Mythmaking ETC is a weekly column about comics books and related pop culture, primarily focused on comics published during the 1980s and ’90s. Subscribe via RSS, send an e-mail and follow Mythmaking ETC on Twitter!
Gerry Conway / Joe Staton / Dave Hunt / Gene D’Angelo
In 1958, a story in Adventure Comics #247 told the story of a trio of teenagers from the future that time traveled into the past to meet the hero that had inspired their club the Legion of Super-Heroes: Superboy. They were even kind enough to extend an honorary membership to their muse.
Created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, the Legion proved popular and made additional appearances in Adventure Comics and Action Comics before earning equal billing with their inspiration in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes (later “starring” was changed to “and”). From 1973 to 1980, the young Clark Kent went on adventures in the future with Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and many other Legionnaires, until the boy who would grow up to be Superman finally parted ways with the super-powered teens his example had stimulated.
The “Superboy and” was removed and the Legion of Super-Heroes were featured “in a comic all their own at last,” as reads the cover of issue #259. In 1980, a major change for a comic book usually didn’t mean a relaunch with a new #1 so the numbering was retained even though the title was shortened. There was, however, a #1 involved in the process, as Superboy, having returned to the 20th century now featured in The New Adventures of Superboy, which debuted the same month Legion of Super-Heroes #259 was published.
Before he headed back to Smallville, however, there was the business of his departure to be handled, and that’s the story we find in Legion of Super-Heroes #259. Yes, the first issue without Superboy’s name features Superboy quite prominently, not to mention his rather central placement on the cover (of course, we readers of comic book have long adapted the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” for our own protection). This is just one way in which issue #259 proves to be less accessible than expected.
“Psycho War,” despite nominally being a new beginning for the Legion, happens to be an epilogue in content. We even open on the aftermath of a battle. As Lightning Lad and other hurt Legionarries are attended to by doctors from St. Croix Medical Center, others that are still up-and-at-’em, such as Karate Kid and Shadow Lass, question the sudden appearance of the physicians: “You doctors just happen to be in the neighborhood…” Superboy wonders aloud.
The explanation has to wait for a relocation to the penthouse of Legion benefactor R.J. Brande since the above mentioned battle resulted in the destruction of the Legion headquarters. What the St. Croix doctors tell them amounts to the following: Rejis Thomak, a colonist of a dangerous planet, accidentally ejected his escape pod in space before his lover could join him and she was killed as a star when nova. Recovering at St. Croix, Thomak spied Sun Boy, the Legion member who wears his namesake emblazoned on his chest, and, reminded of the death of his lady, focused his insane hatred on him and the other Legionarries. Key word: insane. Or “psycho,” as in: “Hold it, Doc. You’re saying we should worry about a psycho? Are you kidding? What can he do to us?” That’s Wildfire’s question to the St. Croix doctors. Sensitivity to mental illness has come a long way over the last few decades.
No sense in summarizing what becomes of Thomak and his attempt to take down the Legion. I’m sure you can guess what happens. Let’s get back to Superboy.
Well, one other thing about the “psycho”: he can manipulate and attack the minds of others. In the course of the battle, Superboy ends up before a facsimile of Smallville Cemetery in the Superman Museum, complete with a gravestone for his foster parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent. After Thomak has been subdued, Superboy reflects upon this experience: “The future has always been like a never-never land to me. It never seemed — quite real. But now it is real, and I know — the past matters.” Odd as it might be that the museum includes a cemetery exhibit, the lesson learned — that playing around in the future risks him finding out details about his own future — seems a valid reason to decide to stop time travelling. Saturn Girl, a telepath, uses her powers to make Superboy’s departure permanent: she plants a suggestion preventing him from returning to the future.
You’re not surprised; neither am I. To mention the cover again, we have Chameleon Boy declaring, “There goes Superboy — flying back to his own time era — and this time he’ll never return!” The caption asks, “Superboy leaving the Legion!? Is this the tragic aftermath to the… ‘Psycho War’?”
Yes. Yes, it is.
One might take the cover as hyperbole; perhaps the surprise of #259 comes upon realizing that the scene depicted on the cover actually happens instead of being a exaggeration of the story contained within. One might, but more likely, one will feel a bit underwhelmed when one realizes one knew everything important in the issue when one picked up the book… at least this one did. Rejis Thomak never feels like a real threat, so to have him be indirectly responsible for such a historic change in his and the Legion’s history seems a bit disproportionate.
Reading a comic from over thirty years ago doesn’t have to feel like a history lesson, but Legion of Super-Heroes #259 doesn’t offer much more than a report on the circumstances that caused Superboy to leave the 30th Century. Unfortunately, these events do little to entertain, so we have a case where the Wikipedia entry would suffice to explain the facts. Unless you can find an amusingly written review somewhere on the Internet. Hmm…