Monday, October 30, 2017

Secret Origins #42

Secret Origins (v3) #42 (July 1989)
title: "Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Boys"
writer: Tom & Mary Bierbaum
penciller: Dave Cockrum
inkers: Larry Mahlstedt and Jim Sanders
letterer: John Costanza
colorist: Tom McGraw
editor: Mark Waid
cover: Dick Giordano & Karl Kesel
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

On a Legion Cruiser heading into space, Phantom Girl remembers how the day had started: flirting with Ultra Boy before a Science Police warning came up on mysterious raiders and then, unbelievably, on Ultra Boy himself. The Legion learned that Ultra Boy was an escaped felon before joining them, and they immediately expel him. Phantom Girl refuses to believe he has gone bad, and does not vote to expel him. He escapes, and the Legion chases after him.
As they fly off, Phantom Girl remembers how as a young child on Bgztl how she would dream of another world, and of the void between it and her home. Although her parents let her think she was dreaming, she was actually "phasing" between Bgztl and Bgztl-2 (Earth).

Phantom Girl, then known only as Tinya Wazzo, was the daughter of a doting father and a busy privacy lawyer mother. Her mother wanted to bring Tinya up as "respectable." However, Tinya rebelled every chance she got. Once, she went to the "bad part of town" where she and Bad Boy #1 phased into a "white zone" establishment where she was promptly propositioned by a dirty old man. Qyk had his phasing abilities taken away, but Tinya was sent away to an all-girls' school.
Away at school, Tinya learned about the Legion of Super-Heroes on Bgztl-2. When her father dies suddenly, and her mother lashes out at Tinya out of grief, Tinya decides to quit Bgztl and head to Bgztl-2 to join the Legion.
Tinya finds Bad Boy #2 who agrees to smuggle her to Earth. As they phase, she suddenly realizes that her "dreams" were real. After they arrive she realizes that he brought her to Earth in order to help steal Earth's defense plans and sell them to Zaryan the Conqueror. She turns the tables on the criminals and turns them in to the Science Police.
Tinya then fashions a uniform and goes to try out for the Legion. She joins, but is disappointed in the caliber of boys she has to work with. Later, she takes a "wild" assignment to Rimbor to face down Sugyn, and happens to see Ultra Boy in the crowd of on-lookers. When she pretends to be in trouble, he jumps forward and comes to her rescue. Infatuated, she then pulls some strings to get Ultra Boy a try-out with the Legion, and he eventually becomes the 12th Legionnaire. However, he never notices her.
Back in the "present" of the story, Phantom Girl thinks that Ultra Boy could be hiding in The Dead City, a place he mentioned to her once, so on a hunch she goes there. She finds him just as the raiders arrive and pick up both of them.

The raiders offer Ultra Boy millions of credits to double-cross the Legion, and he agrees. Phantom Girl can't believe it as they all head back to Earth and Ultra Boy helps the raiders break into the Legion club-house. Suddenly, he gets the jump on two of the raiders and she gladly stops the other two.
Ultra Boy admits that he faked the data about his criminal past so that he could go undercover to help flush out the raiders. After he and Phantom Girl are alone, he wants to thank her for supporting him, but she is upset that he doesn't "get" her. Finally she manages to get through to him.

"Phantom Girl has always been one of my favorite Legionnaires, so I really wanted to enjoy this issue."

Forgive me, but that is the exact same phrase I used to open up my review of Secret Origins #8, the origin of Shadow Lass that I reviewed last month. I really do love the Legion and want to be positive about it, but I guess I just wasn't the audience that Secret Origins was shooting for. (Incidentally, that's a good thing, as I never read the series while it was "live" and have tracked down these Legion-related issues many years afterwards! Not because I didn't want them at the time, you know, but because I was not in the US when they were originally published.)

Anyway, I first came across Phantom Girl in the very first Legion story I ever read, Superboy/Legion #212. She fought off Phantom Kid (or whatever his name was) for the right to represent Bgtzl as a Legionnaire. Right away I was smitten. Here was a girl who fought off a BOY. She wouldn't take any gruff. (Kudos also to Shrinking Violet, Shadow Lass, and Night Girl in that same issue who kicked some serious ass and have been favorites of mine ever since.) A few issues later Phantom Girl's big brother showed up to "protect" her (Superboy/Legion #215) and she didn't need him. And then a few issues after that, she prevented a lizard-race from conquering an entire planet single-handedly (Superboy/Legion #220).  I was pretty much in love.

So when I came across this origin story, I guess I was hoping for....more. As it is, it's a few pages of young Tinya on Bgztl fighting with her mother and missing her father. Then she basically joins the Legion, and it becomes mostly an origin of the Ultra Boy-Phantom Girl romance. That isn't really what I wanted.

I would have preferred a few more pages of Tinya with her older brother growing up. A few more pages with her father. A few more pages of her getting used to being a phantom on Earth. (Surely there was some amount of time required to get used to the different physics?) A few more pages of her making friends with Saturn Girl and Triplicate Girl.

And hey, what about that throw-away line about her first Bad Boy, Qyk, getting his phasing powers taken away!?! I thought ALL residents of Bgztl could phase. What would taking the ability away entail? Is it something like a lobotomy?! THIS is something I'd like to know more about.

But instead of all of those explanations and scenes that we might have gotten, we get a re-telling of the story where she and Ultra Boy decided to start dating. We just reviewed *that* story last week, and to tell you the truth, even for all its Silver Age silliness it is still a better plotted story than this. For one thing, this story is a series of flashbacks set in era that isn't actual. So right away, we're taken "out of" the Legion mysthos. Secondly, I would argue that Phantom Girl is not the lead protagonist in her own origin story. She is re-active rather than pro-active in most of the scenes. If that is the theme of her powers or her personality, Tom and Mary Bierbaum could have done a much better job playing that up. As the most senior Legionnaire at this time, I would have liked to have learned more about her.

The art, by classic Legion artist Dave Cockrum, was good but not great. I'm not sure why I didn't like it more than I did. Maybe inkers Larry Mahlstedt and Jim Sanders weren't the right choice for Cockrum? It just didn't seem all that exciting. Plus, Ultra Boy's hair curl was annoying rather than adorable.

This issue also features a story called "The Grim Ghost!" by Roy Thomas and Michael Blair. It was the re-telling of the origin of a character who was originally called The Gay Ghost. Why Thomas chose to re-tell *this* incredibly stupid story is totally beyond me. Ghosts and Phantoms, maybe? We would have been better served with Phantom LADY.

As an extra added bonus, click on the link below to listen to Legion of Super-Blogger Shag Matthews talking to "Secret Origins Boy" Ryan Daly about this specific story!

Science Police Notes:  
  • Phantom Girl made her debut, already a Legionnaire, in Action Comics #276
  • The story of how Phantom Girl joined the Legion was first told in Superboy #147. 
  • This story is based off the adventure, "The Renegade Super-Hero!" from Adventure Comics #316. 
  • Phantom Girl's father was Byzjn, her mother is Winema, and her older brother is Gmya. Gmya has appeared previously, in Superboy/Legion #215. 
  • Meglaro was one of the conspirators trying to help Zaryan steal Earth's defenses. He appeared in Adventure Comics #303
  • Zaryan the Conqueror eventually did try to invade Earth, resulting in the death-like coma of Lighting Lad in Adventure Comics #304. 
  • Sugyn later appeared as a member of the Devil's Dozen, in Adventure Comics #350-351
  • Reflecto is mentioned as a potential Legionnaire, also from the planet Rimbor. As of this time he had only ever appeared as a figment of Ultra Boy's imagination.  
  • The cover to this issue is based in part on the Silver Age Phantom Girl profile picture that first appeared in Superman Annual #4 (1961). 


  1. I hear you and second your love for Tynia, and that is why I enjoyed this story so much.
    I think that it establishes a series of important beats (such as the mother figure being the imposing one, something much used later during the reboot). And also, although heavily implied all through her appearances, but explicit here, she was the "aggressor" in her relationship with Jo, which is a nice change of pace, since he's so obviously been portrayed as the macho jock all along (it's easy from today's standpoint to think that this should be a natural thing in the 30th century, but not in the 1989 30th century, much less those of decades past).
    Later day Cockrum... not my taste either, but it's serviceable.
    Also, I believe this spotlight was chosen at the time in advance of the 5YL/L.E.G.I.O.N developments in store for the character.

  2. Tinya's last scene with Jo was also reprised in the 5YL Annual #1, along with almost every major Ultra Boy story. It's a cute moment for them - I wish I had a woman that interested in me.

  3. Random notes: I love the design of the raiders. The scene with Brainy and Lyle is hilarious. I enjoyed all of the beats with Tinya's family. I agree that it'd have been cool to see more of her interactions with a) her brother and b) Imra & Luornu.

    1. I actually agree with Russell that we should have seen Tinya adjusting to Earth's environment, being a phantom and learning to phase/solidify at the proper moments, AND how others reacted to her initially. That's a proper origin trope.

    2. The Legionnaires love their Constitution!

  4. It's a legitimate criticism that the story is too much focussed on Tinya's relationships with men and not enough on Tinya herself. (I was kinda cross when I started reading 'cos I love this story and it looked like it wasn't a rave review ) but I have to admit you have a point there. (This story fails the Bechdel test, I think)

    Then again the story was written by the Bierbaums and I think they subconcously saw themselves and their relationship in Tinya and Jo. In the same way that Mary has said the reason there was so much emphasis on babies in five years later was because she was wanting to have one at the time...basically the writers'
    'coupleness' infected everything.

    I agree I'd like to know more about some throwaway asides in the story much left mysterious.