Hero History: Sun Boy
Or – “A Bright Enough Light Can Hide The Shadows Within…”
The study of the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes inevitably leads to the study of many unusual superhero archetypes and attitudes. Whereas most teams consist of six or seven clearly defined characters, a group the size of the Legion has room for Wildfire’s snarkiness, for Dawnstar’s occasional narcissism, for the roguish charm of Ultra Boy, for Shadow Lass’ antisocial tendencies, even for Quislet’s complete disregard for convention. It also leaves room for your classic cocky womanizer, smart but not the smartest, charming but not the most so, certainly heroic but hardly a paragon. It’s kind of ironic that the Legionnaire with the smartest costume (one that lasted for over 40 years with virtually no changes) and the most heroic look is one of the most troubled and tragic LSHers of them all. This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Dirk Morgna of Earth… Sun Boy!
Regular Spoilerites will recall “The Panel,” a page in Action Comics #267 that introduced three different Legionnaires (Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, and Chameleon Boy) during tryouts for the team… This time out, it’s The Panel II: Electric Boogaloo, as we see the first appearances of four MORE LSH stalwarts during Kara Zor-El’s SECOND Legion tryout. You already know Bouncing Boy, and that green hand in the corner might look familiar. We’ll meet with the girl in green someday soon, but right now our focus is the handsome redhead with Jheri Curl.
If you’ve been paying attention these last few weeks, you know that all three applicants were rejected in favor of the 30th Century’s Luke and Laura, Supergirl and Brainiac 5. As I’ve mentioned before, the Legion’s history is somewhat tangled (since, according to canon, Brainiac 5 joined BEFORE Tom Welling, that means that this story fits into continuity BEFORE the first appearance of the Legion in Adventure Comics #247, and means that Kara joined the Legion before her cousin Kal did) and the story of how Dirk actually made it into the LSH isn’t ever shown, except in flashback. A few months later we see Sun Boy making it into the big leagues, even rating a solo mission to the past to meet none other than the legendary Teen of Steel himself!
Sun Boy’s flared jerkin (the actual term for the sleeveless pullover shirt) reminds me of Peter Pan here, which may actually be the intent. The flair (or is that “flare?”) for drama that would come to define Dirk is very much in keeping with Peter Pan’s eternal youth, and he quickly made a name for himself. Even among the equally heroic Legionnaires, Sun Boy immediately stood out, even being singled from his partners for a special honor…
The loss of his sun powers really throws Dirk for a loop, and his high profile comes back to bite him in the butt, as a former antagonist called Kranyak captures the now-powerless Sun Boy and then issues the worst insult of all: He lets Dirk go. Without powers, Sun Boy is nothing to him, and Kranyak vows to take out the entire Legion while Dirk watches from the sidelines. Willing to go to any lengths to be a hero, Sun Boy flies to a wildlife preserve, where he courts death to get a blast of fire from a Kryptonian fire beast. Thankfully, it recharges his batteries rather than leaving him a pile of ashes…
Sun Boy explains that the Legionnaires aren’t living beings at all, but robots sent from the past to take U-Boy and S-Boy’s place while they went to Pete Ross’ birthday party. Wait… what?
Sun Boy finds more than just celebrity among the Legion, he finds acceptance, belonging, an almost unconditional (so long as you don’t lose your powers) family love. Sun Boy was given greater responsibility within the Legion as well, standing alongside Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and the other leadership types. Unfortunately for him, another first was in his future…
His determination, even in the face of near-exhaustion, to save the innocents of Xenn is indicative of the seriousness of which Sun Boy is capable. Unfortunately, it also leads him to be snappish with the crew, ironically biting off Matter-Eater Lad’s head, and clashing with Cosmic Boy. One by one, he sends all his teammates to the brig, and when the Legionnaires mutiny against him, Dirk uses his powers against them!
The Legionnaires are scuttled into space, and Sun Boy alone takes the giant Space Ark into space. When the team finds their way off the strange hidden planetoid, they find a completely non-responsive Sun Boy at the controls of the ship, as though his mind has completely blanked out.
This kind of bump in the road is pretty common in the Silver Age Legion (note Brainiac 5’s Computo incident, Saturn Girl going nuts, Star Boy’s killing of Kenz Nuhor, etc) but for some reason this brush with disaster was one of the last times we’d see Dirk in a leadership role for a long time. During a public appearance, an accident knocks Sun Boy unconscious, and leaves him with a dent in his melon…
Sun Boy flies off, evading his teammates, finally falling asleep in a laboratory filled with radiation warnings (proving that he’s not all there) while a villains laughs maniacally in the background. The armored malcontent is thrilled that his secret plan has worked, that the one Legionnaire who could have recognized him is out of the picture, napping in front of highly radioactive isotopes of gold. Because, c’mon, it’s the Silver Age. The Legionnaires are taken out, one by one, until only Sun Boy remains…
But who is this golden-armored creep, and why does he fear Sun Boy? Turns out that both men share the same solar power, from the same source. The madman’s name is Doctor Zaxton Regulus and he’s more than just some garden-variety mad scientist: he’s Sun Boy’s greatest foe!
“No time to move! Only time to talk about it!!!” God, I love the Silver Age. Luckily for Sun Boy, he doesn’t work alone, as Cosmic Boy’s magnetic force deflects the rockets at the last second. Regulus escapes, barely, and Sun Boy explains why the mysterious malefactor has come, and in so doing reveals “The Secret Origin of Sun Boy!”
I’ll say this for Doctor Regulus… Leaving a kid barely old enough to shave to die a painful death in a radiation chamber is about as hardcore as you’ll see in this day and age. The villain gets away, and vows to return and kill Dirk later. Apparently, though, he realizes that you can’t melt underage children, even with official sanction from the Guild of Calamitous Intent, so he waits for the day when Sun Boy reaches the age of majority.
This note, by the way, is why I believe, no matter what Stephen may think, that the Legionnaires started out at around 13 or 14 years old. And don’t you love the candle that looks just like Sun Boy in the middle of his cake? I want one of those at MY birthday party, and I ain’t gonna share with Bouncing Boy, who looks a little too hungry. The festivities are interrupted by the return of Doctor Regulus and his irradiated armor, and this time, he’s upgraded (Perhaps there’s some Stark-tech involved?)
Notice how awesome that costume looks in action? There’s a reason why Sun Boy never changed his look. Dirk’s return blast knocks Regulus to the ground, and the villain reveals that he super-charged his powers for revenge, but it’s left him near death. Even though Regs would have left HIM to die, Sun Boy won’t stoop to petty revenge, taking his old foe back to the Arion star to try and rejuvenate his powers and save his life. Of course, this goes about as well as you might expect…
Once again, Regulus’ thirst for revenge doesn’t take into account the fact that Dirk Morgna has friends. Lightning Lad and Shadow Lass distract him, and Sun Boy goes in for the kill… figuratively speaking, mind you. He takes his old enemy into custody, and proves himself, once and for all, to be the bigger man. Sun Boy proved himself to be one of the Legion’s most sturdy members, facing down even their greatest threats with style and grace. When the mysterious Servants of Darkness attack, Sun Boy was the first Legionnaire to successfully find a weakness in them.
Sun Boy was taken out by Darkseid himself, but returned to duty before the battle was through. His durability showed itself once again when the team faced one of the greatest threats to life and limb in the 30th Century: The Fatal Five’s Emerald Empress.
The Empress’ brutality left him with a broken jaw, and nearly cost several of his Legion colleagues their lives. But even with his pretty face bested, Sun Boy would not admit defeat, flaring up to Nova temperature and busting loose…
Once explained as simply the ability to radiate bright light, Dirk honed his abilities to channel ALL the powers of a sun, controlling heat and flame as well. And when we talk heat, we’re not referring to the space heater in your cubicle at Initech, folks, I’m talking the power of a thousand white hot suns…
As the kids of the Legion aged, they inevitably paired off into couples: Mon-El and Shadow Lass. Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl. Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad. Sun Boy, on the other hand, seemed to feel that limiting his options to merely one lady would be denying the rest of them the wonder of Dirk. Like a 30th Century Barney Stinson, Mr. Morgna and his wonder mullet cruised the singles bars, with built in street cred in the form of his Legion exploits.
Note Professor X in the background, finally answering the question of why a 75 year old super-genius wanted to surprise himself with teenage girls in spandex… Heh. Still, Sun Boy isn’t without morals (though he may be without a chest waxer) and when he thinks that his friend Colossal Boy may be engaging in extra-marital affairs, he feels the need to get involved…
Seeing one of his old pals in a different light, Sun Boy is forced to examine his OWN womanizing ways, and realizes that perhaps he is the one with the problem. Which was precisely the intention that he was supposed to get, thanks to Colossal Boy, his wife Yera, and recently dumped Sun Boy paramour, Gigi Cusimano…
Even as he re-evaluated his attitudes towards women, Dirk’s attitude toward the Legion’s various battles doesn’t change. Even when faced with a fully powered (albeit post-Crisis) Kryptonian, he doesn’t hesitate, busting out the red sun rays and preparing to crack some invulnerable skulls.
Serving with the Legion until the bitter end, Dirk was one of the few old-school members to make it past the events known as The Magic Wars, even finally achieving Legion leadership during this time. Of course, the alien Dominators undermined Earthgov, infiltrated the United Planets, and forced the Legionnaires into retirement, but their worst crime was yet to come: In an attempt to control the spin of news events, they hired the former Sun Boy, desperate to belong after the dissolution of his surrogate family, to act as their government liaison.
Polar Boy, for those who didn’t know, was one of the few Legionnaires who wouldn’t back down in the face of increasing pressure (a long story which I’ll get to later) and his after the Earthgov collapse proves to be as much the opposite of Dirk’s as his super-powers are. Worst of all, without the mitigating factor of Legion membership to reign in his baser urges, Dirk tries to get the one woman who would never respond to his advances in the LSH days: Element Lad’s old squeeze Shvaughn Erin.
Hey, in the Legion, sexy is rare, so we take what we can get. After the Dominators botched attempt to finally wipe out the Legion leads to the murder of Blok by Roxxas the Butcher, they hire a private eye called Celeste Rockfish to track down the murderer. In an attempt to make absolutely sure that she finds NOTHING, the disc-heads team her up with their pet Legionnaire.
But they underestimated Dirk, both in intellect and in courage. As the situation on Earth spirals more and more out of control, the Legion reforms in space, and the age of heroes seems once again to be upon the world. Which makes it doubly sad when the news of Sun Boy’s death comes to light…
It is a suitable heroic death for a heroic character. Unfortunately, as with anything coming out of Earthgov in those dark days, it was a complete lie, a fabrication to keep the sheep in line. Sun Boy was still alive, trapped in stasis, stuck in an endless loop of his memories. For the first time, we clearly see the events that would lead him to strive for acceptance, and his upbringing by a success-driven and distant father.
It was this drive that actually led Dirk to be IN the lab the day that Zaxton Regulus tried to kill him (an attempt to hurt his father, which ironically probably wouldn’t have worked, even if successful.) We also get to see his first-hand view of the events that ended his stint as Legion leader, after the horrifying mission known as “Black Dawn.”
Most damning of all, we see the exact depths to which he sunk before the Dominators made him their lapdog. Worst of all is the way that they play his baser urges against him, giving him access to the women he couldn’t have, giving the inveterate womanizer access to the women he couldn’t have: his teammates. It’s a sad display, indeed…
The truth behind “The Heroic Death of Sun Boy” is much sadder and more pathetic than the holovids would have it. With his friends back in action, and the people of Earth in revolt, Dirk tries to recapture the days of his youth, putting on his Sun Boy costume to save the people of Metropolis from an explosion in the fusion powersphere the provides the city it’s juice. The response is… somewhat underwhelming.
In a way, the explosion that caused his “death” was a comfort, saving him from more disappointment and a possible fatal beating from a mob of angry oppressed Terrans. Not long afterwards, the members of the SUBS (the former Legion of Substitute Heroes) take over the Dominators Metropolis labs, and find more than they bargained for in the basement.
His own tenacity proves to be his downfall, as the overload of fusion radiation doesn’t kill him, it just makes him… a horrible shambling mockery of a man. Around this time, it was also discovered that the Dominators had a “clone Legion” of kids in cold storage as well, perfect duplicates of all the Legionnaires circa Adventure Comics #350 or so, including… Sun Boy himself.
Young Sun Boy found himself moved and enraged when he found out what might have been his future, but his anger caused him to miss the point of it all. Sun Boy the elder brought it all on himself…
The cycle of abuse and anger finally gets a chance to end, as the SW6 Sun Boy finally finds the courage to help his older self out of a jam, and finally takes the lesson not to let his anger, his internal darkness consume him. But the price that both Sun Boys pay is unimaginable…
Dirk the younger goes on to join his younger pals as the Legionnaires, protectors of New Earth, redubbing himself “Inferno” (terrible name) in the tradition of “Alchemist,” “Apparition,” and “Triad.” Even though he learned from the elder Dirk’s mistakes, he still had the same streak of chauvinism, narcissism, and serial womanizing in him…
Although Inferno and his friends were at first described as clones, the truth was far more insidious, and eventually fatal to their entire century. It turns out that the mysterious Time Trapper had created chronal duplicates of the younger Legion as part of a plot to do… something. That break in time, combined with the events known as Zero Hour, led to the shattering of the 30th Century, and the Legionnaires slowly found themselves disappearing from the timestream one by one. Only those with chronal duplicates are left alive, on a ravaged Earth… except Dirk, whose counterpart is dead. Well, at least MOSTLY dead…
Wildfire’s actions allowed Sun Boy to live a few days longer than most of his brethren in the LSH, but eventually they all succumbed to the events of Zero Hour, and the 30th century was reset to a whole new universe. The Legionnaires were gathered, with no sight of Sun Boy, until an emergency signal from a lab on Earth led them to a hostage situation. A Doctor Regulus, angry with his employer, Derek Morgna, hatches a familiar plan to get revenge…
Young Dirk Morgna was nearly killed by radiation, but somehow it triggered superhuman powers in him, causing him to radiate as brightly as the sun, and control heat. In an eerily familiar turn of events, he used his powers to stop Regulus’ schemes, but this story ends a bit more… viscerally than before.
Too bright to even look at, Dirk is kept as a guinea pig by the Science Police, until he finally tires of being poked and prodded, and breaks loose, melting his way out of quarantine to find his once again absentee father, forcing the Legion who shoulda coulda woulda been his friends and teammates to instead oppose him.
Luckily, Legionnaire XS is blessed with brains that work as fast as her Speed Force-empowered legs, and solves the problem with a simply pair of sunglasses. Granted, they’re full-body polarized transuit sunglasses, but hey, an answer is an answer…
This version of Dirk Morgna never joins the Legion at all, indeed, is never seen again, having reconciled with his father, Derek. It brings to mind the question of whether his entire heroic career was just an attempt to get a hug from Daddy, doesn’t it? His place as LSH flame-thrower was usurped by a female called Inferno (who, yes, will be getting her own story told, at some point) but this is the last we’ll see of the rebooted Dirk Morgna. Several years later, the Legion is once again rebooted, and the new W/KRP (Waid/Kitson Reboot Period) version of the Legion takes a more traditional tack, returning stalwarts like Light Lass and Sun Boy to their ranks, with a post-modern ironic twist.
This version of Sun Boy’s costume lacks the panache, lacks the disco bondage collar, the external canary yellow underpants on the outside, in short, lacks most of the awesomeness that was his original suit. Still, this version of Sun Boy captures the headstrong nature of the original, his confidence, his drive, and most of all, his leadership potential. When a rogue team of superhumans called “Terror Firma” are defeated by the Legion, Dirk steps forward and makes a shocking announcement…
Sun Boy shows what really makes himself tick, explaining to his friends and partners that his destiny lies elsewhere, and that Terror Firma is his vehicle to achieve it…
This time, he knows exactly what he’s doing, with no pesky “Spaaace Maaadnessss” to get in the way. Dirk leaves the Legion, and spends the better part of a year leading the Terror Firma shock troops to fight for a better tomorrow. He doesn’t return to the Legion until the Dominators (hmm… that sounds familiar) attack again, as the Legion, Terror Firma, and a group of paramilitary supers called ‘The Wanderers’ are forced to combine their forces to fight off an army of genetically grown superhumans. When Mekt Ranzz (Lightning Lad’s elder brother, who was in the Pre-Crisis Legion the villain called Lightning Lord) continually gets on his bad side, Sun Boy proves that even a kindler, gentler Dirk can still (you should excuse the expression) lose his cool.
Tough-guy dialogue and power boosting aside, Sun Boy is once again a member in good standing of the Threebooted LSH, undoing one of the greatest injustices of the Archie Legion. At once admirable and unpleasant, heroic and selfish, Dirk Morgna is another example of how the Legion can take those who may not be the most perfect specimens, and allows them to achieve their full potential. For all his faults, Sun Boy stood alongside the Legion through some of it’s darkest hours, and even though he didn’t always take the right path, he pulled out victories (even over himself) when it really counted. Sun Boy’s driving urge was, like so many of us, to be famous, to be popular, to be loved by the ladies and the general public. In a way, he was a precursor to every post-modern hero who does it for money, or glory, paving the way for Booster Gold, The Authority, and The Order years later. Though his world and his story may have gotten dark, Sun Boy’s blazing legacy is perhaps the simplest of all: He did the right things, when they mattered the most.
**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:
Or you can just click “Hero History” in the “What We Are Writing About” section on the main page… Collect ‘em all! In our next outing: The Legionnaire that time, the universe, even the writers seemed to forget about. Get ready for the short career and heroic legacy of the Legionnaire called Chemical King!