Tuesday, August 15, 2017

TOS: Adventure Comics #306

Adventure Comics #306 (March 1963)
title: "The Legion of Substitute Heroes!"
writer: Otto Binder
artist: John Forte
letterer: John Letterese
editor: Mort Weisinger
reviewer: Siskoid

Mission Monitor Board: 
Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy

Guests: 
Chlorophyll Kid, Fire Lad, Night Girl, Polar Boy, Stone Boy, Science Police, Stone Boy's family, Chlorophyll Kid's family, a news anchor

Opponents: 
Flying Crime City, Plant Men, sea monsters

It's no secret I have a lot of affection for the Legion of Substitute Heroes, and that's true whether we're talking about the comedy idiots of the 80s, the more competent freedom fighters of the 90s, or the valiant underdogs of the 60s and 70s. How they got their start is retold by the brilliant Ty Templeton in Secret Origins (v3) #37, but it's in Adventure Comics #306 that the story is first told.

At first, this is really Polar Boy's story. He has a dream of becoming a Legionnaire, and I don't blame him at all for being disappointed. There's no real justification as to why he's rejected. His powers might affect the other Legionnaires and slow them down? Couldn't we say the same thing of Sun Boy's brightness?
To add insult to injury, BOUNCING BOY is on the selection committee. In hindsight, I suppose there's some irony and pathos is the fact that Sun Boy gives him the news, as the two would become best friends in a later era.

That night, Polar Boy takes a lonely walk along the Avenue of the Super-Heroes and meets the equally wistful Night Girl, rejected because her super-strength evaporates in sunlight, and Polar Boy is inspired to create a Substitute Legion, in part to prove he has the mettle, but honestly, to act as a fill-in when the Legion is too busy with another case. Night Girl has apparently already made friends with other rejects and the next day, they share their powers and origin stories.
Powers that are only marginally silly, and not "out of control" as future retellings will imply. This is a team of underdogs, not comedy morons, and the story will endeavor to show that at every turn. Check it: They create a headquarters out of a mountain, OVER NIGHT!
AND A SPACESHIP! Of course, there's a malaise. They've copied the Legion formula too well, with little name plaquettes and constitutionally-required meetings and a monitor screen, but they don't have any missions. So it's hard to keep from being discouraged. Every emergency they respond to, the Legion responds to more quickly. After a couple of false starts, Polar Boy outright asks the Legion if they need help (though not revealing he's founded his own Legion), and they say no. Nevertheless, he won't quit. He's the voice that keeps the team from disbanding, and you can totally see how his perseverance will get him into the proper Legion someday.

An opportunity presents itself while the Legion is out fighting mysterious robot ships. Unbeknownst to the Legionnaires, however, the ships' real agenda is to drop seeds onto the Earth. Chlorophyll Kid has the perfect power to get his team a head's up on this:
Plant Men invaders, secretly air dropped! Fire Lad burns them all up, and the rest of the team, leaving the Legion to fight the Plant Men's ships, head for the robot ships' origin point. There, they find the Plant Men's homeworld and a plot to invade the United Planets with a series of missiles/grain silos. The Subs have to destroy those seeds! Stone Boy will provide a distraction.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Subs break into a grain store and prepare to commit genocide on unsuspecting seedlings. But maybe there's another way:
Lovely! No one's dead (except the babies Fire Lad previously charred, of course), but the would-be invaders now have to contend with an over-population problem. (Uhm, wouldn't that make them want to invade other worlds MORE? Shhhh. Don't over-analyze it, Siskoid.)

The sweetest part of all this is that the Subs simply refuse to take credit for saving the Earth. The proper Legion gets a big parade and everyone thinking they saved the planet from a robot-ship attack, and they're content to wave from the crowd and keep their existence a secret for now.
They just don't want to take any glory away from their idols. Bless.

If there's a theme to the early Sub stories, it's their sense of not being good enough, or at least, not as good as the Legion is. Which is complete bull. No need to be so insecure, kids. You did great.

Science Police Notes: 
  • "The Legion of Substitute Heroes" is reprinted in Adventure Comics (v1) #500, DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #1, Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol. 2, and Showcase Presents The Legion Vol 1.
  • The cover mistakenly refers to Polar Boy as Polar Lad.
  • The story is said to take place in the 21st Century, the Legion time line not having been set in stone quite yet.
  • There is no indication that the Legion actually added anyone to their ranks in these particular try-outs.

Milestone: 
First appearance of the Legion of Substitute-Heroes, including Polar Boy, Night Girl, Chlorophyll Kid, Fire Lad, and Stone Boy.

9 comments:

  1. "Pppphhhhbbbbbtttttt!!!" to Keith Giffen.

    Seriously, before him, these characters were NEVER portrayed as anything less than competent and always willing to pitch in when needed. I agree, they deserve the same respect and admiration as the main Legion.

    I agree that there's no real reason for Polar Boy to be rejected (other than future stories). But, in fairness to the Legion, when he demonstrates his power, he fills the entire room with ice (probably in exuberance) and turns it into a meat locker. Compare that with his later successful tryout when he simply made ice cuffs and was more self-assured. The Legion was right to be cautious; he needed to tone it down.

    All props to Stone Boy, the one willing to put himself directly in harm's way. His self-sacrificing is admirable and made him a worthy member.

    Great intro: "They call me the Chlorophyll Kid, and I can make any plant grow super-fast!" Ya got that, partner? Also, I found it a little TOO convenient that the Subs' first real mission involved plant people.

    I look forward to your reviews the other two classic Subs stories, particularly the third installment. And hey, wasn't this first story also reprinted in "Showcase Presents: The Legion of Super-Heroes" #1?

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    1. reviews "of" the other two

      >> oops <<

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  2. The Legion probably held their tryouts on a periodic basis (as needed by plot), rejecting the obvious "clunkers" and accepting, perhaps provisionally, those with promise. But we saw the infiltrators taken in immediately in "The Weddings that Wrecked the Legion". Well, OK, that was a special case because they Legion knew that they were coming and wanted to give them enough rope. But wait, the "Shooter Four" all came in immediately. Then later, of course, you had the whole "training academy" thing.

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  3. Polar Boy has always been one of my 5 favorite Legionnaires, even before he was allowed to join (what a great day that was!). I eagerly devoured any story that the Subs were in.

    ...and er, 'Fire Lad', not 'Flame Lad' :)

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  4. I seem to remember a version of this story with an afterward where the legion complains about almost being defeated by the plant creatures. Which they would have could've beaten easily with their wide variety of powers except there was so darn many of them.

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    1. That's the Secret Origins version.

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    2. This one thanks you, oh wise one.

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  5. Polar Boy is a favorite of mine as well. Yeah, the Subs special was really fun, I was really irritated the Subs were JUST treated as jokes from then on. Yeah, some of them had mediocre abilities as super-powers go, but compare them to Duo Damsel, Bouncing Boy, M-E Lad & Shadow Lass and they seem on equal footing to me.

    Being a hero is about super powers. Being a hero is defined by your actions in the face of adversity and injustice. And the Subs deserve recognition for that MANY times over before they were turned into jokes.

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  6. Doh! ISN'T about super-power

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