Monday, June 24, 2019

The Least Helpful Legionnaire?

In the Legion story from Action Comics #387 (April 1970) the Legion is faced with the problem of having to drop one member to meet a heretofore unmentioned, archaic membership limit rule.

Brainiac 5 hits on the idea of asking the Legion's computer to tell them, "Which Legionnaire is the least helpful to the group?" The idea is that the computer would tell them the least powerful, or least useful, or least active member.....but we really don't get any criteria other than this one panel (above) reprinted from the story in question.

So we here at the Legion of Super-Bloggers thought it would be a fun experiment for a few of us to throw out our ideas as to who WE thought was "the least helpful" Legionnaire.

The only rules are 1. the Legionnaire(s) we suggest had to be one of the 26 then-current members from 2970, as shown below; and 2. we have to explain why or how we think s/he are the "least helpful."

Want to play along? Well, read on and see if you agree with any of our choices!

Anj: One thing I love about the Legion is that every member has their loyal fan base. That means I am ready to suffer the slings and arrows from those who love Duo Damsel. But let's face it, basically her power is that she is a set of twins. That's it.

Okay, it's more than that. She can split/merge when the time calls for it. But still ... that's about it.

Picture yourself. Would you be good in a battle against the five deadliest super-villains? A megalomaniac sorcerer? An evil artificial intelligence? A league of super-assassins?

Now picture two of you. Would two of you fare any better?

Listen. I love Luornu as a character. I love her grit and determination. I love her relationship with Bouncing Boy.

But as a Legionnaire? She is the least helpful.

Russell: I choose to hedge my bets and think the computer would have tossed out three options.

Creatively, the obvious answer is Dream Girl. Take her out of all of her then most-recent stories (Adventure #380, Action #379, Action #384) and you would literally not lose a thing. In the first she has a vision of "death by sailboat" or some other such nonsense. In the second story her place is basically taken by the computer itself, who warns that there is an impostor in the Legion. And in the third, she dreams that Mon-El dies; we all know *that* didn't happen. She eventually becomes a strong tactical leader, but really, her power is not all that helpful. She should have stayed in the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

Story-wise, Supergirl makes a great case for herself being the least helpful Legionnaire based on absenteeism. We can argue that Dream Girl or Triplicate Girl are useless, but there IS something to be said for the members who show up! In my unofficial Legionnaire appearance count, she appears a whopping 8 times out of 80 plus Adventure Comics stories. That is just embarrassing.

But personally, I would pick Matter-Eater Lad as least helpful. In my opinion, he has the least dynamic and useful power. In a fight, what does he do? He can't eat his opponent's hand. What if guys are shooting lasers at him, does he eat the energy? I have only ever seen him do this once, in the panel reprinted above, and it looks ridiculous. How is he not getting his face blasted off?! He's a great supporting character, but definitely not Legion of Super-Heroes material.

Siskoid: Obviously it has to be one of my favorites - Brainiac 5 himself.
First, irony.

Second, between his personality and propensity to invent things that are more dangerous than useful, Brainy has created at least as many problems as he's solved.

Third, fans have spilled a lot of ink asking whether Karate Kid's "super martial arts" should count as a power, but super intelligence isn't that much better. It's still a skill, or set of skills, taken to a certain extreme. Even Legionnaires with super-strength have a host of other powers. Brainiac 5? He cheats by using tech - i.e. the force field belt - which is really against the eligibility requirements set forth in the Constitution. So he shouldn't be there several times over.

Mike: Okay, you guys have not made this easy. My first instinct was to go with two of the Legionnaires already mentioned but I want to try to avoid repeating. And this was not easy. But then I figured since we are limited to choosing from the Legionnaires in that image from Action Comics #387, I would limit myself to considering the members as they stood at that point in time.

When I looked at the question in that way, my answer was Shrinking Violet. That is not easy for me to say because I do like her character, but much of what I like about her comes later.  At this time, she really did not play much of a meaningful role in the Legion.
She has a few moments to shine in battle but they were mostly in large scenes or story-lines involving most of the team and if you removed her from the story she would not be missed. The few times she was showcased in an issue it was inevitably a romantic plotline that had nothing do with her powers and any female Legionnaire could have played the role. That is not to suggest that such stories cannot have meaning, but the way they played out for her prior to 1970 they really did not.

Shrinking Violet does have an interesting and potentially very useful power set but up until this time it was hardly exploited.  While I regret to say it, these reasons are why Shrinking Violet gets my vote.

Jason: I went for easy pickins, but I have to believe that you're all just trolling me and are not really monsters who would consider Matter-Eater Lad, Brainiac 5, or Shrinking Violet to be less helpful members than Karate Kid or Invisible Kid. Anyhoo...
Chemical King has to be the least useful Legionnaire in this lineup. I really wanted to say Light Lass because I've always considered her to be a boring afterthought of a character, but the thrill of watching things rusting faster in comic books is enough to draw my ire and declare Chemical King the one to kick out of the Legion.

Yeah, maybe I'm getting too personal with this pick, but if an editor's note is needed to explain someone's power then maybe it's best left off the page. The Legion already has Element Lad in the lineup, and his transmutation abilities would be more offensively useful than any accelerated chemical reaction. As for any potential healing abilities his powers may be useful for, pffft. That's a fart sound. And while I'm sure Chemical King's powers would be a powerful digestive aid, he's got no place on the team.


  1. Although Bouncing Boy has come up in the discussion of DD no one has named him yet. Sure he's good for comic relief and every group needs its class clown. And sure, he won the contest for "Mightiest Legionnaire", but it was a dumb contest. Duo Damsel's observation that her and Chuck benefited by coming in when the Legion was much smaller was pretty much on the mark. Chemical King proved his usefulness, after all, by making the ultimate sacrifice. Brainy doesn't really "cheat" with his force-field belt. His power is his intellect, the tech is just a bonus. And while Karate Kid's "power" is really "just" skill and ability honed to diamond-hard perfection, he's proven he belongs. Dream Girl's power can be hit-or-miss, but having in your ranks someone who can predict the future has proven a major tactical advantage. I can't really dispute Duo Damsel or Matter-Eater Lad, however. It is interesting to note that in later "editions" of the Legion both he and Chuck were relegated to non-member hanger-on status.

  2. Haha, this is an interestin line-up of possibilities, but I've got to go with Matter Eater Lad, as much as I have grown fond of the character. I love his complete and utter ludicrousness, but he's definitely the least useful. Making him useful in my mod was one of my biggest challenges, and I really had to cheat a bit to do it.

  3. They really should have made more use of the idea of reserve members; people that might be useful in specific circumstances, but really, really don't need to be full-time members.
    -Bouncing Boy: pretty obvious; how often is his power really needed? (And how often could Chameleon Boy not do the same thing?)
    -Matter-Eater Lad: again, pretty obvious. How often do they really need something eaten? (And that Element Lad can't just turn into, like, hydrogen or something?)
    -Dream Girl: sporadic powers (whether she can even use them while awake seems open to writer fiat), and even if they're right, they're still open to misinterpretation. ("These Legionnaires are going to die! I have to get them kicked out! Oh, it was just dummmies in their costumes? Never mind." "Mon-El's going to die! Oh, it was his cousin in his costume? Never mind.")
    -Brainiac 5: Let's face it, he'd be happier not being a field team member. Let him work in his lab behind the scenes, and call him up if you really need him. (Also, if he could give every Legionnaire flight rings, why couldn't he give them force-field belts?)
    -Chemical King: His power's could be useful in a lot of situations, but I don't think any two writers could agree on what his powers really were and what they could do. He's the Scarlet Witch of the Legion.

    Karate Kid I can at least accept as a full-time member; he may not have actual powers, but at least his abilities are more consistently useful than certain other members. (And, really, the "must have a non-artificial power" always seemed kind of limiting on the Legion's part anyway. Not that they should just let anyone in, but a rule that would exclude Batman and Iron Man may not be the wisest choice.) (That, and close to half the Legionnaires only have their powers because everyone from their planet has the same abilities. Seems almost a cheat, that.)

    1. You're almost describing an "Impossible Mission Force" rather than a Legion.

  4. It all depends on how you define "helpful." If you need to tunnel your way out of somewhere or get rid of pesky overpowered plot MacGuffin like the Miracle Machine, ME-Lad is incredibly helpful. If creating monstrosities that threaten planets and get your comrades killed are taken into account, do not pass go Brainiac 5. How about legionnaires with powers that don't do anything substantial? Goodbye Projectra, and perhaps Tinya as well.

    Many members have "super" powers that are not particularly helpful. But the challenge is for the writer to have something interesting for the character. In many of these, the writers took the easy way out and didn't bother. Pity. I always got a bigger kick out of reading the stories of how the less powerful or less useful characters overcame obstacles. I always found those characters were much more relatable than the ones who could move small planets.

  5. Any Legionnaire who can pickup and throw away Kryptonite is useful, so that Superboy can save the day (much like the Justice League, even guys with boxing glove arrows).

  6. Though I'm a fan of Matter-Eater Lad, there are at least 3 other Legioneers that already have his powers: Super Boy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy.

  7. Everybody seems to forget the acid spit!

  8. I don't even remember Princess projectra. Her powers were ... ?

    1. PP can create illusions so real that it mimics reality. For instance if she was attacked she can project (create) a dragon to scare off the assailant (although the dragon is an illusion and cannot actually do any
      harm). PP's powers are so vast she has projected entire "scenes" to alter reality to trick or confuse villians and others.

  9. Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet and Bouncing Boy could all be replaced by Chameleon Boy. I mean, he could *literally* replace them; he could pretend to BE any of them, perfectly reproduce their appearance and powers, and nobody would notice.

    Chemical King's powers would make him one of the most powerful Legionnaires if any writers actually understood how they worked. But they didn't, so he turned out to be one of the least helpful Legionnaires simply because he was never around.

    1. I'd like to think that Chameleon Boy's powers are limited when it comes to size and that Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet can both reach sizes he never could (Like say, Cham can grow in a form to a limit of 50 feet, but Gim could go to 100). It wouldn't surprise me if that's the official explanation for why they're all on the team together.

  10. Chameleon Boy also could replace Elastic Lad (Jimmy Olsen). CB's powers are very versatile. And I agree that Chemical King is powerhouse but his powers are played down. CK and Element Lad would be a great duo.