Or – “What A Difference A Few Decades Make…”
If you’re a regular reader of our Hero Histories, you’ve probably gleaned that the team’s adventures have been somewhat unorthodox for a comic super-group. The Legion has been up and down the popularity charts, have run the gamut from super-silly to ultra-serious tales, and have dealt with grown-up subjects like marriage, death, betrayal, and sexual issues long before the rest of the comics world was ready to do so. The Legion’s earliest adventures, though, were steeped in the rules of the Silver Age of comics, and the rules of Mort Weisinger’s Superman titles especially. For a long time the LSH was considered nothing more than Tom Welling’s little pals from the far future, and no matter what happened, the boy in the red cape had to be the center of attention. Nowhere was this more evident than when his non-super pals made the scene in the Legion and were given special status due to their proximity to the boy of steel. (It’s good to have powerful friends…) Awesomely, though, the pals and gal of Superman ended up PROVING the point of the Legion rather than undermining it, showing once again that heroism is a state of mind. This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Pete Ross of Smallville… James Bartholomew Olsen of Metropolis… Gnill Opral of Hagor… Lana Lang of Smallville… Rond Vidar of Earth… The Honorary Legionnaires!
Jimmy Olsen’s history stretches back nearly as far as the history of comics themselves, and most of us are, I’m sure, pretty familiar with his whole schtick. Boy reporter/photographer, wants to break in, “Don’t call me chief!”, green suit with bow tie blah blah blah fishcakes. And, of course, bizarre transformations. Fat Jimmy. Porcupine Jimmy. Giant Turtle Olsen. Werewolf Jimmy. Giant Flying Robot Hillbilly Jimmy. And, of course, the most outlandish Olsen of them all, the purple-and-green-tights-wearing India rubberman called Elastic Lad!
After several adventures as his stretchy alter-ego, Jimmy Olsen eventually found himself in a pickle. A strange villain had captured him, and forced him to face his own bizarre former alter-egos, each more bizarre than the last!
Apparently, this villain’s whole raison d’etre is having one of every mutant Jimmy Olsen, which makes the specific psychoses of most super-villains look pathetic in comparison. But, luckily, as with nearly everything that happened to Jim between 1960 and 1973, it was all a big swerve!
These are the events that make me love the Legion so much, in that the greatest protectors of the 30th century apparently got SO bored, that they had to travel back in time and use their mighty powers to fake out some cub reporter who might have known somebody famous. It makes you wonder if there really was any crime to be had, or if these kids just hung out together to kill time, doesn’t it? In any case, the whole schmageggi wasn’t just an attempt to be mean and mess with the Olsen kid, but as an elaborate initiation prank!
Is it just me, or does Superman seem a little bit miffed about the whole thing? More than that, note the four heads in the immediate foreground, belonging to long-time Substitute Legionnaires Fire Lad, Polar Boy, Night Girl, and Stone Boy (a long story that we’ll get to sooner than you’ll ever think.) Doesn’t it seem a bit cruel to make these four, who have legitimate super-powers, watch a kid in a Sears Toughskin suit get into the same group that rejected them for not being heroic enough? Either way, having made it into the Legion, Jimmy occasionally found himself summoned to the 30th century to participate in LSH hijinks.
I love the way Jimmy instinctively thinks in expositionary dialogue for any 30th century telepathic brain globes that might be passing by. I also love the casual cruelty in Saturn Girl explaining that every single other Legionnaire was busy being eaten by a crocodile or they never would called him. This is the legendary “Legion of Super-Bitches” moment that Stephen so dearly loved back in the day, wherein the girl who married an inflatable man, the girl who married a blob that looked like her high school boyfriend, and the girl who eventually had a thing with Shrinking Violet all pretend to love Jimmy and his purple tights…
This sequence proves that teenagers is teenagers, and teenagers is cruel, no matter where or when you are. But, for all the implied cruelty, the girls were actually trying to do Olsen a favor, trying to improve his love life with Lois Lane’s little sister Lucy.
I like to think that this is the story that drove the Legion girls to deviant lifestyles. Pretending to have the hots for the ginger kid sent on their paths to various strange partners, never to return. This is the strange appeal of the O-Man. Olsen’s lovelife with Lucy continued on the same path, with him courting her and her apparently only hanging out with him because he helps her to feather her bangs (noting that this is 1961, well before this ‘Farrah’ do would become a world-wide craze.) When the Legion changes their leadership rules, Jimmy is excited to find that even he has a shot at being the ramrod of the LSH, and hopes he can use it to his advantage…
But, even though Elastic Lad is a marginally respected hero, he’s still just goofy Jimmy Olsen at heart, his attempt to wrest leadership of the Legion from Saturn Girl are somewhat less than inspiring…
I’d really like to have the Silver Age Matter-Eater Lad and Invisible Kid figures they have there, just as an aside… Jimmy fails in his attempt to be the Legion leader (but, luckily, later on in this particular H.H., we’ll have the answer to who DID win, because I don’t want to leave you in suspenders) but still manages to make an impression on the team. Jimmy didn’t make all that many additional appearance with the LSH, but still managed to reference the Legion and his honorary membership in his own adventures for several years.
I’ve long had a theory, based on years of comic book reading, that the best way to get your own superpowers is to hang around people with powers yourself, and nowhere is that more true than in Smallville, Kansas. Just ask Lana Lang, Clark Kent’s main squeeze in high school. Though she spends most of her time snooping into who the Boy of Steel is without his cape, she also occasionally puts on tights of her own as the Insect Queen!
So, wait, what’s the lesson here? Do the right thing only when it means that your blue-tighted boyfriend is going to reward you? And also, what the heck is wrong with Tom Welling, in that bringing a girl from 1961 and just LEAVING her to her own devices in the far-flung future Metropolis? I can think of ten ways that could end badly, three of which end with Lana dead and/or converted into Soylent Green. Thankfully, though, she only gets in the Legion’s way, causing all sorts of havoc, and shooting some sort of netting out her butt.
Dream Girl tells Lana that she must not turn into a moth, as it will lead to great tragedy for her. Lana, though, doesn’t do the smart thing and stay at headquarters letting the heroes do their job.. Oh, no no no. This is the woman who wants to reveal the identity of the greatest hero she has ever known, without regard for the consequences thereof. But, unbelievably, when Tom Welling fails in his mission, his fate falls into the hands of the Insect Queen!
I really think that this was like when your friends tell you not to imagine a white polar bear, and you find yourself unable to imagine anything BUT a white polar bear. In any case, Lana saves Tom Welling from death by Kryptonite, but in the process loses the bio-ring that gives her insect powers, and sticking her in the form of a Sphinx moth, seemingly forever. She takes it pretty well, though, helping the Legion to take in the villain that they’ve been trying to capture for months.
We have to take a couple of things into account when we look at the Honorary status of Lana Lang. Kal-El is the Legion’s inspiration, the hero that they all look up to. Lana’s superheroic status is entirely due to her proximity to Clark, and her heroic adventures always revolve around him. It’s somewhat understandable for the team to want to recognize her efforts, especially in saving his life during a Legion mission, but as with Elastic Lad, she’s really only getting in because she knows the Kryptonian. Lana’s Legion run was even less significant that Elastic Lad’s, with only two appearances to her credit. Several years (our time) after her membership was granted, Lana once again got permission to head through the timestream…
“Mooom? Can I go 1000 years in the future and hang out with two dozen kids in spandex all weekend?” I cannot imagine how Lana’s mom doesn’t think she’s on drugs. Once Clark and Lana arrive in the future, they find a Legion that is in turmoil, with one of their members (Ultra Boy) seemingly having gone mad, and the team ready to put him TO DEATH for his crimes. Lana is horrified, and Kal tries to stop them, when it becomes clear that Ultra Boy is the only one who HASN’T gone mad, and the entire Legion is being mind-controlled by someone… Clark is forced to flee, and Lana is tied to a stake with Ultra Boy to be executed!
Ultra Boy and Lana, left for dead, suddenly come back to life and leap into action. How did they manage THAT one? Well, HE’S occasionally invulnerable… and as for Lana?
I’m not sure if Lana should wear broad horizontal stripes on her hips like that… In any case, the unlikely threesome of Tom Welling, Ultra Boy, and Insect Queen move to save their mind-controlled teammates, but Lana herself is manipulated into stinging Ultra Boy with her wasp butt. All seems lost, until U-Boy makes the scene again…
Insect Queen saves the day, and by extension, the whole Legion from destruction, proving that even if she only got in because she’s Clark’s main squeeze, she still has something unique to contribute (even if that’s just turning her butt into various throraxes.) The great disappointment is that she doesn’t look nearly enough like Kristen Kreuk.
Jimmy and Lana may have gotten into the LSH based mostly on their relationships with the Teen of Steel, at least they had costumes and powers of their own. Our next honorary Legionnaire was honored not because of any secret identity of his own, but indeed for his stalwart protection of someone else’s. In the Silver Age, only one person knew who Tom Welling was without his cape and boots on, and that one man was Pete Ross. For his part, though, Pete made sure to protect this knowledge, even with strange super-powered kids come to town trying to suss out that secret…
‘Gary Crane’ turns out to be a familiar face to Legionnaire fans, better known as Jo Nah, Ultra Boy. Ultra Boy is participating in yet another hazing ritual, this one his OWN initiation to the Legion, and his mission is to discover the secret identity of the Legendary rhymes-with-Hooperboy. In so doing, he also discovers that Kal-El has dedicated friends who will protect him, even without his knowledge.
Pete’s reward for loyalty gets cashed in quickly, as a few months later he, Jimmy, and all the assembled superheroes participate in a contest for which the prize is leadership of the team! (Told you we’d get to the end of that story.) The competition, created by Proty II (!!), requires the Legionnaires to complete several difficult missions to get a clue to a puzzle. Whomever figures out the puzzle will become the leader of the Legion, but when Pete’s turn comes up, his task seems beyond him…
I love the expositionary thought processes there. I often sit at my desk and think, “Now that I am here to write a review, I should probably talk about Pete Ross and how he learned the secret of Superboy, as seen in this picture above!” Pete got his clue, but didn’t win the contest, as the first Legionnaire to figure out the puzzle was none other than Legion leader Saturn Girl…
So, the Legion discovers that the leader they have is the leader that they should have, as she was the right girl all along…
Pete Ross kept his friend’s secret all through high school and well into adulthood, getting married (if memory serves, to Lana Lang, actually, though that might have been post-Crisis Pete) and having a child. But, when the worst thing that can happen to a parent happens, his grief causes him to finally reveal the truth to Clark…
As Superman streaks into action, the situation gets even stranger (like a midwestern kid getting abducted by aliens wasn’t weird enough) as Pete’s former pals in the Legion find Jon Ross, and explain that, not only isn’t Superman going to save him, he ain’t GETTING saved, because the future depends on it.
The Legionnaires intercept Kal, and tell him the truth about Jon’s destiny, how the loss of one little boy on Earth will lead to saving the lives of billions throughout the galaxy, as he leads the aliens into a new era of peace…
Pete kind of pops his cork a little after this, and manages to transfer his mind into the body of young Clark Kent, (!) use Clark’s powers to drill through time, (!!) and fight his older self, presumably to the death. Luckily, he eventually comes to his senses, and eventually returns to be Superman’s pal for decades to come, eventually becoming Vice President of the Unites States and then a young African-American teenager…
The most tragic story among the honorary Legionnaires is the tale of Gnill Opral, a young lad who arrived in 20th Century Smallville (as did dozens of Legionnaires before him) to assist Tom Welling with an emergency that threatens the populace…
“Hi, my name is… WHAT? My name is… WHO? My name is (chicka chicka) KID PSYCHO!” Gnill and Clark bond over their similarities and the whole “wearing funny clothes, rocketed from a dead planet” business and Kid Psycho tells the origin of his amazing abilities.
Gnill’s life parallels Kal’s in a lot of ways, and they both know what it’s like to have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men and women, but their introductions to the Legion went a little bit differently…
So, presuming that a native of Hagor lives the same length of time as an Earthling, that would mean that K.P. would only be able to use his power 60 or 70 times, depending on how old he actually is. When you think about it, though, how many of us have 60 or 70 times in our LIFE when we get to do something even vaguely heroic? Something to think about, and a point that Kid Psycho seems to understand as well…
The break between Kid Psycho’s appearances makes the time between Insect Queen’s issues look like nothing, as nearly 20 years (our time) passes before the Kid comes back into the picture. When the original Crisis on Infinite Earths began, and the waves of anti-matter began, Kid Psycho leapt into action for the first time as Legion secret weapon #1… and also the last, as a wave takes his life. But, in true heroic fashion, his death not only saves lives, it trips the Legionnaires (and one Rond Vidar) to the fact that time is not what it used to be…
But wait, you say? Who is the Vidar kid, anyway? I’m glad you asked, Faithful Spoilerite…
Of all the Legion’s honorary members, the one with the longest history and the most interactions with the Legion is our young friend Rond. His story starts during one of the Silver Age Legion’s darkest times, when a villain called Universo stole Rond’s science fair experiment (the Time Cube, the device that eventually led him to create the Time Bubbles the Legion used to contact Tom Welling in the first place) and used it to send the Legionnaires back into the time stream to be dispatched. Once the heroes were out of the way, Universo infiltrated the United Planets ruling council and began to bend them to his telepathic will…
Rond’s ingenuity (which, tellingly, impresses even the 12th level mind of Brainiac 5) allowed him to use his high school science fair project to save the various Kids and Lasses from the horrors of the timestream. But, aside from the obvious instinct to do good things, what would possess Rond to feel responsible for Universo’s actions?
Dum dum daaaah! Some time later, Universo comes up with another place, disguising himself as the vice-president of the U.P. and drugging the water supply to control the population. He uses his position to outlaw the Legion entirely, locking up the membership, and leaving the team without any of their usual resources. But he didn’t reckon on one fact of life: sometimes the apple really DOES fall a good distance from the tree.
With most of the Legionnaires in prison, the Legion Espionage Squad is forced to take action, with their subtler powers allowing them to stay on Universo’s radar. Thanks to Rond’s timely intervention, the team is able to prove their innocence, and reveal “Boltax” to be Universo once and for all. Once again, Rond has been forced to overturn his familial bonds for the greater good, and the kids of the Legion choose to honor him this time with their highest award: a team membership.
Rond assists the Legion off and on throughout the years, becoming Brainiac 5′s close friend and confidante, and earning a prestigious post at the Time Institute. When an associate named Jaxon Rugarth accidentally turns himself into the cosmic entity known as the Infinite Man, it’s Rond who finally comes up with the plan to take him down…
Working with the Time Institute, Rond becomes one of the foremost minds on time, space, and dimension, and assists the Legion on several occasions. One of the most interesting cases he encounters involved Douglas Nolan, the twin brother of Ferro Lad, who shares his bro’s facial deformity and steel-transforming powers, but also has the ability to look through dimensions into alternate realities.
Brainiac, Circadia and Rond finally put two and two together, and figured out what had been happening to Douglas’ mind, and Brainiac takes the final step to save the brother of Ferro Lad…
Rond and Brainiac continued their work together, and young Vidar spearheaded the exploration of temporal physics. But, then, there came a day when Universo again decided to try and take over the world, and this time, decided to make sure that the little bastard who thwarted him twice before didn’t get an third shot at it, and buried his son alive. The Legionnaires were horrified to find Rond dead, but managed (if only barely) to throw off the yoke of Universo’s mind control. This left Brainiac very confused, very alone, and down one bestest friend…
The loss of Rond was one of many factors (the loss of Supergirl, the death of the Time Trapper’s fake Tom Welling, as well as exile by his people) that made Brainiac a harder and more unforgiving individual, but when he, Saturn Girl, Duo Damsel and Mon-El teamed up to try and punish the Time Trapper for the killing of young Kal-El, he was just enough off balance that even his wonderful mind couldn’t figure out a way to break through the newly strengthened barrier of time. Enter: a dead man!
Rond says something equivalent to, “Meh, it didn’t take,” and quickly avails the Legionnaires of his original Time Cube, still mint in box, a piece of technology so awkward and ancient that the Time Trapper didn’t think to block it’s ability to traverse the eons. The fivesome arrives at Vanishing Point, the Trapper’s citadel at the end of time, but are amazed to find that they’re very much outgunned.
With the most powerful Legionnaire out of action, and Luornu and Imra side-tracked, Brainiac believes himself to be the only hope against the Trapper. But, freshly returned from the grave, young Mr. Vidar has a few ideas of his own on the subject.
“My name is Rond Vidar. You keeled my Tom Welling. Prepare to die.” The purple-hooded time warrior is less than impressed with the upstart punk from the Time Institute, but even the Trapper is surprised by the results when he tries to press an attack.
With the odds suddenly in their favor, the two remaining upright Legionnaires engage in a desperate plan to gain revenge on Traps, and also (miraculously) get themselves home alive and well. They quickly unleash the Infinite Man on the Trapper, and Rond gets to once again pull the save out of his hat…
The Legion is forever changed by this conspiracy within it’s ranks, and the mission costs the life of Mon-El and another third of the former Triplicate Girl. The Legion soldiers on, and eventually disbands under pressure from a Dominator-controlled Earthgov. During the ensuing years, Rond continues to be active as Green Lantern, eventually running afoul of the sorcerer called Mordru…
Say what you will about Mordru, he’s a powerful little sick puppy… Rond is mystically kept alive, repeatedly tortured as his body regenerates itself only to be tortured and devoured again. It’s amazing that his mind didn’t turn into something with the consistency of warm frozen yogurt.
The Legionnaires arrive to confront Mordru, but before they can do it, the 30th century goes through another set of sudden strange changes, this time due to a battle between a resurrected Mon-El and the Time Trapper which led to the Trapper’s death. Unfortunately, with T.T. gone, Mordru was free to take over the universe, and only a few heroic types were strong and cunning enough to stand against him. The spearhead behind this resistance movement? One Rond Vidar…
Rond figures out that the removal of the Trapper as Mordru’s balancing force is the domino that created their horrible world, and, even more impressively, finds a way to restore the universe, manipulating a minor sorceress known as Glorith of Balduur into taking the Time Trapper’s place in the greater hierarchy of things.
For those of you counting at home, that’s no fewer than four times that Rond has been more than just a little bit responsible for the well-being of a greater portion of the universe. Beat that, Deadpool! The Legion of Super-Heroes has always been about three things: Teenagers in tight clothes, overkill, and the proposition that every single solitary person, from the most powerful Kryptonian to the nerdy kid with the big head in the turban, can be a hero, when the time is right. Many of these heroes, (hell, many of the FULL-FLEDGED Legionnaires) might find themselves outpowered by random X-Men, Avengers, or Power Pack kids, but nonetheless, when the chips were down, used their brains, their courage, and whatever else they could muster to do what they knew to be right…
**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:
Invisible Kid II
Karate Kid II
The White Witch
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 installment, the one some of you have been waiting for… Some are born to heroism, some have heroism thrust upon them. Some have to find heroism in it’s parking garage, chloroform it, and drag it squirming into an unmarked van and squeal away into the night. Maybe they’re not the most powerful, but they more than make up for that in sheer guts, heart, and loony-tune intensity. Join us for the history of… The Legion of Substitute Heroes!
About Matthew Peterson
Were pop culture a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Matthew still 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.