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.
9 thoughts on “BHOC: SUPERBOY & THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #235”
I didn’t really get into the Legion until the Eighties, so this came as news to me! An interesting little bit of Legion lore, even if it was quickly disavowed.
Vince Colletta’s inks over Mike Grell’s pencils were one of my least favorite things about 1970’s comics. I really loved Mr. Grell’s art back in the day, but Mr. Colletta’s inks did not do it justice. I know it’s 40 years later, but it still irks me.
I should get a life.
I almost mentioned this myself, but it starts to feel repetitive every time Vince inked an issue I read.
And he inked a lot of comics in the period you are covering.
Grell felt the same, especially about his own creation Warlord, that Colletta inked quite often. He also referenced this in a less-than-subtle way, having a VC look-alike getting his hand severed by the titular character.
The thing is, if you think about it, is this really such a shocking development? Something that they’d have to block Superboy from remembering every time he went to the future? The Legion is in the 30th century, it’s pretty natural that the average human life space should have dramatically increased by then, just as we live a lot longer than people did a thousand years before. With all of the other technological advances of the future (not just from Earth but other developed civilization in the U.P.) I’d assume that there were many medical advances, including the elimination of diseases and illnesses and with advancements in developing cybernetic limbs and artificial organs (not to mention possibly cloning techniques), the only last concern would be in finding a way to halt the degeneration of our mental facilities. if they can fix that, then I’d imagine that the average human being could be living comfortably into their 200’s, at least, by then.
So this shouldn’t be a big secret or something Superboy would feel so tempted to bring back to his own time, at least not any moreso than any other future advances that he sees.
The problem is this story is really pushing hard on the “Reed Richards Is Useless” problem, and the logical implications of being able to time-travel to the future and back. Think about someone able to travel to our era, where their native time is 1000 years ago. Say some noble knight who has a mystic amulet for story purposes. Well, it won’t do him much good to bring back cell phones, there’s too much infrastructure required. Or a car. Or a tank. He could easily not want to bring back guns, too disruptive, maybe dishonorable, and he’s already at the top of the fighting hierarchy. But some antibiotics? Can he really stand to see his best friend, or love interest, dying of fever, when a few pills would cure them? And we’ve got that stuff freely available, and it could even be made crudely in his time. Even just some knowledge about health, e.g. diseases are caused by germs, wash your hands before eating. “Sir Knight, why are you such a dandy about washing?” What does he say? “Umm … err … just a little quirk of mine …”.
Superboy should be very tempted indeed to bring back some of the future advances about health and medicine, because otherwise he has to watch people close to him die when he could easily save them. He would be doing something like seeing women dying in childbirth all the time, and know all he’d need to do to save many of them is say “Everybody, just use this stuff called “sanitizer”, here is how to make it”.
If you start thinking about that, it’s very bad for the suspension-of-disbelief.
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The part of this article that caught my attention is that an element of the story was “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.” I have heard of the Mopee/Flash story but I don’t think I ever read it. I have read (and may own) the issue with Superman’s image-changing glasses. I don’t recall ever hearing of Superman’s missing 100 years so I “Googled it up.” I also believe I have an issue of Superboy where he found his parents, Jor-El and Lara, floating in suspended animation in deep space. If I remember correctly, Superboy discovered that they would die of Kryptonite poisoning if he woke them up, so he left them as they were. Googled that up, too, and that’s pretty much it…
LSH has always been one of my favorites and I’ve been a bit surprised they have been missing from DC for so long. Brian Michael Bendis, of Ultimate Spider-Man fame, and who put Superman back in his red trunks, is reviving the Legion soon. Of course, there will be changes. I’ve read that Lightning Lad will now be black, though I guess he can’t be called African-American (Melanin-Winathian?).