Monday, August 8, 2016

Superboy, the Legion, and the Value of Money

I don't know why I had to have it but I did. Superboy #185 was that comic that mesmerized me on the magazine shelves of Anning's 5 & 10 waaay back in the summer of 1972. One hundred pages from cover to cover (no ads!) and only fifty cents. Superboy was holding aloft amazing weights with images of grand adventure on them, as a multitude of young heroes watched. I just had to have that 100-Page Super Spectacular, but I was going to have to pay for it.

My older sister Bobbie, who was my comics fix and who had also taught me to read, usually bought comics for me. Although if I'm being honest, some were actually for her and I inherited them. This is where my taste for Wonder Woman and Supergirl in Adventure Comics came from, and that latter one is how I met the Legion for the first time in reprints. When I begged her for Superboy #185 that day I first saw it, she surprised me. If I wanted it, I would have to earn it. She thought it was time I learned the value of money. After all, most comics were only a quarter; this one was twice that.

I loved the Nick Cardy cover. The first few 100-Page Super Spectaculars had wraparound covers with no ads, and as a bonus, a key on the last page to tell you who everyone was. This alone was an education in itself. As I'll talk about later, this was how I learned the real names and powers of the Legionnaires, as well as all the other cool young super folks on the cover.

The comic was book-ended by two Superboy stories, one good, one bad. The second had a Golden Age feel that I wouldn't appreciate 'til I was older, but the first was Silver Age-y and kinda cool. Cigar smoking, pot-bellied Pa Kent gained super powers, put on a costume and mask, and preceded to put Superboy in his place, finally getting the upper hand on the boy. It turned out it was Jax-Ur in disguise, my first exposure to the Phantom Zone. The story also taught me about the Superboy (and later Superman) robots. Cool stuff.

There were also reprints of Kid Eternity, the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, and Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys - history, crime noir, and a little bit of gangbusters for laughs - I loved it. This issue, along with the Superman 100-Page Super Spectacular later with the flying heroes, traded for with a friend for an unwanted Thor comic, is what got me interested in the Golden Age heroes, a love I still have to this day.

The comic also featured the second adventure of the Teen Titans. Joined by Wonder Girl for the first time (and actually Donna Troy's first appearance, previously Wonder Girl was young Princess Diana) they fought the menace of the big pink pimpled Separated Man… and even used the Beatles as a weapon against him. Man, you just can’t beat Bob Haney. I loved this one and read it over and over again.

But nothing in the comic beat the double-length Legion of Super-Heroes adventure. That was gold.

"The Eight Impossible Missions" from Adventure Comics # 323 taught me everything I needed to know about the Legion all in one story. I was mesmerized, and although it wasn't my first Legion adventure, it was the one that cemented my interest in the team and their legacy. This was like a lesson in Legion lore, with everything from Legion elections, tryouts, honorary members, an interplanetary tour, and just straight up Legion lore.

We begin with first appearances of Legion applicants Double-Header and Spider Girl, one would later go on to join the Legion of Substitute Heroes in the Bronze Age, and the latter would become a villain and then a hero. Their auditions gave me a sense of what the tryouts were all about, how serious and/or silly they could be, and just because you had a cool power, it didn't mean you could control it or be a good Legionnaire. It is interesting that over the years, Double-Header seems to have grown apart, here he is two-faced but later versions are more like conjoined twins.

After the tryouts (both applicants failed), it's time for the Legion to elect a new leader. Rather than a simple election, American citizens take note, the Legion has something else in mind. The leader should be smart and resourceful, so Proty II, Chameleon Boy's shape-shifting pet, proposes that whoever solves his puzzle should be the new leader. In true Silver Age comic book form, everyone agrees and the race begins. Proty gives out eight impossible missions that even Trump and Hilary might have trouble with.

Proty sends Saturn Girl to an interplanetary rodeo, Ultra Boy to catch invisible thieves, and Phantom Girl to confront The Mighty Gazor in the Phantom Zone. That was my second taste of the Zone in this one comic that was so important in building not only my Legion lore but also Superman mythology. I also learned about Superbaby, and that Kal-El was old enough to remember Krypton… with his total recall power!

When the next part of 'the great Proty puzzle' continued, Element Lad faced the riddle of the Cosmic Eye, and I learned that the Legionnaires all could fly via Flight Belts. I got a taste of Brainiac 5's intellect for the first time, and as the story went on, learned about the various powers of other Legionnaires as well, beyond what the cover index told me. Some of this knowledge came from Jimmy (Elastic Lad) Olsen's puppet show about the Legion. Mad silliness, but I loved it.

Even at the tender age of six, I had no trouble understanding that Jimmy Olsen came from Superman's time and Pete Ross from Superboy's, but then again I never had a problem with the DC Multiverse either, so what do I know? This is where I learned Pete Ross' big secret, his one note for so many years, and first saw the comics panel I would see repeated over and over again. One stormy night, Pete learned Superboy was actually Clark Kent. Elsewhere we had been told that his knowledge of this would someday save Superman's life and perhaps the world - did we ever see that story?

In the end the puzzle was a bit convoluted, perhaps Proty II and Saturn Girl conspired to get her a second term with this rainy day puzzle? Either way it was fun. And I worked hard to read it. Cleaning up my toys, vacuuming, feeding the cats, picking up wood - my first experience with chores that would someday yield initially fifty cents allowance to buy my own comics - this time led me to a whole new world of entertainment, and Legion history and mythology.

Long live the Legion!


  1. I have never seen the back of this cover, but I LOVE it!!! Any time I see a "new" Titans image by Cardy I've never seen before, that's pure gravy. And this sounds like a lot of fun. I loved the theme giants like this.


  2. I can still remember buying this comic book at our news depot and rushing home to read it . I never looked in the comics I bought as I didn't want to ruin the story .

    The cover was great ( I still have it ) but the stories were just reprints. I was a bit disappointed as I just couldn't stand the Legion when Jimmy Olsen and / or Pete Ross were involved . I always hoped they'd be following Triplicate Girl and Ferro Lad to Valhalla . Unfortunately it never was to be . ):

  3. I learned to read from comics as well. For some ungodly reason, I was attracted to War comics at the age of 4. And like you, I had to do chores to get money to buy comics in the store up the hill from the house in San Fran.