We’ve got threads for new comics but I know most of us like digging through creased and fading back issues too. So use this thread to tell us what you’ve discovered, re-discovered, or regularly re-read just because.
I guess I’ll kick off with a review of something so old most of us weren’t born when it was published…
Adventure Comics #304
‘The Stolen Super Powers!’
By Jerry Siegel and John Forte
I’m not sure how to rate this story. On the one hand, its plot is executed quite cleverly and imaginatively. On the other hand, the plot is based on an utterly preposterous premise.
So let’s look first at the interesting sub-plots in the issue.
At a Legion meeting in their club house, everyone is present except Supergirl and Superboy, who are on missions in other time zones. They probably have to be absent for plot reasons, but it’s a good illustration that the Legion is big and has many things going on at once—which is of course its unique selling point.
The reason for this meeting is to elect a new leader. Last issue we saw the first indication that Legion actually had a formal leader (Cosmic Boy) and this issue he is still in charge as he announces the election.
Leaders are elected by all members voting on the electronic ‘vote-o-matic machine’. The interesting thing is that the machine displays only five faces: Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Chameleon Boy, and Bouncing Boy. This implies that they are the only five candidates, so not every Legionnaire is standing for leader. Why not? Does a candidate have to put him/herself up for election, or do they have to be nominated and seconded? These things aren’t explained. Obviously there is no prohibition against re-standing, as Cosmic Boy is up there. A passing thought of Colossal Boy about ‘Legion tradition’ suggests that there have been a number of elections (one does not constitute a tradition), so there was another leader before Cosmic
Boy—but who? (It could have been Cosmic Boy, as he seems popular, which means he is standing for at least a third term.) How long is a term of office? It’s not stated.
Speaking of Colossal Boy, he is apparently the Legion treasurer—but he is not up for re-election. Is the post elected at a different time? That would be odd. Is a permanent post? Is it an appointment made by the leader? Again there are, infuriatingly, no answers.
Well, so much for the political science. What about the actual plot?
Saturn Girl is elected leader, though she used her power to force everyone to vote for her. This is highly suspicious in itself, but she then proceeds to completely abuse her position, putting Legionnaires through rigged tests and suspending them when they fail. At the same time, she is actually stealing their powers for herself through a bit of hand-wavium technology. So we get a number of nice scenes of each Legionnaire demonstrating his or her power, which is pretty cool.
I must digress here to acknowledge that Saturn Girl gets a lot of hate from Legion fans due to her superior, bullying attitude. I suspect a lot of this feeling stems from this story, where she’s showing that side of her nature in spades. But she’s doing it for a reason (which we shall discuss shortly) and it doesn’t mean that this is what she is actually like! In fact, dialogue from Triplicate Girl explicitly acknowledges that this is not Saturn Girl’s normal personality at all:
So there you go, Saturn Girl haters, your assumptions are completely unfounded.
So what is the reason for Saturn Girl’s apparent evil turn? Well you see she’s received a message from an unknown alien civilization that predicts a Legionnaire will die while using his or her power on a mission. Yet despite this amazing power of prediction, the aliens can’t tell which
Legionnaire it is.
Now you see what I meant about a preposterous premise underpinning the plot. Also ridiculous is the course of action Saturn Girl has taken. Instead of talking over with her team-mates, or even—here’s a radical thought—being at all suspicious of the alien massage, she has rigged an election and stolen everybody’s powers to make sure that she is the one that dies.
How noble! How selfless! How utterly … utterly … stupid. Seriously, on one level you can admire her but on every other level you just have to admit this is really poor characterisation by Jerry Siegel. I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to be convinced by her actions.
But what I can be convinced by, and what (just about) saves the story at the very end, is Lightning Lad’s action. While the other Legionnaires are meekly standing by while Saturn Girl flies off to her doom, Lightning Lad flies after her and uses his power to complete the mission against Zaryan the Conqueror. And, just as the aliens predicted, a Legionnaire dies while using his power—and that Legionnaire is Lightning Lad, sacrificing himself just as Saturn Girl had planned to. What’s more, he did so deliberately, having learned about the message she was keeping secret.
This is really quite a shocking ending. We see him die on panel, they hold a funeral (with his friends’ grief readily apparent in John Forte’s expressive art), we see him in his casket, everything. He appears to be really dead and gone.
Except unfortunately, they ruin it with the blurb in the last panel.
So, almost certainly not dead for good then. Oh well. It could have been a shocking ending, but it wasn’t. Even back in 1963 dead didn’t mean dead.
One more final point of interest in this issue: Lightning Lad’s funeral is the first time we see Superboy and Supergirl together in the Legion’s time period. This is a big deal, as Supergirl is from Superboy’s immediate future and he isn’t supposed to know anything about her (that point
was specifically made in the story The Legion of Super Traitors in Adventure Comics #293, and was a key plot point in Superboy Meets Supergirl, Superboy #80). So I don’t know if this was just oversight on Siegel’s part or if this will be explored further in future stories. I hope it’s the latter.
And one final bizarre note, why has Supergirl brought Lori Lemaris to Lightning Lad’s funeral? She has no connection with the Legion at all. Did Supergirl just happen to be hanging out with her when the call came through and was all, ‘Hey, come to a 31st century funeral with me, it will be a