Or – “Proof That Where Goeth The Legion, There Goeth The DCU.”

Over the last few years, the family of Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, have come forward with a fascinating claim, with which faithful Spoilerites are probably quite familiar.  The gist of it all is that when Jerry and Joe Shuster sold Superman to National Periodical Publications, (now known as DC Comics) they were royally hosed, a fact that seems pretty obvious since DC had made millions upon millions of dollars after only a few years of the character’s stories, while Jerry & Joe were paid a pittance for the rights.  Add to that a claim that Jerry pitched a series chronicling the adventures of Superman when he was a boy while NOT under contract to DC, had the proposal turned down, went to war, then returned to find DC using his idea, and mamushkah!  You gotcherself a lawsuit.  What this boils down to is a question over whether DC can legally use the name and character of Superboy Tom Welling, making DC ignore him for the most part.  Of course, old-school Legion fans have ‘been there, done that,’ seeing as how WE got to see a world without a Tom over a decade ago.  At that time, Keith Giffen and company had just relaunched the LSH title in a new volume, with a darker and more adult approach, an approach that the Superman offices apparently didn’t care for.  Keith was told that Mr. Welling (then known as John Hames Newton) could no longer appear in the stories, in any aspect, a difficult prospect for a team that was so inextricably tied to him from their very first appearance.  The answer was as simple as it was interesting: they reset the continuity, and changed the very nature of the Legion in so doing.  But as with the Crisis on Infinite Earths a few years earlier, the universe created a replacement, and so was born the legend of Impulse.  It’s a very Silver Age tale of a young medical student from New Rochelle, his strange accident and his rise to greatness…  This is your Major Spoilers Hero History of the Legionnaire once called Impulse of Earth… Kent Shakespeare!


The basic gist of the Volume Four Legion was simple: take the kids and lads and lasses, and put them in a more complex, believable adult future with more conflict, and let ’em rip.  (Which is fine, up to a point, but the problems with that approach make themselves known soon enough.)  With the Superman office’s edict, the Legion was forced to throw a real ‘Hail, Mary,’ realizing that they couldn’t just ignore the history of a team whose stories are BUILT on the complexity of it’s past continuity.  Luckily, even though one super-powerful teen from the 20th century was no off limits, there was another (one of the great benefits of a large team membership.)  Though he’d been dead for half a decade, Mon-El actually ROSE from the grave to save the Legion, only to find that perennial Legion bugaboo the Time Trapper had come back with him.


The battle at the dawn of time was pitched and ongoing, and the stakes were raised by the fact that the Time Trapper continually made veiled references to his “place” in the universe, and how worse menaces would crop up if he were ever destroyed.  (This will all make sense and start being about Kent in just a few paragraphs, I promise.)


This period of Legion history was notable for the use of the nine-panel grid, which makes it difficult (if not impossible) to whittle the images down for a retrospective like this, thanks for asking.  When he tells the Trapper to get to the point, Mon-El is told, point-blank, that if he is successful in killing the Trapper, that his life, his lost brother Kal, his Legion, and his very UNIVERSE will not survive.


That punch is one of the defining moments in LSH history, when you get right down to it, ranking up there with the switch to Action Comics, the first couple of Cockrum issues, the Great Darkness Saga, and the Legion of Super-Villains war in terms of world-changing effect.  What you’re seeing in those panels is really a test run of the reboots that would eventually come to define Legion continuity throughout the next decade, a mini-reboot that removed Tom Welling from LSH continuity, replacing him with Mon-El (now called Valor, one of the more terrible names of the 90’s.)  It quickly becomes apparent that other changes have taken place as well, such as the inclusion of Laurel Gand (a looong story to which I’ll get later) and some slight adjustments of the timeline. Also notable was the addition of a new Legionnaire during the five-year gap, one who made his first chronological appearance after he’d already quit and watched the team disband.  As the members of the Legion began to slowly reform after the murder of Blok by Roxxas the butcher, old-school Legion villain The Persuader attacked the hospital satellite Medicus One.  The Science Police are overwhelmed by his atomic axe, but there’s still hope…


Now, when I first read this issue in 1994-ish, I didn’t know my Legion history as well as I do now, and thought that perhaps Kent was a long-lost Legionnaire from before my time. But even though I wasn’t sure who he was, it became evident that Richard Kent Shakespeare was hardly a pushover…


Atomic axe in the face! For most people (heck, even for many Legionnaires) that would have the voice-over guy intoning “FATALITY! Persuader WINS.” But Kent only gets up, he tries to talk Persuader into turning himself in. This streak of good natured positivity was very unusual among the V.4 Legionnaires, and combines with his powerset to give Kent a very familiar place on the team. What powers, you ask? How ’bout the power of super-speed, that do anything for ya? That’s locomotion, homes. How ’bout the power to punch out a villain from 200 yards away… with his FISTS! That’s pugilistic prowess, Kyle…


Tenacious, ain’t he? The return of the Legion draws Kent away from med school, and also upsets Ivy, a young orphan whose strange physical powers have earned her a permanent spot at Medicus One for testing. Ivy is heartbroken and betrayed when Shakespeare decides to leave, even telling him she hopes he dies on his first mission. Returning to action with the Legion, Kent (along with Laurel Gand and Ultra Boy) becomes one of the combat monsters of the Legion, the forward guard that cracks skulls and takes names later. Unfortunately, he falls afoul of Kono, a young Sklarian raider who prides herself on getting the better of her new teammates.


Kent’s story is told entirely out-of-sequence (and, frankly, much of it isn’t translated onto the page, only becoming public due to the Legion of Super-Heroes gaming supplement for the DC Heroes role-playing game) so before we find out how he joined the team initially, or what caused him to quit, we find out what he did between the end of the old Legion, and the beginning of his official medical career: he joined Rokk “Cosmic Boy” Krinn in fighting for his home planet of Braal against Shrinking Violet’s home-planet of Imsk in a brutal border dispute.


The Imskian power-bomb demoralized the Braalians by removing the powers of hundreds, maiming and killing many others. Kent was unaffected, and saved the lives of both Rokk and his fellow soldier Loomis, who eventually ended up working as the Legion’s majordomo/ground crew coordinator. Kent’s generally sunny demeanor and pleasant personality made him a nice change of pace amongst the somewhat angsty grown-up Legion of Five Years Later, allowing for comic relief among all the darkness.


Sort of reminds you of the way Tom Welling had problems adjusting to the bright and shiny future and all it’s wonders, doesn’t it? I can’t say with any sort of certainty that Kent was designed to be a ‘placeholder’ for the departed son 0f Jor-El, but it’s more than just the name that makes me think he is. As the new Legion gets used to their roles, Kent settles in to a post as general medical authority and pilot…


Almost immediately after rejoining, the Legion finds itself once again facing Darkseid, this time in a much more subtle way than his planet-sculpting, universe imperiling giant evil plans of several years before. Using a clone of the bounty hunter called Lobo (who at the time was a HUGE reader draw, at least if you judged by sheer number of appearances. Leaping into action alongside Ultra Boy, Kent tries to recapture the days of his youth, only to find that U.B. isn’t playing.


His enthusiasm and enjoyment of Legion life are another reason why I enjoy Kent, and why he stands out among his comrades. One can easily see “Impulse” interacting with Wildfire, Lightning Lass, et al back in his Legion days, and I’m kind of saddened that they never really told any of those stories. Still, Mr. Shakespeare’s healing powers and tenacity helped to drag his Legion out of trouble more than once.


As the Legion’s resident medical expert, Kent also dealt with Shrinking Violet’s severed leg, (!) the ongoing injuries of an active super-team, and the physical deterioration of another old Legion friend: Timber Wolf. Having been trapped in a monstrous, inhuman form after being irradiated during the events known as “Black Dawn,” T-Wolf was at least stabilized, until Darkseid reversed his transformation and left him with a horrible case of radiation poisoning.


Brainiac and Kent confer, and their combined knowledge agrees: there is no hope for Timber Wolf. The interference of Aria (a cosmically powered being with the mind of a young girl) transports Timber Wolf back to the 20th century, leaving Kent uncharacteristically a bit depressed…


Not long after, we get to see the briefest glimpse of Impulse’s Legion career, as Sun Boy thinks back over his career, and remembers how nearly his entire team resigned en masse after the effects of Black Dawn, including Kent himself. As is his way, Mr. Shakespeare tries to give Sun Boy some honest and objective criticism.


Just another parallel with the Silver Age Tom Welling, as he acts as conscience to his teammates when their own heroic natures may falter. As the Dominators step up their efforts to harass and discredit his Legion, Kent’s straight-shooter attitude stands out even more…


Smart man, that Shakespeare. Far from being a thoughtless engine of destruction, Kent is very often found to be analyzing every situation, perhaps even overanalyzing it. When he returns to visit Ivy, Kent tries to explain to her why he has to keep doing what he’s doing, and moreover, why he can’t take her back with him.


Unfortunately for Kent, an attack by Grimbor the Chainsman puts the entire medical satellite on emergency lockdown, and he’s forced to go into action once more. Using only his knowledge of the corridors, his wits, and a little bit of Omnicom know-how, Kent Shakespeare prepares to single-handedly confront the man who took down an entire Legion all by himself. Well, not single-handedly… Ivy and a group of super-powered children are ready to help him as well.


Grimbor, for his part has only come to the hospital to try and bust out his daughter, who, like Ivy, is being studied there.� Going into action with her team has allowed Ivy to get a taste of Kent’s Legion life, and she changes her mind about letting him leave…


His devotion to his charge is awfully cute, though things would eventually make their friendship somewhat ironic (in the Alanis Morissette sense.) Once again, we learn more about Kent’s Legion past completely out of order, when we finally get to see what happened at Black Dawn.


Having filled in the gaps in his past, we now have a rough idea about how Kent’s Legion tenure went, but unbeknownst to any of the team, the end was near. The precedent set by Mon-El’s punch in issue #4 was having repercussions throughout the 30th Century (and the image of a Kryptonian-powered fist changing reality proves once again that where the Legion goes, the DCU will eventually follow.) Glorith of Balduur returned from the great beyond, and since Kent is (for all intents and purposes) a Silver Age Legionnaire, he has to go through that contractual obligation all Silver Age Legionnaires must endure…


…he gets turned into a kid. Change was inevitable in the Legion, but the entire team was about to embark on one of the most eventful periods in their entire history, and with Kent stuck at approximately ten years old, he had to be left behind… on Medicus One, with Ivy.


The Legion soldiered on for a few months, before the chaos that was Zero Hour began affecting the 30th Century. Strange time anomalies began cropping up throughout the universe, and since Kent was one of the last Legionnaires to join, by rule of law, he had to be one of the first to disappear…


Though Kent and Ivy were gone, the Legion soldiered on as best they could.� Unfortunately no plan they could put together would allow them to save the universe as they knew it, forcing the remaining Legion members to fall upon a desperate plan: recombine with their time-tossed SW6 counterparts and restart the entire 30th Century. Though many Legionnaires returned, some were, sadly, ignored, including previous inductees Blok and Tyroc. Kent didn’t appear throughout the initial Reboot Legion, and even after the ‘Legion Lost’ series changed their status quo (again) there was no sign of Rob and Laura Shakespeare’s little boy Richie… until the Legion took in their first batch of recruits several years later.


The creators of Legion didn’t get to show it in the book, but the lad on the left in the pink glasses has been confirmed by the creators to be a post-reboot version of Kent himself. Unfortunately, not long after, the Legion was rebooted again, before the new Kent Shakespeare was allowed to do anything more than fuel fanfiction…


The Legion cadets had some pretty gawdawful costumes, didn’t they?� And the post-reboot Kent looks a bit like Stephen Colbert. Still, even as a placeholder character, Impulse was somewhat unique, with a 1960’s backstory to go with his 90’s boots and fatigues costume. Though not one of the most visible Legionnaires, he has nonetheless gained a respectable fan following (including an old acquaintance of mine from LegionMUSH, Steve Mohundro) and was one of the many intriguing bits of business from Christopher Bird’s “30 Reasons I Should Write The Legion.” Of all the Legionnaires in Vol. 4, Kent Shakespeare is representational of the entire era, having been created for the book, and having his entire career told in flashback, a very 90’s storytelling device, indeed. It wouldn’t break my heart at all to see him return to action in the new Threeboot Legion, though it would kinda surprise me. To my mind, though, the nobility, the strength, the compassion shown by Impulse/Kent during his short career make him just as valid and admirable a character and hero as Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, or Brainiac 5, and proves once again that it’s not the length of the tenure that makes the Legionniare… It’s the quality of their character.

**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:

Bouncing Boy
Brainiac 5
Colossal Boy
Dream Girl
Element Lad
Ferro Lad
Karate Kid
Kent Shakespeare
Lightning Lass
Matter-Eater Lad
Sensor Girl
Star Boy
Timber Wolf

Or you can just click “Hero History” in the “What We Are Writing About” section on the main page… Collect ’em all! Join us in a week or so, as we look at one of Kent’s colleagues, the Legionnaire who showed us all what it REALLY meant to fit in… Chameleon Boy!

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Brent F.
    September 10, 2007 at 2:42 pm — Reply

    I don’t think the cadet uniforms were that bad. If you got rid of the awful red jackets then they might have looked really good.

  2. MicroEric
    September 12, 2007 at 7:19 am — Reply

    Ah, I really liked Kent, he was breath of fresh air in that series. Hope hereturns someday.

  3. Bob S.
    September 12, 2007 at 1:56 pm — Reply

    For some reason Vol 4 always had nice little interaction between members that most comic super teams had. I remember that scene where Jo and Kent had to put on new shirts and put on their orginal uniform shirts. I don’t think I have seen any comics where the charactors aged as nicely.

    By the way I read these every week and love them. Will you get to villians (Trapper Trapper Trapper. Mordu…..)

  4. September 12, 2007 at 10:45 pm — Reply

    By the way I read these every week and love them. Will you get to villians (Trapper Trapper Trapper. Mordu…..)

    I honestly don’t know. At one a week, I’ve got enough Legionnaires to go nearly another year at this rate. :) I think I’ll make my decision at that point…

  5. September 13, 2007 at 9:37 pm — Reply

    Major Spoilers,

    Where did the the lat two images in this post originate from? I feel like I missed something in an issue somewhere and I need to backtrack?

    Take care and thanks for the LSH history,

  6. September 15, 2007 at 10:47 pm — Reply

    Those images came from the post-Blight issues of Legion, specifically #29, if memory serves…

  7. Saint C.
    September 19, 2007 at 12:05 pm — Reply

    Matt, these things are effin AWESOME! I have an especiale lurve for the TMK era, and Kent was definitely a sight for sore eyes. More scans of awesome Giffen artwork please!!!!

  8. February 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm — Reply

    Sorry for being five years late to the party… But this is Cool!

    Thanx so much for this very nifty write-up on Kent. He was one of my fave raves. If the Timber Wolf mini-series had taken off, I was gonna bring Celeste and Kent back in time to be in that book. But alas… t’was nada to be. wish I could have done more with him.

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