Monday, January 24, 2022

Imposters & Infiltrators

Imposters, Infiltrators, and Other Impersonations
by Emsley Wyatt

I've recently written posts about who joined the Legion and when, and I also looked at the “flip side” of the coin; namely, which characters were rejected.  

But every so often when you flip a coin, it lands on its edge.  And those circumstances are what this article is all about. In other words, today we're looking at infiltrators, imposters, and other impersonations in or by the Legion. Once again, if I left anybody out, please let me know.

The presence of infiltrators and imposters has a long tradition in Legion of Super-Heroes comics. For our purposes, in this post an "infiltrator" is someone who joined or attempted to join the Legion with hidden motivations (such as Dynamo Boy and Nemesis Kid, shown above). On the other hand, an "impostor" is someone who bypasses the tryout process and simply takes the place of an active Legionnaire, usually getting him or her out of the way first and usually, but not always, for villainous purposes. 

This story-telling device began even prior to the Legion getting its own ongoing series: the first imposter took the place of new Legionnaire Sun Boy in “The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero” (Adventure Comics #290, Nov 1961).

The criminal impostor, with his “Mission:  Impossible” mask and a device to simulate Sun Boy's solar glow, planned to get the parts of the super-secret Cyclops Robot.  His plan was foiled because he didn't know the Legion secret handshake.   And why are they on the planet Xanthu, anyway?

The entire Legion was impersonated in Action Comics #287 (April 1962) by Chameleon Men (who appear to be a different chameleon race than Chameleon Boy, i.e. non-Durlan).  Unable to duplicate the Legionnaire's abilities, they simply pretended to lose them. 

Their plot was foiled by Supergirl and a telepathic cat (no kidding). 

And who can forget the time Ayla Ranzz impersonated her dead brother, Lightning Lad, in Adventure Comics #308 (May 1963)?  

The entire Legion was impersonated again by aliens from the planet Zyzan, who coveted our rare ores.  They used “disguise projectors” because they were unable to change their actual forms.  This was in the story “The War Between the Substitute Heroes and the Legionnaires” in Adventure Comics #311 (Aug 1963).

Their plot was foiled by, you guessed it, the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

Of course, Legionnaires pulled off a few infiltration and impersonation jobs themselves.  Chameleon Boy did it too often to count.  Superboy impersonated Dev-Em, and a group of Legionnaires and Academy recruits infiltrated the nascent Legion of Super Villains.  Legionnaires have even impersonated each other, in some instances to protect Superboy's secret identity.  As a typical example, here is Chameleon Boy impersonating Clark Kent in Superboy #93 (Dec 1961).

One of the whackier impersonations was in “The World of Doomed Olsens” from Jimmy Olsen #71 (Oct 1963). In this story, four Legionnaires (and Protty II) impersonated some of Jimmy Olsen's strangest transformations to play an initiation prank on Jimmy.

From left to right Protty II as Wolfman Jimmy (not to be confused with Wolfman Jack), Cosmic Boy as Porcupine Jimmy, Chameleon Boy making like Elastic Lad, an act he would later reprise in the infiltration of the Legion of Super Villains, Bouncing Boy as Fat Jimmy, and Colossal Boy as Giant Turtle Jimmy.  To the right of Jimmy is Mon-El as “Gion-El,” the master of ceremonies.

Colossal Boy impersonated a Red Kryptonite embiggened Superboy in Adventure Comics #315 (Dec 1963). Nice to know they keep a stretchable Superboy uniform and facemask on hand, eh?  

In addition to people impersonating Legionnaires, from very early-on you also had people trying to infiltrate the Legion: people with actual powers joining the Legion, usually for nefarious purposes.  The first of these was the character fans call “False Pretenses Lad,” shown in a flashback panel in Adventure Comics #327 (Dec 1964).  The whole reason for his existence seems to be to tell the readers that joining the Legion under false pretenses is a crime.

Nothing else is ever said about him again, but fans have speculated that he might be Jan Jor, mentioned as an infiltrator in Adventure Comics #354 (March 1967). However, there's no real evidence behind that supposition.  Draw whatever conclusion you wish.

Not all “infiltration” was done for sinister purposes.  Indeed, the first one we saw was committed by an active Legionnaire, Mon-El.  In “The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire,” from Adventure Comics #305 (June 1963), Mon-El gets out of the Phantom Zone for a test of a lead poisoning antidote; he pretends to be an applicant called Marvel Lad.  It's all a gag by him and Brainiac 5.

Dream Girl actually infiltrated the Legion twice, once to save a number of Legionnaires, and once, with Star Boy, to hunt for her sister, the White Witch. 

The stories appeared in Adventure Comics #317 (Feb 1964) and Adventure Comics #350 (Nov 1966), respectively.

The first “sinister infiltration” that we actually see is that of Command Kid in Adventure Comics #328 (Jan 1965).  

Command Kid could create illusions.  That would sure be a great power for a Legionnaire to have; too bad he didn't last beyond this story, eh?  He was actually possessed by a demon who planned to “infect” the other Legionnaires with others of his kind.  Once the demon was driven out, Command Kid lost his power and left the Legion.  Presumably no charges were filed against him as he wasn't responsible for his actions.  As the demon fled into space, Saturn Girl said that she was afraid they hadn't seen the last of the creature or his kind.  We had.

The next infiltrator was “Dynamo Boy” in Adventure Comics #330 (March 1965) in a story entitled “The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire.”  Hey, that title sounds familiar.

Following Dream Girl's playbook, Dynamo Boy frames one Legionnaire after another on bogus charges and gets them expelled.  In part two of the story, he tries to build a new Legion consisting totally of villains.  He recruits the Legion of Super-Villains, who have come into their past (our future) from the (further) future.  They proceed to double-cross him and maroon him in the (even further) future.  It never really worked for me that the adult versions of the LSV came back in time to join.  It would have been better, in my opinion, had Seigel taken advantage of the chance to introduce those characters at a younger age, contemporary to the Legionnaires.  The later story where Tarik the Mute started the LSV would have only taken some small modifications to still be consistent.  

Adventure Comics #337 (Oct 1965) featured “The Weddings that Wrecked the Legion.” Here we see not one, not two, but three infiltrators. Murran spies apply as Size Lad, Blackout Boy, and Magnetic Kid to take the places of four Legionnaires who resign to get married.  “Size Lad” could make objects bigger or smaller.  “Blackout Boy” could project zones of darkness, sort of a prototype for Shadow Lass.  “Magnetic Kid,” not to be confused with the later Legionnaire with the same name, could attract living creatures.

The weddings were fake, natch, done only to plausibly create vacancies in the Legion ranks that the spies could fill.  They were defeated after stealing a bogus document that supposedly contained a secret Legion plan, then leading the Legionnaires back to their home planet for their capture.

The most successful Legion infiltrator had to be Nemesis Kid, who debuted in Adventure Comics #346 (July 1966).  He joined the Legion along with three other applicants, but he was actually working for the Khunds.  If not for Superboy's foresight and a dumb mistake on his part, he might have pulled off his plan to destroy Earth's defensive weaponry and leave the planet open for invasion.

Even when they began to suspect that one of their new members was a traitor, the Legion initially thought that it was Karate Kid.  Hey, his name is Nemesis Kid, for Pete's sake.  (That's not my joke, but I don't know who to give the credit to.)  The character returned a number of times and ultimately killed Karate Kid and was killed himself by Princess Projectra.  

The next infiltration was in Adventure Comics #364 (Jan 1968) and was committed by Biron the Bowman and Blockade Boy who were, in reality, Comet the Super-Horse and Protty II.  The story was “Revolt of the Super Pets.”

I don't even know if this one should count as the Legion saw through their deception right away.  The only thing that this story illustrates is that even Jim Shooter wasn't above the occasional bit of Silver Age silliness.

The impersonation by a Legionnaire trope even made its way into an “imaginary story” in Lois Lane #47 (Feb 1964), in which Night Girl impersonates a Kryptonian Lois Lane to protect her secret identity from a prying human Clark Kent.  Don't ask. (Editor's Note: this story was recently reviewed on the LSB page here!)

Legionnaires have also impersonated other Legionnaires for tactical advantage, as in Adventure Comics #371 (Sept 1968).  Chameleon Boy and Superboy impersonate each other to beat Tarik the Mute's “glassifying ray” gun.  

Superboy had some spare make-up in his cape pouch to “touch up his disguise.”  Nothing said about why he would have orange make-up or the makings of antenna.  And did they switch costumes as well?  And if so, how did Superboy's costume change to glass, then broken glass?  And if they did not, where did Superboy get a Chameleon Boy costume?  I've read this story literally dozens of times over the years, and have never noticed this little plot hole.  Did you?  (Actually, I've always kind of thought that Cham doesn't even “wear” a costume, as much as he creates one as part of his power.)

Superman and Cosmic Man did the exact same thing in Adventure Comics #354 (March 1967).

This story does mention the previous use of this trick against Doctor Light.  I had to recheck the first story and it was Superboy who had the idea.  Good thing, because if it had been Chameleon Boy, knowing that Superman and Batman had done it, and then Superman did it, remembering that he and Chameleon Boy had done it, you'd be looking at a “Captain Kirk's glasses paradox”.

Chameleon Boy also impersonated Bouncing Boy in Adventure Comics #376 (Jan 1969) which led to him being taken to another dimension to fight an evil warlord for the hand of a beautiful princess.

Oh, and speaking of Batman, he saw through Princess Projectra's impersonation of Phantom Girl in Batman '66 meets the Legion of Super-Heroes (June 2017).

And for something completely different, real Legionnaires impersonating fake ones and accusing real Legionnaires of being fake.  From “The Legionnaires Who Never Were” in Action Comics #392 (Sept 1970).

That's Brainiac 5 and Sun Boy as “Prince Projectur” and “Saturn Lad,” by the way.

But back to some more conventional impersonations.  Shadow Lass was impersonated in Action Comics #379 (August 1969).

The impostor wasn't named in this story but she did return some months later to take the Legion on solo.  She was given a name then (Uli Algor) but never given a villain name.  Perhaps since her “power” was working with light and she was a woman, they couldn't come up with a unique name for her.

Brainiac 5 impersonated Superman (and Clark Kent, too) in Superman #213 (Jan 1969) while Superman was trapped in Mordru's vault.

Eltro Gand impersonated his relative, Mon-El, in Action Comics #384 (Jan 1970).  He did so in order to save Mon-El's life. However, a miscalculation on his part actually resulted in causing the very thing he was trying to prevent. Using the life-entity transfer technology that had previously brought Lightning Lad back, Eltro Gand then sacrificed himself to revive his distant kinsman.

One of the more unusual impostors was seen in “Trust Me or Kill Me” in Superboy #173 (April 1971).  Cosmic Boy was duplicated by Mordru, so Superboy had to distinguish between the real article and the fake.  

It was your typical Cary Bates “puzzle story,” where one of the Cosmic Boys even uses the old “You'll have to shoot us both.  It's the only way to guarantee the safety of the, the Legion” ploy.

Molecule Master wasn't accepted into the Legion, but his sinister attempt at infiltration was successful enough to put him into close proximity to the Legion in “The Betrayer from Beyond” in Superboy #201 (April 1974).  This was really bad because Molecule Master was an android which steadily exhaled a poisonous gas that would have, in time, killed the Legionnaires.  

The next infiltration was an altruistic one.  In Superboy #204 (Sept 1974) a student from the 75th Century was scanning the 30th Century (his past) only to discover that his time-scanner was defective and somehow had interfered with the timeline to such a degree that Superboy was no longer made a member of the Legion.  He therefore went back in time and as “Anti-Lad” applied for membership himself in order to "push" for Superboy's inclusion.

His ruse was detected by Brainiac 5, but despite of this exposure (or perhaps because of it) he did succeed in his mission of tricking the Legionnaires into giving Superboy another chance. 

The next three impersonations were by robots.  In Superboy #204 (Sept 1974) Supergirl was impersonated by a robot that was so good it fooled its own creator, Brainiac 5. This was probably an early sign of his developing instability.

In Superboy #227 (May 1977) Brainiac 5 himself was impersonated by a robot, built by Pulsar Stargrave, AKA the original Brainiac.

The last robotic impersonation was of Wildfire, in Superboy #239 (May 1978).  Like the Supergirl robot, this one was created by Brainiac 5.

The most successful imposter had to be the Durlan actress Yera.  She not only successfully impersonated the Legionnaire Shrinking Violet, she did so for an extended period of time.  The substitution took place circa Legion of Super-Heroes #287 (May 1982) and wasn't discovered until Legion of Super-Heroes #305 (Nov 1983).  I don't know how long that was in comic time but that's a year and half in our time.

Yera even married “fellow” Legionnaire Colossal Boy as Violet.  Ironically, it was her love for Colossal Boy that contributed to her discovery as it was “Violet's” abrupt abandoning of her long-held love for Duplicate Boy that first cast suspicion upon her.  The Legion investigated and determined that she was a dupe of a conspiracy by Imskian separatists, and had no sinister motives herself.  After her true identity was revealed, she offered to allow Colossal Boy to annul their marriage. However, he realized that he loved her, Yera, and not the true Violet.

One late night at the Legion Headquarters:
Bouncing Boy: My wife can become two identical women.
Colossal Boy: Hold my Kono Juice.

Finally, we come to the case of Laurel Kent.  Laurel Kent was introduced in Superboy #217 (June 1977) and was purported to be a descendant of an adult Superman, inheriting only his invulnerability. She was a student at the Legion Academy and roomed, for a while, with Dawnstar.  

However, much later she was revealed in Legion of Super-Heroes (v3) #42 (January 1988) to be a Manhunter who exploited her membership in the Academy and relationship with the Legionnaires to gain access to Brainiac 5's advanced Coluan computer systems at Legion headquarters.

The Manhunters were created by the Guardians of the Universe.  They rebelled. They evolved. There are many copies.  And they have a plan.  No, wait.  That was the Cylons.  OK, but the Manhunters did most of that stuff too.  However, Laurel's case isn't so clear.  

Yes, she was established to be a Manhunter in Millennium #2 (1988). But she clearly shows a vulnerability to Kryptonite after being shot by a Kryptonite bullet in Legion (v3) #8 (March 1985) which a non-Kryptonian would not have.

Indeed, Manhunter-Laurel  displays no such vulnerability to Green K in the afore-mentioned Legion (v3) #42. 

During that adventure she even says, “If I was who you thought,” implying that she isn't the Laurel Kent that the Legionnaires had known. Is the Manhunter an infiltrator? This is further supported by the fact that Tellus never suspected her in all their years together, even though he was able to instantly detect the non-human nature of the temple guards when confronted by them in the later story. 

So what was Laurel Kent exactly?  An infiltrator? An imposter? Both? Well, it is kind of appropriate for an article about people who aren't what they seem to end on a note of ambiguity, isn't it?

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