Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TOS: Superboy #124

Superboy #124 (October 1965)
title: "The Insect Queen of Smallville!"
writer: Otto Binder
artist: George Papp
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewers: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Michael "Nostalgic Kid"Lane

Mission Monitor Board:  
Superboy, future Legion Reservist Insect Queen

Lana Lang acquires a special alien ring which grants her abilities of various insects.

Lana Lang is out picking wild flowers when she "hears" a telepathic cry for help. Nearby she finds an alien trapped under a dead tree. Lana frees it, and in appreciation for her help it gives her a biogenetic ring. 
Russell: Hold on, Lana comes across an alien insect and doesn't freak out? Good for her. I guess since she's been to Xanthu and met other aliens before this is, literally, a walk in the park. However, why is the alien on Earth in the first place, not to mention out walking (?) in the middle of Smallville? Maybe it's an advance-guard for an Invasion! Pretty convenient that it leaves as soon as it bestows its alien artifact to an Earthling, too..! It would have been nice if this particular alien species had made a return visit, but I guess I'm over-thinking it. Also....she frees it from a dead tree? How super-strong IS Lana? You would think that the insect alien would have been exponentially stronger than Lana! She clearly isn't using a fulcrum or anything. What's up with this whole scene!?
Mike: Well, this is Smallville...aliens are a dime a dozen here. We've gotten far enough into the Silver Age Superboy/Superman world that to stand out as weird, something has to be really, really, really weird. Which will happen a few pages from now...

That night, Lana goes downstairs in her house when she hears noises. Instead of turning on a light, she wishes for light and suddenly becomes a human firefly! She scares away the would-be burglar, but she is overwhelmed by the potential of the alien's ring. However, back in her own room she can't get the ring to grant her request again. 
Russell: I don't know for sure, but I think Lana and her family moved into Smallville when she and Clark were in Elementary School. So she's been in that house a long time. She doesn't know where the light switches are? And is it just me, or is it odd that the burglar wakes HER up, but not her parents?
Mike: I like how when the intruder leaves and she is back to normal she just calmly goes back to bed.  "Well, I guess that's the end of that."  After mutating into a bug creature.

The next day Lana and Clark are playing badminton when their shuttlecock is blown onto the roof. After Clark goes to get another one, Lana wishes she could get this one down, and suddenly she becomes a grasshopper girl! 
Russell: This scene is worth the price of admission. She definitely should have used the grasshopper girl abilities more often.
Mike: That is one creepy image. Although I admit, "Grasshopper Girl" would have been a great Legion super-hero name. Okay, probably Legion of Substitutes hero name.

The next day at school Lana realizes that she forgot her homework. She wishes for help from the ring and suddenly grows a pair of antennae that she uses to communicate with her mother. She asks her mother to read her homework to her, and while still at school Lana re-writes it to turn it in. 
Russell: Okay, I'm pretty sure if I called my mother telepathically and asked her to read my forgotten homework aloud she would have had more than a few questions for me when I got home from school. I can't think of any way Lana could have gotten out of this without admitting that she had an alien's ring.
Mike: Not only does her mom take things in stride, but Lana herself seems remarkably at ease about everything. She just got this ring and is already an expert. But how does no one in class notice those antennae?? They are not small.

Later, when Lana mis-spells "ecstasy" she has to stay after school to write it 100 times on the blackboard. She turns into a centipede and is done writing it in no time. The teacher, when confronted with her miraculously fast work, compares her to Superboy. This makes Lana think that she could also be a super-hero like Superboy. 
Russell: I don't mind this scene, although the centipede IS creepy. But why didn't the editor have Lana mis-spell a word like "cemetery" or "affect/effect" that would have been less creepy to memorize than "ecstasy"?
Mike: Centipede Lana is my favorite Lana. It's horrifying, especially for a Superboy comic at this time, but it's also a pretty original and creative design. Hats off to George Papp on this one. As for the word chosen to be mis-spelled...I got nothing. I do wonder what may have been going on in the writer's head.

Back at home, Lana has sewn a uniform of stretchy material to become Insect Queen. She flies off as a dragonfly.  Almost immediately Lana comes across a stalled armored car and instantly turns into Ant Girl. Endowed with super-human strength, she carries the truck to the bank. She then buzzes off from Superboy as Bee Girl before he can interrogate her. 
Russell: I will admit that the Insect Queen abilities of turning into partial insects is creepy, if you admit that flying as a dragonfly or a bee and lifting an armored car as an ant is cool.
Mike: Well, there are some useful abilities here. I do dig the yellow costume she makes, that is not a color scheme we see very often in this era. I think it looks good.

Insect Queen then comes across a robbery in progress. She turns into Beetle Girl, and the gang's bullets bounce off her hard shell. The gangsters then knock over a huge pile of heavy bolts of wool, trapping her underneath. She turns into Moth Larva Girl, who eats her way free. Then she turns into a spider and spins a web to catch the thieves, just like flies. As Superboy joins the group, Insect Queen turns into a Mosquito Girl and flies away. 
Russell: Now it can be told...spiders are not insects. So that actually open up the possibilities of what the ring can do. If Lana was clever enough to figure it out. Also, Moth Larva Girl can't be made a Legionnaire because Matter-Eater Lad is already a member.
Mike: That is some pretty quick thinking by Lana. She is getting the hang of this very fast. Maybe Moth Larva Girl could not be a Legionnaire, but Spider Girl sure could.

The next day Clark is at Lana's place when they hear a news flash that high winds threaten to knock over the Leaning Tower of Pizza restaurant. Wanting to learn Superboy's secret identity, Lana turns into a caterpillar and wraps Clark into a cocoon. She thinks that if Clark is really Superboy, he will break out of the cocoon in order to stop the restaurant from falling. However, she doesn't count on Superboy's super-speed, which allows him to fly out of the cocoon without her seeing him. 
Russell: I think this is the reason I never warmed up to Lana: she is willing to jeopardize all those pizzas people because she thinks Clark is Superboy. Just like Silver Age Lois Lane, there needs to be more to Lana than just trying to uncover Superboy's secret. She never talks about rushing off to the restaurant herself to try to help as Insect Queen.
Mike: Lana is not a character I have ever really felt an attachment to, but like you alluded to, her behavior is really not that worse than Lois at the time.  Or Superman/Superboy even. This is the age of Super-Dickery after all. That cocoon is another great image by Papp. Not up there with centipede Lana, but close.

While Lana waits expectantly for Superboy to appear, he has already flown off to shore up the restaurant. He then returns to the cocoon as Clark and builds himself "butterfly wings." Lana is fooled into thinking that Clark is NOT Superboy. 
Russell: So Lana revealed her secret to Clark, but there aren't any repercussions? I know he couldn't turn around and talk to her as Superboy about her identity, but there isn't any scene between her and Clark about what he's learned, either. Like the follow-up scene with her mother above, I would have liked to have seen that Clark and Lana conversation.
Mike: Stuff like repercussions and consequences were not really a thing in these comics.

Lana decides to "retire" the Insect Queen uniform until she can come up with more insect ideas to turn into. 
Russell: The ending is the part that disappoints me. I don't have a lot of Silver Age Superboy stories, but I thought for sure that this would have been a two-parter. Lana just puts her uniform in the closet? After all that effort to make the thing, she only wore it for one day? Seems weird to me. I wanted more Insect Queen!
Mike: I feel your reaction, but it's pretty par for the course. It's very similar to Jimmy Olsen's Elastic Lad serum. It was there if they needed it but never for very long.

Russell: This story leaves a disappointing taste in my mouth. The Insect Queen identity is a cool idea and a stunning costume. However, I feel that if the ring had been given to some guy, like Pete Ross for example, we would have gotten a more legit supporting character out of it. What this story boils down to is a frivolous appearance that ends up being a hook to try to find out Superboy's secret identity. I know Lana's characterization is a product of its time, but every time I come across an Insect Queen appearance I find myself wishing that she had been handled more professionally.

I also wish that DC had done two improvements: 1) lose the half-body changes. Instead of turning into a spider-lady, just be able to spin webs; which lead me to 2) address the fact that spiders are not insects. Does the ring actually work on ALL animals, it just started with insects and arachnids because the alien resembled those creatures? That's an interesting idea, isn't it?

Mike: I agree on your points as to her characterization, but not necessarily on the improvements. The body changes were awesome! I am also not too troubled by the spider/insect thing. Of course, I grew up at a time when pop culture routinely had cavemen being chased by dinosaurs so this sort of mistake was not unusual.

I also agree that this is a concept that had more potential than was ever realized. Unfortunately, while Lois and Jimmy had their own titles, poor Lana was stuck being a female supporting character in just the Superboy title so she really did not stand a chance when it came to characterization. Heck, even Lois did not fair very well in her own self-titled comic.

Science Police Notes:  
  • We never find out who the alien is, or what planet it was from,  or why it was on Earth. 
  • Pete Ross and the Kents do not appear in this story.  
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 4 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 2.

This issue is the debut of Insect Queen, who made several appearances over the course of the Silver Age. She eventually became a Legion Reservist.


  1. Lana's costume seems somewhat inspired by "Flygirl".

  2. Why didn't she try to find out Superboy's identity when she was reading minds?? When I saw her spending all that time telecommunicating with her mother long range, I immediately thought she could have read Superboy's mind, and I thought "good, we are not going to get another try to learn Superboy's identity story." Then, to my distress, she does the stupid and life endangering thing with the moth.

  3. Insect Queen is one of those concepts that seems really cool to you as a kid...but when you get older it gives you a Cronenberg-ian body horror vibe. Centipedes are one of the few creatures on this Earth that still freak me out (beside humans), and that image of Lana with all those arms and legs will now haunt my nightmares.

    Love the costume though!