Volume 3 of the Legion of Super-Heroes Archives contains in its first couple of stories both one of the best and one of the worst stories of this era!
“The Mutiny of the Legionnaires” (Adventure Comics #318)
(aka “The one where Sun Boy goes crazy”)
This is hands-down my favorite story in this series so far, and I’m pretty sure, from memory, my favorite story of the pre-Jim Shooter period. It’s got a bold and original plot, great character work, inventive super-heroics, and a minimum quantity of silliness. Good work from Ed Hamilton and John Forte.
The first thing you notice in this tale is that the storytelling is quote procedural. It hasn’t been uncommon in this series for large, universe-shaking concepts to be thrown out and moved on from in a panel or two, but here the plight of the inhabitants of Venn is given a lot of detailed attention. We see the Legion becoming aware of the crisis, returning to earth, gathering their resources and making their plans, and carrying out the rescue mission. We watch Sun Boy’s obsession gradually grow to madness, and see the rest of the Legion attempt and fail to wrest back control. Even though it’s still compressed, we are far more immersed in the nuances of the action than we normally are.
The second half of the story, which takes us through the six marooned Legionnaires efforts to survive and return home, is even better. We get the same step-by-step storytelling, and we also have one of the best examples of one of my favorite themes of the Legion: individually, these characters may be quite limited in their powers, but together, they are able to overcome almost anything. The characters chosen for this story are obviously deliberately in the low-to-mid power range but they are shown to be consistently intelligent, resourceful and bold in their problem solving. They all make significant contributions to their survival, and the end result is without a doubt the best story we have seen so far for Triplicate Girl, Matter-Eater Lad, Light Lass, and especially Cosmic Boy, who really does for the first time come across as the “senior elder” of the Legion that he was treated as much much later.
And then there’s Sun Boy himself, who really does go crazy in this story. It’s medically explained, of course, but it’s daring in that it’s not explained as being due to the influence of a villain or anything like that. He just works too hard and loses all perspective. It’s a strong piece of characterization that of course that is largely forgotten after this, although this story was mined deeply for the “Five Years Later” version of the character, in the same way that the previous stories (“The Renegade Super-Hero”, “The Super-Sacrifice of the Legionnaires”) were used as inspiration for their takes on Lightning Lad and Ultra Boy.
The story’s weak spots? Well, the ending, when they finally catch up to Sun Boy, is a bit rushed. And it’s a bit of an oversight on the part of the Legionnaires that they don’t just knock Sun Boy unconscious when they mutiny. It should have easy enough for Cosmic Boy to clunk him on the head with a bit of metal. But these are pretty minor in the face of the story’s strengths.
“Elastic Lad Jimmy and His Legion Romances” (Jimmy Olsen #76)
(aka “The One where the Legion girls pretend to fall for Jimmy Olsen”)
And to follow up one of the best early-Adventures era stories, we have Jimmy Olsen. Now, I have never been a particular fan of Jimmy Olsen, and especially I’m not a fan of Jimmy Olsen’s Legion appearances. This story doesn’t help. The plot is that though the Legion sounds pretty busy, apparently Saturn Girl, Triplicate Girl, and Light Lass have so little to do that they have time to hatch an elaborate scheme to help Jimmy score points with Lucy Lane (truly one of the most unbearable characters in all comics) by inviting him to the future, fabricating fake emergencies for Jimmy to help with as Elastic Lad, and then swooning over him and kissing him. This is all under the assumption that Lucy is watching all this on some sort of time viewer, and that all this attention will make her like him better.
Why anyone wants to go out with Lucy Lane in the first place, or why the girl heroes would want to encourage this relationship, is beyond me. And there is something strange about the ease with which people on both sides of time can just watch each other. Actually, the implication is that the girls would have to have been watching Jimmy and Lucy on their date, decided it wasn’t going anywhere, and decided right then to intervene. How does it feel to know people in the future might just be watching you on TV, right now?
Of course, it all fails because Lucy decided that watching Jimmy on TV was too boring for words, and takes a nap instead. I would have been just as happy doing the same, even if it did mean I’d miss the story that included Jimmy Olsen thinking, “What is this strange fascination I exert over gorgeous babes?”
“The Legion’s Suicide Squad” (Adventure #319)
(aka “The one with the planetary chance machine”)
All in all, I would consider this to be perhaps the worst story in the Legion’s regular feature in Adventure Comics. It’s quite the feat especially as it follows right on from my favorite early-Adventures story. It’s not as bad as Prisoner of the Super-Heroes, but that was before the regular series began.
The threat of the story is that a reclusive world decides it doesn’t want anyone flying nearby and uses its vastly superior technology to ground any ships that come too close. Now, even if we ignore the obvious point of why everybody doesn’t just give this planet a wide berth (it’s a big universe, after all), it’s a plot that has some big ideas and some potential. Unfortunately, it’s all wasted as the Legion attacks the planet in a series of small squads that are all handily dealt with by the planet’s defenses. Finally, with all the Legion downed, the Substitutes come on the scene and save the day.
There are weaknesses in the Legion’s tactics. Strategically, there’s little reason why the Legion would attack in a series of small waves, each one making some effort at avoiding the weapons that took down their predecessor, but stubbornly failing to consider that there may be more weapons than they had seen up to that point. However, even a bigger issue is the writing. There’s a lot of to do made about who is on each wave of attacking Legionnaires, but no matter who it is they just get trounced in a repetitive and increasingly boring way, serving no particular dramatic purpose (other than to say, “This enemy is tough”). After one attack, Lightning Lad gets further than everyone else, and after a lot of histrionics, even makes it inside the enemy citadel…only to disappear for the rest of the story. At the end, we find out he was defeated immediately upon entering – an incredibly unsatisfying reveal. The end result is that the entire story up until the Subs get involved feels like wasted filler.
Of course, none of this even mentions the Planetary Chance Machine, which the Legion feels in this situation is the best way to pick attacking teams and team leaders. If it wasn’t silly enough that they want to do this randomly (rather than say, strategically), we also get the visual picture of a Legionnaires sitting around waiting for model planets to fly off of a spinning fan and bonk them on the head. This is the galaxy’s elite defense organization at work.
My favorite line in the story came at the end as Night Girl discovers the truth behind their enemies, “Why…you two are the only ones in the citadel! A pair of zany old men….” It’s a wacky universe that we live in, oh yes.
“The Revenge of the Knave from Krypton” (Adventure Comics #320)
(aka “The one with Dev-Em”)
Another frustrating installment of the Adventure-era Legion, with a story that is disjointed, a bit silly, and barely features the Legion. This story also features just about the most flashback panels I have ever seen in a short tale. Basically, we start with some standard “people teasing Clark Kent” panels before Superboy travels to Legion times. There we get some obligatory randomness, including showing failed Legion applicant Radiation Roy (who, though seemingly understanding about the reasons for his refusal in this instance, still winds up with the Legion of Super-Villains eventually) and some other never-seen-again examples of Legion tech. Then our plot finally begins as Superboy and Mon-El find an intruder in their clubhouse: Dev-Em, the knave from Krypton!
Dev-Em had first appeared in Adventure Comics #287 about three years earlier, and for the benefit of everyone who hadn’t read that story, it is recapped in flashbacks over five and a half pages of this one! That’s right, a huge chunk of part one of this current story is spent recapping the largely unrelated tale of how Dev-Em was a juvenile delinquent on Krypton, how he survived, and how he harassed Superboy in Smallville. Then we learn that he has moved to the 30th century and reformed, becoming a professional spy in the process. Amazingly, after all this set up, the end of Part 1 basically removes Dev-Em from the action of the story by having his bosses ask if Superboy could take over his mission, as he’s more experienced with counter-espionage. I don’t know where Superboy got this experience. I’m convinced Kryptonians age slower and that Superboy has lived about forty years worth, thanks to all his time traveling. This would explain his often stodgy, establishment mentality and the worlds of experiences that he seems to have.
Anyway, it’s a bit ludicrous that Superboy would be asked to not only replace the trained Dev-Em on his mission, but particularly to replace him on a mission where he has to impersonate Dev-Em to people who have already met him. Surely the hassle with that has got to counter-act any advantage his greater espionage experience would offer? In any event, the second part of the story features the mission, where he is betrayed by master criminal and apparently exposed to Gold Kryptonite, removing all of his powers. Of course, it is revealed that everyone’s favorite deus ex machina, Proty II, has worked some clever machinations to save Superboy while basically pranking the bad guy at the same time.
Aside from Mon-El helping to capture Dev-Em in the first place, the only thing the Legion characters do in this story is tinker with some worthless Legion technology to give to the bad guy as an offering. It’s not much, but at least it gives Element Lad a chance to use his powers for the first time since his debut.
So it’s quite a mediocre story, but at least we get to be privy to Superboy thinking “Well, I’ll be a three eyed Kryptonian babootch!” when Dev-Em turns down membership. Has the Kryptonian Babootch ever turned up in a canon story, I wonder? Maybe in the Five Years Later era? Oh well.