Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Retro Review: Adventure Comics #247 (1958) - Legion of Super-Heroes First Appearance

Legion of Super Jerkwads

Written By: Otto Binder, Ed Herron, Jack Miller
Art By: Al Plastino, George Papp, Ramona Fradon
Cover Price: 10 cents
Cover Date: April 1958


Everyone’s going wild for that new comics continuity smell, emanating already from DC Comics’ forthcoming Rebirth event, yet there’s one team of beloved heroes that seems to be conspicuously absent from the first waves of doubled-up number one releases: the Legion of Super-Heroes! In the same year that the Soviet Union surged ahead in the Space Race by launching the orbital satellite Sputnik, the Legion of Super-Heroes showed us a future that seemed to prove All-American, mid-century values would reign supreme going forward and into the thirty-first century. And by that, I mean that there would not be any non-white people anywhere. You’re more likely to see a three-eyed alien than someone of Asian descent in this world of the future. Forget Black people, I don’t think there are even any Mediterranean members of the Legion. What do you expect? The Silver Age of comics was only just beginning, and when this comic book came out, racial segregation was the law in the United States and half of the Ku Klux Klan were agents for the FBI. So let’s travel back to a time of routine day-drinking and compulsive cigarette smoking to meet this Legion of Super Crackers in their very first appearance! Read on!

Explain It!:

Here’s why the modern world is a piece of shit: as was standard at the time, Adventure Comics #247 contained three separate four-color stories for ten cents. Three! That’s just over three cents per story! Meanwhile, in the twenty-first century, you’ve got to choose between dinner or a new trade collection of your favorite comic book. Maybe if comic books were more affordable, you wouldn’t have cynical internet reviewers like myself comparing them to the great works of the Bard all the freaking time. Ahh, who am I kidding? I’ve never read the great works of the Bard. Our cover story begins with a young Clark Kent strolling down a Smallville sidewalk when some kid addresses him as Superboy. Unnerved by this, Clark goes home to change into Superboy because he just feels more comfortable in tights and a cape—don’t you dare judge him! While patrolling the sleepiest burg in the state of Kansas, other smart-aleck addresses Superboy as Clark Kent! And a little later on, a blond dame at the park tells Superboy to give her regards to his foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kent! Superboy, d’you think you want to address these ass clowns anytime today? I think this really requires more of a response than “ignore them and they’ll go away.”
"Of course, I have no choice but to kill the three of you."
Before Superboy can fly off again, the two punks from earlier join the blond girl and explain that they know his secret identity because they are from the distant future, and they also wear cockamamie superhero costumes, too! That’s quite a relief to Superboy, who is clearly a moron. The three bullies from the future tell Superboy they belong to a swell club of people with superpowers, and offer to take him to the future in their time bubble so he can be an honorary member. They explain to Superboy that there’s puppies and candy in the time bubble so he’ll be more eager to go. Seriously, were children not abducted until the 1980s? This is precisely the type of scenario my parents warned me about, and it was a good thing too because I routinely got shady offers to travel through time.
"I've got tenure, so it makes no difference to me, either way."
"Next, Superboy will show us how he can use his powers to fix my broken marriage."
The world of the 31st Century is divine, as you might imagine: robots deliver mail, there are eighty-minute long satellite tours of the Earth, and ice cream parlors have flavors from every planet in our solar system (don’t try the Uranus). Superboy notices they have preserved his childhood home in futuristic Smallville, which chokes him up but would really piss me off. So he’s revered as a hero in this era but these three dicks still sought to fuck with him? I’m still fuming over that. Anyway, they all go to a class where the teacher is displaying Superboy’s powers with the use of an instructional Superboy robot. Uh, what? Is this like some weird 31st Century CPR class? The robot malfunctions and can’t show the class its X-ray vision, so the real Superboy steps in and demonstrates how he can melt steel by looking at it. How was the robot supposed to illustrate anything here anyway? Couldn’t the teacher have just said, “Superboy used to lift several hundred times his own weight and could melt steel by looking at it” and avoided using the robot at all? I smell futuristic graft at the Smallville Department of Education!
"We're sorry Obsequious Boy and Ass-Kissing Lass couldn't be here today."
The three hoodlums take Superboy to their clubhouse, which looks like a spaceship crashed nose-first into the ground, and reveal the name of their club: the Legion of Super-Heroes! There, they all sit around a table with placards detailing their individual powers set in front of them, which probably helps avoid more than a few misunderstandings about Blowy Lass. So of course, they can’t just make Superboy an honorary member because he’s a venerated hero whose home is protected landmark a thousand years into the future, no they’ve got to put him through the wringer and make sure he’s fit to be in a club with the stupidest name in history. They challenge Superboy to best the initial three jerkbags in a contest of heroic deeds. So…that’s pretty fucked up, right? Using their proclivity to do good deeds as some kind of basis for gambling? That doesn’t seem a little “off” to anyone else? Just me? Well, alrighty then.
Be cruel to your school.
First up is Superboy versus Saturn Girl, who was taught by Saturnian scientists to project her thoughts. The Legion of Super-Heroes seemingly still has restrictions against members from Saturn, but things are changing—there’s a Saturnian on the city council, for goodness sakes. The heroes are tasked with dredging up a statue of the Unknown Spaceman, a priceless museum piece that sunk in the ocean a week ago. Saturn Girl and Superboy race to the scene, but before he can get there Superboy spies the training robot Superboy from the class he audited earlier going haywire and forcing a member of school staff to announce to no one in particular that it’s worth a million dollars. Superboy can’t pummel the crap out of the robot without disturbing its atomic power and endangering lives, so he tunnels underground and leads the robot to its original classroom, where the teacher can turn it off. Uh, do you think there might have been a less destructive option? Like maybe pick up the robot and fly it back to the classroom at super-speed? Because the robot may cost a million dollars, but it will probably cost more than that to backfill a quarter mile of bored tunnel and restore the surrounding ground’s integrity, not to mention fix any damaged pipes or cables that may have been buried beneath…come on Superboy. Not every problem can be solved by tunneling through the Earth’s crust.
Superboy is displaying his lesser-known Super Arrogance powers.
While Superboy is tearing up the joint, Saturn Girl is at the ocean site. She beams a command to some underwater Godzilla and forces him to retrieve the statue of the Unknown Spaceman, which I think would probably be against some gaming rule if any applied. The Unknown Spaceman, according to an inscription on the base of the statue, is the first person to have explored Venus, which is probably a much more interesting and sensible story than the one at hand.
I'm glad Saturn Girl is keeping score, because I'm already lost.
Next up, it’s Superboy versus Cosmic Boy in a race to put out a raging forest fire, caused by a crashed rocket ship. En route to the disaster, Superboy spies a satellite plummeting to Earth. Worried that it might destroy a city, Superboy snatches it from its fall and chucks it into a volcano, which was not against any environmental dumping codes in the 1950s. While Superboy is distracted Cosmic Boy uses his magnetic eyeballs to pull down iron-rich meteors from outer space that raise the water level of lake adjacent to the flames, which then floods the forest and extinguishes the fire. So in order to show up the twentieth century’s greatest hero, Cosmic Boy saw fit to destroy a natural lake and cause incredible damage to a nearby biome teeming with trees and wildlife. Great future you’ve got here, dude.
"Though this will probably chill the ladies at the modeling agency."
Luckily 33% is a passing grade in the thirty-first century, because we’ve still got the last contest: Superboy versus Lightning Boy, who, uh, does lightning stuff. This time, an interstellar ship called the Nova Express has taken off for Mars with a leaking fuel tank, and communications are on the fritz so blah blah blah you get the idea. Superboy is determined to save the Nova Express first, but while flying into space he spies—I almost can’t bring myself to write this—an invisible eagle escaping from the Interplanetary Zoo. How does he notice this, if the eagle is invisible? Well, he overhears someone flat out stating the occurrence, being careful to also note that a flying vehicle could collide with it, and therefore present a Superboy-level danger. Superboy does the impossible by…oh for goodness sakes…snatching an iceberg from the ocean and cooling the air around thirty-first century Smallville, causing frost to form on the invisible eagle and making it visible. And this has no other consequences to the town? A sudden temperature drop won’t affect any machinery or elderly folks? Superboy mentions that the city shouldn’t experience too much discomfort, but how much is “too much?” If three grandmas die because you were looking for a fucking invisible eagle, is that worth it? Lightning Boy is able to signal the Nova Express by clapping giant, lightning-made letters into space that formed a message to turn back for repairs, a solution so stupid that it deserves no further explanation.
So Superboy flunked out of his entrance exam into the Legion of Super-Heroes, and is slinking off somewhere with tears in his eyes, when Saturn Girl calls him back to explain that it was all an elaborate prank at his expense! They set up side disasters to coincide with the other disasters, knowing Superboy would be drawn away from the contest and suffer a humiliating loss. And then Superboy flies into a berserker rage, incinerating most of the club with his heat vision and rending other members to paste with his bare hands. Or, that’s what he should have done. Where do these jokers get off fucking around with Superboy, someone that still inspires people a thousand years after his existence? But no, they allow him into the Legion and all is forgiven, because let’s not forget that when Superboy is done saving people in the most destructive way possible, he’s still teenage nerd Clark Kent who merely wants to feel accepted.
"Creating extraneous perils was worth it to see the look on your face!"
Just then, an alarm comes across the Disast-O-Meter (pat. pending) that the cosmic lamp at South Pole city, which supplies heat and makes the area habitable, has cracked at the base and is beginning to fall. Before the Legion can fuck with him anymore, he rushes to the scene and uses a magnetic meteor to straighten out the tower, then seeds nearby clouds with salt to create a lightning storm that will provide heat, probably by igniting several fires, to the city. Back at the Legion’s clubhouse, he tells Saturn Girl that she’s probably wondering why he didn’t just use his super-strength to straighten the cosmic lamp, thereby using her power of mind-reading, which—when combined with facsimiles of Cosmic Boy’s magnetic power and Lightning Boy’s lightning power—displayed his mastery over the middling singular abilities of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ membership. So Superboy is, in fact, the biggest dickhead of all, and perhaps of all time! Showed those sons of bitches!
"That's nice, son. Remember to take your medicine."
After that powerhouse of a tale, there’s another story starring completely different characters: Green Arrow and his ward, Speedy! This was back when Green Arrow was a near-direct ripoff of Batman, down to using an Arrowcave for a base and driving around in an Arrowmobile, years before he would lose his fortune and became a paranoid, crusading hippie. This yarn is about the wealthy J.J. Brandon, who died and left Green Arrow thirteen “superstition arrows” that are tipped with typical luck-based items like an ace of spades and a rabbit’s foot. He lived his whole stupid life based around superstitions, and because the very wealthy are so bored that they come up with elaborate stipulations in their last wills and testaments, Brandon’s lawyer informs Green Arrow that the estate will donate five million dollars to the charity of his choice—provided that, on Friday the thirteenth, he thwarts thirteen crimes using the thirteen superstition arrows provided. So if you really care about those war orphans, you’ll make use of this arrow that has a picture of a black cat stuck on the end! What an asshole.
"The will also has a stipulation that the executing lawyer cluck like a chicken, but we can waive that."
Green Arrow and Speedy set to doing their inane duty, and being that they routinely fire arrows with boxing gloves and matchsticks on the end, they find it fairly easy: they stop a bunch of fleeing crooks by catching them in a rope ladder arrow, apprehend a couple of criminals running across a frozen pond by firing a salt shaker arrow that weakens the ice beneath them and nearly drowns them. They trip up a thief by firing the black cat arrow at his ankles, and help cops track down some burglars by firing an ink stamp of the number 13 onto their license plate, making its number unique and therefore easily traceable for some reason. I mean, this is kids’ stuff for these guys. A greater challenge would probably be to ask Green Arrow to fire a normal arrow into the bullseye of a standard target, I bet he couldn’t do it without firing over the shoulder with the aid of a mirror and shoving a pogo stick on the end of the arrow.
There's no reason fighting crime can't be a rollicking good time! Aside from the victims, that is.
Though we know the exact number of arrows, we breeze past seven more arrows until only the broken mirror arrow and ace of spades arrow remain in the quiver. Lucikly, they happen across a theater where some thugs are stealing box office receipts, so Green Arrow fires his broken mirror arrow which…breaks a giant mirror. I guess that was just a “blunt” arrow? The broken mirror arrow also severs some cords holding up an elaborate chandelier, which falls and threatens to kill the bad guys, but stops short of the floor and hangs by one cord, shedding its multi-faceted dangly bits that then shine so brightly so as to blind the evildoers! Because comic books are bullshit, kids! Just then, the lawyer retained by J.J. Brandon to oversee his last requests decides he’s not going to wait for Green Arrow to fail, and attempts to flee in the Arrowcar with the five million bucks that was earmarked for charity. The lawyer’s passes beneath a giant horseshoe hanging outside the Lucky Horseshoe Inn, and Green Arrow uses his ace of spades arrow—which is really just a regular arrow with a super-big arrow head—to knock the horseshoe down onto the lawyer’s vehicle, probably maiming him if not killing him outright! All’s well that ends well!
Something about having a two-ton horseshoe dropped on a fella's head, makes him eager to confess.
And there’s also an Aquaman story!
How about sea urchins? Kids like sea urchins, right? Hello?
The thing about this book from the dawn of the Silver Age is that it is unabashedly silly and often erroneous about matters of natural science, but it is written with some degree of care and an understanding of proper narrative. It’s a sort of “paint-by-numbers” comic book, with concepts so outlandish and ludicrous that the formula is obscured with wacky scenes of dubious feats and questionable morality. I think it’s interesting that the first story depicts Superboy being played a fool for most of it—and this is his title! I’m also curious as to why the thirty-first century venerates Superboy, when they should be just as well-versed in the accomplishments and tenor of Superman. Is pedophilia legal in the future? Or maybe Superman does something so irredeemably fucked up down the line that future remembrances are restricted to his innocent, boyish years? Superboy grows into a man, but the Legion of Super-Heroes sticks around for long time, eventually getting their own title and expanding the world of the thirty-first century by introducing a changing cast of bizarre characters with very stupid names and abilities.
Bits and Pieces

This issue has not just one story about one character, but three stories about a whole bunch of characters! All for a dime. What can a dime get you these days? Nothing, that’s what. You’d be lucky to find a can of Coke for a dollar. Back in 1958, that would get you ten comic books! Don’t tell me to calm down, this country is going to the dogs and I don’t have to be quiet! And the comics back then were so much nicer, not like these successive gorefests and planetary takeovers you see today! Whatever happened to normal crime? Did people stop robbing banks once the first interstellar demon crapped his death pods on the planet’s surface? That’s the problem with today, the stakes are too high with everything. Nowadays, you want to make sure you don’t cheat yourself out of anything, but back then it was fine to spend ten cents on a comic book even if you knew one of the stories would completely suck.


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