Hero History: Chemical King

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Or -  “My Initiative Is Simple:  No Legionnaire Left Behind!”

In the early 1980′s, Marvel Comics began printing up their “Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe,” an in-depth, encyclopedic examination of events, people and places in Marvel history.  DC soon followed suit with their “Who’s Who In The DC Universe,” which took a different tack, essentially covering the high points of a character’s publishing history, as well as one-upping Marvel’s static costume shots with a full-size collage of the character’s history and heroic feats.  It was here that I first encountered today’s Historical subject…  As a Legion fan, I was fascinated by the fact that one of their members existed entirely in the lacunae of my Legion knowledge (which at that time consisted of reprints of the first five years of Adventure Comics and most of what happened after Tyroc joined in the 220′s.)  His story sounded exciting, and his eventual fate was fascinating, and I resolved to find every appearance of this “Lost Legionnaire.”  Little did I know that I’d only be hunting down a dozen or so comics.  But as even the youngest child can tell you, quantity is not the same as quality (unless you’re talking about toys or candy) and he will stand alongside his teammates as a testament to the Legion’s central tenet:  Heroism is about people, and every person has something to contribute.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Condo Arlik of Phlon…  Chemical King!

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As we have seen several times before, many of the Legionnaires owe their existence to 50′s/60′s Superman creators’ love of the ironic twist ending.  Star Boy, Mon-El, even ne’er do well Nemesis Kid secured their place in LSH history because somebody needed an O. Henry moment to cap off a ten page storyline.  Chemical King’s origins come from similar stock, if on a much larger scale.  When the teenagers of the Legion had made only a couple of handfuls of appearances, it was decided that what was good for the Tom Welling was good for the Christopher Reeve, and SuperMAN crossed over with the far-flung future as well…

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This “Adult Legion” tale was, for many years, treated as the real and inescapable future of our teen team, and various writers enjoyed playing with our heads with little throwaway moments that put into motion things that we saw in this future tale.  Although we had already met and seen the heroic sacrifice of Ferro Lad, the other members shown were basically meant to intrigue us.  Writer Jim Shooter considered this future valid, and so Shadow Lass joined the Legion soon after, Quantum Queen was seen as a member of rival super-team The Wanderers, and the Legion marriages foretold in this volume made the couples involved nearly inseparable for years.  Fifteen or sixteen issues later, Colossal Boy ends up back in the Legion academy due to complex series of events, and finds himself face to face with the future of the Legion.

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Young Condo Arlik was described as a mutant with the ability to affect or speed up chemical reactions, and (alongside Timber Wolf, the former Lone Wolf) was close to graduation when the Colossal Boy seemingly turned on his teammates, forcing Brainiac 5 to put into motion a Machiavellian plan…

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Because certainly, nobody would ever recognize the best known character in the history of comic books when he puts on a purple jumpsuit and knee boots.  One wonders why, since the disguise was successful enough to fool his closest friends and coworkers, young Superboy Mr. Welling didn’t just put on a pair of glasses and count on his greatest super-power of all: complacent writers.  Either way, the two Legionnaires and the two cadets head into the field with a tale of rejection and disharmony, hoping to get themselves noticed by the members of the Legion of Super-VILLAINS!

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Chemical King’s powers, as you might have guessed from the vagueness of both my AND the writer’s descriptions thereof, were a very nebulous affair, amounting pretty much to alchemy.  Successfully infiltrating the LSV, Chem, Cham, Tom and Tim(ber Wolf) undermine their sister Legion’s evil plans by faking Mr. Welling’s death.  The seeming murder of the Kryptonian caused Colossal Boy to snap and start cracking skulls, turning the tide in favor of the LSH.  It was then that the team discovered that C.B.’s parents were being held hostage by LSV founder Tarik the Mute.  Though the giant Legionnaire asked for some time off immediately, team leader Ultra Boy wasn’t worried about their power levels… 

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With that, the man in the green disco collar was officially a member of the Legion…  But (for reasons that wouldn’t be revealed until years later) Condo Arlik pretty much kept to himself, maintaining a voluntary isolation, even among a couple dozen of the universe’s most outside outsiders.  Still, Chemical King was a valued member of the Legion, and a team player at that, as seen when Saturn Girl was outsmarted by Wanderer Ornitho…

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Slowly, though, Chemical King managed to come at least a LITTLE bit out of his shell, bonding with his teammates, and slowly making friends among the other LSHer’s…

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Chemical King found himself especially close to Matter-Eater Lad and Invisible Kid (the first one) and even helped M-E Lad in his not-especially-successful attempt to woo Shrinking Violet’s affections away from Duplicate Boy.  He was also a member of the Legion during one of it’s darkest hours, when the team was nearly brought down, not by Mordru’s magic, the Time Trapper’s science or the powers of the Fatal Five, but instead by simple bureaucracy…

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Chemical King’s readiness to protect his teammates by quitting once again shows his selflessness, and gives a hint to what lies beneath: a massive inferiority complex.  Still, he once again rose to the occasion when he was trapped on a mission with Shrinking Violet and Legion founder Cosmic Boy…

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Cos’ vote of confidence gives Chemical King the extra “je ne sais quoi” he needed, and a quick chemical inversion later, their net is in flames courtesy of one of the oldest tricks in his book…

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Chemical King’s hair reminds me a lot of a young Wayne Newton here…  He and Cosmic Boy use their powers in concert to free young Ms. Digby from her captivity, then the three Legionnaires go on to confront their captor: a giant disembodied floating metal head in a cube.  (Let it not be said that the swingin’ 60′s weren’t a great time to be a comics fan.)  When the metallic monstrosity starts raving about his revenge, the team gets suspicious that he’s off his proverbial rocker.  But it’s Chemical King who finally puts two and two together about the robot’s ravings regarding a FOURTH Legionnaire.

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Pink, green, beige, and a black girdle.  I think that costume was reused in Youngblood at one point, actually.  For all his difficulty accepting it, Chemical King became a well-respected member of the team, handling not only combat duties but ceremonial ones as well.

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It’s a bit telling that, even in the age of costumes that morph from time to time, Chemical King’s togs change with nearly every outing.  His friendship with Invisible Kid is put to the test when I-Kid discovers that an assassin has duplicated his invisibility formula, and is using his discovery with malicious intent.  Thankfully, Mr. Norg is as brilliant a strategist as he is a biochemist, and the killer is taken down with the Legion’s one-two-three!

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Lyle Norg and Condo Arlik have much in common, really.  Their powers aren’t flashy combat skills, their natures are much more introverted, and Lyle’s love of the headband is matched by Condo’s love of the great big collar.  Chemical King once again saves the day when he, Phantom Girl, and Colossal Boy accompany a Legion rookie called ERG-1 on a mission to the agrarian planet Manna-5.  A runaway crop machine is within seconds of kill Colossal Boy, when ERG uses his ultimate super-power (borrowed from a Daffy Duck cartoon) to stop the machine.  If only he had a bit more patience, he might have survived, as Chemical King quickly takes out the crop-collector mere moments later…

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ERG, you might recall, returned to the Legion a few months later as Wildfire.  Chemical King, on the other hand, nearly disappeared from the Legion for long months, showing up only in the occasional cameo for the “Hey, it’s THAT guy” factor…

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We could presume any number of things from these disappearances.  Did his powers force him to isolate himself on occasion?  Could they have possibly affected his body chemistry, putting him in the infirmary for a time?  Could he have been busy with other missions?  It’s almost as if some force in the universe were controlling the very LIVES of the LSH, and somehow that mystical force couldn’t think of anything to DO with Chemical King’s powerset.  But that’s just crazy talk, isn’t it?  Sure, he probably had a slight outbreak of diabetes or something…  Indeed, to support this assertion, when he returned Condo showed skill in something he hadn’t before: manipulating the chemical reactions INSIDE a living body as well as he would an external interaction.

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Another interesting facet of Chemical King’s power came in the form of his empathy, a common trait among those who are themselves isolated.  When Roxxas the Butcher, the murderer who killed Element Lad’s entire home planet of Trom, is busted loose, E-Lad is filled with a righteous urge to kill…  While the other Legionnaires tried to convince him with logic, Chemical King instead took a moment to examine the situation, to understand Element Lad’s torture, and acted accordingly.

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Roxxas the Butcher lies dead, Star Boy is saddened, Tom Welling horrified, and Chemical King…  Actually, Chemical King (who as we might remember earlier, takes the Legion’s code against killing quite seriously) is strangely okay with the whole thing…

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Cool, calm, and collected, even in the face of an enraged Kryptonian, Chemical King reveals the truth.  While the other Legionnaires stood by and condemned Jan for his actions, Condo actually DID something about it, engineering a situation that would show Element Lad that more killing wouldn’t do anything but darken his karma that much more.  Not only THAT, but he was willing to take a beating from TOM FRICKIN’ WELLING if it meant helping out a teammate.  An impressive feat from the kid from Phlon (not to be confused with flan, the Spanish after-dinner treat.)  This influx of confidence (about which we’ll learn more later) even led him to be more bold in the field, fighting hand-to-hand with… IRON MAN!

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Oh, alright.  It’s not Iron Man.  It’s Fenton Pike, but he’s still a horrendous d-bag in red and gold armor, so we’re in the same ballpark.  This new and improved C.K. is ready to make the Legion proud, even to the point of endangering his own life to save innocents (something that we’ll, likewise, revisit later.)

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Phantom Girl and Chemical King are nearly done in by their efforts, but succeed in disarming Pike’s nuclear weapon and saving Metropolis from turning into a fifty-mile-wide-red-smear.  But the final step in the evolution of Condo Arlik as hero came a few months later, with this giant DUM-DUM-DAAAAH-inducing cover…

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Well, let’s see.  We have a Legion founder, their resident giant, the only REAL alien onboard at the time, and a character whose existence pretty much created the comic book genre…  and Condo with some mean Elvis sideburns.  Also, in the script, all of Condo’s lines are credited to “Ensign Ricky.”  For whatever reason, the fear and doubt that were Chemical King’s Kryptonite had returned, causing him to question not only his suitability for heroism, but his reason for being in the Legion.  Making things worse is his partner for the issue, one Clark Kent…

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Does anyone else wonder if Chemical King suffers from some sort of imbalance?  After all, that kind of raging self-doubt often has a cause that is chemical in nature…  Perhaps his powers are unconsciously messing with his own chemistry?  Either way, as foretold in his very first appearance, Chemical King faces a terrorist mastermind called Deregon, who wants to start World War VII with a nuclear weapon.  The device has already begun it’s nuclear countdown when the Legionnaires arrive, and Chemical King realizes that it’s finally time.  “This looks like a job… for CHEMICAL KING!”

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That’s a very powerful moment, and true to their snarls, the team hunts down Deregon in the next issue.  The creepy demagogue finds his own eternal doom, falling to his death into a vat of chemical waste.  Chemical King had followed his best friend Invisible Kid into the good night, but some years later, we find out some backstory on Chemical King, in a story that takes place even before his (technical) first appearance during that first Legion of Super-Villains story.  The young mutant from Phlon had a great deal of difficulty channeling his powers, but luckily found help from young biochemist Lyle Norg…

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Note that Condo mentions his powers affecting his body chemistry, here…  Invisible Kid checks out his young charge, and tries to give him a pep talk, reminding him of the positive aspects of his abilities…

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Ever wonder how a relative nobody ended up in the Legion academy all those years ago?  After all, even Lone Wolf had SOME sort of street rep going for him.  Condo had nothing but a nice haircut and an imaginary belt.  This flashback all takes place almost immediately after Ferro Lad’s death, and Invisible Kid has been investigating reports of a “Ghost of Ferro Lad” haunting the halls of Legion headquarters.  He tries to use his stealth powers to find the source of the reports, only to have an inexperienced Condo interrupt and… well, kinda blow some $#!+ up.

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This story explains a great deal about Chemical King and his backstory, and it wasn’t even printed until nearly fifteen years after the fact.  Still, it wasn’t the last time we’d have an insight into the mind of Mr. Arlik, as he (along with fellow deceased Legionnaires Karate Kid and Ferro Lad) had their origins finally told years after they each died…

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Because of the dangerousness of his abilities, Condo was raised in near-isolation, left alone for weeks at a time, his only interactions with doctors in full Dustin-Hoffman-monkey-handling suits.  He grew up, learning all that he could about chemistry and elemental interaction in the hopes of someday figuring out how to live a normal life.  The doorway to that ordinary life came in the form of a most extraordinary young man…

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And right here we see the seeds of what many suspected was (and in the reboot reality would actually become) a most unconventional Legion romance.  Lyle’s formulas allow Condo a semblance of normal life, allowing him to become a hero, join the LSH academy, graduate to the big team, and become something much more than average.  But the most heartbreaking moment in any Chemical King story, more so than his own sacrifice, was the previously unseen moment when Legion leader Brainiac 5 broke the news of Invisible Kid’s demise…

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It really breaks your heart to see Chemical King break down like that.  You don’t expect to see that kind of emotion from a Legionnaire, especially not with such force.  It’s another reason why many suspect that Condo and Lyle were a secret couple, even in the pre-Crisis version of the Legion.  You may remember me referring to Chemical King’s newfound resolve previously, how he finally found the courage to act like the hero he always was…  In this adjusted reality (by this time, Tom Welling had been wiped from the continuity for the first time) it is Brainiac who rushes in to try and save Chemical King.  But, regardless of hue or intellect, the result is still the same…

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Once again, if you’re not a little bit touched by that moment, then there’s a good chance that you’re pure evil on a stick, and I request humbly that you leave my Hero History.  Is he gone?  Yes?  Good.  Now, where were we?  Oh, right…  Not so very long after, the events known as the Zero Hour crisis reset the 30th Century, and restarted the history of the LSH.  Lyle Norg is, once again, a brilliant biochemist who finds himself a serum that allows for invisibility.  But in this reality, there is no Legion academy, and thus no place for a potential Chemical King to matriculate.  Even so, we get veiled hints that perhaps Mr. Norg’s friendship with Condo still existed.

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In this particular reality, Condo Arlik isn’t the quiet young hero from Phlon, but apparently an Earth-born newscaster, perhaps the 30th century equivalent of Tom Brokaw…  Or maybe Katie Couric?  I don’t know.  All I know is that he appeared a time or two as a floating head to exposition about ongoing events.

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It’s interesting to note that his work clothes haven’t really changed all that much.  Though there were only veiled hints about it during the actual Legion issues, the creators of the title made it clear that Condo and Lyle WERE dating.  It’s the 30th century, after all, stuff like that isn’t so much of a deal, in theory.  Of course, since they apparently couldn’t just come out (you should excuse the expression) and say it in the then-20th-century makes me kind of sad.  Still, Condo is always willing to help, even in his new role, assisting the Legion in a way that can’t be underestimated: with good press.

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Chemical King is one of those Legionnaires, like Kinetix and Blok, who have not been revamped in the current LSH series/reality, and to my mind, the series is a bit weaker for it.  Though his powers were difficult to understand, and occasionally mistaken for Element Lad’s, Chemical King served a valuable purpose in the Legion.  He was one of those characters who underline what made the Legion different from other super-teams: real consequences.  Chemical King could have the equivalent of a nervous breakdown, or even fake a murder for the greater good of one of his teammates, something a Teen Titan or Sea Devil wouldn’t be able to accomplish.  Though hardly the longest tenured Legionnaire ever, Condo Arlik’s story is a touching tale, showing a boy’s journey from isolation to belonging to Legion membership and his eventual heroic sacrifice.  Some people might say that a team like the Legion is too big to notice his loss, but as a wise man once said, “I am involved with humanity, thus every death diminishes me.”  Or words to that effect, anyway…  In either case, they’re still true here:  Chemical King made up in heroic quality what he lacked in longevity, and showed that there’s no power too esoteric, no character too idiosyncratic to travel the path to heroism.

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**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
Chameleon Boy
Colossal Boy
Dawnstar
Dream Girl
Element Lad
Ferro Lad
Gates
Invisible Kid
Karate Kid
Kinetix
Kent Shakespeare
Lightning Lass
Matter-Eater Lad
Mon-El
Sensor Girl
Star Boy
Supergirl
Sun Boy
Thunder
Timber Wolf
Tyroc
Ultra Boy
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 ’round, she’s two or three of the hottest girls you’ll never be able to land, and her taste in men isn’t all that discerning.  Be at ringside as we take a moment to look at the life and times of Carggg’s favorite daughter…  Triplicate Girl!