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It's OK, I'm a Senator

Legion Recollections by Tom Bierbaum

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Adventure #350-51: The Outcast Super-Heroes / The Devil's Dozen
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From a recent "Topic of the Mailing"  discussion in Apa-LSH...

For a story that’s come to symbolize for me the nostalgic kid-appeal of the original Legion, it’s surprising to realize in retrospect that I didn’t see either part of this story until I was about 16 and got a back issue of Part 1. And then I didn’t see Part 2 until I was 18 and it was reprinted in Superboy / Legion #205. So the story really didn’t deliver that good ol’ Legion “sense of wonder” in my childhood, it sort of retroactively gave it to me in my teen years as I was looking back fondly on what comics had meant to me in childhood as a good way to feel some comfort as I headed toward the stressful transitions of high-school graduation and college. 

Ironically, our copy of #205 was missing several pages (I think including the explanation of why they needed the odd ingredients for Miss Terious’ spell), so the very crowded, complicated story became virtually impossible to follow. It took a few more years to track down a copy of the full issue and see how all the weird pieces of the story fit together.  The reality of the full story didn’t quite measure up to the wondrous yarn I was envisioning based on the partial version I'd read in #205, but that was OK -- I’d already fallen in love with the story.

I think this two-parter, and especially the second half, is the one Legion story that really pays off on an idealized version of the early Legion that I kind of invented in my mind and became infatuated with when younger brother Carl discovered the Legion in 1972. I was 16 at the time and over the years had read maybe a dozen Legion stories and had been a fairly casual fan (I loved Ultra Boy but was a lot more into the JLA back in my early comic-reading days) and I didn’t have a real clear recollection of exactly what those early Legion stories were like. So in trying to explain to Carl how the Legion worked, I was envisioning these stories starring a dozen / two dozen characters enmeshed in adventures that spanned interesting, disparate settings and had various Legionnaires handling different assignments that end up tying together and solving the over-arching case.  As I envisioned these stories (and we started drawing our own adventures trying to follow that formula), I came to feel like this is what a great Legion adventure ought to be.

But in reality, it’s hard to think of almost any Legion story that really lives up to this vision, and the Adventure #350-51 two-parter is probably the best realization ever published of my idealized Legion.

For example, this is perhaps the one story that most tells readers that the Legion is the comic for you if you like a lot of heroes. Just the collection of Legionnaire statues alone is pretty amazing depiction of the membership (and boy, was Curt Swan a conscientious artist – notice how carefully he draw each uniform among those statues and that they’re even standing in the exact same order when viewed from the front in the 20th century on Page 2 as when they’re viewed from the back in the 30th century on Page 6).

The story gives prominent roles to Superboy, Supergirl, Invisible Kid, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Mon-El, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Ferro Lad, Matter-Eater Lad, Shrinking Violet, Brainiac 5, Element Lad, Princess Projectra and Ultra Boy. That’s 16 Legionnaires getting important roles, with several more at least showing up in background scenes, plus a big role for the whole Substitute Legion, plus a big role for the Super-Pets, plus the return of former member Bouncing Boy, plus the newcomers Sir Prize and Miss Terious (spoiler alert…) who end up being two more returning Legionnaires, plus the introduction of White Witch, PLUS the introduction of R.J. Brande. Phwew! 

The opposition included Evillo and the first four member of his planned Devil’s Dozen (The Hag, The Huntsman, Apollo and Sugyn), plus Mxyzptlk, plus the opposition of security creatures / devices at the Interstellar Bank and Brande’s asteroid.
Settings include Superboy’s Smallville, Supergirl’s Stanhope College, the Legion HQ, inside Superboy’s brain and bloodstream, the Interplanetary Bank, Evillo’s planet Tartarus, Brande’s Asteroid, the Subs’ HQ, Mxyzptlk’s fifth dimension and even a panel at the Metropolis Reservoir.

Yes, the story is pretty goofy and doesn’t really hold together, but honestly, to me, it’s a lot more important that they gave us an exciting whirlwind tour of the 30th century and its cast than that the story qualify as ambitious literature.

I think some people are bothered that this story undoes most of the “continuity” that had accumulated in the Legion over the prior few years (Garth’s metal arm, M-E Lad’s girth, Bouncing Boy’s lost power and the expulsion of Star Boy), but I’m kind of in favor of every one of those developments except the restoration of Garth’s arm (I thought the metal one was pretty cool), because I really didn’t prefer the other changes and kind of like that through the rest of the mid ’60s we had Star Boy and Dream Girl back, a thin M-E Lad and a powered Bouncing Boy.

I’m also willing to live with the odd conclusion where Color Kid defuses the threat of the green kryptonite cloud that surrounds Earth by turning the kryptonite blue. It certainly seems silly, but I can accept that the properties that change how kryptonite reflects light tie into the “powers” of the kryptonite. It would be interesting to build on Color Kid’s power by saying he’s kind of a mini-Element Lad who can tinker superficially with the properties of objects when he changes their colors.

Part of my fondness for the story is that it’s one of my favorite depictions of two of my favorite Legionnaires, Ferro Lad and Matter-Eater Lad. Both are allowed to be solid, contributing, “regular” members of the team who do a good job playing their roles. There really isn’t another Ferro Lad appearance back then where he isn’t either the new guy who’s just joined, the guy who gets killed or the ghost or mind-controlled brother of the guy who got killed. And there were occasions back then when M-E Lad would be used to create conflict with a thoughtless remark (“Computo”) or be the guy to make a rash move that requires him to be rescued (“Super-Stalag”), and I was thankful for once that he wasn’t treated as a guy who could be given a negative storyline because he was basically viewed as disposable.

Obviously a big reason this story succeeds for me is the beautiful Swan / Klein art. I’d guess Swan’s notorious dislike of the Legion’s large cast might largely relate to this specific story, where he was probably more challenged than ever before or since. But I’m sure thankful that we got this chance to see so much of the Legion’s universe and cast rendered so beautifully by perhaps my favorite Legion art team ever.


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