Superman: Special Reports

The Guardian & The Newsboy Legion

Author: Sean Hogan (shogan@buckho.com)

Last updated: April 22, 2002



Secret Origins

The Guardian and the Newsboy Legion were co-created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. They first appeared in Star-Spangled Comics #7 from 1942. Their origin story was retold in 1987's Secret Origins #19 (that issue also tells the origin of Uncle Sam).

After a cowardly attack by three assailants, rookie cop Jim Harper drags his beaten body towards a costume shop, vowing, "I'm going to settle this ... with those punks ... once and for all!"

Sorting through the costumes, he dresses in a blue two-piece body suit, complete with a blue mask. Over that he wears yellow shorts, gloves, boots and a crash helmet. Deciding he needs some additional protection, Harper also picks out a golden shield. A red belt sets off the blue and gold look. Jim's a sharp dressed man.

In the Secret Origins issue, writer Len Wein (with penciller Arvell Jones and inker Greg Theakston) has a little fun with another of Kirby's creations when the Guardian chooses his shield by the "tried and true test" of smashing two shields together to see which one survives. The dented losing shield is Captain America's original, and hanging beside it are Cap's round shield and Thor's hammer.

Harper stops crime both as a mystery man and a policeman. When he arrests a group of four juvenile delinquents, he finds that he can help society in another way. As the judge is ready to pronounce sentence on these "potential enemies of society" and send them off to an institution, Harper takes pity on the youngsters.

Arguing with the judge that his sentence "will only result in hardening their bitter souls", Harper offers to take custody of the boys "so that I can prove they can become useful citizens!"

Now a guardian in two roles, Harper has his hands full with the "Newsboy Legion" (so called because their legitimate job is hawking newspapers on the streets). When the boys get involved with criminals, the Guardian comes to their rescue. Determined to assist the mysteryman, the boys follow him and, when the Guardian is captured, they save the day.

Although the Guardian slips away afterwards, the boys note that their legal guardian, Officer Harper, bears similar wounds to those of the Guardian. Having learned their lesson, the boys decide to remain on the right side of the law. They also decide that, "From now on, I think we'll keep tabs on officer Jim Harper -- the same as he does on us!"

The original Newsboy Legion had four members John Gabrielle ("Gabby"), Anthony Rodrigues ("Big Words"), Patrick MacGuire ("Scrapper") and Tommy Thompkins (um ... "Tommy").

The Guardian and the Newsboy Legion had a five year run in Star-Spangled Comics, with their last issue being in #64 (1947). One notable issue was 1943's Detective Comics 376 where they met with Rip Carter and the Boy Commandos (a similar team, except Rip didn't have a secret identity and the Boy Commando's were from different countries and fought overseas - unlike the Newsboy Legion who were all Americans fighting on the home front)

Rebirth

The Newsboy Legion returned to DC when Jack ("King") Kirby had his run on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen in the 1970's. In the new version, the boys were all grown up and their sons were the new Newsboy Legion. Even the Guardian (called the Golden Guardian and wearing a different helmet) was brought back, as a clone of the murdered Jim Harper. Kirby had the boys working at the Project -- a secret military research facility exploring advanced cloning techniques.

Post-Kirby, Roy Thomas re-introduced readers to the Guardian in the All-Star Squadron Annual #1 (1982). Set on the pre-Crisis Earth-Two (home of the Golden Age heroes), a villain kidnaps the Guardian, Wildcat and Atom and brainwashes them into attacking the Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. Thomas explores the origins of the six heroes and the connection between the Guardian and his fellow kidnapees. The tale takes place on the night that Jim Harper first dons his costume. Thomas writes a fun story of the rookie hero's first meeting with members of the famed Justice Society of America.

Although the story is pre-Crisis, Len Wein brings it into current continuity when he retells the Guardian's beginnings in 1987's Secret Origins #19. The All-Star Squadron Annual is a stand alone issue, so you don't need to know anything about the rest of the series to enjoy the issue.

The Guardian, the Newsboy Legion, the Project, the DNAliens and other things Kirby were formally re-introduced into the post-Crisis DC Universe in Superman Annual #2 (1988), written by Roger Stern with pencils by Ron Frenz and inks by Brett Breeding. Frenz' art is classic Superman with panels homaging but not imitating Kirby. And I've always been a fan of Breeding's inks.

The story opens with alarms ringing in the Cadmus Project, and the news that the "alpha subjects" have disappeared. The call goes out to Agent Harper, who dons a familiar blue and gold outfit.

The "alpha subjects" are, of course, the young Newsboy Legion. Sneaking their way to Metropolis, they swap their Cadmus coveralls for some thrift store clothes, grab some papers and start hawking them in the middle of the street. Escaping from a policeman, they run headlong into Jimmy Olsen. In a nod to prior continuity, Big Words recognizes Olsen, but when Jimmy asks, "Say, do I know you?", Words replies, "I'm ... not certain."

There's lots of confusion for the boys as they realize the city has changed -- buildings are different, people are dressed strangely and prices are outrageous. They realize that they have vague memories of changes taking place over the years, but no memories of that morning.

When the boys pile into a barber shop to elude pursuers, they realize that it's not just their surroundings that have changed. The barber has a picture of the Newsboy Legion, but the young black member of their group isn't in the picture. Flip's memories are all from later dates than the memories of the other boys.

Shortly afterwards, the Guardian catches up to them, as does Superman who recognizes the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion from city archives. The Guardian is dressed in his original blue and gold outfit. In the mandatory fight scene, Guardian attacks Superman to distract him while the boys get away. It's a well choreographed fight, as the human Guardian manages to trick, blast, stun and evade Superman several times. Guardian shows Batman-level abilities to keep Superman at bay.

When the Guardian sees the boys disappearing in the Whiz Wagon (a super spectacular silver jalopy that flies as well as it drives), he tries to go after them, but is restrained by Superman. The two heroes reach an agreement and Superman carries Guardian in pursuit of the boys to introduce the readers to the Wild Area, the Habitat, Zoomway and the gigantic vehicle known as the Mountain of Judgment.

They also meet the people who command this kingdom, the Hairies. Their leader, Jude, explains the history of the Cadmus Project and it's cloning experiments which resulted in the Hairies, as well as DNAliens (such as Dubbilex) and the Guardian (who learns to his surprise that he is a clonal mind transferee).

The Hairies tell of a plot to take over the Cadmus Project -- one that included the cloning of the Cadmus directors (the original Newsboy Legion plus Walter Johnson, nicknamed "Skip") as replacement bodies. The Hairies' spy is Dubbilex, who reports to them by mental transmission until he is attacked. Superman recognizes the psychic attack as one previously used against him by a native of Apokolips named Sleez.

The issue ends with an all-out assault that defeats Sleez and frees the directors, leaving them to come to terms with their cloned 'sons'. Superman expresses concern about the cloning technology and wonders, "what sort of future is there for the Guardian and the Newsboys?"

Well, a good one actually.

Supporting Players

Superman #27 The Guardian makes his public debut in the regular Superman titles shortly afterwards, during the Millenium crossover issues (Superman #26 being the first). Guardian's costume is slightly redesigned -- instead of an all blue shirt, it now sports a yellow V going from the chest to the mask under the helmet (this is the design still in current use)

The Guardian plays a pivotal role in the start of the next Superman arc, when he battles the new, violent Gangbuster and rips the costume open to reveal a sleepwalking Superman (Superman #27 & Adventures of Superman #450). This revelation forces Superman to realize that he has lost control because of his actions in killing the Phantom Zone criminals and that he must exile himself in space to avoid harming anyone.

From this introduction, Guardian joins the supporting cast of the Superman titles, helping to look after Metropolis whenever Superman is absent and coming to Superman's need when necessary.

When Jimmy Olsen is infected by the Eradicator device, Superman turns to Cadmus for help (Superman #37 - titled "Superman's Ex-Pal, Jimmy Olsen"). Jimmy meets the Newsboy Legion again (he tells them, "saaay, you guys look familiar!"). The boys help him escape in the Whiz Wagon but don't get far before being stopped by Superman and the Guardian.

The boys get the spotlight in Secret Origins #49. Karl Kesel's story isn't about their origins, just about the "Secrets of the Cadmus DNA Project". It's a fun little tale showing the relationships between the original Newsboy Legion, their young clones, the Guardian and mad scientist Dabney Donovan. Young Gabby accidentally discovers Donovan's underground world and escapes through the help of a new friend -- a giant pink Kirbyesque monster named "Angry Charlie". The other boys dismiss Gabby's tales about Angry Charlie and the cavern as more of his stories.

The next few years don't offer much fresh insight on Cadmus, the Guardian or the Newsboy Legion. The Guardian does get some of the spotlight when he helps rescue an amnesiac Superman in the "Blackout" story arc (triangle issues 1991: 37-41). But both the Guardian and Cadmus begin to take a more active role in the comics following Superman's death.

Action Comics #686 Guardian's loyalties are tested in Action Comics #685 when he gets caught in the middle of a battle for Superman's body between Cadmus, the Metropolis SCU and LexCorp's armoured forces. Later, in Action Comics #686, he learns that Cadmus has succeeded in snatching Superman's body. That issue is a great focus on the Guardian as his physical and moral strengths shine in his battles against thieves and his own bosses.

Cadmus is, of course, also responsible for creating Superboy -- and the Newsboy Legion play a small but important role when they free the not-yet-fully-grown clone.

Cadmus, the SCU and the Lex-Men have another all out brawl during the "Battle For Metropolis" arc (triangle issues 1994: 20-23). A plague is killing almost all clones, including the young Newsboy Legion, Superboy, the Underworld monsters and Lex Luthor.

The Guardian turns out to be immune from the clone plague and his blood provides the serum for the cure. However, while the serum is being created, Luthor's men attack Cadmus (Adventures of Superman #513). The resulting explosion seals off Cadmus' hidden base, apparently killing everyone inside.

All those who believed that was really the end of Cadmus and everyone in it, please raise your hands.

Yah. Didn't think so.

It's all a ruse to keep knowledge of the Cadmus Project from the general public. Although the Guardian and his friends mostly stay hidden from readers for the next few years, they still show up from time to time in the Superman books, as well as in Superboy's comic.

Guardian's Of Metropolis

The spotlight shines on them once again in 1994 with the four issue miniseries, Guardians Of Metropolis. Written by Karl Kesel, with Kieron Dwyer on pencils and Mike Manley on inks, the story starts with the boys creating havoc in Metropolis while they film a monster movie.

The Guardian catches them in the act saying, "You boys snuck out of the Project ... past a platoon of the country's best trained soldiers ... eluding the most advanced security systems in the world ... with the Whiz Wagon and the Loch Trevor monster... AGAIN!"

In the first issue, Jim Harper is reunited with his sister, Mary, on her deathbed and learns of her orphan grandchild and only living relative, Bobby Harper. The boys learn Bobby is stuck in the B. O. Goodley Orphanage and decide to help.

That's where the simple plot ends. Kesel mixes a whole lotta storylines into the miniseries. The young Newsboy Legion plot has Granny Goodness and the Female Furies (using the orphanage as an involuntary recruiting centre for Apokolips) along with Boss Moxie (released from prison after fifty years and looking for revenge against the Newsboys).

Meanwhile the plot with the adult Newsboy Legion and Guardian has them captured by Dabney Donovan -- who tortures them in a circus-themed genetic freak show featuring "jugglars" (tribbles with teeth), exploding mimes, deadly balloons and other monstrosities. All for the entertainment of an audience of cloned Donovans.

Along the way we get to see a WWII adventure of the Newsboy Legion, learn of a connection between Granny Goodness and Boss Moxie and meet Rip Carter and the Boy Commandos. Kesel also reveals that bowler-topped Dan Turpin of the Metropolis SCU was "Brooklyn", a member of the Boy Commandos (I have no idea whether whoever created Turpin intended this, but it's a brilliant connection to DCU history).

I won't try and summarize the plot any further, except to say that it ends with an all out brawl in Cadmus and with two new members for the Newsboy Legion - Bobby Harper (who, to the boys shock and initial disgust, turns out to be a girl) and Gilotina (a young Female Fury who falls for Tommy and is left behind when Granny returns to Apokolips).

The series also creates the seeds for the new Intergang as Dabney Donovan stumbles across a dying Boss Moxie and, with glinting scalpel tells him, "Oh yes, Dabney has plans for you!"

Readers of the regular Superman titles know that Donovan, Boss Moxie and the clonally modified Intergang continue to pop up from time to time - starting with their introduction in Adventures Of Superman #544 (Kesel with art by Stuart Immonen and Jose Marzan Jr.). That issue also introduced new Intergang members, Mike "Machine" Gunn, his gal Ginny "Torcher" McCree and pals "Noose" and "Roughouse" - all raised from the dead and modified to match their monikers.

The Guardian and the Newsboy Legion have gone their separate ways for the time being. Kesel introduced a change of management for Cadmus in Superboy #56 that had the Newsboy Legion (young and old) leave the book, while the Guardian remained as an active cast member. Perhaps it's only fair that the Guardian got more screen time given how the Newsboy Legion seemed more popular than their mentor in their Star-Spangled Comics run. With Kesel's departure from Superboy and that title's later cancellation, it's not clear where or when the Guardian and his boys will reappear next. As with many popular characters, there's always more stories to be told, just waiting for a writer and an opportunity.