Now this was a bit of a seminal issue in DC Comics history, though you really couldn’t tell so by looking at this cover. But it represents one of the very few times that a super hero legitimately was killed off during the Silver Age of Comics. And even though that character would be revived a bit later, that doesn’t really detract from the impact of this particular tale. I’m talking about events from the back-up series starring the Legion of Super Heroes, of course. But there’s a whole other Superboy adventure to get through before we speak about that. So let’s go.

But first up, an inside cover house ad touting DC/National’s new breakthrough idea in comic book distribution, the Comicpac. It’s four issues in a plastic bag together for a penny less than the regular cover price, and its higher price point would enable them to get into supermarkets and department stores and toy stores where such periodicals weren’t regularly sold–the idea was that the bag would help to prevent damages from kids paging through the books and not buying them. DC produced Comicpacs off and on well into the late 1980s, so they must have gotten a certain amount of reliable business out of the format. And indeed, several of my earliest comics were bought in this format. The drawback, of course, is that it was entirely too likely to only need one or two books in a given pac and be forced to buy duplicates of things you already had, or things you didn’t actually want. But it was an easy thing for a relative to pick up as a holiday or birthday gift, so much of the advertising for these books were aimed at grandparents and aunts and uncles.

This issue’s Superboy story was written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by George Papp. It was another one of those stories that wasn’t so much about a super-powered conflict as an emotional one, one that any of editor Mort Weisinger’s young readers might be able to relate to. In this story, Red Kryptonite manifests a full-grown adult Superman alongside Superboy and the conflict is really all about whether Ma and Pa Kent love him better than they do the genuine article. The tale opens with Superboy helping out the army by becoming a human target for their long-range guns. But when a blast seems to open a fissure in the Earth revealing a buried Red Kryptonite meteor, the adult Superman appears. But this Superman is friendly, he suggests that they reveal this circumstance to Ma and Pa, letting them know that they now have two sons.

And things are good between the two Super-brothers for a little while. Superman even adopts the alias of Charlie, Clark’s uncle from out of town. But just when things are going well, Superman makes a sudden proclamation. He’s worked out that if both he and Superboy remain in proximity on Earth, the entire Solar System will be annihilated in a great clash of cosmic forces. So one of them has to go. The two Kent boys leave the decision up to Ma and Pa Kent, and they court their preference with gifts and attention. But ultimately, the parents of course choose the older Superman over their own son. Because why wouldn’t they? Accordingly, Superman builds a travel dome for Superboy and all of his stuff and hurls it off into space.

Of course, this whole situation is a sham. There was no Red Kryptonite. Instead, the Superman impostor is Roz-Em, a Kryptonian criminal with a grudge against Superboy’s uncle Nim-El who reckons to take his revenge out on Superboy by proxy. And he decided to do so in the most byzantine and unlikely way possible. Now he’s hurled Superboy towards a Red sun system where he’ll lose his super-powers, and he plans to force Ma and Pa to drink a “suspended animation fluid” that will put them out of the way, then go to free the other Kryptonian criminals like himself. Just in time, Superboy arrives with the Phantom Zone projector and zaps Roz-Em into the Zone. See, Pa Kent was suspicious of Superman, and so he planted an equally byzantine clue for Krypto to find so as to recall their boy from space. Mind you, there wasn’t any mind control or anything happening when this pair chose the disguised Roz-Em over their own child–but nobody brings that up in what is meant to be an upbeat climax.

Next comes this issue’s Smallville Mailsack letters page, in which Mort answers queries from his young readers. Of interest here is that reader Buddy LaVigne suggests a new member of the Legion of Super Heroes called Polar Boy with freezing powers. This character would be introduced for real in the following issue’s Legion story as a part of the newly-formed Legion of Substitute Heroes, without any apparent recompense to LaVigne.

Pretty sure that we’ve already showed off this Ira Schnapp house ad for the latest Superman and Batman Annuals, but these things are too lovely to pass by in these old books.

But there’s also a 1/3 page ad for the first RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER ANNUAL, as plugged by DC’s new mascot character, Johnny DC. Johnny wouldn’t last long, but he was getting a big roll-out push when he was introduced.

And now we get to the story that makes this issue memorable. This was only the fifth Legion of Super Heroes tale in the series, so the feature was still finding its way. But one of the manners in which it proved different from most anything else in the Weisinger Superman line is the fact that its enormous cast of characters were all somewhat expendable. This meant that you could do permanent things to them, leave them changed in a lasting way in a manner that Mort just wasn’t comfortable with when it came to his mainstays. So this story features the genuine death of a Legionnaire.

This story also introduces the tradition of the Legion holding elections for its leader, which in this story is simply a plot device. The story opens with Saturn Girl cheating in order to establish herself as the new Legion leader. Once she does so, she behaves tyrannically, benching one Legionnaire after another for minor and made up infractions, to the point where she’s the only active Legionnaire left on duty. But the reason she’s done this is that she received a warning from the Trylop Council on Planet Mernl that predicts that any Legionnaire who uses his or her power to combat an invasion by the approaching Zaryan the Conquerer will be killed in the attempt. So Saturn Girl has benched all of her teammates in order to save their lives. However, Lightning Lad is unwilling to let her face this foe alone, and he shows up just in time to get himself killed in Saturn Girl’s place, having been hipped to what she was doing by Mon-El, the Legionnaire who is trapped in the Phantom Zone in order to save his life, and who as a phantom saw her receive the warning.

As Lightning Lad lies, mortally wounded, Saturn Girl seems a lot more concerned in hearing all of the details about how he worked out her plan and chose to sacrifice himself to save her rather than any emotional business–but that was the style of the period. And yes, Lightning Lad legitimately dies here–though his body is held in state in a crystal crypt in the Legion headquarters. It’s dealt with as a solemn event, though it is teased that there may yet be a way to resurrect the fallen hero. Still, that wouldn’t happen for a number of issues, and Lightning Lad’s demise would become a running theme throughout the next several Legion stories, giving them the sort of issue-to-issue continuity that Marvel was exploring at the same time.

13 thoughts on “WC: ADVENTURE COMICS #304

  1. I’ve read the first story and my impression was that picking “Superman” was to buy time — it’s not as if Roz-Em would have shrugged and gone “Oh, well, I’ll go away then” if they’d gone with Clark. or am I misremembering?
    The ability to have things happen to Legionnaires was indeed one of the series’ strengths. The “Legionnaire gets others kicked out for infractions of the rules” was one of those plots Weisinger reused a couple of times, though I can’t quite see the appeal.


  2. “It’s four issues in a plastic bag together for a penny more than the regular cover price…” You might want to check your math, Tom. By my calculation, the 47-cent Comicpac was actually a whole penny *cheaper* than 4 12-cent comics would have cost on their own. 😉


  3. My first LOSH comics I read early in collecting also showed a Legion related death (temporary of course), #195 first and almost last appearance of ERG. Turned down by the LOSH, I think for being redundant, sacrifices himself later to stop a huge out of control machine. Took him awhile but he managed to reassemble his scattered essence. Very similar to E-Man who came around couple months later.


  4. That last panel really does suggest that the plan was always to bring back Lightning Lad. Of course, he had already been shown in a Superman story as Lightning Man and married to Saturn Woman, which was pointed out by numerous letter writers.

    Also, all the members of The Legion of Substitute Heroes came from fan suggestions, as did many Legion rejects and statues of dead Legionnaires. Whenever they needed a disposable (or one-off) character, they used fan suggestions. The Legion feature was great at making its readers feel like they had a hand in the series, because they did! This cumulated with them voting for Legion leader by the end of the decade, a tradition that continued (with interruptions) into Paul Levitz’s third run on the book, well into the 21st Century. There wasn’t any other comic book series that interacted with its readers, and allowed them to influence what happened between the pages, more than The Legion of Super-Heroes. (Which might be an explanation for their loyalty, or fanaticism, depending on your POV.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mort waffled a lot more than was apparent. For example, later on in that run, where Superboy and Supergirl were forced out of the 30th century by a Kryptonite cloud, they were originally intended to stay gone–but, according to the story’s writer, Nelson Bridwell, Mort got cold feet halfway through the two-parter and Nelson had to quickly tack on Superboy and Supergirl’s unearned return. Same with Jimmy Olsen #100–that script started out to be an actual, lasting wedding between Jimmy Olsen and Lucy Lane, and again, Mort had second thoughts during the production of the book and had the end rewritten (terribly).


    2. The outrage when the Legion expelled Star Boy for killing in self-defense took up several later letter columns. Good thing it happened back then — today the online response would be vitriolic.


  5. This post made me feel like I was 7 years old again which was how old I was when I bought this book in 1962. I just wish I still had the book but thanks for the good memory anyway.


  6. I have this book in my collection. Most of the early legion stories were spoiled by the inferior artwork. John Forte’s art left me cold. I never cared for Jim Mooney or Mike Sekowsky either. Just a matter of taste I suppose.


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