Tuesday, October 17, 2017

TOS: Adventure Comics #315

"The Legionnaires' Super-Contest"
was written by Edmond Hamilton, drawn by John Forte, originally published in Adventure Comics #315 December 1963 (Oh what a night!), review by Glenn 'Continuity Kid' Walker

Mission Monitor Board: Brainiac 5, Bouncing Boy, Sun Boy, Saturn Girl, Superboy, and Lightning Lad.

Opponents: Unnamed Space-Raiders, Sun Woman, her guards, and a Rantak. 

Guest-stars and cameos: Polar Boy, Night Girl, Chlorophyll Kid, Fire Lad, and Stone Boy (teamed as the Legion of Substitute Heroes).

"The Legionnaires' Super-Contest" with the apostrophe in the right place for the cover but not the splash page, and the second chapter "The Winner of the Super-Tests," first appeared in Adventure Comics #315 in December of 1963.  Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons jokes aside. I had never encountered the story before reading it in the second volume of the Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, but I knew of its importance in Silver Age Legion legend and lore. Not only was it the revelation of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, but also the story where Stone Boy won Legion membership on what was basically a test/bet/prank.
The thought has occurred to me on more than one occasion reading and re-reading these Silver Age Legion tales that the Legion are basically the Mean Girls of the superhero world, the spandex equivalents of drunken frat boys pulling stunts. Don't believe me? Go back and read their first appearance where they go back to Superboy's time to basically just mess with him. I can imagine that casual comic readers of the time would have no problem connecting the (however incorrect) dots that the Legion of Super-Villains were simply the teenage Legion of Super-Heroes all grown up.

Still don't believe me? Think about the auditions. They invite applicants to be judged and end up sending most of them packing on technicalities. I mean, let's get serious, and I love Chuck, but they let Bouncing Boy in. Think about that. The kid who drank an unmarked bottle thinking it's soda pop got in over Polar Boy and Chlorophyll Kid? It's all about who you know, and not what you can do. The Legion is a very exclusive club.

All kidding aside, this is a very important issue, and a landmark in the team's history. The Legion is away from Earth attending a galactic law enforcement convention, and as it was mentioned during the Mike Grell years, I like to think they went to Thanagar for it. Anyway, while they are away, space raiders, seeking to steal the Earth's glass, take the opportunity to attack. Glass is needed because they want it for their poison gas program, and no planet will sell them glass. It's notable these raiders have glass windscreens for their rockets, but we'll overlook that headache. Beaming a transmission of a peaceful Metropolis into space, their attack begins. Luckily the then-secret Legion of Substitute Heroes is on watch.

These Legion rejects, the so-called Substitute Legion - Polar Boy, Fire Lad, Night Girl, Chlorophyll Kid, and Stone Boy - expertly repel the raiders' attack. They act as an efficient team, cooperating and getting along as well. Truth be told, these five operate more smoothly than most superhero teams of the time, including the Legion itself. However, snoopy Superboy looks past the peaceful replacement tape while at the convention and sees the invasion. Was the convention that boring? And I've heard of multi-tasking, even super-multi-tasking, but wasn't Superboy in the middle of a presentation when he was checking on Earth. Paranoid much, Clark?

So the Subs have been caught red-handed saving the Earth. Soon the rest of the Legion return to Earth and have a meeting (or is it a trial?) to find out who these heroes are. Saturn Girl, who is always on top of things, remembers each of them instantly as applicants who had been rejected. It's no wonder they made her leader, right? Or maybe she just read all their minds to make it look like she remembered them. Sometimes in these Silver Age stories, she seems to have ulterior motives or be keeping secrets, so it's easy to wonder what she's up to. Each Sub gets a one panel origin to refresh our memories, even Stone Boy, who Imra forgot. He mentions it's easy to overlook him as his power "isn't very helpful." We even get a one panel origin of the Subs group as well. I love it.

The Legion have their meeting to decide the fate of these posers, I mean, heroes, who have banded together to protect the Earth just in case the real Legion can't. I kid, but the Subs are really good kids. If earnestness and sincerity count then these Subs are the real heroes here. The first time I read this story, I really wondered why they didn't just let all five join right there and then. Hey, they defeated an invasion fleet while the Legion was off conventioning and being faked out by false communications. Let's face it, they have let other folks join for less valor.

The decision is made that the Legion will let one of the Subs join, but which one? Trial by combat! Um, I mean, contest. Each Sub will be accompanied on a mission or test by a Legionnaire. Whichever Sub performs best in each test will be allowed to join. Anyone who knows how this story ends knows how this is a rather cruel decision. The Legion has elected to break up this circle of good friends, as a 'prize.' And writer Hamilton is careful to lay out those clues at the start, and yet the Subs go along with it, because they all hero worship the Legion. If Saturn Girl says jump, they'll ask how high. Especially if she's wearing her seventies swimsuit costume.

The first test matches Sun Boy with Polar Boy. I had never noticed before this story how much smaller and younger Polar Boy is to the other Legionnaires, regular and substitute alike. This kind of makes the fact that he is the Subs' leader and their moral compass even cooler (pun unintended) to me. The task is an odd one. Scientist who call themselves 'human guinea pigs' have frozen themselves and Polar Boy must thaw them out. He saves the day, but I can only imagine once they came out of it, they were punished for stupidity. Who tests stuff on themselves? Perhaps these scientists thought they had Legion tryouts in their future…

At the start of the second chapter "The Winner of the Super-Tests," we get the most intriguing of the tests, at least to me. Night Girl, accompanied by Superboy, goes to Vannar, a planet where conveniently one side always faces its sun, to face a tyrant named Sun Woman, who gets her powers from the sun. A perfect adversary for Night Girl who has Superboy-like powers at night. Night Girl, with her unique and totally cool bouffant beehive hairstyle, has additional desire to join the Legion, to be with her crush, Cosmic Boy.

Night Girl scores high points by getting tossed into the dungeon, and out of the sun, where her powers would be at peak, then organizes a coup and takes the flashily dressed villainess off to prison. Sun Woman seems like an awful cool adversary, who never showed up again, and I really wonder why not. And I'm not the only one, this guy even wrote a fanfic about her. Let's see Sun Woman again!

Chlorophyll Kid and Fire Lad's tests with Lightning Lad and Bouncing Boy are pretty darned one-page pedestrian after the Night Girl spotlight this chapter started off with. They face problems that seem adverse to their power set and think their way through them. Again, like I said earlier, these heroes should have simply all been made members. The more I read of the Subs here in this story, I'm almost angry that we had to wait until the Five Year Gap, and then only have them join off-panel, rather than seeing it.

The Stone Boy test with Saturn Girl is the one we all want to see. On an unnamed asteroid, the population is threatened by a Rantak, a nasty looking dragon-like beast said to be very dangerous. Stone Boy tries to lure the beast into a trap, with a rather ludicrous plan, but when the Rantak becomes interested in the village and goes on the attack, Stone Boy gives up, reneging on the test to allow Saturn Girl to repel the beast and save the villagers. In the end however, Saturn Girl, breaking Professor X's first rule for Marvel Girl, read Stone Boy's mind and knew he was only thinking of the lives of others over his own, and he won the contest. Okay, show of hands, who thinks Imra needs a few classes at the Xavier Institute to teach her to get out of people's heads?

Offered full membership in the Legion, selfless Stone Boy turns them down, preferring to stay with his friends in the Substitute Legion. Awww… Now, let's make Keith Giffen read this story until he gets how cool and heroic these characters are. They are not jokes! The Subs are as heroic, if not more so than some of Legionnaires. If Stone Boy were telepathic, he would keep out of other's heads, I am sure.
Despite all my kidding and mocking, I loved this story. In many ways, the Silver Age Legion is the best Legion, and Edmond Hamilton and John Forte are the godfathers of these characters. The issue serves as an excellent showcase for the Legion of Substitute Heroes, in some ways showing how much better they are than the real Legion in my opinion. In every situation they were heroic, while in some cases I found myself yelling at the Legionnaires. Why were Brainiac 5 and Chameleon Boy only observing as judges, even when in the cases of Sun Woman and the Rantak, they should have lent a hand? Playtime is over when lives are in the balance, guys! Still, a great story, thanks to the Legion of Super-Bloggers for the opportunity to write about it.

Science Police Notes: Besides the Legion discovering the Subs, and Stone Boy being offered and declining membership on the main team, there was another landmark in this issue. It is worth noting that this comic also features the last new adventure of Superboy during the Legion run in Adventure Comics. The story, "The Titanic Boy of Steel," is your typical red kryptonite makes Superboy wacky tale, in this case, making him into a giant. The story also features honorary Legionnaires Lana Lang and Pete Ross, and in a stunt to keep Lana off the secret identity trail, Colossal Boy.

The lettercol also features a letter from a young E. Nelson Bridwell, future DC Comics expert and writer/editor, who does his researchin' best to explain a possible science error in the resurrection of Lightning Lad story. He deserved the DC version of a Marvel No-Prize. In Bits of Legionnaire Business, characters like Orbit Kid, Language Lass, Omniboy, and Bizarro Boy, among others are suggested, and promptly, for right or wrong, forgotten.

This issue features several ads for comics currently on sale at the time or coming soon. Among them are a Superman Annual of untold stories, a Batman Annual of mystery cases, the sons of Superman in his own title, Supergirl's wedding day in Action Comics, Lois Lane up against her outlaw son in her own title, a subscription offer for Superboy's solo title that includes a Superboy IQ test, and the next issue of Adventure Comics where Ultra Boy becomes "The Renegade Legionnaire!"

Also I don't mean to be picky, but I was very surprised by the apostrophe misplacement in the title, as well as later misspelling of Chlorophyll Kid. And that's just the tip of the typo iceberg here. It's not that it doesn't happen, it's just that I rarely have seen such errors in comic books. It was a bit jarring to see so many in just this one Legion story.

As always, this story (and issue) was a delight of Silver Age superhero wonder. The more old comics I read of late, the more I want to look backward, and the less I want to read the new comics. Long live the Legion!


  1. This story is a prime example of why I love the silver age Legion. It sounds kind of silly now but as youngster you could learn a lot of lessons from these teens. Teamwork, ingenuity, comradeship were on display in every issue. I think it would have been cool if the Subs had scouted every Legion tryout and picked up on the best of the rejects. They could have saved Ronn Karr from a life of crime. OK, maybe not Ronn Karr, but Spider Girl for sure. Also, they could have checked out the origin planets of Legion members and gotten their own "Cosmic Boy", or "Chameleon Boy" or "Violet".

    1. Emsley, that is a great idea. I wonder why Calorie Queen or some of the other rejects didn't end up with the Substitute Heroes. That would have made a lot of sense~!

  2. FINALLY!! The story I've been waiting for!

    This is a GREAT review, Glenn, and I completely agree with everything you mention. This is the story where the Subs come into their own and is my favorite of their early tales (as I'm sure it is with others). Sadly, after this, the Subs were woefully underused by later writers, who probably didn't know what to do with them or knew about them at all. That left the group a sitting duck for someone like Giffen to ruin with his lame satire attempt. ("Giiiif-eeeeen!!")

    I think Forte had a particular fondness for the Subs, as he takes the trouble to show individual expressions on each of them, unlike the Legion. Take, for example, when Imra tells the Subs that the Legion is touched by their devotion and will accept one of them into the main group. Forte draws the Subs as elated while the Legionnaires all look like Stepford residents. I also like pained expression on Night Girl when thinking about her only chance is to best Polar Boy so she can be near her crush-object. My favorite is the panel when Fire Lad's assignment is about to start and Chuck is bouncing around like an idiot. From the look on F.L.'s face, you just KNOW he's thinking "They passed me over for this clown?"

    The Legion apparently has no version of the Prime Directive, as they give fire to a primitive tribe "to forge iron and do many other fine things." Yeah, we all know how well that worked out for us, good AND bad. I also read another reviewer of this story who pointed out that during this, no less than three environmental disruptions are caused on far-off worlds, all in the name of the LSH's initiation tests/hazings. I know it's the Silver Age, but that seems almost as bad as Brainy and Cham just hovering around not helping.

    Here again, Stone Boy shows just how much integrity he has. He quits the test to safeguard others, yet he doesn't reveal the reason himself to keep from looking like he'd be making excuses. And then he turns down the offer from the Legion because he doesn't want to desert his friends. Wow. Just "Wow".

    Nothing can damper my love for this story. The Subs got the respect they deserved and were worthy of far more than they subsequently received. Now that the original timeline has been more or less restored, maybe somebody can do something with them that fulfills that potential. Long live the Subs!


  3. And speaking of odd typos (like the apostrophe misplacement) did anyone else notice that on the splash page's roll call Bouncing Boy is listed as Bouncing GIRL?!

    1. MY GOD. How many times have I read this story and NEVER notices that?

    2. More oddly, the apostrophe is fixed in the Archives reprint, but Bouncing GIRL is still there! Too funny!

  4. Love love LOVE this story. And the Subs have always been favorites, especially Polar Boy.

    Question: If you had to swap out any number of Legionnaires for Subs at the time of this story, who would it/they be and why?

    I'd have added: Polar Boy (at least as useful as Sun Boy), Night Girl (a strong female, and her relationship with Rokk), and Chlorophyll Kid (very versatile powers, as long as he keeps a seed belt handy).

    I'd have swapped out: Bouncing Boy (great guy, but I agree with the Fire Lad musing from the comment above), Triplicate Girl (hey look, I'm three of me!), and Matter Eater Lad (who would be much more useful if his jaw were hinged or something).

    Don't get me wrong, I love all of the Subs and all of the Legionnaires, these are just my subjective choices!

    1. Those are good choices, although I think I remember reading that Triplicate Girl also had three times the strength of an average woman when she wasn't split. So that's almost super-strength. It was almost never used, of course....

    2. I did not know that, Russell. See, this is why I love this site: I've been reading LoSH since I was a kid (a few decades ago), and I often learn something new. :)

    3. Russell, I believe you're thinking of Duo Damsel in the first Mordru story, Adventure #369, when a single Luornu threw a heavy traffic sign to save a driver and Superboy (as Clark Kent) covers for her by remarking that people can "double" their strength when under stress.

  5. The Splash page pretty much gives away the ending in hindsight. The only one of the subs not thinking about how they did individually and hoping they get in is Stone Boy who is certain that Night Girl will be the one to get in. Was it intentional? I cannot say but it's consistent with the idea of him being a team player.

  6. Things about this story-

    Wouldn't the people that Night Girl liberated from Sun-Woman's tyranny be a bit miffed when they found out that their freedom was won as part of the Legion playing essentially a game with the Subs? I suppose they would be grateful anyway...but that always irked me.

    Yes Sun-Woman had a really cool (ha) design, she should have shown up again. I headcanon that either she or Beauty Blaze is the Earth 1 counterpart of Sandy Anderson/Inferno. (totally unintended by the writers at the time, but perhaps intended by the later ones)

    And yes, Lydda's test is by far the most interesting. I'd like to have seen more of that world. I like how nobody minded her busting out of their basement floors ("do you know how much money that's going to take to replace!"