12 September 2017

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 3 by Edmond Hamilton, Jerry Siegel, John Forte, et al.

Having reached the most recent unread Legion of Super-Heroes collection in my possession, it's time to loop back around to the earliest:

Comic hardcover, 222 pages
Published 1993 (contents: 1964-65)
Acquired December 2014
Read November 2016
Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 3

Writers: Edmond Hamilton, Jerry Siegel
Artists: John Forte, George Papp, Al Plastino, Sheldon Moldoff, George Klein, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney
Letterers: Milton Snapinn, Joe Letterese, Vivian Berg, David Huffine

Whenever I dip back into the pre-Great Darkness Saga adventures of the Legion of Super-Heroes, I'm like, this is what people look back on so fondly? Even by the standards of 1960s superhero comics, I would argue, most of these stories are dismal and dull and daft.

A subtle critique of 30th-century gender roles.
from Adventure Comics vol. 1 #326 (script by Jerry Siegel, art by John Forte & George Klein)

The dominant writers of the period, Edmond Hamilton and Jerry Siegel, are obsessed with plots where it seems like the Legionnaires have turned against one another: the stories collected in this volume include leader Sun Boy* going nuts from space fatigue and the Legion having to take him down, the Legion imprisoning Lightning Lad for revealing their secrets to their enemies, the female Legionnaires seducing and eliminating the men under the influence of evil women from the planet (I shit you not) Femnaz, five Legionnaires traveling back in time solely to screw over Superboy by revealing his secret identity, and short-lived member Command Kid turning the Legionnaires against each other. Each plot is more contrived than the previous, and the Femnaz one is ridiculously awful: the women of Femnaz destroy their planet's men because the men try to clamp down on violent arena games and won't let them shoot rockets at the moon. They see the error of their ways when they crack their moon in half with some of their rockets, and the male Legionnaires put it back together for them. Uh huh.

I think you have to love the depiction of time in the Legion stories as something you can travel through just by being very strong and fast and hitting it with your head.
from Adventure Comics vol. 1 #321 (script by Edmond Hamilton, art by John Forte)

Almost without exception, these stories can only be liked for the potential they possess, rather than the actual ideas in them. A good case in point is the Time Trapper, a rare example of a genuine story arc in this series. He's mentioned in a couple stories as a contrived way to get the overly poweful Superboy and Mon-El out of the action, but he intrigues nevertheless: because of the "Iron Curtain of Time" he's created, the Legion can't pass beyond their own time period, no matter how hard the more powerful Legionnaires try. But the way this plot plays out is a bit silly. After a few mentions of this Iron Curtain of Time, the Legion considers using a never-before-mentioned superweapon, the Concentrator, against the Time Trapper. They decide not to do it, but having mentioned this device to the Science Police Chief, he decides they must be put through rigorous psychological evaluations to see if they'll break and reveal its existence and function to outsiders under pressure. The S.P. Chief turns out to be the Time Trapper in disguise, and they foil his plan using the Concentrator, but he escapes back into the future beyond the Iron Curtain of Time. The next story is all about the Legion making preparations to track the Time Trapper down... but they never actually do this, and he's not mentioned again in this volume. The Time Trapper's name intrigues, as does the idea of the futuristic Legion having an enemy from even further in the future, but the stories using him are dumb.

The Time Trapper is wearing a fake head over his hood. I love comics characters who do that kind of thing. His hood looks pretty terrible stuffed through his huge collar, though. Note that he's always drawn from behind, as if he might be someone we would recognize. I don't think this era of comics ever paid that off, but in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds he was revealed to be the Superboy of Earth-Prime, though nothing about the Time Trapper in these stories really fits with that. Would Superboy-Prime really attempt such a dumb plan as this?
from Adventure Comics vol. 1 #321 (script by Edmond Hamilton, art by John Forte)

This is especially so of the story where the Legion is preparing to track him down. They're so desperate they call in the Legion of Super-Pets from the twentieth century: Krypto the Super-Dog, Comet the Super-Horse, Streaky the Super-Cat, and Beppo the Super-Monkey. Chameleon Boy's pet, Proty II, gets jealous and demands a position on the team, but because Proty doesn't have any superpowers, they make him do a try-out to demonstrate he can make the cut anyway. There are a lot of problems with this. The first is that Proty is seemingly as sentient as any Legionnaire; he seems to have been designated a "pet" solely because his natural form is of a small blob instead of a humanoid. The second is that any of the "pets" count as pets, since they all seem to be capable of reason and communication. The last is that being a shapeshifting telepath somehow isn't enough a superpower to qualify Proty for membership in the Legion of Super-Pets, even though his "master" Chameleon Boy gets to be in the Legion of Super-Heroes on virtue of just being a shapeshifter and not a telepath! In a later story, Proty sets up a puzzle to determine the Legion leader, one that only one member of the Legion can even solve, yet he's somehow still just a pet. Space racism at work, I guess.

Honestly, the twist ending of this (dreadful) story should have been Proty becoming Legion leader.
from Adventure Comics vol. 1 #323 (script by Jerry Siegel, art by John Forte & George Klein)

You can see how many of the stories here had potential that was picked up by later writers: the Heroes of Lallor, four super-teens from a planet ruled by a dictatorship, would recur now and again, and their tale is one of the better here. (A villain manipulates the Heroes of Lallor and the Legion into seeing each other as enemies, but understanding and compassion win the day.) I was fascinated to see the debut of Lone Wolf, the hero later known as Timber Wolf; he eventually becomes something of a savage loner, but here he's as whitebread as all the other Legionnaires. And though his actual plan was dumb, I loved the idea of Lex Luthor travelling into the future and pretending to be a pre-evil Lex by wearing a wig to earn the trust of the Legion in order to kill them just because they're friends with Superboy/man. So there's some potential here, but most of it isn't delivered on.

You be you, Lex, you be you.
from Adventure Comics vol. 1 #325 (script by Jerry Siegel, art by John Forte)

Also: what's up with the Bouncing Boy subplot? He gets his powers removed by mistake in an aside in one issue, and they're temporarily restored for mere minutes in another. Like, I can't even work out what motivates these little snippets because he hadn't even done anything in the book before he showed up to have his powers eliminated.

Next Week: More of the Legion's early days, as they face the Time Trapper in his goofiest plot yet, in Archives, Volume 4!

* Continuity is never a strong point of the Legion: in Adventure Comics #318 (Mar. 1964) and #319 (Apr. 1964), Sun Boy is leader; in Adventure #323 (Aug. 1964), Saturn Girl is up for re-election as leader. Saturn Girl had previously been elected leader in Adventure #304 (Jan. 1963), so it seems like Jerry Siegel forgot about #318-19 when writing #323. We could assume, however, that there was an unseen election between #319 and #323-- after how disastrously Sun Boy's leadership went in #318 (and #319 wasn't exactly a shining hour, either), it would make sense for there to be an election and for an established safe hand like Saturn Girl to be reelected. What weirds me out is not the fault of this book though: none of the on-line lists I can find of Legion leaders include Sun Boy, which seems an odd thing for the detail-oriented Legion fans to miss.

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