Adult Education

Oh, the hits I’ll have now! And I was only thinking of a Hall and Oates song too!

Anyway, welcome to the gala 100th  ‘Optikon post. For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at Giant DC comics from the 60s and 70s. This afternoon we’re focusing on DC Super Stars #3 from May 1976.

Like the previous entry, I bought this comic from Pete Root when City Centre Comics was still tucked away at the back of Forbidden Planet, in the early Noughties, I’m guessing. It’s a reprint of Adventure Comics 354 and 355 from 1967: young Jim Shooter’s “Adult Legion”  two-parter.

Along with the death of Thunderbird in X-Men #95,  the first half of this story was a comic I longed for so badly, I actually dreamed about it. I had first read about the grown-up Legion in the lettercol of Adventure 378 (my third issue) and of course I’d seen them mentioned on the cover of the Superboy Giant.  For a few years, I somehow thought this was the  cover:

In the late 70s, I scoured the Exchange and Mart for back issue mail order catalogues that might contain this Holy Grail.The real thing  finally turned up in 1982, without fanfare,   in the longboxes of a  RPG shop in Candleriggs that may have been called Second Foundation. I was an eighteen-year-old  First Year student but I  didn’t have enough money that day and cajoled the owner into keeping it aside for me.  It was a tense wait until the next day when I could collect it, take it home to Chapelton and absorb it entirely.

In fact, I’d already read the second half of the story in this comic, back in 1978:

It belonged to a kid named Robert McInally who had a few mid-Sixties comics. He was pally with my brother and when he moved out of our village, he left us some of those mags- a second copy of Hawkman’s Parasite Planet Peril ( one of my first DCs), two issues of Doom Patrol and the introduction of Starfinger.

The first half of 354 is the really fun part.  A pipe-smoking Brainiac 5 brings Supes up to speed with the grown-up Legion. Many members have left to marry and raise kids; others- some of whom we’ve never seen- have died in action.   Those names are tantalising.

The roster includes the original trio plus the sole survivor of Trom- Element Man. Also, Polar Man has finally been awarded membership with the amalgamation of the Subs. The former Lone Wolf has joined as Timber Wolf, rocking a pencil-thin ‘stache. Some of the men have receding hairlines (Rokk, Chuck and Thom) and are a bit jowly; they’re also still wearing the costumes they had as teens! Mon -El is a lone space explorer, making it safe for colonists; we glimpse a monument to an unknown Power Boy; and there’s no indication what befell Legion Leader Invisible Kid or Shooter’s own new creations Karate Kid or Princess Projectra.

One criticism that 14-year-old Jim Shooter comes in for from modern readers is that that while the retired female members are wives and mothers,  the men have all got careers ( Reservist Ultra Man is a police chief; Star Man is of course an astronomer;  Matter-Eater Man is president of his home planet and Colossal Man, with his luxuriant beard, is security chief for the UP council- “The Cosmic Directorate”). But the kid was only reflecting the adult world as he knew it.

The second half of the issue pits the team against a mystery marauder, who is carrying out a campaign of destruction against them. Superman has spent three weeks with the Legion but it’s he who figures out the hooded villain’s identity. It’s Ferro Lad’s previously-unknown twin, Douglas Nolan.

But Ferro Man is a merely a hypnotised pawn of Saturn Queen and the LSV who have added two new members: Beauty Blaze and Echo (who would, weirdly, turn up as a 5yL Legionnaire in the early 90s). Kidnapping Brainy, the LSV take on the Legionnaires one on one, They are thwarted however by the deus ex machina arrival of two armoured figures- no, not Sir Prize and Miss Terious, but 30th century versions of Mr. Mxyzptlk and Lex Luthor, who has given himself the powers of Star Boy and Light Lass.

Although Luthor and Mxy never appeared  again as Legionnaires. I don’t doubt Shooter intended to use them. One by one, Shadow Lass, Chemical King and Quantum Queen- a sore-thumb member of the Tolkinesque Wanderers- all made appearances in the late 60s; in his second Legion run, Shooter drafted Tenzil into politics;  even the beatific Reflecto finally showed up, a mere fourteen years later.

Subsequent letter columns addressed the absence of some Legion veterans: unseen Adult Legion members included  Sun Man, Chameleon Man and Colour King, the last and perhaps the most useless of the original  Subs. Ferro Man’s membership was foreshadowed in the Superboy Giant #147. A line of Brainy’s dialogue in Superman 213 indicates the White Witch might be a member and an editorial note referred to a teenage auxiliary for the adult team.  The reprinted cover of 354 in the Super Stars Giant re-colours Shadow Woman’s memorial statue to retroactively give it Talokian blue skin but at the same time kills any speculation as to why she might be white.

After the Weisinger Era ended and Boltinoff became LSH editor, the Adult Legion future seems to have been quickly negated, what with the introduction of Wildfire and the Cockrum costumes. The argument ran through the late 70s that the story painted writers into a corner and killed any drama.  As an adult himself, Shooter claimed Bridwell had outlined the fates of the surviving Legionnaires for him, especially when it came to marriages. Ultimately, Levitz and Giffen revealed the Adult Legion to be merely one of many alternate realities in the mind of a tormented Douglas Nolan. The final nail was the survival of a skin-dyed Shady on the Science Asteroid. Maybe one day Quantum Queen would survive the  break-out at the Cosmos Prison, too…

Even the Girl from UNCLE loves the Adult Legion

For my part, I was a little disappointed some of my favourites weren’t on the adult roster and I wasn’t keen on Luthor. But it was a charming if naive tale and the LSH was poorer for the editorial mandate that undid it.

So, that’s one of my favourite comics of all time, reprinted in a swingin’ Seventies style. The cover concept was given a Giffen makeover in the early 80s:

Coming Attractions: the Mystery Men of September and Tabloids & Treasuries.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


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