A Tribute to the of
Action. Adventure. All-American. All Star. More Fun. Sensation. Whiz. In the formative years of heroic-style comic books, the titles tended toward superlatives like these. I suspect that in addition to attempting to generate some enthusiasm, there was a more utilitarian reason for the names. They served as an overarching banner under which numerous characters could be given a try. After all, the pulp wonders used to be quite a bit longer than their modern day incarnations, often with more than 60 pages (some titles like World's Finest Comics held a whopping 96 pages at the then equally whopping price of 15¢) and each carrying several different stories within their covers. As I flip through my 1974 Famous 1st Edition Limited Collectors' Silver Mint Series (C-28) reprint of Detective Comics #27, for example, which of course carries the debut of Batman, I also find the following titles: Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator; Buck Marshall, Range Detective; Spy, by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the same team that introduced you to Superman; The Crimson Avenger; Bruce Nelson; Sax Romer's The Mysterious Doctor Fu Manchu; Flatfoot Flanagan; Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise; Plain Clothes Pete and finally yet another offering from Siegel and Shuster titled Slam Bradley. All this for a dime. We must also remember, as a practical matter, that during this point in time, the heroes we've come to know and love all these years later, were new and unknown at the time, so it wouldn't make sense to offer Superman or Wonder Woman in a self-titled magazine when you'd never heard of them before. As time went by, some of these titles faded into the mists, but not before launching immortal characters. Some of the titles continue to this day. This edition of the Silver Age Sage will spotlight one such title that has spawned such classic Golden Age characters as The Sandman, Hourman, Johnny Quick and Star Man. It later became the exclusive haunt of what was first described as a super hero club from 30th century Earth. Let's check out their very first appearance in a Superboy story from Adventure Comics #247 published in April of 1958, titled simply, "The Legion of Super-Heroes!." Written by Otto Binder, drawn by Al Plastino and edited by Whitney Ellsworth and Mort Weisinger.
As you've already noted, the cover by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye shows three representatives from the Legion, namely Cosmic Boy, Lightning Boy and Saturn Girl, serving as some sort of tribunal with Superboy on the carpet. Each is registering a "No" vote and Cosmic Boy explains that they simply cannot admit Superboy into their club because their tests conclude that his powers are too ordinary. Alex Ross' version of this classic cover graces the 29th edition, released in 1999 by Gemstone Publishing, Inc, of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. It was used again albeit with slight modifications by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye for Superman #147 dated 08/1961.
The story opens with the ever mild-mannered Clark Kent strolling along when he meets up with another clean-cut youth who greets him with "Hello there, Superboy!" Clark laughs it off, but when he arrives home he puzzles over the encounter. Dismissing it, he changes garb and goes on patrol as the Boy of Steel. Soon he sees yet another strange face in Smallville who calls to him, "Hi, Clark Kent!" Moments later, a trifecta when a girl on a park bench tells him to give her regards to his foster parents, the Kents. Superboy lands to investigate further and then discovers the three are together and while they know his secret, it is safe with them. The strange visitors then don their own costumes and explain that they are from the future and know all about him from their history lessons. Cosmic Boy also points out his nifty "Super Hero Club" shoulder patch and further divulges that they'd like Superboy to join their ranks. Incidentally, each member of the Legion has their alias printed just below the necklines of their costumes. Superboy then joins the trio in their handy time bubble and journeys 1,000 years into the future to see 30th Century Earth. The Legionnaires give Superboy a tour of Smallville, which has grown into a huge megalopolis, from the skies with the help of their jet packs. (Long time readers of the LSH know that later on these were traded in for flight rings.) During the tour, Superboy notes the space tours that are available in the 30th century, the changes to old hang-outs like the ice cream parlor (boasting nine flavors from nine planets) and the preservation of the old Kent homestead as sort of a shrine. They also visit a classroom where Superboy himself is the topic of discussion for a history lesson. The Superboy robot malfunctions, so he steps in for the instructor to demonstrate the melting power of his X-ray vision. (Apparently this is before heatvision was shown off as a separate power.) The final stop is the Legion clubhouse, which looks for all the world like a rocket half buried in the ground nose down. The panel then explains the rite of passage to join their ranks to Superboy. Cosmic Boy, acting as spokesman, relates that he will be required to compete against three of them, winning out with his own superpowers during each task. With the conditions laid down, they turn to the Television Trouble Finder to seek out the first super-job. A recovery effort of a priceless museum piece submerged in the sea is discovered, so it's Superboy vs. Saturn Girl, who explains that her ability is telepathy, specifically the power to read minds and cast mental commands. The highly confident Boy of Steel thinks this will be child's play as he has so many more abilities than Saturn Girl, but one of those abilities soon distracts him from the competition as he discovers his robot likeness is running amok. He stops it and by the time he finishes, Saturn Girl has already retrieved the statue with the help of a huge sea creature that she has enlisted, ala Aquaman. Though ridiculed for being beaten by a mere girl, Superboy refuses to use the excuse that he performed a more important feat and prepares for his next task, this time going head to head with Cosmic Boy, who possesses Super Magnetism as his power as they go forth to tackle a raging forest fire. Once again, however, Superboy's telescopic vision reveals a more pressing matter, this time in the form of an errant satellite that is endangering a city with it's decaying orbit. While he disposes of it, we join Cosmic Boy at the scene of the fire. The thoughts of "Cos" are revealed, as are the source of his power with the text of this thought balloon: "Special serums gave me magnetic eyes of super power! I'll pull a flock of iron meteors down from space to fill that lake near the fire, flooding the forest and extinguishing the fire." Later Legion tales would alter the origin of Cosmic Boy substantially. All inhabitants of his home planet of Braal are endowed with magnetic powers and they do not emanate from the eyes, but can be directed from their hands. So, Superboy is now 0 for 2 and embarks on his latest challenge, this time with Lightning Boy, who has the power of Super Lightning at his fingertips. Once again, he evolved in later tales to be called Lightning Lad (as a matter of fact, his moniker changed in the very next appearance of the Legion in Adventure Comics #267, (12/59, cover by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye) along with new costumes for he and Saturn Girl) and rather than having his power explained as having hands like opposite poles of a battery, enabling lightning upon each clap, he and his siblings were exposed to the lightning monsters of the planet Korbal, giving them each the power to generate lightning bolts at will. The dilemma this time is the need to intercept a shuttle type spacecraft with a leaky fuel tank. As the two youths take off for the ship, Superboy, more determined than ever to redeem himself, is aware once again of a more pressing matter, this time in the form of an escaped invisible eagle from the interplanetary zoo. How is this more pressing? Because, as the story relates, it could cause a flight hazard to rocket liners as they go about their travels. As the Last Son of Krypton locates the errant fowl, Lightning Boy creates a huge sky-writing with lighting alerting the ship of it's status and directing it back to base for repairs. so Superboy is skunked once again. Back at the clubhouse, he is officially rejected as a new member because of his failures. As he prepares to leave, though, he is quickly called back and the truth is revealed. In each case, the decoys were carefully orchestrated by his opponents as a sort of initiation ritual and being the hero he is, rather than compete with lesser tasks, he came through in fine fashion by averting the other potential disasters. Abruptly, the alarm goes off again and the monitor reveals a huge cosmic lamp beginning to topple. Superboy flies into action. He retrieves a magnetic meteor to guide the tower structure back into place, then seeds the clouds to create heat lightning, allowing the locals to stay warm while the city of South Pole waits for their source of heat to be repaired. Returning to the Legion clubhouse, Superboy tells Saturn Girl "I'll bet you're wondering why I simply didn't shove the tower straight up with my super strength?" She replies "Gosh, you...er, read my mind! Hmmm...Now I get it! You had your little joke with us, too! You just used magnetism, lightning and a mind-reading trick to duplicate our powers! And all on one job! You've earned our highest honor!"
In the final panel, the new, full-fledged member of the Legion of Super Heroes, proudly displays the award to Jonathan Kent back home in 20th Century Smallville. The inscription reads, "Super Hero Number One." The second story in this issue, an adventure of Green Arrow and Speedy, has the Amazing Archer dealing with "The 13 Superstitious Arrows!," but I'll leave the details for another time.
In this issue of Adventure, we see the Legion of Super-Heroes for the first time, though we only saw the three members mentioned up close and personal. The alert reader would note that you could see others in the background in various panels when the setting was at the clubhouse, even though they didn't come forward to join the story. As the Legion was fleshed out, we would learn of the other members in more detail and the roster grew to include such names as Chameleon Boy, Star Boy, Dream Girl, Ultra Boy, Shadow Lass and many others. I'd also like to mention that the Legion, in fact, took over Adventure as the running feature beginning with issue #300 dated September, 1962 (cover by Curt Swan & George Klein) and remained hugely popular for a number of years until Supergirl was given the front and center position beginning with issue #381 (cover by Curt Swan & Neal Adams) in mid 1969. The Legion was concurrently moved over to the back-up spot in Action Comics, issues 377-392 (06/69-09/70), then on to the Superboy title enjoying continuity there for a number of years eventually taking over the title. Obviously the Legion was an instant hit and they've been a long time favorite of mine, as well, so this classic first appearance can only be rated the maximum 10 on my scale. Be sure to direct your comments and questions to me at my handy e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Do not neglect the plethora of information here at The Silver Lantern for any other details you'd like to research. May this new year of 2002 be good to you and don't forget to swing by again in about two weeks for a new review.
Long live the Silver Age! This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by B.D.S.
©2000-2002 by B.D.S.
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