Monday, January 19, 2015

Legion Traditions: Try-Outs

by Siskoid

The Legion of Super-Heroes has many traditions, and one of these is try-outs. It makes you believe you could be in the team if only you worked hard enough at your super Xbox skills. There are a number of things that can happen at a try-out. 

a) A hero with a really lame power will be rejected.
a2) Said hero may or may not prove his worth and be accepted after all.
b) A powerful hero will be rejected for having the same powers as another member or have a power that is not innate.
b2) Said hero may or may not turn out to have one lame power no one has and be accepted after all.
c) A hero will turn out to be a villain and will be rejected.
c2) Said "hero" will instead be accepted and THEN show his or her true colors.
d) The established Legion will be real jerks to the hero trying out (hey, you think the cool kids are bad, imagine if they had super-powers).

Personally, I loved Secret Origins, especially when the title went with some crazy concepts. It's not like I was wondering how Superman came to Earth, after all, so something like #46's origins of various superhero headquarters was just what the doctor ordered. Better yet, with the origin of the original Legion clubhouse, writer Gerard Jones gives us a crazy story that would have easily fit into the Legion's Silver Age, even more so since Silver Age superstar artist Curt Swan draws it. "The Little Clubhouse That Could" is essentially the Legion's second ever story, taking place just after the original three have formed the Legion.

They're looking for two things, and being the wholesome teens they are, they aren't the two things I'm always looking for. The Legion needs a clubhouse (and no neighborhood will have them, cuz who wants a bunch of teenagers loitering in front of their house?) and it needs new members. Cue the first Legion try-out! Check out that collection of freaks:
You can tell right away that none of them are gonna make it. Up first is this guy:
I happen to think that Arm-Fall-Off-Boy could have given the Legion a hand, but they don't agree. I mean, look at their (future) track record: Guy that turns into a bouncing ball, yes. Dude who can whup your ass using his torn-off arm as a club, no. Maybe it was the unsightly warts. He's followed by Mnemonic Kid, which leads to a cute bit with how to spell her name, but only if you buy the idea of Saturn Girl as a dumb blond.
Mnemonic Kid can make you lose memories (but not restore them). Get ready to checkmark the cliché about rejects becoming villains, because there's a rebellion brewing among the rejects. And if you've recognized the Legion clubhouse in the yellow guy with red winglets in the group shot above, you know where this is going. Enter Fortress Lad, from the planet Fwang where, because of constant meteor showers, the males have evolved the ability to turn themselves into buildings. Look at this inhospitable crap-hole:
You shouldn't be surprised that such an evolutionary adaptation is possible. You should be surprised that anything on that planet managed to evolve at all. Anyway, the Legion-for-pretty-humanoids-only rejects him, and he leaves crying. But he's got a good heart, so when he finds Memenonumic Kid wiping out the Legion's memories and about to shoot them, he promptly protects his rejectors!
Then hit with memory loss, he's turned into a vegetable. Well, into a building really. And the Legion, figuring that they just forgot they had headquarters because of Mnemonic Kid, adopt it as their home. So there you have it, the Legion's first recruit and no one ever knew it.


Actually a reprint of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #195 (June 1973) and #201 (March-April 1974), this issue of Tales of the Legion actually takes us through two, count 'em, TWO Legion try-outs. And both involve Wildfire, or as he was originally known, Erg-1.

In "The One-Shot Hero", Erg-1 is trying out for the team with a costume that's better than most for the era, but it does remind me of a motorcycle suit and the Doctor Who serial The Ambassadors of Death, all at the same time. What are his powers? Well, he's made of antimatter energy, which only his suit can contain. It seems to give him the powers of Superboy, Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Chemical King and Phantom Girl, so of course they can't accept him as a member. So what if he's as powerful as five Legionnaires combined? Club rules say you must have one power no one else has, and rules is rules.

Then Bouncing Boy comes into the room and tells the team about an S.O.S. That's right. Bouncing Boy. The guy who can turn into a bouncing ball. He made the team. Wildfire did not. Now let me act as his lawyer for a second. The Legion actually has a number of members with the exact same powers: Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy are all pretty much the same. Turns out they made an exception for the two Kryptonians because they're icons from the past or something. So only Mon-El counts as a Kryptonian-like powerhouse. Ultra Boy? He's got "flash vision" instead of "heat vision", but these are the same. I believe his actual "unique" power is that his x-ray vision can see through lead (actually penetra-vision), whereas the others' cannot. Can you believe that? Why don't they just count the fact that energy comes out of Wildfire's feet to allow him to fly? Or that without a body, he's probably immune to a ton of things? BEING MADE OF ENERGY! Heck, I'd count that as a unique power.

But no. Thanks for trying out though. Back to the S.O.S.: There's this giant renegade "eating machine" that's sucking up all the crops on planet Manna-5. Just the kind of food emergency Bouncing Boy would bring to the Legion's attention. So a cadre of Legionnaires head for that world (but not Bouncing Boy - it's a lazy day for him) and Wildfire/Erg-1 tags along as a stowaway. However, the Legionnaires are defeated by the giant vacuum cleaner of death, and as it's about to suck in Colossal Boy, Wildfire shows off his one unique power:
He shoots himself at the machine, destroying it. And when the Legion finds his empty suit, they leave him for dead and put his suit on display in their personal cemetery (population at this point: Ferro Lad).

Cut to one year later, and the Legion's holding try-outs again. The three candidates are first shown a video of Wildfire biting the big one, so that they know that 1) it's a dangerous business and 2) that he'll be back to life by story's end. First up is Porcupine Pete:
To me, funny. Superboy is worse than Simon Cowell as he rejects Pete's application, even as he shrugs off a bunch of quills with his eyes (without a single doubt in my mind the inspiration for that scene in that Superman movie). Next up is Infectious Lass whose power is to give you any disease she likes. She uses Star Boy for a demonstration:
Never a good idea to give a Legionnaire explosive diarrhea at your Legion audition. She gets summarily rejected too. Third is Molecular Master, who can apparently create a giant atom and then boast about how big and powerful it is.
I know he told us to watch his hands, but it's very hard to concentrate on anything but the gazillion quills covering the Legion's audience chamber. I'm really glad Pete at least made it to the Legion of Substitute-Heroes. Meanwhile, Wildfire IS back, this time as energy. See, they left with his suit before he could return to it and it took him a year to get back to Earth to get physical again. To make matters worse, the Legion's put the suit behind a force field that prevents him from getting to it. He can sort of possess the bodies of other living beings, but the Legionnaires' flight rings create the same kind of force field around them. (This all begs the question: Isn't there ANYONE on Manna-5 which could have been possessed long enough for him to make a call back to Legion HQ?) Anyway, Molecular Master isn't a Legionnaire yet, right? So Wildfire tries to possess him. Doesn't work: He's a robot sent to destroy the Legion and steal the "Miracle Machine", a gadget from a previous adventure that grants the user any wish he cares to make.

Not only are they not using the thing to fight evil, but it's not protected by a force field because Wildfire can get into it. He possesses it to wish the Legion back to life and himself back into his suit. (So he can possess machines? So why not Molecular Master?) Anyway, a battle ensues between the evil robot and our boy Wildfire, a battle which ends with one of the best super-powered martial arts moves I've ever seen:
One rocket-fueled kick to the noggin splits Molecular Master's head in two! Told you that was his unique power.


Reprinting the Legion try-outs from Legion of Super-Heroes vol.2 #14 (September 1985), this try-out occurs in the Paul Levitz era, which to me IS the Legion of Super-Heroes. It's not really his characterization, since many Legionnaires remain interchangeable. It's not the plotting, which is ok, but rarely memorable outside key story arcs. No, it's his total commitment to his 30th-century world.

The book is always full of throwaway lines, technologies, creatures and Encyclopedia Galactica entries that make you believe this is an intricately designed future. For example, the 30th century has its own language called Interlac, and Levitz makes sure all manner of signage is written in that invented alphabet. I love it! Thanks to Wikipedia, you can get your very own alphabet key and read all that stuff you never could before. Thanks Wikipedia! Now I know that the sign below says "Meeting in progress"! Those Legionnaires are voting on an unprecedented number of new members because their original three are retiring and they were down a couple before that. Who will make it in?
For my money, they gave too much of a chance to Comet Queen, a thoroughly annoying character who can put you to sleep with her comet gas:
My thoughts exactly, Timber Wolf. I wouldn't mind her so much if she didn't speak like some kind of outer space valley girl. "Parse me to the Nth power!" "Boost me to stardrive, this is maximal!" "Prism you for C-speed fools!" "Burn me no more - glim your eye-sockets at the lizard lounge now." I don't know what any of that means, but it just leaves me wondering where Superboy is to scream out "REJECTED!"

Another loser is Energy Boy, who is wearing one of the worst costumes in Legion history (since the 70s, at any rate).
A nuclo-globe? Shades of Molecular Master, right there. Anyway, his audition is interrupted by Polar Boy, the leader of the Legion of Substitute-Heroes who never deserved to be rejected in the first place. He steals Energy Boy's thunder, and boldly asks the Legion to wave the rule requiring new members to be under 18 years of age (yes, the Legion has yet ANOTHER stupid rule when it comes to recruiting).

But this try-out is full of irregularities. If I had been rejected like Power Boy, Mentalla and those two goldfish I know nothing about...
...I would be mighty pissed. I mean, look at those new members:
From left to right: Magnetic Kid is Cosmic Boy's brother (nepotism). Tellus is a sea monster. Quislet (that little ship) can't even be seen and didn't even show up at the try-outs. Polar Boy is over 18. And Sensor Girl is there because Saturn Girl pulled rank and asked for this mysterious character to be accepted sight untried.

Not that I'm complaining, you understand. Sensor Girl and Polar Boy are great. And cheers to the Legion for finally picking up a couple of non-humanoids. The days of the racist Legion are over. As for Magnetic Kid, well, nepotism is still wrong. That, and pink costumes.


In the 90s, the Legion became all dark and nasty and adult, so they didn't have try-outs anymore. They were too busy becoming disguised Proties or werewolves or whatnot. But the writers saw there was a place for a teen Legion that was fun and happy-go-lucky, so they unveiled the SW6 Legion, a batch of clones that were just like the LSH of old, except a lot more hip. It gave us a Ferro Lad that could outlast an issue, and some pretty sexy babes thanks to artist Chris Sprouse. SW6 started in the regular Legion book, and then moved to their own title: Legionnaires.

And guess what? They could hold tryouts. They could, but they didn't. So halfway through their second issue, their meeting gets interrupted...
How DARE they not uphold this Legion tradition? What's next? Scripts that make sense? So of course there's a mob of super-teens clamoring for a shot at the new Legion. I guess they didn't notice you had to be a clone of the original LSH to be in the SW6 club.

The gang is willing to give it a shot though, and up first is X-Bomb Betty.
Aside from being a sexpot, she has the power to not get sued by Marvel for putting an X on her costume without the proper trademark. Oh wait, this is the 30th century... the copyright no longer holds. No, her power is to create a 150 million megaton explosion... but she can do it only once. Homage to Wildfire's original appearance? As Superboy would say... aw, you know by now.

Next up is Cera Kesh, who doesn't have a codename yet, but I think it probably would have been Plain Jane.
She has unrefined telekinetic powers, and after dropping Live Wire on his ass, he calls her names and makes fun of her chunkier disposition, acne and split ends. That sends her straight to an alley where she is destined to meet the Emerald Eye, which will turn her into a new Emerald Empress as part of the Return of the Fatal Five storyline. If you've got your Legion clichés card handy, go right ahead and checkmark the box next to "rejected hero will turn into a villain". I'll wait.

Anyway, they saved the best for last! Plaid Lad! The guy can turn any textile into plaid. And if you thought that would be enough to get him rejected, THE POWER ALSO TENDS TO GET OUT OF CONTROL!
It never rains but it pours for the Tartan Teen. Matter-Eater Lad (whose a real hoot in this incarnation) has the last laugh: "I'm sorry, Plaid Lad, but until you learn to better control your unique abilities, you'd be as great a danger to us as to our enemies." Dissed by the guy whose power is to eat stuff. That's got to be the worst.


You get the gist, and you get it through various eras. Things haven't really changed since even if the Legion has. So what's YOUR story? Why were YOU rejected for membership?


  1. The X-Bomb Betty line is a reference to the 1957 Looney Tunes cartoon Show Biz Bugs, where Daffy blows himself up, and that gag was lifted from 1949's Curtain Razor starring Porky Pig.

  2. LSH v2 #14 is my favourite Legion issue ever, for exactly the reasons you said! Also the Legion aren't nearly as mean as they can be. Though you feel a bit for Energy Boy, putz though he appears.

    Fortress Lad story thrilled me because back then it seemed like a legend that had grown up around the team, like the Ferro Lad & Legion Academy movies.

    I've always wanted to see him brought back as a hyper-competant martial artist that the Legion just didn't realize.
    But his later incarnation as Splitter? Way to kill the joke there.

    The try-outs have percolated throughout comics and even film but they've never been as integral to a series or ever gone beyond the silly joke stage. It kills me that people don't realise where it all started. The original and the best.