Or – “Sometimes You Have To Work Your Way Up To The Big Leagues…”
There’s a lot of confusion regarding the early days of the Legion and their recruiting practices. Bouncing Boy got in, but Radiation Roy did not. Matter-Eater Lad got the nod, whereas Animal Lad was told no. The reasoning behind this has been the subject of much discussion (though I like Geoff Johns’ recent revelation in Action Comics that some of the Legion rejects were rejected because Saturn Girl could tell that there was something wrong with their minds) but the whole issue really seems to boil down to “Who Do We Like Best?” Come on, we’re looking at a bunch of teenagers, even with vast super-powers, and teenagers do a lot of stupid, arbitrary, exclusionary stuff. We should be glad that the team wasn’t smoking super-elastic fluid, or piercing their pancreas. Some heroes who didn’t make the cut, though, wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer, knowing that their day in the sun was just around the corner. These stalwart few decided to prepare themselves for the inevitable moment when they would be the ones called upon to save the day. This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Lydda Jath of Kathoon… Ral Benem of Mardru… Ulu Vakk of Lupra… Staq Mavlen of Schwar… Drura Sehpt of Somahtur… Peter Dursin of Earth… Dag Wentim of Zwen… The Legion of Substitute Heroes!
The early days of the Legion were an immediate success, as the entire United Planets immediately rallied behind the costumed kids with their wacky names, and the recruits poured in from all corners of the galaxy. Phantom and Triplicate Girls made the cut, Chameleon and Colossal Boys, even Bouncing Boy was awarded a coverted spot among the most powerful teens around. With that many people clamoring for a Legion slot, naturally there would be those who didn’t make it into the big show. But it took the fateful meeting of a girl from Kathoon and a boy from Tharr to turn rejection into something else…
People talk about how the Fantastic Four represent the four elements, and that alchemical magic is repeated here… Earth! Fire! Ice! Tree! Beehive Hairdo! CAPTAIN PLAAAANET!!! Wait, that’s something else entirely. With Night Girl’s powers already demonstrated, we quickly learn of the abilities of the other three colorful leotards.
Rejected from the Legion for having limited powers (or limited control thereof) the five young heroes could have gone home in disgust, turning to bitterness, or WORSE, a life of crime due to the percieved slight from the LSH. Instead, these five took the criticism in stride, banding together to improve their crime-fighting abilities and eventually prove their worth to the Legion.
How much would that have to hurt? Seeking out an emergency, only to have the primary Legion get there first? And Bouncing Boy being key to the mission? Double burn. The Subs returned to their lair, vowing to remain secret until such time as they were ready to step forward into the regular Legion. But this plan is side-tracked when an secret alien plot to take over the Earth is discovered while the ENTIRE LSH is off-world, fighting the alien’s decoy space fleet! Who can save us? Call in the SUBS!
Of all the Substitute Legionnaires, Dag “Stone Boy” Wentim has the lowest self-esteem, feeling that his power to turn to immobile stone makes him the weakest of the Substitute Legionnaires, but it is his ability that turns the tide against the hideous plant beasts (lucky for the Subs, since Donald Sutherland and Kevin McCarthy are nowhere to be found.)
This is the moment where you really start to like these kids, knowing that it was their own “not ready for prime-time” powers that earned the first team their little parade, and yet they make sure not to steal the Legionnaires’ limelight, especially when you realize you’re dealing with teenagers here. The Sub Legion continues training in their secret cave headquarters, watching their sister Legion closely to glean what tips they can, but it soon become obvious that Lydda “NIght Girl” Jath is interested in more than tips and tactics.
When an alien threat once again leaves the world imperiled, the Legion of Substitute Heroes are forced to come forward and reveal themselves, in the hopes of standing alongside the LSH in battle. They are sadly disappointed to find that the group that rejected them for seemingly silly reasons may actually be the elitist bunch of jerks that they seemed… especially Sun Boy.
Once again, the Subs react with class and restraint to some pretty awful behavior on the part of the heroes that they consider to be their betters. But when they present the Legionnaires with their alien-fighting robots, Sun Boy not only laughs in their face, he orders the Substitute Legion to disband or be treated as villains. The Substitute Legion is forced to retreat into the caverns beneath the survace of Earth’s moon, hiding out among artifacts of an alien race. Night Girl’s crush gets the bets of her, as she secretly contacts Cosmic Boy, trying to talk him out of his team’s mad actions, only to find that the Super-Heroes have deadly plans for the Substitute Heroes… and she’s led them straight to her friends’ hiding place.
Night Girl manages to allow her partners to escape, only to realize that one of them has been left behind, the one Substitute Legionnaire whose low self-esteem would lead him to sacrifice himself for the good of the team… Stone Boy!
The Subs put two and two together, realizing that the real Legionnaires, no matter how worried about having their spotlight stolen, would never stoop to killing anyone, and put two and two together: These CAN’T be the regular Legionnaires! A combination of the Subs powers reveals the “Legion” to be alien lizards from planet Zyzan, who have put the real Legion in suspended animation to try and take over the Earth. Once again, the Substitute heroes are the only ones who can put things right…
The moral of the story here? Sun Boy is apparently routinely enough of a jerk that when he’s replaced by a rude, snotty alien shapeshifter, nobody noticed. Still, the Substitute heroes tenacity and devotion to heroism finally get the attention of their sister Legion, and the LSH is stunned to see what their example has created…
I think the best part of that sequence is the flashback showing Stone Boy at home with Stone Dad, Stone Mom, Stone Brother and Stone Sister with their matching orange costumes and chest symbols. Legion leader Saturn Girl’s plan to reward them for repeatedly going out of their way to do the right thing has a standard. But even worse than that, the Legion of Super-Heroes has stacked the deck against the Sub heroes, sending them on missions designed to work against their weaknesses, such as sending Night Girl to a planet of constant sunshine to face it’s evil dictator…
It’s telling how much of the Subs success hinges upon Night Girl, isn’t it? Lydda’s seemingly-nonsensical plan of attack is actually brilliant, as clouds of noxious chemicals dim the skies for the first time ever…
Brains, brawn and a beehive. How can Cosmic Boy not jump at this woman? Equally as daunting, however, is the task given to the Chlorophyll Kid, whose mission is simple: Split open a mountaintop (!) so that water can flow into the valley below. Remember, kids: When you’re a superhero, destroying enviroments and habitats is all part of the job.
The next in a series of difficult-to-impossible tasks falls to Staq “Fire Lad” Mavlen (whose powers do bring up the question of Legionnaires duplicating each others abilities… How is his breathing fire any different than Sun Boy’s casting fire from his hands? Suddenly the source of Sun Boy’s strangely jealous behavior towards the Subs is revealed…) who is given the unenviable task of creating fire on a planet where it never starts raining.
That, by the way, is THREE planets’ ecosystems permanently damaged in the name of being the latest recruit to the Legion. The final member of the Substitutes has what may be the hardest job of all, capturing a rampaging beast that threatens the populace of a distant asteroid…
Once again, Dag’s low self-esteem is on display, even as we see his low self-esteem on display, as well as his nobility, sacrificing his own chance to become a Legionnaire in the name of the greater good. As the Substitutes wait on pins and needles, the Legionnaires vote…
Finally finding the acceptance that he craves, Stone Boy gives it all up to stay with the friends who have supported him for so long. The Substitute Legionnaires’ bond is easily as strong as that of the first-stringers, even if their powers have been deemed weaker. Most impressive of all is the way the team responds when faced with a threat so powerful that the LSH falls before it.
The five young heroes do what the LSH couldn’t, seeking out the minds behind the mighty death machines, and using their “lesser” powers to take out the real threat…
And, finally, the tables are turned, and the Legion of Substitute Heroes gets their moment in the sun. Following this adulation, the team finds itself in a period of unexpected success, recognized as real heroes, and even taking on their first new recruit, a lad named Color Kid!
The Subs are called into action (along with nearly every member of the Legion to date) as support during a great crisis, as the team faces the loss of Tom Welling and Laura VanderVoort due to an enormous stellar cloud of Kryptonite dust. During the mission, both teams are faced with almost unbeatable odds, but it’s new Subs Color Kid who pulls off the piece de resistance of the entire epic…
Bear in mind what we’ve just seen, here. Color Kid altered the radiative frequency of Kryptonite, saving the lives of two people who were in turn responsible for saving the universe repeatedly, frequently, and with great aplomb. Thus, by extension, it was Color Kid who was responsible for defeating the Anti-Monitor! As the Legion grew older and their missions more intense, they called upon the services of the Substitute Legion less and less, to the point where the Subs’ job came to be standing in the upper right as Legionnaires got married…
Note the appearance of J’onn J’onzz there (Bounding Boy and Duo Damsel were, after all, married on Mars.) The Substitute Legionnaires continued their quiet heroics, behind the scenes, while the Legion coninued to hold tryouts occasionally, given eager young applicants a chance to make it into the halls of valor. And, where there are tryouts, there are always rejected applicants, like poor Pete Dursin, here…
“Rejected!” No harsher words exist in the English language, especially when spoken by the kids whose example created the entire Legion out of whole cloth. The same day that Porcupine Pete didn’t quite make it, another important future Sub took her chance at greateness…
Drura is rebuffed for having too little control over her mighty ability to make people vomit, and both of the would-be heroes disappear into the hidden recesses of the 30th Century. Not long afterwards, Cosmic Boy and Shadow Lass are on hand to supervise the decommissioning of the Legion’s old upside-down-rocket-ship headquarters. They focus on finding a certain mystical stone inside the headquarters, only to find themselves running afoul of some familiarly-powered foes.
Cosmic Boy… with a gun? This seems ominous. Just as Chlorophyll Kid seems to be headed for that great big Christmas tree farm in the sky, we see the return of an old friend with a pyroclastic new hairstyle…
Thus, the Substitute Heroes finally have a place to hold their meetings that’s better than that damp ol’ cave. While the male heroes clear up issues of ownership, the distaff member of the Substitute heroes made herself even more visible (in more ways than one, thanks to Mike Grell’s patented “nearly naked” costume technology) as Night Girl finally teams up with the one Legionnaire whose powers make hers more useful… the real Shadow Lass.
Even the tough-as-nails Shadow Lass is impressed by Night Girl’s sheer guts, and also the fact that both of them got their outfit out of the fabric scraps left over from Bruce Banner’s tuxedo. Night Girl interacted with the Legion separate of her partners on several occasions, the last of which finally gives closure to her long-standing crush, as Cosmic Boy finally reveals that he shares her romantic inclinations…
Who says you can’t exude sheer machismo while wearing pink tights and a singlet? Not Lydda Jath, my friends. Her relationship with Cosmic Boy becomes one of the legendary Legion romances, with Night Girl appearing repeatedly in the role of Girlfriend Lass, even getting the ever-so-important introduction to the family back on Braal…
The other Substute Legionnaires kept a low profile for many months (years, our team) save for the occasional universal crisis, or wedding (during which they took their appointed position in the upper right hand corner of the scene) that brought all the Legion’s friends together…
Not long after these events, thought, the Legion found themselves embroiled in a galaxy-wide war with the Khundish empire, a battle during which the entire United Planets was forced into battle. Even the Science Police were pulled into the fight, but the SP’s weren’t quite ready for the savagery of the Khundish Warlords. Enter: The Substitute Heroes!
It’s moments like these when you really have to ask yourself whether being rejected from the Legion wasn’t actually BETTER for the Substitute Heroes, forcing them to work that much harder, to temper and strengthen their abilities in ways that even the regular Legionnaires haven’t had to…
The Legion of Substitute Heroes is overwhelmed by Khundish forces, but certainly not for lack of spirit. Though the heroic urge and sheer power were there, the team really only lacked one spark for true greatness: a strong tactical mind. Nowhere is this more evident than when the LSH is taken out of action by the League of Super-Assassins, leaving Brainiac 5 and the Substitute Heroes to save the day.
With the element of surprise on their side, the Substitute Heroes lay into the much more powerful League with the full extent of their abilities, shocking the murderous group with their ferocity and teamwork.
Even future greatest Legionnaire of all time, Blok isn’t prepared for the all-out attack of the Substitute Heroes, as the six-way attack downs all of his Super-Assassin teammates…
With the super-assasins on ice (quite a few of them literally), the Substitute Legion once again pulls their sister Legion’s fat out of the fire, and gains some much-needed respect back in the process. The team returns to standby duty, until the return of Darkseid heralded the begining of what would be known as the Great Darkness Saga. With the entire planet Daxam given the full array of Kryptonian super-powers and unleashed on the universe, even the Legion can’t hold them off alone… Once again, it’s the Subs to the rescue!
In the wake of Darkseid’s defeat, Night Girl returns to the side of her Braalian beau, to spend some time at his side, and meet his family. Unfortunately for Cosmic Boy, his good times are about to be cut short by a pocket nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist sect with a grudge…
With Night Girl off supporting her heartbroken boyfriend (more details on his suffering in the next few weeks, I promise) the Substitute Legion is at less than full strength when Superman comes a’callin. Through a vaguely complex series of events, he is forced to drop off one of his rogue’s gallery in the 30th Century for temporary holding. Is it Brainiac? Luthor? The Prankster? No, my friends, this is much better than any of that. The 30th Century’s second-greatest heroes are forced to face the mind-numbing presence of…
This is our first glimpse of Porcupine Pete and Infectious Lass in their roles as full-fledged Substitute Legionnaires, and they don’t disappoint, quickly fitting into the zeitgeist that is the Subs. With Ambush Bug running amok, the team is mobilized, realizing that the Bug could find out important information that would damage the timestream. Once again, it’s Stone Boy who shows himself to be among the most capable of the Substitute Heroes catching Ambush Bug in the act…
Welll… ALMOST catching him. Plummeting to his inevitable doom, Stone Boy thinks quickly, just in time for Superman to arrive and find out that the Bug is free. Thinking quickly, Dag knows he has only one real option…
Wrapping Ambush Bug in his infvulnerable cape, Superman only succeeds in losing it, and is forced to team up with the newest Substitute Legionnaires to defend the United Planets from the menace of Irwin Schwab. The Substitute Heroes are forced to bring in their secret weapon…
The Legion of Substitute Heroes Auxiliary.
I want you to think about that for a moment.
The Legion. Of Subsitute Heroes. Auxiliary.
Thanks to the Substitute Heroes, though, the day is saved, though their hard-earned respect gets somewhat sidetracked in the doing.
Almost immediately after these events, the Substitute Legion is called into action by Night Girl, to assist Cosmic Boy in tracking down the source of the nuclear weapons used to attack his family. The team operates like a well-oiled machine again (something that I attribute mostly to the presence of founding member Night Girl) showing themselves to be as capable as Cos himself.
Night Girl takes leave of the team shortly thereafter, this time mostly permanently, and the team is forced to find a new dynamic without her. When Matter-Eater Lad finds an emergency on his home planet Bismoll, he calls in the Substitute Legion for assistance.
The team sets off for Bismoll, only to be sidetracked by disaster after disaster (including running out of gas, Color Kid suddenly changing gender, and the realization that they may have been rejected from the Legion for better reasons than they thought) and founding member Polar Boy finds himself questioning why the Subs ever formed in the first place.
The trouble on Bismoll is revealed to be big-time, ultra-powerful Legion villain Pulsar Stargrave, capable of standing toe-to-toe with Mon-El, his computer mind having been shown to be a match for Brainiac 5 himself, a creature of pure cosmic force. How can the combined forces of the Subs and Matter-Eater Lad take down such a being? With the power… of STONE BOY!
It’s a truly impressive day for the Substitute Legionnaires, a moment of triumph over a villain that gave the regular Legion a run for it’s money, the kind of moment that would be a capstone to the career of any team… which makes the events to follow even sadder. With the founding members of the Legion leaving the team, and several Legionnaires missing in action, the team waives their rule about members being under 18 and offers Polar Boy membership. The man in purple regretfully chooses to disband his Legion to join the first team, and donates their headquarters to the United Planets as a museum of both Legions’ history. The now retired Cosmic Boy and Night Girl make the trek to their old stomping grounds to say farewell…
Retirement, though, proves problematic for both Lydda and Cos, and they soon find themselves in the middle of a situation that screams out for heroes… for the kind of heroism that only the Legion of Substitute Heroes can provide.
This team had only one recorded adventure before the Legion was thrust into the middle of the Magic Wars, and nearly came completely apart at the seams. The team’s recorded adventures leapt half a decade into the future, and during this lacuna, many changes were in the offing for the former Substitute Heroes. Take Lydda Jath, once known as Night Girl, now ridiculously pregnant with Rokk “Cosmic Boy” Krinn’s child.
But Lydda wasn’t the only Substitute Legionnaire to be changed by the missing years of Legion history. When the Dominators covertly took over Earthgov in the months after the Magic Wars, the Legionnaires found themselve hounded and harassed at every turn, drowning in red tape, with U.P. interference and general dissatisfaction costing the team member after member. Polar Boy, one of the last true believers, calls on his old friends to join the team, and Color Kid, Chlorophyll Kid, Fire Lad, Porcupine Pete, Infectious Lass and Stone Boy heed his call, only to have the team slowly dissolve around them. Having finally achieved their dream, and watched it crumble around them, most of the nucleus of the Substitute Heroes joins the Earth Underground, run by Legionnaire Jacques “Invisible Kid II” Foccart. Under Jacques tutelage, the team forges itself into a team of hard-nosed professionals, capable of facing any threat the galaxy can muster, including the Dominators, who try to force Earth back under their thumb with a series of false disasters…
Dag and Ulu aren’t the only former Substitutes to find a new place in the world under Jacques. Chlorophyll Kid, always somewhat high-strung, finds that his plant-based powers make him the most important hero in the brave new Dominator-controlled world.
The Subs, reimagined as an insurgent force, are as effective as the regular Legionnaires they used to idolize, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not still a bit sensitive about their old “rejected” status…
Most of the Substitute Legion found their way in the world thanks to Foccart’s underground, but Drura “Infectious Lass” Sehpt found more than that, falling in love with Jacques, and eventually marrying him. As his leadership of the underground leads to more and more political power, a position that would eventually lead to him being elected President of Earth, Jacques finds himself struggling more and more with his status. Thankfully, Drura is there to support him, the good purple woman behind her occasionally-translucent man…
When the Presidency proves too much paperwork and drudgery, Jacques decides that he’s ready to rejoin the newly-reformed Legion of Super-Heroes, replacing Chameleon Boy, who helped found the team. As part of his attempt to bring the team back to it’s former grandeur, he first tries to recruit the men who got him where he is, some of the most capable heroes he knows…
Staq, Dag, Ulu and Ral decide against Legion membership, coming to the conclusion that it’s a childhood dream that will never be as good as they had hoped when they were teens hiding in a cave outside Metropolis. Drura, however, accompanies her husband back to the Legion, though never fully becoming an active member herself…
Even though they don’t return to the Legion, the former Substitute heroes are still respected friends of the regular Legion, recognized finally as heroes and peers by the team that they idolized…
Heh. In case you had wondered, one of the improvements that Jacques helped with was assisting Stone Boy in creating a hypnotic trance-state during which he could use his stone-powers while remaining mobile. It’s an ability that served him well, both before and after the Dominator war. When the Legion was believed to have fallen under the influence on Khundish forces, the former Substitutes took it upon themselves to try and bring their friends in and get an answer as to what was really going on. Their knowledge of the Legionnaires and their years of experience allowed them to quickly overwhelm even the experience of the LSHers.
The regular Legionnaires were cleared of all charges, but before the world could return to normal, various time-distortions began appearing, after-effects of a 20th Century crisis called Zero Hour, during which a maddened Hal Jordan (under the influence of Parallax) tries to reboot the universe to make it better. The after-effects cause the 30th Century to unravel a bit at a time, and even the Substitute Heroes aren’t immune…
The Legion of Substitute Heroes made a couple of appearance post-Crisis (which, for reasons which should probably be obvious to you, if you’ve been reading this history closely) which I’ll be covering in the very near future, but for all intents and purposes, their time had come and gone. If the stories of the Legion are taken as a metaphor for high school (and, really, nearly everything can be) then we look at the Legionnaires themselves as the popular kids, the prom queens, the homecoming kings, the drama students, the Zacks, Kellys and Slaters of the world. By that metaphor, then, the Substitute heroes were the rest of us… The band geeks, the stoners, the losers, the comic book readers. They were the ones who weren’t cut out for the heroic life, but chose not to accept their failings as excuses. The Legion of Substitute Heroes traveled a longer and much more rough road than most, but eventually each of them made a difference through sheer will and fortitude. Though they couldn’t move planets, Ulu, Ral, Lydda, Dag, Pete, Drura, and Staq each knew that they could make a differenence when the right day came, and stood vigilant, ever-ready for the moment when they, too, could show that EVERYONE has something to contribute, and that anyone who is willing to do the right thing can be 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:
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! Of course, sharp-eyed Historians have noted that one important Substitute Legionnaire is mostly absent from this piece, one without whom there wouldn’t have been a secondary Legion in the first place. Next time, the man gets his due. Join us for the life and times of the Legionnaire who tried harder than any other… the man called Polar Boy!