Or – “Number Two Has To Try Harder…”

It’s absolutely amazing to me to think that we’ve been doing these Hero Histories now for over a year and a half.  I’ve had relationships that didn’t last that long!  When we started out, the list of Legionnaires seemed endless, stretching out into infinity.  Now, it would seem we’re in the home stretch, having come to the point where there are fewer than half a dozen LSHer’s yet unprofiled.  When I initially started this project, I knew where it had to begin, and I knew where it had to end, with a stretch of indecision in the middle.  But today’s Hero History entrant absolutely had to be placed where he is: alongside the founding members of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  His devotion to the Legion was always second to none, and his impact on the team as a whole was eclipsed by very few heroes.  It can honestly be said that a large part of the Legion’s appeal was directly due to HIS actions and heroism as much as those of Cos and company.  It may have taken him longer than others to make the team, but once there, he made an indelible mark on Legion history.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Brek Bannin of Tharr…  Polar Boy!

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In a very real way (both literal and figurative) the story of Polar Boy IS the story of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, to the point where this History and the last one are inextricably intertwined.  They start at precisely the same place, one of the earliest examples of Legion tryouts, where young hopefuls from across the galaxy gathered in Metropolis to see if their skills made the cut.  This particular tryout saw a young man from the infernal temperatures of planet Tharr put on his heavy coat and head for Earth…

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The Legionnaires reject young Brek, as his ability to LOWER temperatures is impressive, but he doesn’t have a lot of control, nor the ability to raise them back up again.  (Of course, the fact that Star Boy can’t make things light again didn’t deter him…  That’s what they have Light Lass for!  And SUN BOY IS RIGHT THERE!  Generate some heat, you lazy dirj!)  I suspect that his youth and generally diminutive stature didn’t help Polar Boy’s case, either.  Brek doesn’t let this deter him for a second, teaming up with several other Legion rejects and forming his own team…  The Substitute Heroes! 

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Along with his fellow second-tier heroes, Brek establishes a hidden base in Metropolis, and monitors their sister Legion’s activities, looking for pointers and the moment when their help will be needed.  When a group of alien invaders decoys the Legion away from Earth as part of their insidious plan to establish a beachhead in our galaxy, the Substitute Heroes leap into action!

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Having successfully shown that they can step up when the Legion is unable to perform the duties of Miss America heroes, the Substitute Heroes continue their secret activities, honing their skills to the point where they will someday be ready for the big leagues.  When another invading alien race manages to put the regular Legion on ice (no pun intended) Brek once again steps up, and uses his special powers to single-handedly stop the takeover of the galaxy!

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You’d figure that a team of superheroes operating in secret would be a short-lived proposition, what with people noticing teenagers in purple tights and fur hats running about, and you’d be right.  As another Substitute worthy emergency crops up while the primary Legion is off-planet, the team heads into action, catching the far-seeing eye of the boy we at Major Spoilers know as Tom Welling!

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Finishing their mission with relative ease, the Substitute heroes are brought into the presence of the LSH, and questioned about their activities.  Brek admits what has been happening, and the Legion is impressed enough to offer membership… to ONE Of the Subs.  Each Substitute hero is given a nigh-impossible task to prove that they’re ready for Legion membership.  Polar Boy’s task is to THAW the bodies of two scientists who have run afoul of their own experiments.

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Polar Boy (and, indeed, all his partners) acquit themselves well, but it is Stone Boy who is offered membership in the big team.  Polar Boy’s disappointment doesn’t deter him, however, as the Substitutes continue their activities, with Brek spearheading an attack on what seems to be ANOTHER invading race of aliens with superior technology.

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This first taste of glory sits well with Polar Boy and his Subs, and for several years they continue their clandestine heroism, leaping into action against such menaces as the Khund empire, the menace of the Great Darkness, and… Ambush Bug?

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There are times when each of us bites off more than we can chew in an attempt to show what we’re truly made of, and Polar Boy hit that moment here.  Brek finds himself so overcome with hero worship and a desire to impress Superman that he doesn’t want to tell the Big Red S that their holding cell is broken, and they’ve stuck Ambush Bug in their aquarium (which Fire Lad accidentally boiled all of the water out of by sneezing.)  He is knocked out by the Bug, who escapes and wreaks havoc throughout 30th century Metropolis.  Brek’s desire to be among the big leagues grows as his experience does, and when the Legion of Super-Villains attacks, he’s overly excited to be among the first line of Earth defense…

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Sadly for Brek, though, moments where the Substitute Legion could contribute became more and more rare as their sister Legion got larger and their shadow longer.  It came to pass that the Substitute Legion was regarded as something of a joke, an amusing anachronism in a hard-boiled universe.  Luckily for Polar Boy, he wasn’t the only hero to find his star eclipsed in the era of Wildfire, Dawnstar and Blok.  His name is Tenzil Kem, but his groupies call him… Matter-Eater Lad!

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M-E Lad’s home planet of Bismoll (capital: Pepto) has purchased new central computers to control every aspect of their lives, and run the day-to-day activities of the world.  But for some reason, the design of these computers give Tenzil a bad feeling…

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Tenzil Kem is a man of many talents, but he’s also a man of great understanding.  Realizing that an idle hunch from a Legionnaire now considered laughable isn’t necessarily LSH-worthy as a mission, he calls on Brek and his pals.  One wonders if Tenzil suspected that he could rebuild both his own credibility and that of the Substitute Legion in one fell swoop?  Either way, Polar Boy is incredibly excited to get into action, only to find his team’s own foibles tripping them up at every turn…

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You have to feel bad for poor Brek.  Still, he does manage to get his team to Bismoll (thanks to a teleporter accident/writer’s plot device) only to find himself separated from the rest of the Subs.  Polar Boy finds himself really questioning the reasoning behind the Substitute Legion in the first place…

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Polar Boy and Matter-Eater Lad manage to triumph over Pulsar Stargrave (by throwing Stone Boy THROUGH the villain) but Polar Boy is still forced to take a hard look at his life, his legacy, and his team.  Realizing that his once-proud dream has slowly become a recurring punchline, Brek is forced to make a difficult career decision… 

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With Brek’s ultra-shiny new headgear comes a shiny new attitude, and a new sense of acceptance.  The Legionnaires deliberate one whether or not to take Brek up on his offer, finally deciding to accept him into the latest class of Legionnaires.  It’s one of the proudest days of Polar Boy’s life, as he finally graduates to the team that inspired him years before…

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He’s still short, though, ain’t he?  The other new Legionnaires are thrown immediately into missions to try and prove their worthiness and acclimate them to how the Legion operates.  With his long-term Legion afilliations, no one feels the need to immediately gauge Polar Boy’s strengths and weaknesses, leading the sub-Zero Legionnaire to get somewhat lost in the membership shuffle.  After trying so hard for so long, the lack of mission activity leaves Brek a little bit chafed…

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When a Legion Academy member named Mentalla disappears, Polar Boy and a Legion delegation heads to the Montauk Point lighthouse to check on her disappearance.  While there, Brek watches the new Karate Kid in action, and offers him a few pointers on fitting in…

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Mentalla’s disappearance hits somewhat close to home for Polar Boy, as she was so shaken by her Legion rejection that she decided to do something about it.  Unfortunately, Mentalla chose to go undercover as a member of the newly reformed Fatal Five, getting herself in close with the incredibly deadly Emerald Empress.  When the Legionnaires finally catch up with her, it’s too late to save her, but that doesn’t stop Polar Boy from engaging the galactic-level menace of the Emerald Eye head-on.

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His years leading the Substitute heroes made Polar Boy into not only Legionnaire material, but star-quality Legionnaire material.  Brek’s years in the minor have honed his mind, his powers, even his physical prowess to LSH level and beyond!

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Most importantly, the experience he has gained has given him confidence in his own abilities, and the ability to inspire confidence in others, so much so that when Element Lad’s term as Legion leader nears it’s end, Brek is ready to step into the void and take that next step…

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The shock on E-Lad’s face is nothing compared to the shock of the rest of the Legion when the short kid who never quite fit in starts his campaign for leadership of the greatest force for good in the galaxy.  Of course, though no one can fault him for courage or enthusiams, Brek’s sense of subtlety leaves something to be desired…

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But, when the Legionnaires go to the polling booth, the unconventional charm and undeniable drive of Polar Boy rules the day.  I guess even the superheroes of the Legion can get behind the struggle of the underdog.  Still, having the intergalactic equivalent of Gilbert Lowell winning Legion leadership does raise a few eyebrows…

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Polar Boy’s mile-wide smile says it all, folks.  This is a lifelong dream realized for him, and he leaps into it with the fervor of… well, of a kid with ice powers up against a galaxy filled with felons, murders, killers, mother-rapers, father-stabbers, father-rapers, litterers and general nuisances, really.  The Polar Boy tenure begins with a huge battle against an all-new all-different Starfinger, a battle which leaves several Legionnaires injured, and the team coming within inches of disaster.

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As is his custom, though, Polar Boy manages to bounce back quickly from adversity, repositioning his LSH as a proactive force throughout the United Planets…

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Unfortunately, Brek’s natural optimism isn’t always right, and things go from bad to worse.  Colossal Boy’s injuries are greater than they seem at first, growing unrest causes the Legionnaires to go off on personal business at the drop of a hat.  Polar Boy’s Legion is also one of the most unconventional teams in LSH history, allowing for moments like the one that occurs a few hours after Wildfire and Quislet disappear into Q-ball’s home dimension of Teall.

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That, by the way, is the closest thing you’re going to get to an Atmos hero history.  The armpitless wonder comes and goes quickly, and Polar Boy’s team gets even stranger, as rumors of a conspiracy within the Legion swirl through headquarters.  Not knowing who he can trust, Polar Boy turns to one of the Legionnaires who joined with him, knowing that if you can’t figure out who’s with you, you can at least try and eliminate those who have no reason to be against you.

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As always, though, his enthusiasm outstrips his tact and restraint.  Sending Tellus out on a fact-finding mission, Polar Boy tries to come to terms with the troubles that plague the team.  Being the leader weighs harder on him than running the Substitute Heroes ever did, and Brek finds himself working hard to overcome his various neck albatrosses.

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The conspiracy within the LSH is eventually revealed as a revenge plot against the Time Trapper for the murder of the Legion’s inspiration, Kal-El of Krypton.  During that mission, Brainiac 5 unleashes the power of the Infinite Man against the Trapper, taking out the purple-hooded madman, but at the cost of Infinite Man’s life.  When the conspirators return to the present and explain what happened, Polar Boy is appalled, and immediately convenes an inquiry into whether Brainiac is guilty of murder.

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For the first time in his career, Polar Boy finds himself having to carry the worst burden of leadership: the necessity of being the unpopular one.  For the first time, Polar Boy really assesses himself as a hero and as a Legion leader, and realizes that he’s been unintentionally working against his own better judgement.  Realizing the truth about his situation, Polar Boy makes a hard decision…

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Brainiac 5’s trial causes Polar Boy to make sweeping changes in the team (albeit some of them unintentionally, since Brainiac’s resignation after the Infinite Man trial left the upkeep of Legion headquarters in the hands of a Computo drone) and to deal with the continuing disintegration of the Legion as he has known it. 

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There’s an important lesson to be learned here: be careful what you wish for.  The Legion of Super-Heroes elected Polar Boy about seven minutes before all hell broke loose, and at the end of his tenure, there seemed to be a consensus (however unfair) that Polar Boy was somehow to blame.  Elected out of office, he stayed with the team through the Magic Wars, and beyond, into the lacuna between the events depicted in Legion volume three and volume four.  The Legion found itself more and more harassed by Earthgov (secretly controlled by the alien Dominators) and very few members kept the faith.  As the center fell apart, leader Sun Boy did likewise…

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Polar Boy once again took (unofficial) control of the Legion, even bringing his old pals in the Substitute Heroes, as well as many established minor characters into the Legion fold.  HIs efforts were all for naught, however, as Earthgov’s ridiculous and oppressive strictures finally forced the Legion of out existence.  Ironitcally, uber-fan Polar Boy was the one who was forced to pull the trigger.  Still, losing his dream didn’t change his idealism, and Polar Boy continued to fight the good fight, leading to his arrest for “insurrection” (read: a pep rally in a pizza joint.  Luckily for Brek, his old pal Tenzil Kem arrived to defend him…

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Tenzil’s brilliant defense turns out to be pretty much pure improvisation, but even so, he manages to get Earthgov to free Brek (his antics annoy the judge into making the summary judgement that any attempt to prove Brek unfit for trial would be ground for mistrial, after which Tenz points out that Earthgov itself kept Brek in lockup for TWO YEARS to see if he was fit) but leaves him with a giant rubber head frozen to his skull.  (Best not to ask.) 

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Free from captivity, Brek isn’t really interested in returning to the Legion grind, accompanying Tenzil to planet Tartarus, where they fall afoul of Lord Evillo, former head of the Devil’s Dozen.  Tenzil overcomes Evillo’s schemes, and Brek is given a rare opportunity to start over…

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It is several months before we see the former Polar Boy again.  Returning to Tartarus, Tenzil finds himself overcome by some strange hypnotic effects.  He is saved by a pair of young super-heroes who drag him to find an old friend…

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When in doubt, do what you’re good at.  For Brek Bannin, that entails molding barely-powered young heroes into an effective fighting force…  or at least a decent representation thereof.  Still, with Tartarus completely under Evillo’s hypnotic spell, the pickings are somewhat slim, even by Legion of Substitute Heroes standards.

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Echo-Chamber Chet, by the way, is a zombie.  (Best not to ask.)  Aaaaanyway, Brek and his heroic band plus Matter-Eater Lad actually overcome the power of Evillo, freeing his pawn, Saturn Queen from the machinery that was using HER power to create Evillo’s hypnotic field.  Not only is Brek successful, he is once again heralded as a big damn hero…

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Unfortunately, his return to heroism ends up being somewhat short-lived, as the 30th century is wracked by temporal tremors, the effects of a crisis unfolding in the 20th century:  Zero Hour.  With changes to the timestream 1000 years hence, the LSH runs hither and yon trying to find a way to turn back the massive temporal instability.  A desperate plan involving magic, Devlin O’Ryan and a very very long shot is put together, and Brek is given the job of cannon fodder/muscle.

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The Legionnaires are faced with evil versions of themselves, fighting through duplicates and doppelgangers of old friends, and Polar Boy is reunited with former best pal Night Girl for one last battle.  Unfortunately, Brek has been reverted to his younger, less experienced self, and is no match for the power of faux-Cosmic Boy.

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The entire 30th Century is destroyed and rebooted soon after, and a new Legion with a new history rises in place of the one that we have known.  When the team is split up after a battle with Mordru, they find themselves lacking enough in firepower to hold… Legion Tryouts!  As always, more heroes show up than could ever successfully make it into the Legion proper, and dozens end up being turned away, including a familiar short fellow with a penchant for furry hats.

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Apparently, simply thumbing your nose at Isaac Newton is not enough to get into the Legion.  This new rebooted Legion of Super-Heroes has been busy turning away heroes, and as before, Polar Boy is faced with a powerfuly figure in black, sporting a hairdo that Marge Simpson would envy.

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Polar Boy and Night Girl join forces to form a band the likes of which had never been seen, and they called themselves Tenacious D The Legion of Substitute Heroes.  Teaming up with unseen others (though Fire Lad, Chrlorophyll Kid, and possibly Color Kid were spotted at the same tryout during which Brek and Lydda were rejected) they trained in secret until a cosmic menace sprouted up to threaten the galaxy…

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Polar Boy didn’t really appear after that in the rebooted version of the Legion, and was revived pretty much in name only as a member of the Wanderers during the current Threeboot Version of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Still, you can’t deny the subtle allure of Polar Boy, the outsider, the geek, the spaz…  The kid who wasn’t cool enough to hang out with the popular kids, so he created his own group with which to hang out until the cool kids were ready for him.  With the enthusiasm of the eternal fanboy, a moral compass that never pointed anywhere but true blue heroic, and a truly underrated power, Polar Boy should be considered one of the greatest Legionnaires of all time.  A wise man once said that a true leader doesn’t just lead, he creates other leaders, and Brek Bannin proves this point.  By taking control of a group of misfits and turning them into a credible fighting force, by shepherding the Legion ship through some of the roughest times in it’s history, and even by being the man who had to put the Legion dream to bed, Polar Boy has proved that there’s no shame in rejection…  The only shame comes in giving up.

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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:

Andromeda
Blok
Bouncing Boy
Brainiac 5
Calamity King
Catspaw
Celeste Rockfish
Chameleon Boy
Chemical King
Chlorophyll Kid
Color Kid
Colossal Boy
Computo
Crystal Kid
Dawnstar
Devlin O’Ryan
Dragonmage
Dream Girl
Duo Damsel
Echo
Elastic Lad
Element Lad
Ferro Lad
Fire Lad
Gear
Gates
Infectious Lass
Insect Queen
Invisible Kid
Invisible Kid II
Karate Kid
Karate Kid II
Kid Psycho
Kid Quantum
Kinetix
Kent Shakespeare
Kono
Laurel Gand
Lightning Lass
Magnetic Kid
Magno
Matter-Eater Lad
Mon-El
Monstress
Night Girl
Nightwind
Pete Ross
Phantom Girl
Porcupine Pete
Princess Projectra
Quislet
Reflecto
Rond Vidar
Sensor Girl
Shadow Lass
Shikari
Shrinking Violet
Star Boy
Stone Boy
Storm Boy
Supergirl
Sun Boy
Tellus
Thunder
Timber Wolf
Triplicate Girl
Tyroc
Ultra Boy
Visi-Lad
Wave
The White Witch
Wildfire
XS

Or you can just click “Hero History“ tab at the top of the main page… Collect ’em all!  Next time, we’re really into the home stretch, as we take our first Hero History look at one of the founding members of the Legion, the man who thought himself the unluckiest hero of all.  Join us for the career of the volatile hero called… Lightning Lad!

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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11 Comments

  1. Ivory Bill Woodpecker
    October 28, 2008 at 3:58 am — Reply

    Nice to see someone else appreciates “Alice’s Restaurant”. :)

    I finally gave up comics a little over a year ago–at least one issue at a time. I still buy collections sometimes, and I bought the HC of “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” recently. My favorite moment in it is the power failure to the interrogation room where the creeps are working Brek over–and he pops the MOST EVILLEST grin and freezes their Nazi-wannabe butts. [Though I marvel that they’re still using the Fahrenheit scale in the 31st century.] :D

  2. Katzedecimal
    October 28, 2008 at 9:08 am — Reply

    Wait wait wait wait wait… You didn’t cap this off with PB’s stunning ‘whoop your @$$ with one hand and a smile’ appearance in Action Comics’ ‘not-really-the-Paul-Levitz Legion’? Aw c’mon, man, even if it might only be temporary, that was Brek at his BEST!

  3. Chet
    October 28, 2008 at 12:12 pm — Reply

    Did I miss the link to the best super heroes ever? I mean, of course, the Legion of Super Pets. I need to know if Beppo was ever a member, and should Comet have really qualified if he was a centaur…

  4. October 28, 2008 at 9:06 pm — Reply

    The Action Comics run of Legion WILL be covered, but not until the end of Legion of 3 Worlds when I know what exactly is going on with the LSH…

    • Thelastavenger
      December 25, 2009 at 12:18 am — Reply

      Are you going to do a Legion Academy Hero History? Also, was Blockade Boy a member of the LoSH?

      • December 26, 2009 at 3:45 pm — Reply

        Are you going to do a Legion Academy Hero History? Also, was Blockade Boy a member of the LoSH?

        Regarding Blockade Boy as a Legionnaire… The answer is Yes and No. Blockade Boy was a name used by two different characters… The first was a superhero that Matter-Eater Lad met during the breakout from the Super-Stalag of Space. He gave his life that Matter-Eater Lad might escape alive. The second Blockade Boy was actually Chameleon Boy’s pet Proty II, who (along with Comet The Super-Horse as Biron The Bowman) joined the Legion as Blockade Boy II. That moment is ever-so-briefly noted in the Super-Pets entry. Blockade Boy and Comet’s alter ego Biron The Bowman aren’t officially (to my mind, anyway) Legionnaires, since the LSHers were aware that the newbies were actually disguised members of the Super-Pets… Your mileage may vary.

        I am not dispositioned, at this time, to do a Legion Academy History, for a number of reasons. Primarily is that the major Academy graduates (Chemical King, Timber Wolf, Tellus, and Magnetic Kid) as well as the Academy instructors (Triplicate Girl/Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy) each recieved their own History. Laurel Kent was name-checked during the Laurel Gand/Andromeda Hero History, Comet Queen was name-checked during the Substitute Heroes entry, and Karate Kid II, Crystal Kid, Visi-Lad and Nightwind were covered during the 5-Year-Gap Legionnaires entry. That pretty much leaves Power Boy and Shadow Kid uncovered, and neither of them actually made it into Legion membership.

  5. cleome45
    November 1, 2008 at 10:48 am — Reply

    Say, what is it about cold that makes it funnier than heat ? Maybe there’s a philosophy major in the house who can explain… ? It doesn’t seem quite fair that Sun Boy got all the accolades while poor Polar Boy got all the grief. Well, maybe if Brek had better hair, or a better hat.

    Policy Pam had one awesome costume. “Lacy undergarments…” [snerk] Tenzil went all Clintonian after acheiving high office, huh ? It figures.

    Oh, the things I missed by mostly disappearing from the comics scene for two decades. (Sigh.)

  6. Jim
    November 1, 2008 at 11:24 am — Reply

    I take it you’re going to start on the LSH villains next??? How about a hero history devoted to Legion rejects? Legion romances? This is great fun!

  7. Dr. Bolty
    November 4, 2008 at 9:28 pm — Reply

    Gotta say, these Hero Histories have made me appreciate the complex canon of the original Legion. Polar Boy’s and Element Lad’s, in particular, show off an epic scope that the newer versions can’t match.

  8. Adam
    November 16, 2008 at 11:20 pm — Reply

    Even though it is not canon, Polar Boy’s moment in issue #300 is still one of the most profound acts I’ve ever read in a comic. After Computo killed so many of the main team that they promoted the subs, Polar Boy had to face a Level 10 hero moment. When Computo held the last Triplicate Girl hostage, he and Collosal Boy tried to talk it down. They failed. The instant it killed her he went into action. Even still expressing some self doubt, he took his opening to try and project ABSOLUTE ZERO at Computo, knowing that it would kill him and Collosal Boy. No “Get out of here Collosal Boy” warning. No retreat to make an alternative plan. Just instant, full out, no hesitation sacrifice of himself and his teammate to destroy that which had killed so many of the Legion… Who else has sacrificed themself and a teammate without even a thought of trying to get their friend out of harm’s way? True Hero. Died Frozen and Electrocuted at the same time…

  9. November 17, 2008 at 12:19 am — Reply

    Agreed… That entire issue is filled with “Holy Crap” moments from Legionnaires, but Polar Boy’s sacrifice is one of the most powerful segments in a great issue.

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