Volume 3 of the Legion of Super-Heroes Archives finally concludes…
“Lex Luthor meets the Legion of Super-Heroes” (Adventure Comics #325 )
(aka “ The One Where Lex Luthor Pretends to be Good”)
This is a ho-hum sort of story, beginning with an intriguing premise but falling flat after the “big reveal” at the end of Part 1. The story features a young Lex Luthor, having invented a time machine, visiting the Legion in his future. The twist is that this is supposedly a Lex Luthor from before he lost his hair (ie, turned evil) who naturally discovers his villainous destiny, in spite of the Legion’s attempts to keep it from him. Mild amounts of angst ensue, followed by a vain hope that somehow Luthor will now avoid going bad. Then, at the end of Part One, we get the big twist – this is really evil Luthor, and he’s just pretending to be good. Why? Because he’s eeeevil, and he plans on doing away the Legion. Why? Because he can, and he hates Superboy, so why not?
Once again, Luthor is written so insanely smart and random that you simultaneously wonder how he could ever fail and wonder how he could be such an idiot. His plan is to save two Legionnaires from death so he can worm his way into their confidence. There’s no real reason for this except that it allows him to gloat at them more fully in his thought bubbles. He also takes time to gloat at them to their faces, before he gets them with his phantom zone projector which has been disguised as a reverse-engineered dissolver ray. Kindly, the Legionnaires all stand around and give him that gloating time, including Superboy and Mon-El and other characters with super speed.
Fortunately, Luthor’s plan comes to nothing at the end, thanks to the Legion’s ability to all think at the same time. Did the Phantom Zone villains ever display this sort of unity?
There are a couple of other points to bring up in this story. First of all, Mon-El is inexplicably shown at one point to be wearing an anti-gravity belt. It’s funny because I don’t think anyone else is shown with one on.
Secondly, there are a bunch of brains in jars in this story, during an exciting opening bit where Matter-Eater Lad and Triplicate Girl (a very unlikely mission team, I think) infiltrate a planet of criminals – maybe the story’s coolest sequence. I’ve noticed (but not kept track of) that there seem to be a fair few brains in jars floating around the Legion universe – I’m going to have to go back and have a look at that.
Finally, there’s Triplicate Girl, who gets a fair amount of panel time in this story thanks to the opening mentioned above, but given a pretty dated characterization here. As the young, boy scientist who saved them is emerging from his capsule, she can’t help but think, “I hope he’s cute!” And later, when Luthor asks to take photos of the Legionnaires using their powers, she demonstrates her amazing ability to split into three people and kiss a guy three times simultaneously. Not exactly impressive characterization.
“The Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires!” (Adventure Comics #326)
(aka “The one where the girl heroes betray the boys”)
There are actually two stories in Adventures-era Legion of Super-Heroes which feature sudden enmity between the girl and boy heroes, and this is the first. The story starts off with a mystery, as the girl members of the team suddenly turn on their colleagues, with no explanation. In fact, it seems like they’ve been planning and plotting for a long time, waiting for their moment to strike, sort of like all those clones in Star Wars Episode III. So naturally, this is a powerful hook for the story. Unfortunately, the actual tale of the actual betrayal ends up a bit repetitive.
The Legionnaire girls take the one-note approach of luring their chosen victims into traps via sudden bouts of romantic affection. And the boys, as love-starved as they apparently are, fall for it, hook, line & sinker. It makes them appear pretty flaky, really. Apparently, they’re are all just sitting around waiting for any one of these girls to show him any sort of interest, regardless of whether they particularly like her or not. All that matters is that this girls is cute and she’s ready to party. Even Brainiac 5 and Star Boy, who have been specifically shown to be interested in other women, are lured in in this way.
Particularly awkward at this sort of charade is Saturn Girl, who targets Superboy. Even though the lure of romance is part of her plan, it winds up being irrelevant, and the potential kiss is interrupted by Kryptonite trap. It’s almost like Saturn Girl is going along with this approach because that’s what her girlfriends are all doing, but doesn’t really know how to pull it off. It gives a bit of a kick to the “ice maiden” persona you sometimes see her having.
Another odd point is that Chameleon Boy can apparently turn himself into a phantom! This does get occasionally mentioned later on, but I don’t know if anyone ever addressed how this seems to contradict the (established later) rule that each hero must have at least one unique power, from Phantom Girl’s perspective.
Of course, the most notable bit of a craziness here is that the villain of the story, who has messed with the girls’ heads to cause their uncharacteristic behavior, is from the planet “Femnaz.” Femnaz, a world controlled by woman, who kicked their peace loving men off until their world, but then had to be saved by some of the boy Legionnaires from a disaster that their men had tried to warn them about. Oh Jerry Siegel, you crack me up.
“Superboy and the 5 Legion Traitors” (Superboy #117)
(aka “The one where evil alternate versions of the Legionnaires visit Superboy in the 20th Century”)
This is an oddball little story that crams a lot of goofiness into it’s 8 pages.
First, Superboy pushes an inhabited world from one sun to another sun. Who knows, maybe the world is inhabited by a race of beings that don’t need a sun to survive. Then 5 Legionnaires show up in the 20th Century for no apparent reason but to fly around and do good deeds. Brainiac 5 even shows off by quickly adding up every number in a math book – something that the teacher handily confirms as it turns out that 1. her brother wrote the book, 2. he did the same exercise with an adding machine, and 3. she happens to remember the answer, even though it’s 17 digits long.
Then suddenly, Ultra Boy abruptly reveals Clark Kent’s secret identity in front of his high school class, causing the story to break into a couple of pages of Superboy’s thoughts quickly figuring out that he’s in an alternate universe and developing and implementing an elaborate strategy to thwart the baddies by calling in that universe’s Superboy to help. It turns out Superboy is more than enough to make short work of evil versions of Ultra Boy, Brainiac 5, Invisible Kid, Chameleon Boy, and Element Lad. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to have any worse mischief on their minds over just blowing Clark’s secret.
The tale ends with Superboy and his double congratulating themselves on their good work, before our hero goes home. The end.
The story doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. As a story in Superboy rather than Adventure Comics, it rightly treats the Legion as guest characters, not doing anything really to develop their mythos, in spite of bringing up the whole issue of alternate dimensions. So in the end, there isn’t much going on aside from just watching Superboy be really clever.
“The Lone Wolf Legionnaire!” (Adventure #327)
(aka “The one that introduces Timber Wolf”)
This is one of the most significant stories in this book, in the way that it introduces a new major character and his accompanying romance, but it’s also one of the best written and illustrated. It’s an effective mystery, unfolding the plot at a slow but steady pace, and bringing in a healthy dose of strong character drama at the same time. Both Brin Londo and Karth Arn have engaging emotional dilemmas. I have not often thought much about John Forte’s art, but I noticed here that he makes very good use composition and close ups in order to convey the undercurrents of certain scenes. It adds to the read quite a bit – so good job to both he and scriptwriter Edmond Hamilton for creating something so compelling.
Lone Wolf (as he is known here) is a likeable character, and we do feel for his plight. The ultimate reveals makes sense but are not telegraphed in advance in the way that many twists are in this era. It’s too bad that it takes such a long time for Brin Londo to reappear. I think I remember reading in a letter column of the day that it was taking so long because they were still working on a new name for the guy!
Light Lass is the other major player, getting more panel time and characterization than she’s had since her debut. Typically for most female characters of the day, this is via her romantic inclinations. In fact, just like Shrinking Violet with Duplicate Boy and Phantom Girl with Ultra Boy, she is shown to be so steadfastly loyal to the fellow who’s caught her attention that she just can’t believe he’s really a villain, so it definitely feels like we’ve been around this block before. There’s even a scene where she impetuously warns Lone Wolf that there are Legionnaires out to catch him. She is never rebuked for this. It’s just lucky for her that she turned out to be right, I guess.
This story debuts the Emergency Board, which I am curious not to see if they kept the design for in future stories. Whether they did or not, some sort of similar monitoring board has pretty much been a mainstay of the Legion ever since.
“The Lad Who Wrecked the Legion” (Adventure Comics #328)
(aka “The one with Superboy thrashing Mon-El on the cover”)
So the Legion of Super-Heroes are meant to be the paragons of virtue and respect, and yet this does not prevent them from being tempted to take performance-enhancing drugs. That’s the gist of this story, where new member Command Kid makes all the Legion feel like imbeciles because of his amazing power of causing hallucinations. Of course, this is all a plot to get the Legionnaires possessed by demons (possibly just non-corporeal beings from a distant world) – so there’s no real power upgrade here without a pretty serious consequences.
So the end result is a story that is all right but really undermines our heroes, making them all look pretty dopey. All that is, except for Saturn Girl and Element Lad, who swoop in at the end to save the day. In a bit of a twist, Command Kid turns out to be an innocent dupe of these demons, and the demons actually get away. The story’s conclusion promises that the Legion will certainly run into these creatures again, although to my knowledge they never have.
Command Kid has basically the same powers as Princess Projectra, introduced several years later. Even Saturn Girl has been shown from time to time to have an illusion-casting application to her abilities. But neither of them were ever shown to be as devastatingly effective in using them as Command Kid.
In a fun nod to continuity, there is a glimpse into the “Rogue Room” in the Legion clubhouse, where we see statues or representations of previous villains Zaryan, Molock the Merciless, and the Jungle King.