John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane
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The Story That Started It All: Adventure Comics Vol 1 #247

As promised, here's the New Year's Day treat for Legion of Super-Heroes fans... The story that started it all! Enjoy! :)






Adventure Comics Vol 1 #247
April, 1958
“The Legion of Super-Heroes!”
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciller: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Colourist: Uncredited
Cover: Curt Swan (pencils) and Stan Kay (inks)
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Featuring:
Superboy (joins)

Mission Monitor Board:
Cosmic Boy, Lightning Boy (later Lightning Lad), Saturn Girl (all first appearances); cameos by other members (Brainiac 5 and Triplicate Girl might be identified from backs of heads)

Guest Star:
Jonathan Kent (cameo)

Opposition:
The Legionnaires themselves

Synopsis:
One day in Smallville, Superboy is startled to run across several teenagers who apparently know his secret identity. A red-headed boy greets Clark as Superboy even though Clark is dressed in his civilian clothes. Later, as Superboy flies over Smallville in costume, a dark-haired boy addresses him as Clark Kent. And while he is still dressed as Superboy, a teenage blonde girl asks him to say hello to his parents, mentioning Jonathan and Martha Kent by name. With growing concern, Clark begins to wonder if everyone in town knows his secret identity.

Coming together, the three teenagers reveal that they also have secret identities, changing into their colourful costumes as Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Boy (known in later issues as Lightning Lad). They have travelled through time from the 30th Century and want to invite Superboy to visit them in the future and join their super-hero club. Intrigued, Superboy joins his new-found friends in their time bubble, which takes them to 30th Century Smallville. He gets a quick tour of contemporary highlights, including a futuristic ice cream shop, a shrine preserving Superboy's Smallville home, and a history class demonstrating one of Superboy's own robots. Arriving at the super-hero clubhouse, which is a building that is shaped like a an upside down rocketship yellow in structure with red fins, they are joined by other members of the club, and a meeting of the Legion of Super-Heroes is called to order.

The first item of business: Superboy's application for membership. According to club rules, Superboy must prove that he is a super-hero in order to be admitted. To do so, a series of three competitions are arranged in which Superboy will take on his three new friends individually in tests of super-skill. Using the Legionnaires' television trouble-finder, the contestants are to respond to super-jobs, with the first one to successfully solve the problem winning the round. Superboy thinks this will be easy, but each time his super senses detect another emergency that needs his immediate attention, allowing his opponent to win the round. He and Saturn Girl are charged with recovering the priceless Unknown Spaceman statue that has sunk beneath the sea, but en route there, Superboy notices the Superboy robot seen earlier at the history class running dangerously out of control. Superboy leads the out of control robot to the school laboratory, where the science professor there is able to stop it, which he does with a nuclear ray. Meanwhile, Saturn Girl uses her mental powers to command a sea creature at the ocean's bottom to swim up and bring the statue with it, thus allowing her to complete the mission.

The next mission and test, Superboy competes against Cosmic Boy to prevent a crashed around-the-world rocket liner that is burning from causing a forest fire. However Superboy spies a falling satellite and must prevent it from crashing to earth below, endangering people. It turns out the satellite is an old, 20th Century Project Vanguard satellite commonly called a "basketball." Superboy tosses the useless satellite into the remains of a volcanic crater. Meanwhile, Cosmic Boy uses his magnetic powers to attract a flock of iron meteors from space, filling a lake near the fire, thus overflowing, flooding the forest, and putting out the flames. So Cosmic Boy wins that contest.

The third test and mission pits Superboy against Lightning Boy (Lad). The Nova Express spaceship has left Earth for Mars with a leaking fuel tank, and they must be notified of this and told to return to Earth for repairs. However, Superboy spots that the invisible eagle of Neptune has escaped the Interplanetary Zoo, and must be recaptued before it causes and damage or harms anyone accidentally due to its invisible nature. Unable to see the creature, Superboy uses an iceberg from the sea, and is able to spot the invisible eagle when frost appears on its body rendering it somewhat visible. He is easily able to capture the bird and return it to the zoo. Meanwhile, Lightning Boy (Lad) uses his powers to create lightning flashes in letter form that don't fade, and warns the Nova Express to return for repairs Lightning Boy (Lad) wins the third contest.

Each time, Superboy accepts his defeat without mentioning the emergency that prevented him from winning, feeling that this would look like he was making excuses for his failures. Having lost all three contests, the three Legionnaires tell him that his membership is rejected. True to form, the Boy of Steel takes it with a brave smile, even when he is teased by the Legionnaires for losing. Secretly broken-hearted, he turns to leave, but at the last moment, the Legionnaires call Superboy back. They tell him that the real initiation test was in his ability to accept defeat and still be a good sport. In each test, he was deliberately decoyed away from completing his mission. Saturn Girl used a mental command to control the Superboy robot, Cosmic Boy made the satellite fall from the sky and Lightning Boy (Lad) used his power to free the invisible eagle. Having passed their real test, Superboy is accepted for membership, and he basks in the cheers of his fellow Legionnaires.

Suddenly, the television trouble-finder alerts them to another emergency at South Pole City. The giant cosmic lamp is burnt out and the tower that supports it is collapsing. The Legionnaires can't get there in time, using their jetpacks, but Superboy can. Rushing to the scene, Superboy uses a magnetic meteor to right the toppling tower. He follows this up by seeding clouds to create lightning that will heat the city while its cosmic lamp is fixed. Finally, on returning to the Legion clubhouse, he plays a simple "mind-reading" trick on Saturn Girl. Saturn Girl gets his joke - he has used magnetism, lightning and mind-reading all on one job, duplicating each of his competitors' powers and earning him their highest award. Upon his return to 20th Century Smallville, Clark proudly displays the medal he earned to Pa Kent, amazed that he will still be honoured a thousand years in the future.


Commentary:
This is the very first story of the Legion of Super-Heroes, in which three Legionnaires (Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Boy (his name changed later to Lightning Lad)) go back to the past and invite Superboy to join them in the future and become the newest member of the Legion. The story is a fun tale, and is basically an initiation and hazing of the Boy of Steel, as he's inducted as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Superboy does get his revenge, so to speak, at the end of the story with a little joke he plays on them, but in many ways the hazing is kind of cruel to be honest, and I don't know whether I could see the Legion in 2991 (I'm writing this in 1991) doing the same thing to any potential new members, including Superboy. That said, the Legionnaires will continue the hazing practice sort of in future stories, Action Comics Vol 1 #267 and Adventure Comics Vol 1 #293 to name a couple. Still, on this re-read it came across as cruel. It's a nice introduction for the Legion, but a lot will change about the team as the stories progress. Oh, and Lightning Lad is called Lightning Boy in this story.

One of the fun parts of this story is that the Legionnaires seated at the table have the classic Silver Age name plates/tags. Even more interesting and unique is that the three Legionnaires introduced properly in this story have their names written on the front of their costumes! Given the colours used for Saturn Girl's costume, I have to wonder whether someone riffed that design when they created Mentalla, as seen in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 3 #14. The colour profile is pretty similar.

This story is everything that one of the Silver Age stories should be. It was goofy, weird, somewhat dated in its plot twists and tropes, but genuinely fun. The Legion is also the first super-team introduced in the DC universe since the Justice Society of America, as they pre-date the Justice League by several years. The other thing I liked about this story is the art by Al Plastino. It's sharp, has some dynamic page layouts and there's a good plot progression that a lot of the standard 6 panels per page format that DC used makes work. Besides, the story was so good that they retold it again for Supergirl's joining the Legion in Action Comics Vol 1 #267 (which actually happened in Legion time before this tale)!


Final Notes:
This is the very first tale about the Legion of Super-Heroes. It introduces the three founding members (though we don't know this at the time), their original rocketship Clubhouse, the 30th Century setting, and time bubbles...

Lightning Lad is called Lightning Boy in this story...

The Legionnaires never again wear the exact costumes featured in this story...

On page 5, in the third panel, there are four shadowy figures of Legionnaires sitting opposite Saturn Girl, Lightning Boy and Cosmic Boy. This means that the Legion at the time of this story must have at least seven members...

On page 11, in the last panel, three other Legionnaires can be seen. The first, facing towards Superboy and Cosmic Boy, might be Lyle Norg's Invisible Kid, except for the hair colour. One appears to be Brainiac 5, but his hair colour, skin colour, and costume colour are wrong. The third figure, behind Brainiac 5, cannot be identified properly at all.
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion reread, lll, long live the legion!, lsh, review
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