Hello! Welcome to DC First Issue Flashbacks! In this series, we will be looking at the first appearance of many of DC’s great characters, from A-List All-Stars to D-List Dorks. Before we get into the actual article, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eric Gaines and I have been reading comics for the past 10 or so years. My early experiences with comics revolved around the great works of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Denny O’neill, and a few other writers (most notably Kevin Smith’s run on Green Arrow, which were my first comics). Before long, I discovered the wonderful world of the Silver Age, where anything goes and everything is going to be alright. What really surprised me was the sheer number of characters that existed and intermingled throughout the Silver Age. This got me hooked on DC comics, and ever since, I have been a die-hard fan of DC’s Silver Age.
Now, let’s get on with the article!
Today, we will be looking at the first appearance of my favorite team of heroes, the Legion of Superheroes.
Adventure Comics #247
Story by: Otto Binder
Art by: Al Plastino
We begin with a teenaged Clark Kent strolling down the streets of Smallville, when suddenly, a teenage boy greets him by saying “Hello there, Superboy!” Clark is obviously taken aback, but his shock and confusion only intensifies when this happens two more times with two other teenagers. Clark is determined to learn the identities of these mysterious teens and he doesn’t have to wait long as they reveal themselves to be Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Boy. They inform Superboy that they are the founding members of the Legion of Superheroes, a club of super-powered teens from the 30th century. They have traveled back in time to meet Superboy, whom they consider a major inspiration.
They take Clark on a tour of 30th century Smallville and ask him if he would like to join their club. Clark is obviously thrilled and the Legion submits him to a series of fairly mundane challenges in which Clark must best each member of the team. Saturn Girl (who possesses the power of telepathy), Lightning Boy (who can shoot lightning out of his hands), and Cosmic Boy (who can control magnetism), all showcase their powers in these competitions with Superboy. Surprisingly, Clark fails and the Legion has proven themselves mightier than even the Boy of Steel. However, the members of the Legion confess that they played a series of tricks on Superboy to win the competitions as an initiation prank and Superboy is granted membership to the club. Superboy performs one quick super feat to show his gratitude to the Legion before heading back to his own time. The story ends with Clark showing Pa Kent a pretty awesome medallion which the Legion has bestowed as a memento of his journey.
So now you know about the story, but how about the creators? This story was written by Otto Binder. Binder had a tendency to tell this form of story very frequently throughout the Silver Age whenever new characters were introduced. Even if the plot isn’t very original, I have to give this story credit for it’s dialog, Yes, it is riddled with the over-the-top campiness that plagued the Silver Age, but I think that actually works in the story’s favor this time around. It gives an otherwise dull issue a burst of optimism and fun that keeps the story moving along at a quick pace.
The artist for this issue was Al Plastino. For those that are not accustomed to Silver Age art, this issue will be quite a shock. The art is very flat and simple compared to the complex art of the Jim Lee’s and Esad Ribic’s of the modern comic art landscape. Plastino does a good job giving everything in the futuristic Smallville a glistening sheen which helps transport even modern readers into a bright and sparkling future. Where Plastino tends to fall flat is in the facial expressions of the characters. Occasionally, some of the characters will be drawn with a cold and lifeless stare, which is a little bit creepy. Plastino’s designs for the futuristic monsters also verge on cartoonish, which is a bit distracting from the otherwise beautifully retro art. Fans of the Fallout franchise might be particularly interested in the art of these early Legion stories.
The Legion of Superheroes has a long and complicated history. Over time, the time-traveling team of oddly powered teenagers expands to include members like Braniac 5, Matter Eater Lad, Bouncing Boy, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, and Shrinking Violet. Some of the characters even change names (i.e. Lightning Boy becomes Lightning Lad and Triplicate Girl becomes Duo Damsel after an unfortunate encounter). This issue shows the very humble origins of a team which will eventually have tons of characters and continuity nightmares. They are the perfect team for readers that are looking for a different take on the X-men formula (which the Legion preceded by a full 5 years, I might add). The origin issue itself is honestly nothing special. The story is predictable and cliché, and the art is passable (maybe slightly better than passable if readers find the 1950s retro-future aesthetic appealing). However, every character (or team) has to start somewhere.
If this article has piqued your interest in the Legion of Superheroes, please check out my podcast, Eric and the Legion. Let’s just call it an “audio SparkNotes” of every single appearance of the Legion in publication order. It’s like reading comics with your ears!
Written by: Eric Gaines.