Comics # 324 (Sep., 1964), honorary members Olsen and Ross are both on hand and are permitted to participate in the contest to determine the Legion's next leader. But Chuck Taine is not present---neither are most of the Legionnaires---so there is no way to know if that privilege extends to Reservists, as well.

And then there is the provision in the Legion Constitution, made known in Jimmy Olsen # 76 (Apr., 1964), that requires honorary Legionnaires to take part in at least two Legion missions per year, or relinquish their status. That's the only specified item which distinguishes the rights and responsibilities of honorary Legionnaires from Legion Reservists.

And, yes, I only care so far as it puts the facts straight. But then, that's not necessarily a minor thing. I'd imagine I'd feel detail was pretty important if my surname were "Gray" and folks spelt it "Grey".

P.S. "Tin-plate" = second-rater or minor leaguer.
Comment by Martin Gray on February 14, 2010 at 2:31pm
Thanks, I'd completely forgotten about the two missions a year bit. As for the surname thing, well, not really! Unless it involves getting paid, it's just a harmless error.

A tin-plate, huh - cheers!

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