Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Action Comics Back-Ups

Before we close the Time Bubble door on the Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes series, we here at the Legion of Super-Bloggers wanted to pause one last time to look back at the fourteen Action Comics stories. In this particular series there is a lot of foundation for where the series ended up going.

First of all, let's look at the attendance record. Looking only at the 14 issues between Action Comics #378 and #392 (#388 had no new LSH story), Karate Kid appeared the most. As the then-current leader, he actively participated in seven adventures. The next group of Legionnaires with good attendance records is Timber Wolf, Element Lad, Saturn Girl, and Brainiac 5, who all tied at five appearances each. Not so coincidentally, they were all members of the only two-parter from this era, in Action Comics # 390-391. The only member on that adventure who was not in the top three was Chamelon Boy. To round out the top, Ultra Boy (former leader) and Princess Projectra (future monarch) tied at four appearances apiece. Invisible Kid, believe it or not, did not appear in any of these stories! All other members appeared atleast once. 
Generally speaking, this series seems to be the blue-print for what the series would be for the next six plus years. After the Action Comics series ended the Legion became the back-up for Superboy for about a dozen stories; then, even after they took over the book Cary Bates STILL kept to the basic back-up series story length! Yes, even after they took over Superboy with #197, the full-length story was a rarity. By the time they had their own series, Bates must have been so used to plotting for ten-to-eight pages that he kept to that length. You can count on one hand how many full-length stories he wrote. It took the return of Jim Shooter to push for a return to full-length stories as the norm. When they both left, Paul Levitz returned to shorter stories, admittedly due to deadline problems.  

Admittedly, shorter stories have a built-in appeal in a series like the Legion: the writers (and artists) can pick a few characters they are not all-that-familiar-with and write a quick adventure around them without having to juggle a literal Legion of supporting characters. This story length lends itself well to stories like "One Of Us Is An Impostor!" and its sequel, "Zap Goes The Legion!" The plot is simple, the action quick, and the ending arrives before you have a chance to say, "Wait a minute...." Likewise, character-drive stories like "Forbidden Fruit" and "Half A Legionnaire" work best as stand-alones at this length, rather than as parts of larger epics. 
Russell: I think my favorite story from this run is "The Fallen Star Boy" from Action Comics #385. Not only is the story just plain fun, with plenty of rousing action, but it features one of the members who doesn't get a lot of the spotlight (it was Star Boy's sole appearance of merit). AND it features a couple bits of Legion Business that could have turned up again (but as far as I know never did): Naltorian criminals, anti-telepathy helmets, and Star Boy's could-have-been arch-enemy, Yark Althu. 
I think my least favorite story in this era was "Lament For A Legionnaire" from Action Comics #384. It not only wastes Dream Girl's abilities, making her into a plot device (again, and not for the last time) but it muddies up Mon-El's incredibly interesting history by shoe-horning in a "twin" great-great-great etc nephew for no good reason.

Mike: My favorite storyline is the two-parter inspired by Mission:Impossible from Action Comics #390-391. Everything about these issues worked perfectly for me, although admittedly my appreciation for the tv show is certainly a big factor. The creators did a wonderful job of taking the show's template and mixing in some futuristic sci-fi. It was also refreshing to see our heroes in the atypical situation of dealing with a political power struggle.
For least favorite, I think I have to agree with you on Action Comics #384. I am less bothered by the inconsistent use of Dream Girl's power because that sort of thing is not exactly rare in this era. But I strongly dislike that they introduced a relative of Mon-El only to kill him off immediately. And much of how the story played out was ridiculous, from Eltro taking his place and accidentally killing Mon-El, to the convenient ending. This whole story was just unnecessary.
J: My favorite back-up story from this era was "The Hapless Hero" from Action Comics #381. The home-life-of-a-Legionnaire stories don't always appeal to me, but I'm a sucker for Matter-Eater Lad. He's something of an underdog and an oddball based on his powers, but this story did a fantastic job with the emotional beats to really humanize him. He comes from a broken home, goes all-out to show broken-hearted Vi a good time... it's sweet and heartbreaking, despite the total hackneyed happy ending.
As for least-favorite backup story, that dishonor goes to "The Mystery Legionnaire" from Action Comics #389. The title makes it sound like a really cool story, but it's just a bland space-chase following the disembodied head of Klim, a boring android who had a malfunction with his electronic vision and misidentified some heroes. Meh.

Here are the fourteen covers and splash pages for each of the Action Comics stories. In our reviews we did not reprint the covers, because the Legion did not appear on them. But for continuity's sake we're presenting them to you now. So if you ever see any of these for sale cheap at a Con or on Ebay, you'll know they include which stories....

ACTION COMICS #378 (July 1969)

ACTION COMICS #379 (Aug 1969)

ACTION COMICS #380 (Sept 1969)

ACTION COMICS #381 (Oct 1969)

ACTION COMICS #382 (Nov 1969)

ACTION COMICS #383 (Dec 1969)

ACTION COMICS #384 (Jan 1970)

ACTION COMICS #385 (Feb 1970)

ACTION COMICS #386 (March 1970)

ACTION COMICS #387 (April 1970)

ACTION COMICS #388 (May 1970)
April Fools Alert! 
There is NO new Legion story in this issue! 

ACTION COMICS #389 (June 1970)

ACTION COMICS #390 (July 1970)

ACTION COMICS #391 (Aug 1970)

ACTION COMICS #392 (Sept 1970)

So that's it! We've reached the end of "The Original Series" as a tab for the Silver Age Legion. Their "cancellation" from Adventure Comics and then Action Comics put a very definite "period" on their Silver Age run.

However, (as probably most of you know!) after six months of not appearing anywhere, the Legion returned, this time in the back-up pages of Superboy. From there, in a long hard road back, they will eventually return to prominence.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this run, and who want to continue your weekly "Original Series" fix, we here at the Legion of Super-Bloggers have decided to help you out! Starting this Saturday and every Saturday for the foreseeable future we'll re-post a link to our Superboy back-up stories and Superboy/Legion reviews. So if you are so inclined you can re-read all of the Legion stories in a chronological order!

If you are not familiar with the 1970s Superboy/Legion era, you might want to read a post I wrote back in 2014 as a kind of overview of that series. Otherwise, strap yourself in and get ready for some exciting adventures!

As for what is going to take the place of The Original Series here every Tuesday, you'll have to hop in your time bubble and check it out next week! I'm not going to give you any H.I.N.T.S. 


  1. Yeah, that was S.U.B.T.L.E.

  2. So, you're going with VALOR, eh?

  3. "Invisible Kid, believe it or not, did not appear in any of these stories!"

    ...or DID he? ;)