Volume 3 of the Legion of Super-Heroes Archives continues with some significant but not really impressive stories, including the first appearance of the Time Trapper!
“The Legion Code” (Adventure Comics #318)
(aka “The one where Lightning Lad pretends to give away the secret of the Concentrator”)
This is fun story in some ways. It features lots of Legionnaires using their powers in lots of ways. It features the first appearance of the Time Trapper. It features Lightning Lad, one of my favorite characters, being pretty awesome (as he is the one who figures out the Time Trapper’s schemes).
On the other hand, it’s hard to get past the lunacies on hand. I know this comics, and 1960’s Legion comics on top of that – but still….
Most of the plot is taken up with the Legionnaires volunteering to allow the chief of police torture them to find out if anyone will crack and give up the secret of their greatest weapon. Some of the tortures are pretty lame, and often the ways the heroes beat them doesn’t really prove their resilience. Mon-El and Superboy, for example, doesn’t withstand their tortures – they just figures out that they are partly based on deceit. Meanwhile, Shrinking Violet doesn’t beat the torture at all – she just shrinks down really small so no one can hear her give the secret away – what if next time they just have a special microphone to hear what she is saying? Anyway, this little episode doesn’t make Shrinking Violet seem very heroic, but it is still the most character development she’s had so far.
The use of the actual Concentrator follows the same lack of logic. It truly is a dangerous device – something which can somehow simultaneously steal every bit of energy in the universe. The Legion use it to defeat their foe at the end..but nobody talks about the countless beings that surely would have died as every piece of powered machinery, every vehicle, and even every star in the galaxy stops working for a few moments! The Concentrator, as far as I know, is never mentioned again.
An interesting side note to this story is that it includes the abrupt de-powering of Bouncing Boy and his removal from the team to join the Legion reserves. His loses his powers the same way he gained them – a complete accident that comes from his own carelessness. It sure seems like the Legion votes quite quickly to send him to the reserves – almost like they had already done this earlier and were just waiting for the chance to tell him.
“The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets” (Adventure Comics #322)
(aka “The one where Proty joins the Legion of Super-Pets”)
The return of the Legion of Super-Pets! After several years, this odd element of Legion lore returns, and Krypto, Comet, Streaky and Beppo reunite to…do pretty much nothing. Well, not quite. They are called to guard the clubhouse while the Legion is away, and they end up spending their time putting Proty II through a series of grueling tests to prove his worthiness to join their club. This goes to show that the Super-Pets have much higher standards of membership than their humanoid counterparts do. After all, Proty has basically the powers of Chameleon Boy with a bit of Saturn Girl mixed in, and they were good enough to join the LSH. I guess things would be different if the LSH were made up of Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El and Ultra Boy.
If I were the Legion, I’d be pretty annoyed at these pets – it’d probably be the last time I called on them for help. Their little games actually put the Legion’s mission at risk several times over. Twice, Proty impersonates Legionnaires, struggling to fulfill missions that they should have had. And in the final test, he purposely delays them from getting on with Legion business for at least an hour.
I know the idea of “Super-Pets” is inherently silly, but really it would have been a lot more fun and interesting if they’d given the Pets a real mission to perform, instead of just having the four of them sit on their little pedestals looking down on poor Proty.
Interestly, though, the Time Trapper storyline continues here right from the previous story, as the Legion is devoting all their time and attention to breaking his “iron curtain of time.” This is a nice bit of continuity, even though efforts we see here don’t really go anywhere.
“The Eight Impossible Missions!” (Adventure #322)
(aka “The one where Saturn Girl gets picked as Legion leader for the second time”)
It’s hard to know where to begin with this story. How many times can I comment on how absurd things are? It’s early Silver-Age Legion, haven’t I learned better yet? Oh well. There are stories that are cool, but you just have to accept that there are some silly concepts popping up from time to time. And there are stories that are founded on a completely absurd premise, like this one where the Legion can’t agree on how to pick a new leader, and so they let Proty II set up an elaborate puzzle for them to solve. It’s a far cry from the gravitas that we saw with the last Legion leader selection (when Lightning Lad died!) This Legion has apparently completely forgotten about the threat of the Time Trapper, and have nothing more important to do than play Proty’s little game. It’s almost like they feel bad for the way the Super-Pets treated him in the last story and are just indulging him to make him feel better. Or maybe Proty is feeling pretty bitter about the way he was treated and is taking it out on the heroes.
Anyway, the story is what it is, and the heroes (along with reserve members Pete Ross and Jimmy Olsen, there for the convenience of their last initials) go on a series of little errands (only Ultra Boy’s actually involves any crime fighting) which in the end turn out to have nothing to do with Proty’s puzzle. Instead, it’s just the initials of the ones chosen that make up the answer (“Superboy”). But along the way we get some fun bits, with Saturn Girl riding a kangobronc in a space rodeo, and Element Lad being put in genuine danger from a radioactive statue. We see Ultra Boy being clever with his flash vision and Phantom Girl entering the Phantom Zone under her own power, get a flashback to Jor-El on Krypton, and we learn that the Legion has life-size puppets of themselves in their trophy room!
Overall the story is pretty unsubstantial, although the surprise of Saturn Girl winning the contest and remaining leader for another term is nice. There are a few interesting points of note. First, two characters debut as rejected applicants who will reappear in the future – first there is Spider-Girl, who will return as a villain and occasional love interest for Ultra Boy, and the second is Double-Header, who will inexplicably join the Substitute Heroes much later.
Another interesting thing is the treatment of Brainiac 5 in this story. There seems to be a determined effort to keep him from getting conceited or something. First, he rejects the idea that the computer pick the cleverest member of the team to be the next leader because he knows his power will ensure he automatically win. Secondly, they make it a point that when he wins the chess game against the three computers simultaneously, that the computers were not functioning optimally – so that he refuses to take credit for it. I find it interesting that the story contains both of these moments since they are not really important at all. Later writers have generally relished in making Brainiac 5 insufferably arrogant over his intelligence, but not here.
Another point of interest about Brainiac 5 is his inclusion in the flashback panel of Superboy’s joining the Legion. This may be the moment that created the general theory (later confirmed as canon) that the Legion had visited Supergirl before they went back and met up with Superboy – though at this point it was presumably just a continuity error.
“The Legion of Super Outlaws” (Adventure Comics #324)
(aka “The one that introduces Duplicate Boy”)
This is a pretty exciting tale that introduces a reasonably significant new element to the Legion mythos, as well as featuring a key connection to a prior story. The so-called Super Outlaws are actually the heroes of Lallor, a world that must be so far away from earth that the two groups really don’t bump into each other all that often. They are being manipulated by Dr. Marden King, the brother of the Jungle King who died trying to organize a Legion of Super-Monsters some time ago. Marden King does a decent job tricking the two super-groups into fighting each other, and thanks to the fact that Duplicate Boy is absurdly overpowered, and the Legion team is made up of Superboy and several much weaker members, they are pretty well matched.
Duplicate Boy’s power is absurd – he can do…basically anything. It might have been nice if they’d built some sort of limitation into it – like he can only duplicate it when you are nearby, or for a few minutes or something. That might have made the character a bit more usable in the long term.
Most of the other Heroes of Lallor are a bit better. Gas Girl and Beast Boy are fine, but my favorite of this alliterative bunch is Life Lass, who has the intriguing ability of making inanimate objects come to life. This leads to fun scenes of her making tables walk and so on.
On the other hand, the worst new character – or at least the worst used – is Evolvo Lad. This supposed super-genius only makes the most patently obvious observations. First, he brilliantly determines that Superboy is more dangerous than Star Boy, Shrinking Violet or Invisible Kid. Next, he cleverly guesses that Mardon King might be locking a door because he doesn’t want people to come into the room. But then maybe I’m being unfair – maybe the people of Lallor are particularly thick, and they really did need Evolvo Lad around to point these sorts of things out.
On the Legion side, the big focus character is Shrinking Violet, who gets more character development than we’ve seen before. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though, as she largely plays the same role we’ve seen some of the other female members play (eg Phantom Girl, Light Lass): the smitten heroin who refuses to give up believing in the guy she’s fallen for, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Shrinking Violet takes it a step further, though – even though she knows full-well that Duplicate Boy is their enemy, she expresses regret that she called the Legion to fight him once she realizes that he loves her too. Nice loyalty, lady.