This issue of SUPERBOY & THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES was later disavowed, the revelation it makes concerning the Legion’s future discarded and never mentioned again. Even writer Paul Levitz considered it a mistake. But I don’t know about that. It definitely cast the world of the Legion in a different light, and perhaps it was too severe a shock to the readers of 1977. But it’s the sort of comic book twist that Alan Moore made popular, and were it done today, I expect that the audience would have been more welcoming of it. But who can say? All I know is that, as a reader in 1977, it didn’t bother me none.
S&LSH was still a great value, maintaining the same oversized format that JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA held, with no reprints. That meant you got two stories in this single issue. Given the number of characters in the Legion, this was a boon in terms of being able to spotlight a greater range of them.The first story opens with the Legion performing a painful brainwashing procedure (Brainiac 5’s words) on Superboy, one they’ve been performing since the Boy of Steel started visiting the 30th Century. It’s all very cryptically discussed. But an alert comes in before the process is completed,.
The Legionnaires hurry to the Life Institute an artificial island, where their old enemies the Sklarians are staging a raid, trying to make off with top-secret technology. After several pages of battle in which we get to see a number of Legionnaires do their thing, the Sklarians are driven off, without the tech they were attempting to steal. The Director of the Life Institute thanks Superboy and almost lets slip to him what that technology is all about, but Brainiac 5 hastily diverts Superboy from this line of questioning. Superboy complies, but he’s growing a bit suspicious.
Brainiac 5, Sun Boy and Cosmic Boy discuss the attempted theft and the fact that it will almost certainly be tried again by the Sklarians. They indicate that the target was a serum, and that serum and what it can do is the reason they’ve had to mind-wipe Superboy for all of these years. Unbeknownst to them, however, Superboy has been eavesdropping with his super-hearing, and he’s rattled to ear his friends talking about routinely brainwashing him. But then another alert comes in–the Sklarians are attacking Technos, a research facility situated on a distant asteroid. The Legionnaires head for the site and engage in battle. Brainiac tells Superboy to stay out of the Life Sciences section–and when the Boy of Steel goes to help Sun Boy in that area, the solar-powered youth zaps him back with a burst of heat.
The Sklarians are no match for the Legion heroes, and are ultimately overcome. But they plead for the Legion to share the United Planets’ technology with them–they were artificially raised to a certain level by making first contact with the UP, but that sudden advancement has been tearing their civilization apart, their people unable to cope with it. Cosmic Boy is sympathetic, and he almost spills the Life Foundation’s secret in talking about it, but once again, Brainiac 5 cuts him off. But Superboy has had enough. He knows what’s been going on, and what’s more, he’s figured out what the Life Foundation’s secret is: they’ve discovered how to create life itself. Reluctantly, Brainiac and Cosmic Boy confirm this.
Superboy takes off for his home in the 20th Century, agreeing to let Brainiac 5 perform the brainwashing on him when he returns, to keep him from accidentally spilling the secret in the 20th Century. But after he goes, we learn that this has all been a deception. The Life Foundation’s serum doesn’t create life, it extends it. The average life span in the 30th Century is measured in hundreds of years. This is why the Legionnaires are still referred to as Boy or Kid even though they’re in their twenties–by the standards of the era, they are still youths. This is admittedly a ways to go to justify those names, especially as the characters begin to be treated more as adults–but it’s also a pretty good, pretty natural twist. But this is the last that was ever heard of it, consigned to “Mopee mountain” along with Superman’s image-changing glasses, Superman’s missing 100 years and other canon-changing stories that were subsequently ignored.
The back-up story is a more by-the-numbers tale, and continues from the previous issue. Here, five Legionnaires are accused of High Crimes by the Councilman of the Earth Government–specifically, the murder of his son. The son suffered from a degenerative disease that sapped the electrical impulses in the body. There was a cure–the radiations of a Titanian Psycho-Beast, but the Legion was also hunting such a creature, and prevented his father from obtaining it, physically, because they needed it to save the life of Wildfire, stricken last issue.
The trial plays out directly, with each Legionnaire in turn recapping the events of the adventure wile a pair of shadowed figures breaks into the courtroom. They are, of course, Brainiac 5–who had been missing from the trial–and the now-recovered Wildfire. Back on his feet, Wildfire is able to duplicate the Psycho-Beast’s radiations and bring the seemingly-dead son of the Councilman back to life. This is why Brainiac 5 acted as he did–both men could be saved, but only if Wildfire was saved first. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to guess the score on this story early on, which made the bulk of it a tedious exercise in waiting for the eventual revelation that the reader was already ahead of. It’s competently told, but obvious, and far from the best thing that writer Gerry Conway ever produced.