Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Legion of SUBSTITUTE Heroes

Believe it or not, there has been a Legion of Substitute Heroes almost as long as there has been a Legion of SUPER Heroes. And believe it or not, the Substitutes, or "Subs," have existed in every LSH incarnation and continuity!

The Subs made their debut in Adventure Comics #306, only six issues after the Legion got top-billing in that book...only five years after the Legion made their debut. The Subs were created by Edmond Hamilton and John Forte, and as created, represented "guts" or "heart" over "experience" or "skill." Polar Boy, for example, was ecstatic about the possibility of joining the Legion, but couldn't control his freeze powers and made all the Legionnaires grab thermal blankets as soon as he walked into the hall.

The original Subs were Polar Boy, Night Girl, Stone Boy, Fire Lad, and Chlorophyll Kid. It was never a question of abilities with the characters, because, let's face it, we're looking at Iceman, She-Hulk, Blok, Human Torch, and Poison Ivy here! No, the powers weren't the issue; it was always a question of skill and confidence. It's a terrible thing to hear the word, "REJECTED!" Yet, the Subs saved Earth in their very first adventure!

For most of the Sixties and Seventies the Subs were around in Legion stories, but not in the forefront; they would show up, sort of like The Legion of Super-Pets, but not on any regular basis. Dream Girl and Star Boy joined while they were out of the Legion, and Color Kid (created by E. Nelson Bridwell) joined as their first non-founding member. Sometime in the Seventies Night Girl finally started dating her crush, Cosmic Boy, and they were a couple for the rest of their careers. Eventually other rejected Legion applicants like Infectious Lass and Porcupine Pete joined the group. Both of these characters were created by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum.
However, the Subs were treated as jokes by Keith Giffen in DC Comics Presents #59 and Legion of Substitute Heroes Special #1. These stories are entertaining, but they don't do anything to help take these characters seriously. 

Eventually Polar Boy disbanded the group and joined the Legion. Sometime later, Night Girl and Cosmic Boy formed a new Substitute Legion in the pages of Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3 (1987). This group consisted of them, Duo Damsel, Bouncing Boy, Karate Kid II, and Comet Queen. Like the originals, they were organized to help support the main Legion, but unlike the original Subs, this group only got together in emergencies.
When the Legion returned in "The Lightning Saga" and in the pages of Action Comics, the Subs returned as well. They had their big moment in Action Comics #862, helping to defeat the so-called Justice League.
In the Five Year Later continuity, Night Girl and Cosmic Boy married and had a son, Pol. Several Subs joined the resistance movement to free Earth from the Dominators' control. After they succeeded in freeing Earth, they continued to protect lives in the UP militia.

The portrayal of the Subs veers wildly between comedy, pathos, and true heroism. But even when they are portrayed as goofballs, they always have heart. 

Long Live the Legion (of Substitute Heroes)!

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