Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Meet The Legion of Substitute Super-Pets

by Nicolas Juzda

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was originally written as an entry for the aborted "So, You Want To Be A Silver Age Comic Book Writer, Huh?" contest at the Cheeks The Toy Wonder website, but due to that site's demise immediately after the contest's announcement, it was never published.

The challenge was to write a story in the style of the Silver Age, corresponding to one of a dozen descriptions of an "already commissioned" cover. For this story, the relevant cover description by Cheeks was as follows:

1.) ADVENTURE COMICS ("... starring THE LEGION OF SUPER- HEROES!")

Title: "Meet the Legion of Substitute Super-Pets!"

Cover: Four animals -- all sporting li'l, bitty red capes with the distinctive shielded "S" of SUPERMAN fame -- are in the foreground: "Winky, the Super-Gerbil"; "Butch, the Super-Manatee"; "Louise, the Super-Osprey"; and "Adolphus Q. Paddywhacker, the Super-Cockroach." Winky is off to one side, being noisily and violently sick; Butch is mooning, lovesick, over a photograph of a smiling Bouncing Boy, held in one massive flipper; and a grimly determined Louise is scurrying after a shrilly shrieking and blubbering Adolphous, clearly hellbent upon gobbling him up, whole.

In the background, Superboy, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad are watching all of this transpire; frowns of consternation creasing their handsome, teenaged features.

"Great Krypton!" a (plainly) incredulous Superboy is exclaiming. "Four more creatures surviving the destruction of my homeworld... and each one possessing all the incredible same super-powers as I!"

"... and if we can't get them to work together, somehow," an equally astonished Saturn Girl adds; "... then the entire30th Century is DOOMED!"

So, you see what I was up against. And now, I present our feature presentation: "Meet The Legion Of Substitute Super-Pets"

First off, I will point out that I'm treating the cover as pseudo-symbolic (Butch is self-doubt, Adolphus is Oedipal desire, the photo of Bouncing Boy is an independent Irish Republic, etc.) since most of the goofier covers of the Silver Age didn't present an exact scene from the comic within. I believe that I am well within the standard acceptable bounds for such liberties.

As our story begins, we find young Clark Kent in his room in Smallville, working on some homework. Suddenly, one of the dolls on his bookcase (there's a reason young Clark wasn't gettin' any) starts to glow.

"Great Krypton! That glowing figurine means the Legion of Super-Heroes needs the help of Superboy."

As Superboy flies through the time-stream, past an ascending series of dates, he continues to provide exposition. "The Legion are a group of super-heroes from the 30th Century. Each member has a unique super-power. What menace could they face that requires my help?"

Arriving at the upside-down rocketship clubhouse of the LSH, Superboy spies Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Mon-El, Brainiac Five, the original Invisible Kid, Phantom Girl, Duo Damsel, Matter-Eater Lad, and whichever other LSHers of the period the artist wants to include, standing outside waiting for him.

"What's the emergency?" Superboy asks.

"Look at this message," Saturn Girl says, as the assembled Legionnaires go inside and stand before a monitor. On it appears a purple hooded figure.

"That's the Time Trapper!" Superboy exclaims. "The immensely powerful villain with the ability to command time."

"Greetings, Legion," the on-screen figure begins. "I have seized control of planet Verbog, and surrounded it with an Anti-Time Field. No person may land on Verbog without being de-aged! Do not try to stop me!"

"*Gasp* Verbog contains vast quantities of the mineral Verbogium, an incredible power source. If the Trapper mines it, he could conquer the Universe!" Superboy exclaims, having done his assigned readings on obscure planets.

"Bouncing Boy is heading there even as we speak. He was rescuing some endangered Snuffle Lizards from a volcanic eruption on a planet nearby," Saturn Girl informs him.

Meanwhile...

Bouncing Boy sits in the cockpit of a spacecraft, a couple of odd looking lizards roaming the aisle behind him. "I didn't have time to drop these Snuffle Lizards off in a safe location, so I had to take them with me," he thinks.

In an exterior shot, we can see that he is flying towards a planet, from which waves of energy are emanating. "These Anti-Time Waves are making it hard to fly," come Chuck's thoughts from within the ship. And indeed the mighty vessel proceeds to shake, rattle, and roll.

Inside, an appreciably younger Bouncing Boy is seated at the controls. "*Choke* I can feel myself de-aging! This is going to be a rough landing!"

CRASH! We can see the ship hit the ground quite hard. But any landing you can walk away from is a good one. Or, in this case, crawl, for Chuck has been reduced to a mere babe, bawling at his predicament.

Back at LSH HQ, the scene we've just witnessed is being watched on the monitor by Bouncing Boy's horrified comrades in arms.

"Poor Bouncing Boy! De-aged to infancy! SOB!" says Duo Damsel.

"But look," says Mon-El. "The Snuffle Lizard is still unharmed!"

"Perhaps animals are unaffected. The Time Trapper did say 'no person' may land," Brainiac Five says.

"Let's call in the Legion of Super-Pets! This is precisely the sort of circumstances they were formed in case of!" Superboy suggests. And yes, they were formed to battle any menaces that only animals could. God help us all.

"Sorry, Superboy," Saturn Girl replies. "The Super-Pets are off on a vital mission to Dimension QK-51."

"Has the Legion finally encountered a problem we couldn't overcome?" Cosmic Boy asks.

"Wait!" declares Mon-El, gearing up for his big piece of expository dialogue. "During the thousand years I spent in the Phantom Zone so that I would not die from exposure to lead, which is fatal to people from my home planet of Daxam, I encountered four Phantom Animals from Krypton."

"Then perhaps there is hope after all," Superboy intones.

"Hurray!" chorus Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl.

"They were a gerbil, a cockroach, an osprey and a manatee," Mon-El continues with a straight face.

"But how would they have ended up in the Phantom Zone?" Saturn Girl enquires.

"According to my super-memory," Superboy begins, his narration leading into a couple of panels worth of flashback, "back on Krypton..."

A couple of Kryptonians carrying cages containing our quartet of creatures have come to see noted scientist Jor-El, who seemed to spend a lot of time on assorted pet projects (no pun intended) for a guy allegedly unable to grab a few hours in which to assemble a family sized rocket. "Jor-El, you are our greatest scientist! Can you find a cure for the disease of Space Rabies, which these animals have contracted?"

"I have tried for many years to find a cure, but there is none," Jor-El confesses.

"Then we will have to kill these animals, for they have gone mad!"

"Wait," Jor-El says. "That would be inhumane. Let me instead send them to the Phantom Zone, where they can harm no one."

And he does.

Stop laughing! I worked bloody hard to go a different route than the normal "Jor-El had yet another spare rocket, see..."

Back in the future, none of the assembled LSHers sees fit to point out the obvious holes in my... I mean, Superboy's story (God knows how one tells a cockroach has gone crazy). Instead they look forlourn.

"If they caught Space Rabies and went mad, they won't help us defeat the Time Trapper," Cosmic Boy says.

"There might be a way. I could invent a device to allow four Legionnaires to switch minds with the Super-Pets," Brainiac Five suggests, possibly in the grip of one of his relatively frequent bouts of insanity.

"I will volunteer!" Superboy says.

"Me too," adds Mon-El.

"And me," says Lightning Lad.

"Might I suggest that putting the minds of insane animals into the bodies of some of the most powerful heroes of the 30th Century might be a bad idea?" Brainiac ventures, because frankly he's the only one in the entire operation with half a brain.

"He's right," Superboy says, although possibly not so much from genuine comprehension as from the fact that agreeing with Brainy was pretty much a reflex action for the Legion. "This time we'll need our weakest members to demonstrate their courage."

Cut to a shot of Duo Damsel, Matter-Eater Lad, Invisible Kid, and Phantom Girl, all wired into a typical Brainiac Five gizmo. Attached to one end is the Phantom Zone projector.

"Though Matter Eater Lad, Duo Damsel, Invisible Kid, and Phantom Girl serve the Legion well," Cosmic Boy explains, "their powers are ones we can handle should they go out of control." And I'm skipping the obligatory quick exposition regarding powers because if anyone out there can't figure out what Matter-Eater Lad and Invisible Kid do, they're morons.

"As soon as the Super-Animals come out of the Phantom Zone, your minds will be placed in their super-bodies," Brainiac explains.

"I'm not sure it's a good idea to put a girl's mind into a super-powerful body, even an animal one, but this is a desperate time," Superboy adds. Since, let's face it, he would have said something like that.

The switch is thrown, the animals appear, and the machine throws off some flashing lights.

"Did it work?" enquires Cosmic Boy.

"I'm using my mind reading powers, which all natives of my home planet Titan possess, to check," replies Saturn Girl.

"Matter Eater Lad present," thinks the super-gerbil.

"And I am Invisible Kid," adds the super-cockroach.

"Duo Damsel here," finishes the super-manatee.

"But what about Phantom Girl?" Saturn Girl asks.

"I'm here," says Phantom Girl (in her real body).

"Oh no! I forgot to calibrate for the fact that Phantom Girl isn't from our dimension! She comes from the dimension of Bgtzl," Brainy says, slapping his forehead. "I should have hooked up a different sort of wire to her mind." Pseudo-science, don't ya love it?

"Look out! The super-osprey is going rogue!" exclaims Cosmic Boy.

"Ahhhh!" thinks the super-cockroach (who is really Invisible Kid), as the super-osprey fries him with heat vision. And then the super-cockroach flies through a wall, followed by the rabid Last Osprey of Krypton.

"Oh no! Invisible Kid has led the animal outside!"

"Come on, Mon-El, only we're powerful enough to catch it!" announces Superboy. "For only we possess powers equal to the renegade osprey."

Outside, the super-osprey has lost interest in the luckless Invisible Kid, and is going on a rampage, flying around and smashing through buildings and shooting heat vision and super-breath and whatnot.

Civilian One announces, "That flying osprey smashed my building!"

A science police officer shoots an energy beam that bounces off, then declares, "Our weapons are useless against it!"

An asian person shouts, as in a Godzilla film, "It is the super-osprey! We must flee!"

Then onto the scene come Mon-El and Superboy. The super-osprey rams into Mon, sending him flying. Superboy thinks, "Oh no! He's knocked Mon-El out of the fight! It's up to me now!"

The osprey shoots him with heat vision, causing him to go "Oof!" but he grabs it and drags it back into LSH HQ through the gaping hole in the wall of Brainy's lab.

"It's taking all my might to hold onto this osprey! It is as strong as me, but fortunately it isn't used to its fantastic powers! Still, I don't dare let go!"

"Quickly, Superboy, bring it next to Phantom Girl!" shouts Brainiac Five. "I've fixed the machine!"

"The strain is incredible! But if I fail... the super-osprey will lay waste to Metropolis and the Time Trapper will conquer the entire 30th Century! I must hold on!" Kal-El thinks.

"He's done it!" cries Saturn Girl as the Smallville Sensation gets into range, and the machine once again goes into action.

"Can't hold on any longer!" Superboy declares, collapsing.

"No need! I'm Phantom Girl now!" thinks the super-osprey.

"*choke* He gave his all, so the universe would be saved," announces Cosmic Boy, looking at the fallen hero.

But Brainy leans down to examine Superboy, and announces, "No! He's still alive, and his super-recuperative abilities will heal him quickly!"

In the background, some humourous hijinx with the bodies of Matter Eater Lad, Invisible Kid, Duo Damsel, and Phantom Girl acting like animals, perhaps. But since I barely know what an osprey looks like, let alone a humourous way it acts, the artist can think these up if he wishes.

Shortly...

The founding three members and the four substitute super-pets stand on board a Legion Cruiser, flying to the distant planet Verbog.

"Good luck. Remember, we're all counting on you!" announces Cosmic Boy.

"We won't fail you," thinks Phantom Girl's displaced self.

"Oh, Bouncing Boy, we're coming to rescue you!" thinks Duo Damsel/super-manatee, staring lovingly at an image of her future husband. (Yes, I know that her wedding to him came out of left field and had no such foreshadowing, but I had to work this insane detail in somehow. Damn you, Unca Cheeks!)

"I'll use my mental powers to keep you all in contact," Saturn Girl says.

And out of the Legion Cruiser fly the fab foursome, through the cold void of space towards the planet below. "So this is what it feels like to fly through space unprotected and under your own power!" thinks Phantom Girl/super-osprey.

"I may be a cockroach now, but it's wonderful to have so many fantastic abilities," adds Invisible Kid, since I'm a more upbeat writer than Kafka.

Swooping low over the planet, Phantom Girl/super-osprey thinks "The message from the Time Trapper came from over there!" And in the distance, we can see the Trapper, a large drill, and a pile of glowing orange rocks.

"Matter Eater Lad, you destroy the Verbogium he's already collected! Duo Damsel, find Bouncing Boy! Phantom Girl, destroy the Trapper's mining machine! I'll handle the Time Trapper!" thinks Invisible Kid/super-cockroach.

Duo Damsel/super-manatee veers off, and we begin by following her. As she flies over the surface of the world, she thinks, "I wonder where poor Chuck could be. There's his spaceship, and the Snuffle Lizards, but no sign of him. He must have crawled off. This would be so much easier if I could split into two bodies like I normally can. Wait! I forgot! In this body, I possess super-hearing and super-vision! I can use those to find Bouncing Boy!"

But before we see the results of that brainstorm, let's look in on Matter Eater Lad/super-gerbil, who is heading for the large pile of glowing orange rocks, the Verbogium.

"That's not much! I can dispose of it easily!" thinks Tenzil as he approaches. "I've never had Verbogium before," he continues, taking several large bites. "Ooooh, I don't feel so good," he moans, then promptly vomits orange guck onto the ground. Ha! Every cover element now accounted for.

Anyway, Tenzil quickly comes to a realization. "In this body, I can't digest all forms of matter like I normally can. So, I have to stop thinking like Matter-Eater Lad and start thinking like a super-gerbil. I know! I'll have to use my heat vision to melt it." And he does, reducing the orange pile to a puddle.

By the way, the entire reason I wrote this story was to include the line "I have to stop thinking like Matter-Eater Lad and start thinking like a super-gerbil".

Next up is Phantom Girl/super-osprey, who is approaching the mining machine quite rapidly. "Once inside," she thinks, "I can disrupt its circuitry." But the collision with the machine causes it to explode. "I forgot that I can't turn into a phantom! Fortunately, my super strength destroyed the machine, and my invulnerability kept me from being harmed!"

But alas, the explosion has attracted the attention of the malevolent Time Trapper, who turns and exclaims, "What?"

"Uh oh," thinks the nearby Invisible Kid/super-cockroach, "I better act fast. Fortunately, I have more than just invisibility now." Yes, there's a reason this guy is considered the LSH's second smartest member.

And thus, we get the immortal sight (or we would, if this was actually in comic book form) of a cockroach flying into and knocking over the Time Trapper.

"Something pushing me over? A cockroach! And over there, a gerbil and an osprey!" exclaims the understandably puzzled Trapper. "I don't know why you're here, but if you have such power you must be from Krypton, and I have preparations for that!"

And from his purple robe he pulls a lead box. "In here," he continues, "is a piece of Kryptonite, which is deadly to all Kryptonian life forms!" And he flips its hinged lid open to reveal a glowing green piece of Kryptonite, which in the DC Universe was second only to hydrogen as the most readily available element in the universe.

Nearby, Matter Eater Lad/super-gerbil falls. "The agony! How does Superboy ever stand it?"

Ditto Phantom Girl/super-osprey, "Such pain! I can't bear even to move, though if I don't the Trapper will win!"

"It looks like there are downsides to being a super-cockroach after all," Invisible Kid wisely concludes.

"Ha ha ha! You super-pets haven't long now! Then I shall rebuild my mining machine and use the Verbogium to destroy the Legion of Super-Heroes," cackles the Time Trapper, holding out the open lead box full of Kryptonite.

"Getting hard to breathe. Is this the end?" moans Invisible Kid/super-cockroach.

We cut to the absent Duo Damsel/super-manatee, who uses her super-vision to see the scene described, and thinks, "I daren't approach while the Trapper has that Kryptonite."

Suddenly...

From out of nowhere comes the spherical shape of the baby Bouncing Boy, who hits the Trapper's head- uh, hood- and bounces from there to the lid of the box, knocking it shut, and then bounces away again.

"Ahhh. With the Kryptonite shielded by that lead box, my strength is returning. Now, to quickly use my heat vision to seal it shut," Matter Eater Lad/super-gerbil thinks, and promptly does just that.

"Now!" thinks Invisible Kid/super-cockroach. And the three super-pets charge the Trapper. Also, in flies Duo Damsel/super-manatee from above to join the fray.

"I followed Bouncing Boy back here," she explains.

"Take that!" thinks Matter Eater Lad/super-gerbil, swiping at the Trapper.

"We've got you now, Time Trapper," seconds Phantom Girl/super-osprey.

"No! No! These super-pets have ruined everything!" cries the overwhelmed Trapper. "But I can still escape, back to the end of time!"

And he fades from view.

"Hurrah!" chorus the super-pets mentally.

Later, back at Legion HQ, we see the four super-pets and the bodies of the four super-heroes are once again attached to Brainy's machine, while the recovered Superboy stands nearby, aiming the Phantom Zone projector at them.

Lights flash from the machine, and the Phantom Zone ray is fired.

"They're safely back in the Phantom Zone," Superboy states the obvious.

"And we're all back in our own bodies," adds Phantom Girl.

"I'll be able to re-age Bouncing Boy later," Brainy ties up a loose end.

"It was fun having Superboy's powers for a while, but I'd rather be a girl than a manatee," says Duo Damsel.

"But who knows?" Invisible Kid concludes. "One day, if the need is again great enough, perhaps the Legion of Substitute Super-Pets will return!"

The end.

I've grown a lot as a writer since I produced this. For one thing, I now know better than to produce weird hybrids of script, prose, and self-mocking editorial commentary. But I think that despite its roughness, this story teaches an important lesson: "There are downsides to being a super-cockroach after all."

Fiction editor Nicolas Juzda is currently studying law in Saskatchewan. He fills the void that was left in his soul by contributing to Fanzing. He has twice been among the winners in the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing.
AIM name: nwjuzda

 
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