The Legion of Super-Pets
by Kent "Unca Cheeks" Orlando
Secret Shames of the Silver Age of Comics
That's right: the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the @#$%ing "Super-Pets."
"Not silly enough."
You want "silly"...?
You want "silly?"
YOU. CAN'T. HANDLE. "SILLY" !!
We begin our story with Ultra Boy, team hothead and resident pain-in-the-hinder, mere nano-seconds away from using his patented "Penetra-Vision" to pierce the veil of mystery shrouding the true identities of Legion rookies Sir Prize and Miss Terious.
Just before the ultra-Peeping Tom can make good upon his intrusive threat, however: Legionnaire leader Invisible Kid -- displaying the cautious, considered sort of parliamentarian "style" best exemplified by such natural-born leaders of men as (say) the Prohibition-era Al Capone -- reasons with the recalcitrant Ultra Boy by giving him a little impromptu demonstration of the Legion's brand new dental plan.
An uneasy detente having thus been reached, the Legionnaires dispatch the team of Cosmic Boy; Ferro Lad; blubber-butted Matter- Eater Lad; and the mysterious Miss Terious to rescue the team's umpty- gazillionaire benefactor, intergalactic industrialist R.J. Brande, from the clutches of "Devil's Dozen" necromantrix the Hag.
Alas (and alackaday): said rescue team's space cruiser ends up being sliced like so much pimento loaf, courtesy of the planet's (now) Hag-controlled satellite defensive system. The downed Legionnaires are forced to evacuate their now-worthless vessel and make their collectively spacesuited way down to the surface, sans shielding.
("It's hard to get a [space]suit that fits me, ever since I became as fat as our old buddy, Bouncing Boy" Matter-Eater Lad observes, whilst attempting to frug and shrug his elephantine way into what appears to be some sort of futuristic "space muumuu." And I'm certain we all genuinely morn the untimely passing of however many trees it took to bring that deathless bit of prosey to a breathlessly waiting world.)
Upon entering said planet's inner atmosphere, the Legionnaires are ambushed by (as Cosmic Boy helpfully exposits): "...Prison-Robots! Their long, flexible fingers shoot out and harden into a cage to trap trespassers!"
Quickly, the Adipose Avenger (i.e., Matter-Eater Lad) swings into omnivorous action, "using his amazing [it says here] power of eating and digesting any form of matter."
(LITTLE-KNOWN COMICS FACT: the team auditions held the day Matter-Eater Lad made the final cut for Legion membership were especially competitive and fierce, with the aforementioned M-E Lad just barely managing to eke out a desperate, last-ditch victory over such similarly worthy contenders as Spank-the-Monkey Lad; Ovulation Lass; Dyslexic Damsel; Princess Pedophile; and Chew-My-Own-Legs-Off Kid. I smell a possible ELSEWORLDS one-shot, here.)
Meanwhile: the kidnapped Lightning Lad regains something rather like consciousness in the tackily-appointed confines of Prince Evillo's sanctum sanctorum.
"The next step in my plan is to make you one of The Devil's Dozen" Evillo exults, revealing his "master plan" to Conquer the Universe Entire to be -- in the final analysis -- little more than an "Amway"-ish multi-level marketing pyramid scheme. Trapping the hapless hero in a hyperbaric chamber attached to one containing a particularly malevolent-looking wraith-creature of some sort, the Anti-Social Antagonist explains: "You see, those aren't living creatures, but concentrations of pure evil! When this one enters your body, you will become as evil as I am! HA, HA!" Although probably nowhere near as towering and colossal a total fashion GEEK. Ha, Ha.
After allowing the youthful hero to bake evenly on both sides (and remembering to baste thoroughly), Evillo releases his newly-minted minion, preparatory to handing him his official "Devil's Dozen" t-shirt and combination whistle/secret decoder ring...
... whereupon, a grim-visaged Lightning Lad promptly lands a good'un right smack-dab in the middle of Evillo's smug, smarmy li'l kisser.
"But... how did you manage to overcome the evil force?" a frantically backpedaling Evillo splutters, incredulous.
"It was easy!" Lightning Lad replies. "All I had to do was think of good!"
(Lightning Lad's baldly- stated assertion -- if true -- offers sweeping and profound implications for the moral ethos and ethical cosmology of the DC Comics universe. Consider the following scenario, if you will:
(Hitler; Goering; Goebbels; and Himmler are all personally manning a monstrous automated assembly line, on which doomed women and men are being cruelly conveyed towards a roaring and gigantic blast furnace.
(GOERING: "Evil Rules!"
(GOEBBELS: "Good Sucks!"
(HIMMLER: "My goodness, but I'm having a wonderful time!"
(From out of the shadows steps a silent and reproachful Lightning Lad. Wordlessly, he walks up to each of the four monsters in human form and hands them four separate photographs.
(HITLER [after staring at the picture in his hand for an elastic moment of agonizing self-appraisal]: "It's... it's a Precious Moments (tm) Card... with two nekkid li'l kids. Sharing a flower. AND saying: 'Love Is...' ."
(GOERING [staring at his own photo, in turn]: "This... 'Fred Rogers' fellow... you can just sense his innate compassion and decency, can't you...?"
(GOEBBELS [a single fat tear rolling down one cheek, as he hums in happy, all-but-forgotten memory]: "... Bluuuuuue's Clues... Bluuuuuue's Clues... tum-tum-de-dah-dum..."
(HIMMLER [shutting down the conveyor belt with jovial finality]: "Ev'rybody over to my place! For milk an' cookies!"
(GOERING [daring to hope]: "... an'... an'... an' cartoons...?"
(HIMMLER (tousling the other's hair fondly]: "Ha-ha-ha! Of course! Silly ol' bear!"
(HITLER, GOERING, GOEBBELS and THEIR WRETCHED [NEAR-]VICTIMS: "Yaaaaaaaaaaayy -- !!")
Okay. I'm done, now.
The crafty Evillo manages to beat the holy living snot outta Lightning Lad yet again, however (which oughtta be grounds for expulsion from the Legion, right there)... and we CUT TO:
The four- person Legion "rescue team," being confronted by "Devil's Dozen" member in-good-standing The Hag. The withered crone conjures up a quartet of veiled portraits, and magickally teleports away, cackling: "Want to see what the future holds for you? Remove the cloth from the first picture, Ferro Lad... IF you aren't afraid of my prediction! Goodbye! Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!"
One by one, the assembled Legionnaires do precisely that; with each one, in turn, being confronted with a suitably enigmatic visualization of their eventual destiny. (The luckless Ferro Lad, for instance, is greeted with the sight of himself being slagged into molten nothingness, in the heart of a blazing inferno. UH-oh...)
"I'm anxious to see what's supposedly ahead for me," a contemptuous Cosmic Boy declares, striding manfully towards his own framed-and-
"No!" a panicky Miss Terious warns, blocking his path. "I can't let you! It's too dreadful!"
(More "dreadful" than being in this story? Brrrrrrrr.)
Claiming that she possesses the knowledge requisite to cooking up an "anti-hex" of sorts, in order to foil the Hag's hellish prophecies, Miss Terious informs the others that her planned nostrum will require the acquisition of (among other things): " [...] a lock of hair from a genuine magician, and the print of an enchanted shoe!"
Cosmic Boy radios said "shopping list" to their fellow Legionnaires, back on Earth; and the latter -- realizing that their membership is already stretched perilously thin, what with Lightning Lad captured, and both Superboy and Supergirl on the Injured Reserves List for the next couple of years (give or take) -- decide to do the unthinkable, by way of response:
They call in... the Legion of Substitute Heroes.
[Cue screams; heavy organ music.]
(For those of you out there blessedly unaware of the four-color existence of these notorious lame-o's... let the following serve as but briefest introduction. Hold on, now; this is going to sting a little.)
Polar Boy (team leader): capable of generating "super- cold," he was rejected for Legion membership for being "too short" and "having one of the eight or ten worst costumes in all of recorded comics history."
Night Girl: girlfriend to Cosmic Boy. Super-strong and invulnerable... so long as the sun's not out. (Otherwise: as useless as lips on a chicken.)
Fire Lad: can belch fire.
That's it. That's all. Swear to Jesus.
Stone Boy: can turn entire body into all-but-unshatterable stone. This might actually prove an interesting and useful talent, were he able to move while in said form.
Chlorophyll Kid: willing to be addressed in public as "Chlorophyll Kid."
Color Kid: can change (say) red things into blue things. Or what-
have-you. Notorious Twister cheat.
Okay. So: a quintet of Legionnaires (Saturn Girl; Mon-El; Colossal Boy; Element Lad; and Princess Projectra) are: (A) dispatched to 20th Century Smallville, in order to (B) restore Superboy's memory of all things Legion-ish; the better that he might, in turn, (C ) show them how to reach the fifth-dimensional homeworld of infamous imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, so they can (D) score a lock of his hair. (Got all that...?)
Snaring a quick handful of said follicles, however, proves to be the proverbial Job Easier Said Than Done, as the mischevious Mxyzptlk takes singular advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bedevil an exasperated Boy of Steel while still safely on his own "home turf."
In the meantime, however -- while Superboy and Mon-El are undergoing their own peculiarly tonsorial torments -- the Legion of Substitute Heroes ("Our Team Motto: 'The Dog Ate All of the Really Useful Super-Powers.' ") has journeyed backwards in time, as well; specifically, to Stanhope College, circa 1966: the stomping grounds of a (still-)amnesiac Supergirl.
(This story is in serious need of a @#$%ing flow chart.)
Getting the Maid of Might's attention proves no great feat (even for these morons, which is more than I would have been willing to bet a fiver on); convincing her of their good intentions, on the other hand, is a somewhat tougher nut to crack.
Using her telepathic rapport with super-horse Comet to summon the rest of the imbecilic "Super- Pets" (Krypto, the super-dog; Streaky, the super-cat; and our old friend Beppo, the super-monkey, the Dameisele of Derring-Do snarls a cheerfully bloodthirsty "sic 'em!"; and the startled Subs find themselves reeling before the juggernaaut-like assault of --
... well: a dog; a kitty; a monkey; and a horsie.
All wearing capes, mind.
Now: which of the following do you suppose the terrified teens exclaimed, upon stumbling their unwary way into this little literry cul-de-sac...?
A.) POLAR BOY [sarcastcally; to Supergirl]: "What... no 'super- bunnies,' while you're at it? No 'super-llamas'? 'Super-manatees'? 'Super-GERBILS,' maybe -- ?!?"
B.) FIRE LAD [contemptuously; to Streaky]: "Shyeah. Riiiight. A 'super-kittycat.' C'mere, ya big pussAAAAAIIIIIEEEEEEE -- !!"
C.) COLOR KID (to Stone Boy; calmly): "I can't tell you how much I admire your ability to face Certain Death with such steely resolve and stoic fortitude. Particularly given that you are standing next to a man who's just soiled his undergarments in stark, unreasoning terror."
D.) CHLOROPHYLL KID [to Beppo]: "DADDY! NOOOOOOO -- !!"
Incredibly enough, however -- thanks to some simply enormous "cheating" on the part of the story's (obviously) shameless scribe -- the Substitute Heroes do not die, shrieking, in a bloody whirlwind of super-fang, -hoof and -claw. As a matter of fact: the wimpy wannabes even manage to obtain "the print of an enchanted shoe" (as per Miss Terious' earlier request; I wouldn't blame you one little bit if you'd already forgotten all about that, at this juncture), courtesy of an attacking Comet.
Thus armed with both hair and hoofprint, the scattered Legionnaires converge upon the still-stranded "rescue team" lead by Cosmic Boy, just scant moments before The Hag returns to effect a final, team-wide "whammy" on them all.
However: a hastily-incanted cantrip on the part of Miss Terious ("Hair from a magician's head/Print of an enchanted shoe/When the magic charm's been said/Cast out the false, restore the true/BURMA SHAVE!") effects a startling transformation on the part of the sallow-skinned sorceress.
"Popping planets!" a stunned Ferro Lad enthuses. "The Hag turned into a gorgeous girl!"
... but not just any "gorgeous girl," mind. The Hag has been transformed into none other than long-time LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES supporting character The White Witch: future Legionnaire in her own right, and sister to yet another long-lost LSHer, "Nura Nal"; a.k.a. --
... Dream Girl!
(The LEGION comics of the '60's and '70's -- I'll tell you for flat-out nothing -- boasted of the single most labyrinthine and ridiculously "top-heavy" assortment of characters and continuities of any any ANY other eighteen or twenty series' you can name. It was -- essentially -- like unto a monthly mega-crossover involving the full and complete casts of Dallas; Dynasty; Falcon's Crest; AND Knot's Landing.)
"... and I'm Star Boy, the guy you expelled for breaking the Legion code by killing a man... even though it was in self-defense!" a grinning "Sir Prize" reveals, in turn. (There. You see what I mean? "Super-cousins" from different time periods; super-heroic sisters; "substitute" heroes; super-pets; AND a regular cast of characters numbering in the multiple dozens. There are entire third-world countries with smaller populations than this freakin' series...!)
As this page has already gone on at only slightly less length than that of the 1986 World Series... I'll be merciful, and give you the READER'S DIGEST version of the remaining pages:
Prince Evillo's pet "mad scientist" turns against his employer, and uses his super-scientific skills to:
*** replace Lightning Lad's robotic prosthetic arm with a real one;
*** "Jenny Craigs several hundred pounds off of the embarassingly rotund Matter-Eater Lad;
*** ... and transplants said excess poundage onto the (previously) super-power bereft Bouncing Boy. [See panel reproduction, below]
Everyone is just so gosh-darned ecstatic over all of these grand and glorious doings ("... and Bouncing Boy is fat again!" Oh, well. Break out the wassail and bunting for that, by all means. I mean: heck... Bouncing Boy...), that the entire assemblage of eighty or two hundred super-heroes celebrates by jumping up and down repeatedly on Evillo and the remaining members of his abortive "Devil's Dozen" until the crunching and splintering sounds stop.
The "story" (I'm too tired to argue about it) shudders itself to a sudden halt with what is -- even today; with writing standards having plummeted so disgracefully -- one of the single dopiest deus ex machinas ever to (dis)grace a comic book authored by anyone not named "Rob Liefeld":
"The Green [Kryptonite] cloud has turned blue!" a flabbergasted Invisible Kid exclaims. "Who could've done it?"
"Me... Color Kid!" the runty little non-entity (even by "Legion of Substitute Heroes" standards, mind) standing nearby murmurs. "It's still Kryptonite... but I altered it's color to Blue K, which has no effect on [Superboy and Supergirl]!"
In other, more precise (to say nothing of honest) storytelling terms:
"In the 30th Century: Things Just... Happen."
Say goodnight, Gracie.
Kent G. Orlando a/k/a "Uncle Cheeks", had one of the most acclaimed comics-analysis sites on the web until he lost his free webspace. Several mirror sites are still online, and Fanzing is proud to help preserve some of his essays.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2002 by Kent Orlando
Fanzing is not associated with DC Comics.
All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are DC Comics, Inc.
DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.
Fanzing site version 7.4