Monday, December 17, 2018

Legion Cameos: Helping Superboy Out

Editor's Note: Here is another installment of what we call "Legion Cameos." These are stories where the Legion or certain Legionnaires play a small but usually significant role in the proceedings. This time Bits Boy looks at a few times his future pals stopped by Smallville to help him out....

As the Legion started to gain popularity after its first appearance in Adventure Comics #247, editor Mort Weisinger cleverly promoted the group by featuring cameos of the team or individual Legionnaires within the Superman family titles that he was in charge of.

So it wouldn't be unusual to see them pop up in Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Superman, Action Comics, Adventure Comics, or World's Finest, usually in one- or two-panel cameos that served little other than to alert unknowing fans of this band of super-powered teens from the future.

But sometimes the Legionnaires who appeared did more than merely guest-star. Often looking back through their time monitors, the Legion would spot either Superboy/Superman, Lois, or Jimmy in a spot of bother, and take it upon themselves to go back in time to lend a helping hand. Like they didn't already know how things would work out, as it would have been history to them!

One of the earliest issues in which a Legionnaire played a big role was Superboy #86 (“The Army of Living Kryptonite Men!”), with Lightning Lad aiding Superboy after he was lured into a trap on an asteroid, fighting a group of Luthor's animated Kryptonite Men. After confronting the electric warrior, Luthor learns of the existence of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

This story has been reprinted many times over the years. It's always included in any set of chronological releases of Legion-related publications, whether it's the form of digests, Showcases, Archives, or Omnibuses. Yet, strangely enough, there have been many other stories in which the Legionnaires played similar roles that have are not reprinted in the same way; some have never been reprinted. We look at four of those today.

Superboy #93 (Dec 1961)
'”Lana Lang's Superboy Identity Detection Kit!”
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Artist: George Papp
Cover: Curt Swan & Stan Kaye
(Reprinted in Superboy/Legion #208 (April 1975))

The story opens with Clark showing off his Legion statuettes to Ma and Pa Kent, setting the scene for a possible connection later on in the story.

In the days that follow, Lana starts to suspect that Clark is Superboy (again!) after the hero performs a series of rescues. Lana deduces that each of one of them could have been carried out by Clark even though he was in his civilian clothes at the same time.

Lana tells her dad, Professor Lang, that she plans on writing an article proving that Clark is Superboy. At first incredulous that the mild-mannered Clark could be the boy of steel, Prof Lang then chastises Lana for thinking of doing such a thing, because if Clark really was Superboy and the article fell in the wrong hands, it would “not only damage Superboy's career but expose his parents to the underworld”.

Incensed, Prof Lang then decides to punish Lana. Initially wanting to spank her, he instead grounds her for a month, confiscating her record albums, banning her from reading teen magazines, forbidding between-meal snacks and cutting off other privileges. Never cross an archaelogical professor!

Undaunted, Lana creates her own Superboy identity detection kit, comprising various items she feels will be crucial in exposing Clark's secret, including a fluoroscope screen that somehow fits inside the case. Naturally, she labels her kit as such, in case she forgets what it's for.

Lana follows Clark to a cave, and sees Superboy emerge from it a few minutes later. When Superboy returns, Lana enters the cave to confront Clark with the accusation that he's really the boy of steel

Just as this happens, a character resembling Superboy appears next to Clark, throwing Lana into confusion. Intent on proving that one of them is a robot, Lana carries out a series of tests using items from her kit, including burning Clark's tie, cutting his hair and using the  fluoroscope to x-ray Clark's body.

Thwarted by the failure of her experiments, Lana leaves the cave embarrassed, promising she'll never again suspect that Clark is Superboy's identity. Until the next issue, perhaps …

After this, it's revealed that “Superboy” was actually Chameleon Boy, visiting Smallville because he wanted to write a first-hand account of Superboy's life in Smallville for the Super-Legion's newsletter. Note that many years later, Duo Damsel would be shown as one of the writers for the newsletter as well, when she recruited Jimmy Olsen to help.

Using his power of disguise, Cham was of course able to deceive Lana and foil her array of tests. As the two heroes slap thighs over the incident, Cham says the story would make a great anecdote for the newsletter.

Adventure Comics #305 (Feb 1963)
“Clark Kent, He-Man!”
Writer: unknown (Jerry Siegel?)
Artist: George Papp
Cover: Curt Swan & George Klein

Legion fans remember this issue for the back-up story, “The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire!” in which Mon-El joins the team.

They tend to forget the lead story, which features a Legion cameo. Yet the plot behind this tale is so wild you'd think it was set in a parallel universe. But it's not!

Clark gets fed up at playing the meek, mild-mannered guy who never excels at sport or academically, even though as Superboy he's of course better than all his peers. He gets ignored for social events and gets constantly teased for lacking prowess at anything apart from helping out his dad's grocery store.

Surprisingly, the humble Pa Kent also feels embarrassed that his son, and therefore the whole family, keeps getting ridiculed for Clark's perceived weakness, necessary to protect his secret identity. He then decides to move the whole family away from Smallville to another town, whose citizens may have heard of Superboy, but never seen him.

They go to Rail City, where Clark is free to be himself and walk around without glasses as nobody there knows what Superboy looks like close-up. As Mark Denton, he enrols at Rail City Senior High, where, unencumbered by the need to pretend he's a weakling, Clark becomes the star student, excelling in various sports such as basketball, skiing and boxing, leading to the “He-man” tag that is in the title of this story.

As a result of this, Clark's family becomes the most popular in town, being invited to various social gatherings, while Ma gets to show visitors all the trophies that “Mark” has won. The family's new venture, a drive-in diner, becomes a huge success because of “Mark”'s achievements. The family even receives a car from the town for “Mark”'s perfect record as a scholar and athlete.

The need for Superboy is always present though, but this time Clark fashions a mask to wear as part of the costume to prevent him from being recognized. In effect, the scenario has been reversed: where in Smallville Clark had to wear glasses to protect his identity, now Superboy has to wear a mask for the same purpose.

The wheels start falling off when, due to the family's new popularity and constant socializing, it gets harder and harder for “Mark” to slip away as Superboy to attend to emergencies. One night while “Mark” attends a party, he can't get away to stop a runaway gorilla as it rampages through town.

Suddenly he spots another Superboy, with mask on, flying in and catching the gorilla. It turns out that the impostor was Chameleon Boy, dropping in while time traveling and spotting Clark's predicament.

The emergency helps Clark, Ma, and Pa realize the folly of their decision and they decide to move back to Smallville and resume their previous life. The reasoning simply is that it was difficult for Clark to change to Superboy in privacy … never mind the avarice that the Kents sought and enjoyed for a short while.

Pretty soon, Clark is back in the routine at school, being a picked-on teenager, because 'that's what makes the Kents happy!” The Kents go back to the grocery store without any problems and Lana has seemingly never asked where they disappeared to for several months.

Adventure Comics #309 (June 1963)
“The Fake Superboy From Krypton!”
Writer: unknown (Jerry Siegel?)
Artist: George Papp
Cover: Curt Swan & George Klein

This is the first issue of Adventure Comics in which the Legion gets the lead story. They kick off the issue with "The Legion of Super-Monsters!” which introduces Jungle King.

But it's the back-up which is in focus today. An ex-con named Blackie Burke accidentally spots Superboy emerging from his secret tunnel entrance and deduces he must be Clark Kent, as he's the only teen who lives in that area.

A few hours later he gets a visit from a Dirk Jagger, who claims he's the son of one of Blackie's cell-mates. He shows Blackie a box with green kryptonite in it, vowing to use it to take revenge on Superboy for sending his dad to prison.

Blackie tells Dirk he thinks Clark is Superboy, and together the duo use the kryptonite to capture Clark and bring him to a cave filled with Superboy exhibits … not to honor the hero but to serve as an inspiration on how to destroy Superboy. Yeh, sure.

Dirk puts on a Superboy costume and mask, and tells Blackie he will now masquerade as the hero and help his dad pull off robberies. They visit a professor who claims he can grant Dirk super-powers.

They then return to the cave where Clark is slumped, his skin green from apparent kryptonite poisoning. Suddenly, the statues in the cave start talking to Blackie, who also discovers Superboy isn't Dirk at all, as he's not wearing a mask.

A knockout gas released by a prop renders Blackie unconscious. Superboy then takes Blackie BACK THROUGH TIME to just before he learned Superboy's secret. The man wakes up in his bed thinking that he had dreamt the whole thing.

It's then revealed that the Clark Kent “killed” by the kryptonite was actually a disguised Brainiac 5, his green skin giving the impression of kryptonite poisoning.  Superboy had signaled Brainy for help from the 30th century to take part in the elaborate hoax to deceive Blackie.

You see, kind reader, Superboy had actually spotted Blackie noticing him emerging from the tunnel. Knowing Blackie had a history of mental hallucinations, Superboy “set things up” to prove to Blackie that what he saw was yet another of his illusions.

Was there a far, far less convoluted way of telling this story? Very likely. But then it wouldn't fill eight pages.

Adventure Comics #315 (Dec 1963)
“The Titanic Superboy!”
Writer: unknown (Jerry Siegel?)
Artist: George Papp
Cover: Curt Swan & George Klein

This is the backup story in this issue, the lead being “The Legionnaire's (sic) Super-Contest!” in which Stone Boy is offered membership.

In this tale, Superboy is asked to fix a leaking cyclotron and the only way he can think of doing that is by  sealing it with a chunk of red kryptonite.

Since red K can only affect him once, Superboy chooses a sample that previously reduced him in size, knowing he is now immune to it. Note his well-documented boxes.

For whatever reason, this red K rock DOES affect him twice, only this time by increasing his size. Superboy becomes a giant and duly goes about his duties in his enlarged state, which does not go unnoticed by Lana, who is quick to suggest that if her suspicions are correct, Clark will be a giant too.

As luck would have it, the effect wears off before Superboy is next seen in public. Clark is able to walk around as normal, but the devious Lana surmises that something happened to shrink Superboy, and that if she sees the hero in action in his normal size, it will prove that he and Clark are one and the same. Go figure the logic.

When an emergency arises involving the possible collapse of the new Smallville bridge, Clark is worried that he can't appear as the giant Superboy.  But as he and Lana fly to the bridge in a news helicopter, Clark sees a giant-sized Superboy holding up the construct.

IMMEDIATELY, Clark deduces that it's Colossal Boy in disguise helping him out. Never mind that Chameleon Boy has already helped him out twice before and is quite capable of such subterfuge. Clark quickly uses his heat vision to mend the uprights of the bridge. Lana is foiled but not entirely convinced.

Later, Colossal Boy tells Clark he was watching (or spying?) via the time monitor and saw the difficulty Superboy was in, so he sped back in time to give him a hand. Naturally, the Legion had a stretchable spare Superboy uniform and face mask kept “for such emergencies”. Once again, the Legion pulls through!

Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.

1 comment:

  1. You never knew where those Legionnaires would pop up. That first story has a panel where Lana is on her dad'd lap about to be spanked before he thinks better of it. Probably kind of marginal with the Comics Code Authority. And Brainy does the impersonating a Kryptonite poisoned Supes again in "The Most Dangerous Door in the World" in Superman 213.