I have returned, ladies and gentlemen and all who are neither, and how surprised are you that I have a Legion of Super-Heroes tale from the 60s to discuss with you? Not very? Full points!
Now, originally I had planned to take a look at some far out Sixties future-tech or maybe an unusual alien creature or two but once I started reading this particular issue again I got all delighted and felt compelled to talk about the whole damn story. It's like trying to eat only one item at a buffet, I swear.
We find the Legionnaires checking yet another collection of monitor screens...
I maybe have a problem with the universality of this Universal Monitor, hinging on whether those labels are permanent or not. I mean, i can see some borders on this thing, so it's not fantastically huge... is the implication that the 30th Century DCU contains six or seven inhabited planets? I think that I might have seen more than that in the last issue of Green Lantern, so maybe there's a chance that the Legion hasn't been doing as good a job as they've been leading us to believe. Also, Tree World?
"Legionnaires, our planet is named Arboriax. My people are proud and call for war at the slightest insult... please stop calling us Tree World."
At first I thought that maybe Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl were bored or late for a date or something, but it turns out that those watches connect them to the kinda-Universal Monitor so that they can all sneak off to a conference, probably on Planet Ventura (Dice World). I figure that most of 'em will be knee-deep in human depravity by lunch time. What happens on Ventura, after all.
Of course, as soon as the Legionnaires turn their backs, some asshole aliens show up - these ones seem to have evolved from replilian beavers. Maybe they're from Tree World!
An aside about the reason for this invasion: the "aliens coming to Earth to steal something - often gold or twinkies - that does not exist on their planet" plot is basically as old as superheroes themselves, or at least would be if the Forties weren't all about the Nazis. Once the Fifties rolled around, though, this kind of thing was happening about once a week. Batman and the Flash probably have weekly get-togethers where the one who dealt with the fewest armoured-car-robbing extraterrestrials has to buy the beer. HOWEVER: glass? These guys come from a planet that doesn't have glass? Maybe... maybe they think that something else is called glass, like einsteinium or something. After all, glass must be hard to make poison out of, and I reckon that any race bright enough to figure out space travel must have the capacity to put together the old "sand + heat" equation. Right?
Well, at least they had the forethought necessary to keep the Legion from swooping in as soon as they cleared the ionosphere and... HEY! That is clearly a piece of glass on the side of that thing! And (scroll, scroll) they have glass cockpits on their space ships! I am so damn confused by these guys.
Well, maybe that's a good sign. Maybe they do have their words mixed up and they're going to start stealing poodles or Hostess Fruit Pies in a minute.
No, no. No, they're stealing glass. They're putting a lot of effort into stealing glass.
They built special ships with special weapons to steal glass with. Those special ships have glass in them. Argh!
It's just as well that we're done with them, because another few minutes of thinking about this might have a detrimental effect on my well-being. In a few panels that I'm not putting up for space reasons the Legion of Substitute Heroes trounces these orange-clad bozos and that's the last that's ever been seen of them, as far as I know and barring a surprise appearance of three of them in a cloak as the real identity of the Time Trapper at the end of Legion of Three Worlds.
Superboy shows up just after the Subs finish mopping up, and the two Legions finally meet! The Substitute Heroes, despite having just stopped a fleet of technologically-advanced-if dumb aliens with the super-powers equivalent of a bag of firecrackers, are riddled with low self-esteem and all worried that the Legion will make them stop hanging around in a cave and picking up after them. Instead, the Legionnaires are so impressed that they offer to make one member of the Substitute Legion a super-duper official Legion member.
A contest is organized! Each Sub gets a Legion sponsor and has to complete aan assignment all by themselves! Scores will be awarded!
But of course, the sponsors have to be selected. How do you figure they do that, folks? Pick a number? Names from a hat, Planetary Chance Machine? Nah.
It's time for a brand-new selector machine! There have been variants on this sort of device throughout the Legion's history that making new ones has to be someone's hobby. My theory about this particular device is that is was designed as a backup in case the big computer ever broke down and nobody could think up another way to randomly assign kissing partners. I was going to put in the next panel, featuring the results, but it doesn't really matter for the purpose of this. Just note that poor Night Girl didn't get teamed up with Cosmic Boy, who she loves, in a way that probably would be treated as dismayingly stalkerish today but was reasonably endearing in the 60s.
Polar Boy gets the first assignment and it's a bit of a doozy. The Legion sure isn't slacking on the "challenging" aspect of these tests.
Meanwhile, "the Human Guinea Pigs" is a great name both for a scientific group and for a band. It doesn''t really come up later on in the comic but I bet that they're young mavericks, flouting the established conventions of Thirtieth Century scientific research and testing strange formulas on each other because they can't get the funding to purchase convicts and wearing their hair in unconventional
ways. Accidently freezing themselves is probably just a normal Saturday afternoon thing for the Human Guinea Pigs - they probably freeze themselves instead of sleeping.
Polar Boy's game to try, though, which is one reason that I like him so much. If you put me in a room with cold powers and orders to thaw some frozen guys the best I'd come up with would probably be something along the lines of "Well, they're frozen all right. I wonder what will happen if I cool them down even more? Maybe they'll loop around to being warm
again!" Granted, I've probably played more video games than Polar Boy and so have no concept of real-world logic, but still: hauling them off to the Earth's core is quite a bit more productive no matter how you look at it. I'm not so sure about those harnesses though - I have to believe that dropping one of these guys into a pool of molten cesium (or whatever - I was an English major. As far as I know the Earth's interior was accurately described by Milton) would result in some pretty serious negative scoring. Maybe one or two knots, or even a four-point harness?
Safety considerations aside, he does it and does it in style, using his power to protect himself from the blazing heat while baking the scientists to a crisp golden brown, if my youthful experiments with the noble frozen meat pie are applicable here.
A good first showing for the Substitute Heroes, even if it set back cryogenic research by decades ("the freezing works okay, but we just can't get the thawing oven hot enough" "Try the self-cleaning setting!") and made that one scientist quite a bit tubbier somehow.
The question now is whether the Legion are panicking or not. Did they actually expect Polar Boy to finish this challenge? If they let him in, what are they going to talk about? Will he want to let more of his loser friends into the club? Or am I being cynical? Let's see what they whip up for the next challenger, Night Girl:
Consider this panel the intermission to this very long post. Isn't it pretty?
Hmm. Still no real indication of how the Legion feels about this process. Sure it's going to be rough on Night Girl to operate on a planet swathed in perpetual sunshine but she's proven herself to be a pretty canny customer on a number of occasions. Also, the selection committee looks to be composed entirely of male Legionnaires, not that I want to imply anything about their commitment to fairness being compromised by the presence of a hot babe in a bouffant hairdo. Okay, I kind of do.
Sun Woman is basically the perfect enemy for Night Girl - she has the same super strength, only hers is solar powered, so that one of them will always be able to grind the other into powder depending on ambient lighting conditions. She also shares Night Girl's excellent costume sense - look at that thing! Shoulder antennae, sunburst on the stomach, good colour scheme and a sun-ray halo. Good heavens, that's a great costume element - why the heck it hasn't that been lifted for some other fire-themed villain in the decades since I'll never know. Some negative points for the stiletto heels, but big bonus for knowing how to dress a henchman properly (see intermission picture). I'm going to throw out a JOHN APPROVED for her.
HOWEVER, for someone who has such super-costume design savvy, Sun Woman fails to apply her skills properly here. When confronting an unknown champion of justice you have to look for telltale thematic signs, SW, and the black costume, star-shaped cape-pin and owl insignia simply scream "night-themed super-hero, try to keep in a brightly-lit area." Night Girl gets thrown into the decidedly non-brightly-lit dungeons and proceeds to use her restored super-strength to tunnel around the city and set up a resistance.
Night Girl's plan is to have the Vannar citizenry burn huge piles of coal around the city in order to block out the sun and thus deprive Sun Woman of the source of her powers.
Now, I'm going to ignore any question of environmental impact. I'm not going to question the fact that these people have seemingly never thought of burning coal, even though it apparantly lies around in giant heaps, free for the gathering (although I guess it's reasonable to assume that this is a largely solar-powered planet). No, I'd just like to point out that Vannar is one of the few 30th Century planets that I've ever seen get future-clothing right.
Not that those jumpsuits are exactly high fashion, mind, but look! They're all different colours! Take note, Lizard-Beavers! Look, Coluans! Not everyone looks good in mauve - remember that.
Anyway, that's that for Sun Woman, except for one more panel where she's looking super pissed-off as Night Girl flies her off to jail. Note that Night Girl, in addition to being well-dressed, knows how to make an entrance. The only thing that would have made this whole thing better is if she had done it a few feet to the left and turned it into a double uppercut. Violence solves everything, kids!
Okay, so Night Girl is in the running! Who's up next? Why, it's the Chlorophyll Kid! Let's see what crazy task they think up for this little scamp!
This is where I start to get suspicious, kids. Splitting a mountain is Superboy-level stuff - poor Chlorophyll Kid, I think, has just gotten a very unsubtle message to the effect that his leafy presence is not required in the Clubhouse. Still, the little guy is game and flies up the mountain to check things out.
HA HA HA! He does it! The Legionnaires are all doing that thing where they tug at their collars and go "Ai yi yi!" Plant power!
The Legion is getting desperate! They don't know what to do! Chlorophyll Kid split a damn mountain! They start to reach, and send Fire Lad to a world where it rains all the time, tasking him to give the tribes that live there a permenant source of fire. A fairly unremarkable event - he does it, of course, making use of a convenient oil well. There are only really two things to take note of: Fire Lad's sponsor is Bouncing Boy, who I normally don't mind but who is completely insufferable throughout this issue. Also, the tribesmen are really quite remarkable. I encourage you to enlarge yonder picture and take a good look at them.
Huge blond afros!
I think that this is the point tthat the Legion Task Selection Squad gives up. Despite all of their efforts, those damn Subbies just keep finishing their tasks. Besides, the next challenger is Stone Boy - no carefully tailored task for him, no sir, just some big generic monster with a huge ass.
Stone Boy, of course, doesn't give up. That's the defining feature of the Legion of Substitute heroes, after all, through all of their various incarnations. They may be a bit weak on the power front, and they might be somewhat incompetent but they persevere and ultimately triumph. Stone Boy's plan is actually fairly elegant: dig a pit and then lure the monster into it with his own damn body, turning to stone as necessary to avoid chomping.
A while back (I'd link to it but I can't find the damn post), Rachelle pointed out that various Green Lanterns occasionally use their rings to facilitate extreme laziness, to do something like picking up a piece of paper off of the floor. Saturn Girl seems to have fallen into that same habit here. Did she really need to read Stone Boy's mind to figure out what he was doing, or is there something else going on here? Did she lose sight of him and want to avoid using her neck and/or eye muscles to look around (overly-developed eyes are a real turn-off, ladies)? Or is it that she has only ever seen a hole being dug by a swarm of tiny DTCH-DGGR class robots and that the concept of manual labour was so alien to her that she had to violate someone's consciousness before she could reconcile what her eyes were telling her with reality? maybe there's a reason that the time-mirror showed her as so hippy.
As I said, Stone Boy has a pretty good plan. Sadly, some curious villagers spoil it all - I think that maybe there's a reason that the Rantak is so fat, if this is the average intelligence level on this planet. So according to the rules, Stone Boy is the only Substitute Legionnaire to fail the test. Now: back to the Clubhouse to tabulate the scores!
Stone Boy is the winner! He was all selfless and so forth! Yay! Somehow this is more impressive than flying to the core of the planet!
By the way, check out how surprised he is. Now look at the same scene, five seconds earlier:
That's right, the scores were plainly visible. Evidently, nobody was paying attention to the giant display in the centre of the room.
So Stone Boy wins, and everyone else is too polite to point out that they kind of completely refuted the Legion's original reasons for rejecting them (Polar Boy, for example, was rejected for his lack of control). I don't know if they let him in because he legitimately did the best job or because they figured that he would be the most unobtrusive. In any case, he chose to go off with the Substitute Legion, claiming that they were his Legion and making me go "Awwww..." but likely earning him a few smacks upside the head once everyone got back to the cave.
It's probably for the best, really. I will bet a hundred dollars that if you can dig up a comic from an alternate universe in which Stone Boy joined the Legion Ferro Lad will be alive and well and there will be a monument out front of Legion HQ depicting what appears to be a statue in an orange jumpsuit being fired into a Sun-Eater with a bomb strapped to it and a terrified expression.
Very long post.... done!