This is a seriously good comic book. But as a kid, I don’t think I really appreciated how good. It was strange and weird and also a little bit upsetting, so it put me off a little bit. Only time has allowed for a re-evaluation. I’m not sure where it came from; if pressed, I would have said a 3-bag. But I cant locate a 3-bag that it would have been a part of that I’d have bought. Maybe it was purchased for my brother, or maybe I got it in trade. Regardless, its origins are shrouded in mystery–just like the object that kicks off the first story.
It all starts in the 30th Century, when the Legion of Super-Heroes discovers a photograph–excuse me, I mean a futuristic “photo-grid”, whatever the difference is–of their founding members gathered around the meeting table with a fourth unknown character, Anti-Lad. But who was Anti-Lad?
To learn the truth, we first look ahead to the 75th century, wherein a young researcher, using a Time-Scanner to compile a biography of Superboy, accidentally prevents him from being inducted into the Legion–the Time-Scanner is defective and changed the events that it was witnessing.
To explain the Back To The Future-like problem they are now faced with, the time-viewer’s father pulls out a package of Dominos, like every kid lays with in the 75 century, and illustrates how this change in the past, if not swiftly corrected, will lead to their own time period vanishing. Unwilling to waste time waiting for official approval, our young biographer grabs some super-future tech and journeys back into the past.
He intercepts the Legion in the aftermath of their disastrous time-trip to induct Superboy, and offers himself up as Anti-Lad for induction into the famous team. As is typical, the Legionnaires provide a series of tests for Anti-Lad, but one by one he aces them, turning the Legionnaires’ own powers back against them.
So they take his photo-grid as a promising applicant and invite him to stay the night. Genius Brainiac 5 is intrigued by his visor, which he claims amplifies the relatively weak light of the Sol system to match his super-illuminated homeworld. But Brainy smells a rat.
That evening, Brainy surprises Anti-Lad by turning on the lights–and when the kid wonder reacts, it’s clear that his story about a super-illuminated world is bogus. His visor is actually a super-computer which allowed him to counter the Legion’s moves, and which also shows that he did the same to Superboy during the Teen of Steel’s tryouts. Having made the Legion realize that they needed to test Superboy again, Anti-Lad returns to his own time, all memory of him wiped from the Legion’s minds–except for that one mysterious Photo-Grid.
The back-up story is seriously messed up. Here, Brainiac 5 pines for the love of Supergirl–who suddenly shows up in the 30th Century, declares her love for Brainy, and convinces him to give up his Legion career and join her in a life of hedonistic pleasure. Super-villain plot, right?
Wrong! “Supergirl” is actually a sophisticated android that Brainiac 5 built for himself while sleepwalking–essentially, it’s his sex doll, complete with solid metal boobs. The real Supergirl shows up in time to sort all of this out, and the double gives its life trying to protect Brainy. Even as a kid, I knew that something was seriously wrong with this story, and in particular the revealed android body really creeped me out, so much so that, when rereading this issue, I would skip over those pages.