Welcome to the Futurescope, where my comic-loving daughter Johanna (16 years old) will be joining me on a re-read of the early day so of the Legion o Super-Heroes, as presented in DC’s handsome archive editions. I don’t know how frequently we’ll be able to get to this, but we’re going to give it a go!
Today we kick things off with the first ever appearance of the concept. We give the issue a hard time, but we both love this series. I guess we’re just taking our cues from the Legion themselves, who seem to happily act like big jerks to their biggest hero.
“The Legion of Super-Heroes“
Writer: Otto Binder
Artist: Al Plastino
Appearing in Adventure Comics #247, cover dated April 195
Superboy is astounded to be rejected for membership in a superhero club because his powers are just too ordinary!
Ben: The cover for Adventure #247 is pretty iconic–it’s been homaged both in and out of the Legion many times. It’s certainly eye catching.
Johanna: All their faces are oddly-baby like and misshapen. It’s kind of disturbing. I’m also pretty sure this is the only time Cosmic Boy wears his weird space helmet thing.
Ben: Harsh! In this issue, there is one panel where he is carrying the helmet. But other than that, that’s it.
Superboy is amazed to see three teenaged heroes stopping a criminal getaway rocket, even though they only have one power each
Ben: The splash page basically functions like a second cover, and we get something which I’ve just thought about…the Legion is actually stopping some criminals here. In the stories themselves, it’s actually a long time before they do that.
Johanna: You’re right, actually. They are actually stopping bad guys.
Three teenagers make Superboy think his secret identity has been cracked, before revealing that they are teen heroes from the future, just messing around
Johanna: Superboy is totally relieved that these people are from the future. That is not something you are relieved about, even if it means your secret identity is safe. That’s a mild panic, at least.
Ben: I’ve previously imagined that these costumes–one-off that they are–are some sort of Legion dress uniform that they put on because they are meeting their hero. I assume that’s why they have their names printed on them. And maybe that space helmet has got ceremonial significance for Cosmic Boy’s homeworld.
The Legion invite Superoby to travel to the future with them in order to join their club. Superboy is amazed to see how big Smallville has become in the 30th Century.
Ben: We get the Time Bubble!
Johanna: Yes! The time bubble is first seen in all of it’s bubbly glory. One of the uniquest time travel devices I have ever seen.
Johanna: I can’t believe they have robot garbagemen, but are still using those pointy stick things. That’s hilarious!
Ben: I just noticed that Cosmic Boy invites Superboy to come to the future to become an “honorary” member. I wonder when he joins fully? Maybe at the end of this issue, when he is given that Superhero Number One award.
The Legionnaires take Superboy to see the sights, including a sampling of Martian ice cream, and his perfectly preserved Smallville house. At a history class, a teacher is using a Superboy robot to demonstrate how his powers worked. The robot runs out of power, but fortunately Superboy is there to fill in.
Ben: That Martian ice cream place is also where they take Supergirl when they get her to join. Apparently, it’s their favorite place.
Johanna: And apparently, in the future they discover a new planet. Or Pluto gets reinstated.
Johanna: I think it’s funny the lecturer doesn’t have a Superman robot. Honestly, I think I would find it all so disturbing.
Ben: What if you were called to the future and they had a Johanna robot writing a story or something?
Johanna: That would maybe be kind of cool. Weird that my creative process could by synthesized in a robot though. Who would be writing about robots.
Ben: Very layered.
After helping in the class, the Legion takes Superboy to their meeting in their clubhouse. They tell Superboy he will have to compete with three of them in turn to do a super-job in order to win membership. First up, he goes against Saturn Girl to retrieve a sunken treasure.
Ben: We’re in the upside down rocketship clubhouse for the first time! There’s at least four other Legion members present.
Johanna: I think that’s Triplicate Girl three times. No, they’re different.
Ben: And everyone’s powers are “super”. I think the signs could still be part of a special presentation they are doing for Superboy. Maybe they are worried he’ll be confused by all the people he’s meeting.
Johanna: Also, they have a Television Trouble-Finder. Thank goodness that ship was talking about what they where doing and why it’s important.
Ben: Everyone talks in convenient exposition.
Johanna: Also, they have robot garbagemen, but are searching for this priceless statue with a ship crane? Seriously?
Ben: Robots are stupid, I guess. They can’t be trusted with anything valuable.
Johanna: But they can be trusted to have all the powers of Superboy, and be in a room with a bunch of 15 year olds. The future was weird.
Superboy is on his way, but the robot from earlier goes amuck, forcing him to delay his job in order to stop it from doing damage.
Ben: The robot is worth a million dollars, says the teacher. But that’s probably pocket change in the future. The professor is probably saying, “Don’t worry, that thing is cheap. I can get six more at the store at lunchtime.”
Johanna: That one kid was super excited to see Superboy burst out of the floor, look at his face. And the scientist has a nuclear ray in the class room.
Ben: The kid is thinking, “Best thing that happened all day.” Maybe he’s a developing supervillain, and he’s the one who messed up the robot.
Johanna. Saturn Girl, Dad. That would be awesome, but, Saturn Girl.
With Superboy delayed, Saturn Girl wins the contest by commanding an underwater sea monster to retrieve the treasure. Superboy next goes against Cosmic Boy to stop a forest fire.
Ben: The first of many random monsters that seem to fill the earth and the galaxy in this series.
Johanna: That is true, where did that thing come from?
Ben: The last panel, with Superboy and Cosmic Boy flying off–I like the composition on that image. Nice job, Al Plastino!
Superboy is again delayed, this time by a falling satellite. Meanwhile, Cosmic Boy stops the fire by using meteors from space to overflow a lake.
Ben: I wonder if it really was “popular” to call such satellites basketballs in the 1950’s? I feel like there aren’t really anymore popular satellites these days.
Johanna: Superboy stops a meteor-like satellite from maybe hitting a city, while Cosmic Boy calls a flock of meteors from space. That’s not fair.
Ben: And Cosmic Boy’s powers come from a special serum. He thinks this information right at the audience! How do we explain this inconsistency?
Johanna: Alternate dimensions.
Ben: Or maybe it’s the special serum that allows him to use his powers via his eyes?
Superboy’s contest with Lightning Boy (to warn a space freighter that is isleaking fuel) is again interrupted, this time by the escape. of an invisible eagle from a zoo.
Ben: The Legion really is committed to testing Superboy’s patience, aren’t they? Not just making him fail, but really rubbing it in at every chance.
Johanna: Like serious jerks. Saturn Girl is using a whiteboard.
Ben: Boldfacing with a white board would be irritating. I guess its a futuristic white board that lets you do that easily.
Superboy finds the eagle by causing it to frost up, while Lightning Boy completes the task by creating a lightning message or the endangered spaceship. The Legion laugh at Superboy for all his failures, but he takes it like a man.
Ben: Hey…Neptune is populated by invisible eagles!
Johanna: Frost formed on an eagle. That is bad for an eagle.
Ben: And Lightning Boy’s message is visible for a million miles in space. But the minimum distance from earth to mars (according to google) is 33 million miles.
Johanna: Maybe it hasn’t gotten very far?
Ben: One has to hope.
Superboy leaves, crying to himself, but the Legion welcome him back because it was all part of an initiation prank! It turns out all the interruptions were caused by the Legion themselves.
Ben: OK…I was under the impression that the Legion was testing Superboy’s character…his true membership test. But it seems like all they were actually doing was pranking him.
Johanna: Lightning Boy broke a zoo. For a prank. That should definitely be illegal. Actually, everything they did should (and probably is) illegal.
Ben: Pranking him, destroying and sabotaging property that’s not their own, and putting people’s lives in danger. In this dimension, this all leads to a 30th century version of Watchmen or Squadron Supreme or something…superheroes are bad or our society!
Johanna: Down with superheroes! Up with Darkseid!
Ben: Good grief.
Superboy responds to an emergency, but instead of using his own powers to save the day, he does different things to simulate the Legion’s powers–his way of teasing them back. In doing this, he earns the Legion’s highest award, which he proudly shows off to Pa Kent at the end.
Ben: Man, you can’t out-prank Superboy. He really is the greatest.
Johanna: And Saturn Girl is the smartest, and figures the prank out first (I like Saturn girl. I’m going to constantly be giving her kudos for stuff).
Ben: My last word–it’s a fun little nonsense story for a one-off, but completely inconsistent by any later depiction of the Legion. I give it a 6/10, partly because of it’s iconic cover. It could have been higher if there had been an actual threat somewhere along the way.
Johanna: It’s decent issue, considering it was meant to be a one-time thing in adventure comics. The art is fine and the story has funny view of the future, which seems to involve robot garbage cleaners. I give it 2/10 for today, but 6-7/10 for then.
Lightning Boy, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Superboy (inducted, possibly only as an honorary member).
There seem to be at least four other team members present in one panel, and another three in a second panel, and a few others around the joint for weight and mass. It’s impossible to tell if these are the same people, but they mostly look like guys. The Archives, and most reprintings past the original, make one of the guys green, so one assumes it’s retroactively meant to be Brainiac 5.
Also featuring: Pa Kent
Well, everything. But specifically the Legion and its three founders (and maybe Brainiac 5, see above), plus the 30th Century setting, the Time Bubble, the Clubhouse, and the 9 Flavors Ice Cream Parlor.
You didn’t see anything!
• The Legion wear odd costumes that we never see again. Cosmic Boy has a strange helmet on the cover and in one interior panel.
• Lightning Lad is known as introduced as Lightning Boy
• All the Legionnaires have odd powers or odd origins. Lightning Boy’s powers work by him clasping his oppositely charged hands together to make lightning. Saturn Girl learned her telepathy from the scientists of Saturn (it’s not actually stated that she herself is from Saturn). And Cosmic Boy has magnetic eyes, which he gained from a special serum.
The future is bright in this debut story by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, two well-known creators (together they introduced Supergirl, for example) who had nearly nothing to do with the Legion after this. The 30th century is full of jet-packs, rocket ships, and robots doing menial labor. The Legion has a clubhouse, which is appropriate as they function more like a club than a team of super-heroes, although as I note below, the splash page does indicate they fight bad guys. There are lot of inconsistencies with later depictions of the Legion, and lots of outright silly things which in general were common to the time-frame. Certainly the creative team are bringing their talents to the table here, but if not for later developments, there would be little remember about this story.