Concluding Volume 2 of the Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, featuring the conclusion of one ongoing plot line, and the debut of another, as well as the first appearance of future Legion leader. All the stories are by Ed Hamilton with art by John Forte.
“The Super-Villains of All Ages” (Adventure Comics #314)
(aka “The one with Hitler, Dillinger, and Nero!”)
Well, the good news is that apparently, from here on in, it doesn’t get any worse than Hitler, Dillinger, and Nero. Alaktor, this story’s rejected applicant gone bad, pulls these three figures from history, claiming that they are the worst villains in history. At least Alaktor doesn’t just turn bad, though – he tries out for the Legion with nefarious purposes already in mind. It’s pretty shoddy security from the Legion, really, if any applicant with the right sort of scanner just discover all their secrets during a routine try-out. But it does lead to this crazy-as-anything story of Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra-Boy having their brains taken over by historical villains.
The concept of the rogue planet filled with deadly weapons and devices passing through the solar system is intriguing enough, but it sure seems like a convoluted way of going about taking it. You’d think that Alaktor would just have some cronies of his own that he could use instead of history’s villains, or better yet, that he could have arranged it so he could go into Mon-El’s body himself. But oh well – it’s a fun read anyway, and poses an interesting dilemma for our heroes to deal with.
This story is the first time that Ultra-Boy is depicted as one of the Legion’s “big three.” Up until here we have only ever heard about his vision powers. However, though it implies he’s very powerful (and possibly only susceptible to certain kinds of radiation), the story never details his exact power set or his famous 0ne-power-at-a-time limitation.
By the way, this story features not one but two villainous rejected Legion applicants. The other one is Ronn Karr, with the super power of making himself flat. He will show up again as a member of the Legion of Super-Villains.
In the end, everybody is restored to their right brains and bodies, Alaktor realizes the idiocy of his plan (“What a fool I was for trusting Hitler!”), and the Legion push the planet into some sort of cosmic cloud where it can do no harm. That last part strikes me as a bit short-sighted – it’s not exactly a sure-fire way of making certain nobody finds those weapons, is it? A bit like hiding your super-weapon by burying it in the past.
“The Legionnaire’s Super-Contest” (Adventure Comics #315)
(aka “the one where the Legion discover the Substitute Heroes”)
The basic problem with the Legion of Substitute-Heroes as a concept is that this story had to come. You couldn’t have the main Legion be ignorant of the Subs forever –that would have been implausible. But at the same time, once the Subs’ become publicly known, the concept is sort of ruined.
Really, when you look at it, how can the main Legion continue to let this group go on like this? If the are doing good work, and making good use of their powers, why not invite the whole lot to join? If on the other hand, they are doing poorly and endangering themselves and doing poorly, than how can they let them continue?
Of course, this story clearly supports the idea that they the Subs are doing a good job, and the Legion is willing to let any one of the team join their ranks just by virtue of a contest. If that’s so, than it’s a little confusing why they don’t just take them all.
The actual story itself is fine. In fact, it does an excellent job at showing the heroes being inventive and clever with the use of their powers (indeed, this is what the contest seems most designed to highlight). Actually, this has been a feature of all three parts of the unofficial Substitute Heroes “trilogy” – it’s too bad the writers didn’t work as hard doing the same with the main Legion.
In the end, Stone Boy wins due to something a sympathy vote. I mean, sure he was selfless and sacrificial, but he wasn’t the only one. Both Polar Boy and Night Girl certainly risked their lives to fulfill their tasks as well, and they actually succeeded in them.
This wouldn’t be the last appearance of the Subs by any means, but it does kind of close the door on their subplot. After this, they were never really as interesting again, at least not until Keith Giffen began to push the boundaries with them many decades later.
“The Renegade Super-Hero” (Adventure #316)
(aka “The one where Ultra-Boy becomes a fugitive”)
This is a fun and surprising story which is significant in the development of Ultra Boy (no longer spelled with a hyphen). It finally, clearly introduces Ultra Boy’s power set, including his one-power-at-a-time limitation, and it also begins his ongoing romance with Phantom Girl. Conveniently, it also begins with Ultra Boy randomly musing on these things, as well as his origin. It’s as if he knows he’s going to be the feature character in this story. Of course, maybe it feels this way because he’s the only character whose thoughts we are privy too. Maybe all the Legionnaires are standing around after each battle, happily reflecting on their origins, just in case they are being set up to be the focal point of today’s adventure. (Don’t waste your time, Colossal Boy – it’ll be a long time before you get that kind of attention!)
The plot involves some aliens who are robbing earth with a giant space-based vacuum cleaner (I kid you not!), and the shocking discovery that Ultra Boy has a secret: he is really an escaped criminal. The Legion’s respond against Ultra Boy is pretty harsh. It’s understandable they vote him out of the Legion if they really think he’s a wanted criminal whose been lying to them all this time, but the “insignia burning off ceremony” accompanied by Lightning Lad-created thunder claps and the slow walk of shame all seem a bit unnecessary.
Ultra Boy leads them on a merry chase as he positions himself to catch the story’s real criminals. In the process, we get to zip through a range of typical Ed Hamilton out of this world inventiveness, including a return visit to the Puppet Planetoid, last seen a few stories earlier, in the one where Supergirl fights Satan Girl.
Phantom Girl, though getting more character development and panel time than she has before, doesn’t come across too well here. Though she’s loyal to Ultra Boy, this seems born not out of any sense or even intuition, but rather than just a plain refusal to contemplate that the boy she likes so much could possibly be bad. It’s the kind of characterization that is fairly typical for females of this era of the series, which only Saturn Girl has been able to fully avoid.
Phantom Girl is also seen at the start of the story practicing her ability to walk through walls, which just seems plain silly. The other Legionnaires are practicing their powers in similar ways. I guess they need to do it – you wouldn’t want Shrinking Violet, for example, to suddenly forget how to shrink at a critical moment or anything. Anyway, the Legion’s training room has got nothing on the whole “Danger Room” concept made popular by the X-Men.
The other thing going on at the start is a bit of a remembrance ceremony for Proty, who died saving Lightning Lad. Part of this involves Lightning Lad making an “exact replica” statue of Proty. Now, Proty is an amorphous, shape-changing blob. I’m thinking that that metal Lightning Lad could have just been melted down into anything and still fulfilled its goal.
In some ways, it’s too bad that the whole discovery of Ultra Boy’s backstory turns out to be a ruse. Not that you’d want him to suddenly go on the run from the Legion as an unrepentant criminal, but the “bad boy going good” quality could have been a fun take on the character – and in fact is the basic approach taken by the reboot writers.
One interesting character note here is that in this story, Ultra Boy is portrayed as extremely clever and intelligent. This is a characteristic that has not always been picked up on by later writers. Paul Levitz basically treated Ultra Boy as a bit of a “dumb jock” type, and Mark Waid took that idea even further. Only Keith Giffen and the Bierbaums really went to town with the notion when they actually ret-conned this story to make Ultra Boy even more intelligent and perceptive than we get here.
Overall, though, the story holds up well and is a fun read.
“The Menace of Dream Girl” (Adventure Comics #317)
(aka “The first appearance of Dream Girl”)
This is actually the oldest issue of Adventure Comics that I ever owned. It’s an incredibly significant story in the development of the Legion of Super-Heroes for a number of reasons. First, it introduces new member Dream Girl, who though she leaves the Legion at the end of the story, eventually rejoins and became one of the most sharply characterized team members during Paul Levitz’ run. And along with her, it introduces the romance between her and Star Boy. Secondly, the story actually re-introduced Star Boy, who hadn’t actually appeared in a story since his debut way back in…, aside from a couple of “floating head” appearances on splash pages, etc. And along with Star Boy, it introduces what will be his normal superpower – the ability to make things heavy. (The discrepancy between this and his original power set won’t be addressed for a long time). Thirdly, this is the story that featured the change in Lightning Lass name to Light Lass (along with the accompanying change of abilities to another gravity-influencing power). Fourthly, this story introduces, by reference only, to one of the long-term Legion villains, the Time Trapper, and with him, to the Legion’s major story arc over the next year or so.
This is an Adventures-era Legion story so there is a healthy dose of goofy in this tale. Certainly, it’s plausible to imagine that a excessively pretty girl would cause a group of teenaged guys to act strangely, but it’s a bit extreme in this story. There is a shocking casualness with which Dream Girl makes the decision to force Lightning Lass to change her powers and heroic identity (with no reference, by the way, to the later Legion rule that everyone needs to have a unique power). The Legion constitution is apparently read out in its entirety before every Legion meeting, and contains piles and piles of clauses and sub-clauses, and can apparently be manipulated pretty easily in order to get fellow members in trouble. Oh, and baby Ultra-Boy bounces baby Bouncing Boy like a basektball.
And yet in spite of all that there are signs of maturity to this story. One of the seemingly random elements introduced at the start of the story, a radiation-ravaged planet, continues to come up as a story element. It’s a simple thing, but it helps the story to feel more cohesive, and has not always been a feature Legion stories. Also, there’s sort of a grown-up quality to the way Dream Girl manipulates the team around her (you’d think that Saturn Girl, who once did the same thing, and can read minds, would have picked upon this). And the way Dream Girl catches out Matter-Eater Lad by tricking him into accusing her of really being Chameleon Boy shows a certain level of confidence that the readers are now well and truly familiar with the series concepts, as Chameleon Boy hadn’t even appeared or been mentioned in the story at that point.
There are a few minor “flubs” though. Triplicate Girl gets kicked out off the team by Dream Girl, yet she’s still around participating in things afterwords. Dream Girl says she’ll take three people with her on a mission, but she ends up taking four…that sort of thing. But it’s not a big deal compared to all the other significant goings-on in this story.