Hero History: Element Lad

by

Or – “Turn And Face The Strange Ch-Ch-Changes…”

One of the pitfalls of a team the size of the Legion is that certain characters tend to fall between the cracks.  Sure, we know all about guys like Mon-El, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and even Andromeda, but the backstories of others (say, Star Boy, Sun Boy, and today’s entrant) have taken literal decades to play out.  One of the most ethereal of Legionnaires, today’s subject is also one of the longest tenured, even serving three tours as Legion leader and several more as deputy.  His costume colors and varying (but always exquisite) hairstyle fueled conjecture as to his sexual orientation, even in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” 60’s, and years later, the answers to those questions were as difficult to quantify as the hero himself.  Confident enough to wear hot pink, yet manly enough to put the smackdown on space pirates, he’s a study in contrasts as much as heroism.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Jan Arrah of Trom…  Element Lad!

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The earliest history of the Legion always seems to have a strange dichotomy about it.  The team is always described as the ultimate, the final step that you take in order to finally become a TRUE hero, that Valhalla among which only the most powerful and brave could ever hope to stand.  On the other hand, pretty much all you had to do to get in was show up in a funny costume and not look too much like any of the other heroes.  Command Kid, Dynamo Boy, Mystery Lad (who turned out to be, of all people, Supergirl) Sir Prize & Miss Terious, the entire founding membership of the Legion of Super-Villains, and even a character called False Pretenses Lad (and I’m not making that up, honest!) got in.  So, when young Jan showed up, with a bright smile and a haircut he stole off a Popeye supporting character, refusing to divulge his powers, you’d think he’d get Polar Boyed out the door, tout de suite, right?

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Oh, no, no, NO!  No, dear friends, after spending some time alone in a darkened room with Saturn Girl (!) she verified his claim of awesome powers (!!) and the team voted him onboard.  Now, again, I’m looking back through the glasses of the 21st century, but, honestly, when two teenagers go in a darkened room and one of them comes out professing to the wonderfulness of the other, where does YOUR mind go?  With an intro like that, I’m stunned that anyone ever questioned Jan’s hetero leanings.  The Legion goes into action against a space-pirate called Roxxas, whose greatest claim to fame is wiping out the entire populace of legendary planet Trom, home of the element-changers.  Mystery Lad acts a bit suspiciously, but eventually is willing to give his life to save the team and the universe.  Of course, it wouldn’t take a careful re-reading of that last couple of sentences to see what’s REALLY going on…

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Mystery Lad had�kept his identity and super-abilities a secret so as not to tweak Roxxas to the fact that he missed one in his attempted genocide.� Element Lad’s run came during the Legion’s first period of expansion, a time when every single alien was the most powerful ever, and every threat was exponentially more powerful than that which came before it.� The kids of the Legion were brave and true, and to a Lad, Kid, or Lass, were all ultra-heroic and brilliant.� Case in point: when Jimmy Olsen came to the 30th century to participate (as Legion reservist Elastic Lad) in a test of courage, and Chameleon Boy’s pet Proty sets him up with an impossible task…

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That story is so early, it actually predates the flight-ring (invented by Mon-El, I believe, during his Legion initiation, a long story which I’ll get to later.)� Proty’s seeming sadism actually comes from the heart, as he has a secret plan where eight Legionnaires have to overcome eight impossible missions in order to surprise Tom Welling on the anniversary of his joining the Legion.� Those wacky space-teens, always endangering each other’s life so they could have a party…� Soon after, Element Lad settled into a background role as “guy in pink who ain’t Cosmic Boy” and general deux ex machina, as seen when the team faced the Bizarro Legion.� Tom Welling convinced Bizarro Tom Welling to disband his team, but B.T.W. only agreed on the express point that the real Mr. Welling reverse one of his common tricks: squeezing a DIAMOND back into COAL.� Of course, he succeeds, thanks to young Master Arrah.

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Honestly, there’s little wrong with that original Element Lad costume, something I can’t say for all the early Legion getups.� Star Boy’s purple monstrosity, Colossal Boy’s Bucky Goldstein the Yiddish cowboy look, and Chameleon Boy’s strange chainmail and Peter Pan collar uniform are all much less palatable than this.� I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but by contractual obligation, the kids of the Legion were obligated during their run in Adventure Comics to turn into children at least once or twice a year, and little Jan was no exception…

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I’m gonna teach my daughter to transform my hat into gold…� And does anyone find it odd that Sheik Amon Hath-Set there figures out from context that Jan’s entire race was wiped out by space pirates?� Expositional dialogue�was at a premium in 1965, y’know.� Still, for all the questions about Jan’s preferences, it should be noted that he DID have a bit of a social life, wistfully sighing when the computer stopped predicting which female team members liked to kiss him the best, and even going on a date or two on his own time.

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The power of Element Lad tended to be underplayed, on the general conceit that if he were to unleash it all at once, he’d overshadow even Mon-El and Mr. Welling with the sheer scope of his abilities.� Turning anything into anything else mentally is a REALLY daunting super-power, as evidenced by one of his solo missions, where he faced down an entire ARMY to keep a group of rebellious teenagers from turning into killers.

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THAT is impressive.� Without so much as wiggling a finger, Element Lad repelled an entire battallion with the power of his mind.� Jan didn’t�get much in the way of teen angst back in the day, but once Dave Cockrum joined, his pink and white mambo shirt was traded in for a black and green number that just happened to have a great big arrow up the front.� No phallic symbols here…� In his much more serious garb, Jan was finally ready for his emotional close-up, as a man from his past finally resurfaced: Roxxas the butcher.

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Jan’s family and entire people were wiped out by the attack, and we know how all that particular story ends.� Still, when the former Mystery Lad hears that Roxxas has escaped U.P. custody and fled, he is spurred into action by his emotions.� Jan tracks the butcher back to the one place where the authorities would never have thought to look: the scene of the crime.� (Which, honestly, casts serious doubts on the detective skills of the authorities…� Even the Jethro Bodine could tell ya that the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime.)

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As his friends in the Legion watch, Jan fights with the urge to kill the man who murdered his people, finally making the decision… TO PULL THE TRIGGER.� Oh, my.� Luckily for Element Lad, (and, I guess, for Roxxas, too) Jan’s pals are looking out for him, as Chemical King has used his incredibly-hard-to-define superpower to fake the Butcher’s death, in the hopes of bringing Jan out of his murderous rage.

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Poetic justice for the man in the horrible Salvador Dali moustache.� Soon after, Mon-El was elected Legion leader, and Element Lad took office as deputy.� This role suited him well, actually, and he found himself taking it again for Lightning Lad.� But when Garth lost his cool in the middle of a mission, Element Lad suddenly found greatness thrust upon him.

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The role of leader is one that found suited him well, but Element Lad didn’t want to be the equivalent of Gerald Ford, serving but never elected.� When leadership elections rolled round again, Jan took the initiative, but found himself sidetracked by the powers of a teammate…

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…as Dream Girl announced her intentions on leadership as well.� Running against a precognitive is the definition of “spinning your wheels,” and E-Lad found himself once again the runner up, and was offered the post of deputy leader.� Instead, he calmly told Dream Girl exactly where she could park the deputy leader job, and returned to the ranks.� The Great Darkness Saga blew up in the team’s face literally immediately afterward, and Dream Girl’s leadership was sorely tested.� Ironically, after being voted out by a majority of LSHers, it’s Jan whose powers turn the tide when Darkseid empowers the ENTIRE PLANET OF DAXAM�with Mon-El’s superhuman powers.� Millions upon millions of angry, crazy, Superman-level juggernauts batter the Legion and the galaxy, until Element Lad receives the signal to shut ‘em down.

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His disappointment at not getting the leadership gig is eclipsed only by his distaste for Dream Girl’s management style, and Jan finds himself obsessing over her.� Of course, thinking about a particular woman all the time isn’t really a problem…� unless there’s ANOTHER woman who really wants to get your attention.

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Shvaughn Erin, Science Police officer for Metropolis, at your service…� And let me tell you, there’s a bit more going on than meets the eye.� Still, Jan and Shvaughn embarked upon a relationship, slowly at first.� And as with so many times in life, when one good thing happens, other good things follow.� When Metropolis Science Police Chief Zendak contacts Element Lad about getting the Legionnaires mobilized against a Khundian insurgency, he is confused as to the reasoning why…

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Quickly and decisively, Element Lad gets his troops in the field, and proves to be a very effective leadership presence, taking into account nearly all contingencies, and using his teammates to their fullest potential.� His only real failing comes in worrying a bit too much, overthinking situations instead of relying on his instincts.� Still, when it comes to Shvaughn, he trusts his emotions fully…

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Hello!�That’ll get your attention, won’t it?� The mission against the Legion of Super-Villains doesn’t go as planned…� Rogue telepath Esper Lass utilizes the teleporter of super-villain Zymyr�to shift�Element Lad, Chameleon Boy, Ultra Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Phantom Girl into a strange nether-world outside our reality, hoping to trap them forever.

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With five members (including their leader) missing, the team was forced to quickly take on reinforcements, while the lost Legionnaires travel in a barely-functional time-bubble through the lost dimension.� Forced to set down on a strange world, the fivesome discover a nasty secret, one that last week’s entrant had first-hand experience with.

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Once again, it’s Jan’s powers to the rescue, as he transforms the entire compound into a radioactive time-bomb, and Ultra Boy super-speed-hand-delivers a hunk of fissionable material into the mix as they teleport out, causing a nuclear explosion that destroys the entire planet and the plans of the rogue controller.� Element Lad manages to steer his team home again, but not long after that, Universo manages to use his hypnotic powers to take over the entire United Planets.� Though several Legionnaires were able to resist the conditioning, Element Lad’s subconscious finds the thought of no longer worrying about everyone to be very attractive, and doesn’t really WANT to fight.� Once he returned to his senses, the shame of what happened caused him to take drastic action.

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With his emotions clouded by regret and his own will-power betraying him, Jan finds it necessary to re-center his karma, so to speak, and journeys to the one place in the universe where he can find calm: home.� Taking Shvaughn with him, we see for the first time what has become of Trom since Roxxas’s attack, and also what Jan does with his free time…

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He takes her through the ruined cities, and Shvaughn is awed by the silence, by the sheer number of tsarins, and the amount of effort it must have taken Jan to create them.� He takes her to a cathedral, and explains to her that he’s been wanting to ask her something, but wasn’t sure how she would take it.� Misunderstanding, Shvaughn thinks he’s proposing, but Jan is actually asking something much deeper…� he wants to pray with her.

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This long-hidden spiritual side comes back to the fore as Jan returns to his Legion duties.� The team goes through some serious changes, and the Legion goes through changes as well.� Soon after, Sarya the Emerald Empress commits the ultimate atrocity by attacking the Legion by destroying large chunks of Trom.� Element Lad and the LSH come to the rescue, and once again, the loss of his people pushes Jan to the edge of rage.

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Emerald Empress is killed immediately after, a victim of her own hubris, but Element Lad continues his service with the Legion through the Magic Wars and into the time known as the five-year gap.� When Wildfire is lost and Timber Wolf mutated into an inhuman form by the events known as Black Dawn, Element Lad finds that the climate of the Legion is no longer something that his spirit can weather.� He leaves the team and goes home, with the entire Legion disbanding not long afterwards.� Years later, when a Dominator-controlled Earthgov wants to finally rid themselves of the Legion once and for all, they turn to a familiar crazy face.� Roxxas the butcher kills Blok, then mails his dismembered parts to the Winath home of the Ranzz family, and soon after, Legionnaires begin crawling out of the woodwork, and we find Jan once again at home on Trom.

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Having spent the intervening years communing with his own spirituality and the spectres of those long gone, Jan is much more centered when he returns to the team, to the point where his former teammates find him to be strangely distant and ethereal.� When a Legion team reforms to deal with the threat of Roxxas, Jan is with them, and faces the man he once tried to kill in combat.� After facing Ultra Boy in hand to hand combat, Roxxas is not only hopelessly insane, he’s suffering from injuries that could easily be fatal.

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Jan and his friends get Roxxas help for his injuries and the former Element Lad is able to finally forgive the man who killed his family and people.� The Dominators continued�to try and destroy the Legion from within and without, leading to the collapse of the Earthgov and most of the social order.� When Shvaughn Erin re-enters his life, she asks Jan for a strange favor: help her steal a particular medication from a nearby pharmacy.

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Why would Shvaughn need medication, you ask?� That’s a complicated story.� In the 30th Century, you see, questions of gender and sexuality are even more malleable than they are now.� Shvaughn Erin was born male, but identified as female, and was able to use Rokyn to get the body that s/he felt fit better to get the man of her dreams.� Jan, for his part, reveals the truth about his own orientations…

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Some say that this is final proof that Jan is, as suspected, gay.� I can certainly respect that opinion, especially for those who want to identify with him as a role model, but I have to say I read it differently.� To me, Jan is saying that bodies, that gender, that silly questions of the flesh don’t matter to him, that he loves Sean/Shvaughn for whomever s/he has shown him to be.� Fleeing into the night, dealing with the pains of withdrawal, Sean ironically bumps into…� Jan Arrah?� If you recall our previous histories, you’re aware of the existance of the SW6 Legion, consisting of timelost doubles of the Legionnaires from years before, and Sean bumps into the pink and white suited teen Element Lad…

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Young Jan gives Sean the strength to return to elder Jan, but she leaves again, telling him that she has to come to terms with herself before they could be together again.� The battle for Earth continues, as the Dominators and other forces press their attack, and Jan finds himself in a familiar position, able to take down an invading force with only the powers given to him by nature. But THIS time, he won’t do it, for a very good reason.

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Sadly, the ending of the whole schmageggi isn’t the heroic last-minute save that you would expect.� Instead, the planet is lost, and only a few million people survive, with less than 200 cities surviving under domes.� Both Legions find themselves fending off time distortions and soon find that the very fabric of reality is unravelling.� Why?� The time distortion caused by the SW6 team being pulled forward, of course.� Young Jan (now going by the horrible codename Alchemist) and Old Jan are among the few Legionnaires to survive the temporal chaos, only to find that to save the universe, they must both give up their lives and recombine their essences to heal the rifts in time.

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The entire timeline of the 30th Century resets, and the new, rebooted Legion starts with a draft of members from many worlds.� R.J. Brande, the universe’s richest man, helps to support the new team with the fortune that he reaped from creating stargate technology.� The Stargates are powered by a rare element called Tarnium, which can only be created by an old friend named Tarn Arrah of the remote planet Trom…

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Young Jan’s eagerness to help actually saves his life.� Once again, Roxxas the butcher leads a band of his merrie men to wipe out Trom, but this time there are a few differences.� This version of Roxxas is a rabid xenophobe, who believes that his people are superior to all other races, and are perfectly justified in destroying their lives and cultures to protect their uniqueness.� Another important catch:� Roxxas comes from Daxam, and he and his posse have the full powers of Tom Welling.� Using their combined heat vision, the Daxamites burn the whole planet, killing every last Trommite…� except for the one who happened to travel with R.J. Brande to help with his Stargate project.

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Young Jan is instrumental in the defeat of the Daxamites, empowering the Stargate that teleports them to a red sun system, where they wait powerless to be picked up by the authorities.� Joining the team, Jan at first doesn’t choose a code-name, but he still has the same sense of honor and the spiritual bent that we have come to know.� When the entire team is lost in the timestream, Jan stands up for himself and his teammates against the rude nature of Brainiac 5.

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Soon after, Jan finds that he can actually transform his own form as well (a power seldom seen, but still there,�pre-Crisis) and begins spending time in various crystalline, wooden, and metallic forms.� These transformations adjust his consciousness as well, making him even more odd and remote to some of his partners.

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The reboot Legion (known to some as ‘the Archie Legion’) goes through some changes as well, as a group of intergalactic parasites called the Blight take over the team and most of the U.P. leaving the stargate system in disarray.� The Legion is forced to take action before the network of ‘gates collapses and takes most of the galaxy with it, and in the forefront, we find none other than Jan himself…

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The rip in reality gets larger and larger, and ERG-1 is destroyed trying to help contain it.� As Kid Quantum and Element Lad struggle, she starts to lose hope, but once again, the heroic core of Element Lad keeps his partner on task.

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What happens next, is even more tragic, in it’s own way, than his origin.  Half the Legion is thrown through a gap in reality to a place outside our universe, and Jan (being outside the Outpost) is separated from his teammates.  He emerges millions of years before his teammates (subjectively speaking) and spends centuries slowly spiralling into madness, but not before making sure that his partners would be safe.  By the time his teammates are awakened, Jan is hopelessly insane, having dubbed himself the Progenitor, and created a race of followers to do his bidding.  He actually kills one Legionnaire, and causes the death of another before dying himself (sort of.)  That Legion soldiered on after his loss, and eventually found their timeline rebooted AGAIN.  In this reality, the new Element Lad has much in common with his forerunners, having a spiritual bent and a tendency towards great haircare.  Unlike his pre and post-Crisis selves, however, the last son of Trom hasn’t got a lot of experience with other people.

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The date with Triplicate Girl (for that is, indeed, her… or ONE of her, anyway) gets better from here, as they find common ground on many levels, not the least of which is that, she too, is a last survivor, of a sort.� Flying to a beautiful tropical island, Jan tries to explain to her what exactly is his deal…

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That last series of panels really covers it for me.� Element Lad is about change, about the process of transformation from one thing to another.� Lowly lead into precious gold, life itself into endless death, even a beloved, faithful son into an orphaned, tragic hero.� In his travels Jan has played all sides of the fence: hero, villain, killer, savior, hetero and not so much.� I say it over and over, and I’ll continue saying it (at least, oh, 38 or so times more): The simplest tenet of the Legion is that everyone has something to contribute, and that for all our differences, people are stronger together than they are separate.� Regardless of what physical or emotional transformation he undertook, Jan Arrah remained, at his core, one thing: a hero.

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! Our previous Major Spoilers Hero Histories include:

Blok
Bouncing Boy
Brainiac 5
Colossal Boy
Dawnstar
Dream Girl
Ferro Lad
Karate Kid
Lightning Lass
Matter-Eater Lad
Sensor Girl
Star Boy
Timber Wolf
Tyroc
Wildfire
XS

Or you can just click “Hero History” in the “What We Are Writing About” section on the main page… Collect ‘em all! Next time around, I know I’m throwing you a curve… The complete history of the man called Impulse. (Odds are it’s NOT what you think.)