Back in 1958, Adventure Comics #247 birthed what would become an incredible franchise: The Legion of Super-Heroes. The funny thing is that the Legion of Super-Heroes were intended to be nothing more than a one-off story. Even though Otto Binder hints at numerous members in the Legion of Super-Heroes, the reader only gets to meet three of them. The original Legionnaires: Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl.
Does this debut appearance for the Legion of Super-Heroes stand the test of time? Let’s hit this review for Adventure Comics #247 and find out!
Words: Otto Binder
Art: Al Plastino
Published: April, 1958
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Clark Kent walking around Smallville. A red haired boy calls him “Superboy.” Clark goes home and freaks out that someone knows his secret identity. Clark then goes out patrolling at Superboy. A black haired boy calls Superboy “Clark Kent.” Then a girl tells Superboy to say hi to his parents, the Kents.
Superboy is totally freaking out. The three teens then reveal that they are super heroes from the future and were just playing games with Superboy. (Did the Legionnaires think that trolling Superboy was the best way to make a first impression on him and get him to join your club?) Their names are Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl.
The three super teens then say that they want to make Superboy a member of their special club. The four teens then hop into a Time Bubble and zip off 1,000 years into the future.
Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl all have get packs then let them fly around with Superboy. The teens give Superboy a tour of Smallville in the future. They stop by an ice cream parlor and enjoy flavors from nine planets. (This is awesome. It is a 1950’s ice cream parlor done up all futuristic.)
Then they see the Kent family home that is now a museum. Then they stop by a university where a professor is teaching a class about Superboy and his powers. The professor is using a Superboy robot to do this lesson.
Next stop is the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Super Hero Clubhouse. Cosmic Boy says that Superboy must compete against Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl in order to gain membership into their club.
First, Superboy must compete with Saturn Girl. The task is to recover a priceless museum piece that has been lost in the bottom of the ocean. Superboy thinks that Saturn Girl stands no chance against him since all Saturn Girl has is thought-casting powers. (Dang, Superboy! No need to be that dismissive!)
The two heroes race off. Along the way, Superboy sees that the Superboy robot from earlier has gone haywire and is running rampant. Superboy can’t damage the robot since it has an atomic motor. (That can’t be safe!) Therefore, Superboy manages to safely return the Superboy robot to the university professor who is able to turn it off using a nuclear ray. (Yup. That will do it.)
We cut to Saturn Girl using her thought casting powers to summon a massive sea creature to grab the museum piece and bring it safely to the surface of the ocean. Superboy arrives on the scene and sees that he has lot. Saturn Girl tells Superboy that he is too late but that he can be a gentleman and carry the museum piece for her. Then she laughs in his face. (Spoiler alert. Silver Age Saturn Girl is a bitch.)
Superboy realizes that he cannot mention having to stop the Superboy robot because it will make it seem like he is just making excuses by using a weak alibi.
The next challenge is for Cosmic Boy and Superboy to be the first to stop a forest fire. Superboy thinks that there is no way that Cosmic Boy can beat him in this challenge since Cosmic Boy’s power is super magnetism which cannot stop a forest fire.
The two fly off. But, Superboy is again distracted. An old satellite is crashing toward Earth. Superboy flies up and grabs the old satellite and safely disposes of it. Meanwhile, Cosmic Boy is at the forest fire and uses his magnetic eyes to pull iron meteors from space into a nearby lake. (Yes. You read that correctly. Cosmic Boy’s original powers were MAGNETIC EYES.) This causes the lake water to flood the area and put out the forest fire.
Superboy shows up at the scene and Cosmic Boy rubs it in that Superboy lost again. Superboy thinks that he cannot mention that he had to go stop a falling satellite since it will make him look weak like he is using an alibi.
The third challenge is for Lightning Lad and Superboy to be the first to warn a space ship that just left port that it has a leaking fuel tank and to get them to turn around. That radio warnings have been cut off by space static.
Again, Superboy gets distracted by an invisible eagle from Neptune that has escaped from a hole in the aviary of a zoo. Superboy uses super speed to grab a massive ice glacier. He then holds it over Smallville. This causes frost to form on the invisible eagle. Superboy grabs the eagle and returns it to the zoo.
Meanwhile, Lightning Lad uses his hands, which act like positive and negative poles of a battery, and claps them to create super-lightning flashes. Lighting Lad writes a message with his lighting flashes to tell the space ship that it has a fuel leak and to return for repairs.
We cut back to the Clubhouse. Cosmic Boy informs Superboy that he failed in the contest and they reject him from the Legion of Super-Heroes. (Damn. You invite the guy to come to the future to join your club and then reject him. That’s cold.)
The Legionnaires mock Superboy and say that his legacy as a super-hero must be exaggerated. Superboy then thanks the Legionnaires and says there are no hard feelings on his part. Superboy then turns to walk away and starts crying.
Saturn Girl then says that Superboy is a member. That they were just giving him a bad time only as an initiation. (Damn. Seriously. Saturn Girl is a bitch. And the Legion of Super-Heroes officially supports hazing. That is no way to try and create a friendship with poor Superboy!)
The Legionnaires then reveal that they created the distractions. That Saturn Girl used her though-casting powers to make the Superboy robot become a runaway. That Cosmic Boy used his powers to pull the old satellite towards Earth. That Lightning Lad used his powers to create a hole in the aviary for the invisible eagle to escape.
The Legionnaires then all cheer Superboy as their new member. Suddenly, there is an alarm that the tower of a giant cosmic lamp that heats South Pole City is about to topple. None of the Legionnaires can get there in time. But, Superboy can.
Superboy races off and uses a magnetic meteor that he picked up along the way to straight the tower. Then he uses salt from the work crew on the scene to seed the clouds causing heat lightning which will keep South Pole City warm until the atomic heat lamp is fixed.
We but back to the Clubhouse where Superboy says that he was having a bit of a joke on the Legionnaires with how he stopped the tower from falling. He used magnetism, lightning and a mind-reading trick to duplicate their powers. Saturn Girl says that Superboy has earned their highest award.
We cut to later with Clark back at home showing Pa Kent his “Super Hero Number One” medal that the Legionnaires gave him. End of story.
The Good: Adventure Comics #247 is a fun read. Yes, this story certainly comes across as a 1950’s story. But, there are still plenty of moments that a modern reader will enjoy. The basic message of this story also stands the test of time.
What immediately impresses me is how much content Binder shoves into this story. This is only a twelve page story. Yet it is chock full of more content and plot progression than you get in four issues from some modern writers these days.
While decompression may be prevalent in modern comics from many writers from Tom King to Geoff Johns to Brian Bendis that was not the case in 1958. Compressed storytelling was the commonly employed practice and Binder definitely serves up a seriously compressed story in this twelve page tale.
It is quite enjoyable to get such a nicely paced and condensed story with a full beginning, middle, and end all in just one story. Binder shows off the art of the one-shot that is much harder to deliver than people might think.
The plotting and pacing benefit from Binder’s compressed storytelling. Adventure Comics #247 offers a nice contained story that moves forward with a clear purpose in mind. The story never meanders or gets bogged down. The pacing is crisp and brisk from start to finish.
The three challenges were brilliantly done. Binder employs Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl’s powers in such a creative fashion. It helps to highlight that singular powers can still be amazing and employed in numerous creative ways.
I also like that each challenge had nothing at all to due with fighting. The challenges were all about helping the community which is exactly what being a super hero is all about. Sometimes, it seems that being a super hero means punching a villain. I like that Binder has the Legionnaires acting more like super-powered community helpers.
The best character work in this issue is clearly reserved for the star of the story: Superboy. I like Binder’s Superboy a lot. This version of Superboy is truly heroic and is a character that is easy to admire.
I like how Binder has Superboy refuse to ever complain about being sidetracked by emergencies during his three challenges. Superboy could easily have used them as an excuse or an alibi as to why he was not able to complete the challenges. However, Binder has Superboy realize that him making excuses or giving an alibi would make him come across as weak and uthonorable.
I love that Superboy never cries over getting screwed on each of his challenges. Instead, Superboy remains tough, takes his loss, and then keeps trying. This is what makes Superboy look like a tough and admirable hero.
I also like that Binder never has Superboy act ugly toward the Legionnaires even when the Legionnaires are being mean to Superboy. Again, this shows the class of a hero the caliber of Superboy. All of this makes the reader view Superboy as a hero who is a cut above the rest.
I already alluded to the basic message of this story that does stand the test of time. Binder uses this story to serve as a learning moment for Superboy. The basic message is that it is never good to underestimate anyone and that anyone can be a hero regardless of their physical skills.
Binder has Superboy dismissing the three Legionnaires before the three challenges doe to the Legionnaire’s limited singular powers. On the other hand, Superboy is brimming with multiple incredible powers. However, Binder shows the reader that being a hero is more than a person’s physical abilities. That being a hero is about intelligence and heart. This is an empowering and good message for a story aiming at younger readers.
Al Plastino serves up plenty of clean lined artwork. The art is beautiful in its simplicity.
The Bad: Adventure Comics #647 is certainly not a perfect debut for the Legion of Super-Heroes. You can tell that Binder was not planning to use these Legion characters again. The three Legionnaires have little in terms of backstory. This story fails to provide any character work on Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, or Saturn Girl. The three Legionnaires have zero personality at all. They are all rather bland characters. There is also little depth to their characters at all. These are exactly what Binder had intended to create: one-off characters and nothing more than that.
Binder’s dialogue for all of the characters outside of Superboy was generic at best. All of the characters possess the same external voice. There is not much of a natural flow to the dialogue, either. The poor character work and lack of quality dialogue leads to there being zero chemistry between the characters.
I also found that the three Legionnaires came across as a bit too mean. Binder makes the Legionnaires too dickish to Superboy even if they were supposedly just “playing” with him.
Binder did not even spend much time developing the Legionnaires powers. In fact, Cosmic Boy is radically different in this issue. Cosmic Boy has magnetic eyes that he got from special serums instead of him being from Braal and being born with the powers of magnetism like Magneto. Saturn Girl? Binder handles her powers in a cursory fashion by saying she just has thought-casting powers.
Binder also does not spend much time on the Legion of Super-Heroes internal structure, their headquarters, or their technology. We do not even get to see the other Legionnaires. Instead, we just get generic characters in the background. The Legionnaires also do not have any of their creative technology like their flight belts and later flight rings. Instead, Binder just gives us jet backs. Not exactly as creative.
Lastly, while I appreciated the compressed storytelling, but it comes with a drawback. Binder delivers this story in such broad strokes that it ends up lacking details and depth. Binder keeps the story right on the surface. And Binder never examines any of the details in the setting, the challenges, or in the characters.
Plastino’s art is a little stuff and lacks any real dynamic quality. The panel layouts are typical for the time in that they are a standard six panel layout for every page.
Overall: Adventure Comics #247 is a fun read. It is obvious that Binder creates the Legion of Super-Heroes as a throwaway one-time creation. There is not much effort in fleshing out the Legionnaires, their powers, their setting, and their technology. Still, the taste of the Legion of Super-Heroes that we get whets the reader’s appetite for more.