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Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Volume Four

The Legion of Super-Heroes - Archives Volume Four

Cover date: 1965

Featuring: Adventure Comics #329-339, Superboy #124-125

Writers: Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, and Bob Kahran
Artists: John Forte and Jim Mooney

Reviewed by: Justin "NotSuper" Adams

In this fourth installment of The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, readers are presented with stories that introduced much of the core concepts of the teenage super-hero team. Some of those concepts include the Legion flight rings, the multi-part story, the backgrounds of characters becoming richer and complex, and the idea of teenage rebellion. Although these stories are not considered by fans to be "huge" Legion stories, they are the foundation upon which much of the mythos is built.

The story has humor, such as the Bizarro-Legion (led by Bizarro-Superboy!) and their plans to be the most perfect imperfect duplicates of the team. There is mystery, such as in the "Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire." There is drama, as the Legion face their evil counterparts - the Legion of Super-Villains - and discover an enemy in their midst. There are questions of morality and loyalty in "The War Between Krypton and Earth." Issues such as loss and the desire for revenge are addressed when Lightning Lad loses his arm due to a terrible beast. There is interaction between the thirtieth and twentieth century, such as when Lana Lang becomes the weird Insect Queen. The Time Traveler even shows up to torment his foes and a mystery villain is unmasked.

These stories would continue to inspire future writers, linking the Legion of the past with the Legion of today (and of tomorrow).

3Story - 3: I'll let you in on a little secret; I was never a regular collector of the Legion of Super-Heroes (until Mark Waid's excellent reboot of the team). Sure, I knew the stories and had checked out some of the trades, but I never collected the single issues. Of course, I realize now that I've been missing out on quite a number of good stuff and luckily there are always collected editions like this one that allow me to see the things I didn't catch the first time around (though this particular volume is way before my time). This fourth volume of the Legion Archives doesn't contain many stories hardcore fans would consider "classics", but it does lay the foundation for the many great stories to come. That's not to say that there aren't some gems here - far from it. Many of the stories have a delightful mix of science fiction (courtesy of Siegel and Hamilton) and fantasy. While the Legion would reach its peak in the Bronze Age (it suffered some long-term side-effects after the original Crisis, ones which resulted in a number of reboots) under writers such as Paul Levitz, they could not have reached such heights without these early stories. In fact, these early stories were the ones that first started (very slowly) to introduce the more counter-cultural, rebellious aspects of the team. It would be a while before they would openly defy authority, but the seed was planted here. It would be grossly unfair to compare these stories to the later ones, kind of like comparing the new, sleek Battlestar Galactica with the older version. Yet also like the old Galactica, these early stories establish the mythology of the series.

While there are some good stories here (and a couple of clunkers), there are also some things that I didn't particularly care for. The Time Trapper is still a menacing, evil figure (as he should be), but having him battle a child-transformed Legion isn't really the best use of such a good character. However, we still see him casually do evil acts, such as turning Glorith into a pile of goo (!), which redeems him. I'm generally not a fan of "heroes turning into children" in the first place (with some exceptions, like the Justice League Unlimited episode).

"The Bizarro-Legion" is a somewhat humorous story, though a fairly light one. As you would expect with Bizarros, the Bizarro-Legion consists of "imperfect" and "unliving" duplicates of the group. The Bizarro-Legion is created after Bizarro-Superboy (not the original) tries to join the group and is rejected (for obvious reasons). As you would expect, they are the complete opposites of the regular Legion (Bizarro-Brainiac 5 isn't that smart, Bizarro-Superboy acts pretty much the same as Bizarro-Superman, ect). This story would just be another throwaway tale if not for the fact that the Legion flight rings (still used to this day) are introduced in the story.

"The War Between Krypton and Earth" is one of the best stories in the collection, as it explores both the history of Krypton and that of the ancestors of Lori Lemaris (Superman's one-time love and a mermaid) and her species. This likely goes back to the science fiction background of Siegel and especially Hamilton. Stories like this show an expansion of both the Superman and Legion mythos, something that would continue to happen in future stories. The Legion goes back in time to investigate a supposed war between Krypton and Earth - what they find nearly tears them apart. The story is centered around two humanoid alien species (one is a group from Krypton) that both want to settle on Earth. Superboy's loyalties are tested here, as he has to decide which group to fight for (neither is really wrong, perhaps this was a hidden message about some types of wars?). Superboy ultimately chooses Krypton, with the Legion evenly split on both sides of the war. Eventually, the conflict is resolved and the non-Kryptonian aliens turn out to be the ancestors of Lori's species.

"The Super Moby Dick of Space," despite its funny title, is actually quite a good story with lasting effects on Lightning Lad. The Super Moby Dick of Space is exactly what you think it would be - a giant space whale. The beast (the result of an experiment gone wrong) generally causes chaos and the Legion has to stop him. Interestingly, according to the story, there actually was a real Moby Dick in the pre-Crisis DCU, which Herman Melville used in his famous story. This is different than here on Earth-Prime (weren't we destroyed in the Crisis?), where the story is obviously pure fiction. This isn't essential to the story, but it is an interesting little fact. What you wouldn't expect from this story is the aforementioned lasting effects (some of the first in the series). Lightning Lad actually gets his arm irradiated by the whale and has to have it amputated (off-panel, of course)! Keep in mind that this was the Silver Age, and characters didn't usually lose parts of their body, let alone not get them back for a while. It was a very innovative thing to do, and it paid off both in this story and in the long run. Lightning Lad has his amputated arm replaced with a robotic one, and he desires to destroy the beast that did this to him (he's the Ahab of the story, with his whale being his whale). The other Legionnaires worry about LL and especially about his intentions to kill the beast. In the end, they manage to get through to him and together they stop the menace. This is another good story in the collection, and it has a good message as well. LL overcomes his demons and learns to live with his arm. Yet at the end of the story there's a glimmer of hope: one-day science might advance enough so that his arm can be fixed. This is a nice, pro-scientific advancement message, not surprising given the writer.

"The Insect Queen of Smallville" is mostly a Superboy story (set in Smallville) and revolves around Lana using an alien ring (which she acquires by saving an insectoid alien) to turn herself into a super-powered heroine. The ring allows her to gain insect like characteristics and gain the attention of Superboy. (One wonders why they haven't had TV's Lana Lang gain insectoid powers) I've always had a sift spot in my heart for Superman's many pre-Crisis love interests gaining super-powers (and it can still work today) and this is no exception. What's interesting in that there's always been the old stereotype (especially during this time period) of girls thinking bugs were "gross", yet here we see one of Kal's potential mates become like a bug. Lana stops being Insect Queen once the story is over, yet she would take up the identity again sparingly. One wonders why she stopped being a heroine, but my guess is that she didn't want the life of one.

The first multi-issue story resolves around Starfinger (you couldn't get away with that name today). The villain with the Goldfinger inspired name has the unique ability to fire rays from his fingers that have specific weaknesses against each member. (Interestingly, Colossal Boy's weakness is being shrunken - this time he's literally Micro Lad). The intrigue about Starfinger is that he's supposed to be a member of the Legion and he is - sort of. The true villain - and the real Starfinger, Dr. Hanscom--has actually hypnotized him, which is kind of a cop-out. Still, this story led to multi-issue tales, so it has that going for it.

It's important to note that both Superboy (a young Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman) and Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) are very important members of the Legion during this period. Those unfamiliar with the Legion or the pre-Crisis DCU might be surprised by just HOW important they were to the stories. One might also wonder why Superboy wouldn't know of Supergirl's existence years in advance after meeting her in the Legion. The answer to this is that a post-hypnotic suggestion by Saturn Girl prevented Superboy from remembering events from the future that might compromise his own future.

Overall, while most of these stories are good, there are a few hit-or-miss ones and some concepts that didn't quite work. Thus, I have given it an average score.

3Art - 3: The art here is a little hit or miss, due to the regular artist leaving. Still, there's nothing really wrong with it as a whole. In some places it's good and in some it's not.

4Cover Art - 4: I liked the cover here and thought that it really brought out the Legion of Super-Heroes well. The characters are drawn realistically and that's a kind of art I've always enjoyed (though sometimes I like the non-realistic stuff). I was a little surprised that Superboy wasn't featured on the cover since he's such a big part of the time. Supergirl is on here too but her image isn't very big.

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




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