The Greatest Hero of Them All - Legion of Super-Heroes 38
Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume III) #38 (September 1987)(cover by Bill Sienkiewicz)
"The Greatest Hero of Them All"
Paul Levitz-Greg Laroque/Mike DeCarlo/Arne Starr
Doug: That's a worthy cover by Bill Sienkiewicz, don't you think? It certainly has the majesty due an icon, and the color palette seems fitting as well. If there's one thing I can say based on the comments of the past three weeks (and they've been a bit weak in number, don't you think? C'mon -- help a brother out! These things take a few hours to craft!), it's that we stand unanimously on the error that was the decision to usher in the Crisis. Some of you have remarked that DC had a unique thing going with the multiverse as it was; others have stood specifically with Karen and I in our disdain for the divorcing of Superboy and Supergirl from Legion lore. But whatever our collective beef, this has been an emotional trip down memory lane. Let's see how the Legion creators finish it off.
Doug: When last we left our heroes, Superman had defeated the more-powerful Superboy. He'd done it due largely to the fact that Superboy's heart just wasn't in the fight. Having been raised by the Kents with strong Midwestern values (I always wonder if that's a glorification of the region where I've lived, or a flat-out knock on everywhere else), there was simply no way that Superboy could be a part of any heinous plots or crimes hatched by the Time Trapper. So now the Teen of Steel and four of his Legion teammates rocket through the time stream in a Legion time bubble. Along the way we get a basic recap of this adventure, some theories laid down by Brainiac-5, and then "the rest of the story" from Superboy himself. He narrates a tale that those of us who read Crisis On Infinite Earths way back when will recognize -- skies lit red, anti-matter moving into and around a planet. In this case, Earth. But not our Earth -- Superboy's Earth, part of the Time Trapper's pocket universe. Superboy tried every power he had and every strategy he knew. And just when he was about to sacrifice himself in a heroic effort by flying into the heart of the anti-matter, the Time Trapper appeared.
Doug: The Time Trapper offered Superboy a deal -- ally with him, and Superboy's Earth would be spared. And then the Trapper narrate his side of the story, as it continued. In the gymnasium of Smallville High School the Trapper held Ultra Boy, Cosmic Boy, Night Girl, and Mon-el hostage (all still in stasis from their zapping in LoSH #37). The Trapper says that every event we've seen over the past three weeks was orchestrated by him. Indeed, since the Legion first attempted time travel (see Adventure Comics #247 if you don't know to what he's referring), they have lived on his terms -- always journeying to a time and space of his creation. In other words, even if accurate history books of Superboy's exploits would have existed, they'd never have existed in our reality. We then get a one-page interlude with Wildfire and Dawnstar -- she is none too happy with Wildfire's change in appearance, much to Drake's dismay.
Doug: Back in Smallville, the time bubble approaches the high school. Brainy had created a phony stasis ray that Superboy could use to incapacitate the Legionnaires temporarily -- by intense concentration, the young heroes could break its bonds when action demanded. Superboy burst through the sidewall of the gym with the bubble. The Time Trapper was ecstatic. Superboy offered his teammates to his "ally", thinking to himself that he was going to defeat the Trapper once he was certain the anti-matter threat had been permanently removed. But he felt more confident now, knowing that this teammates were with him. But when Superboy said the deal was over, the Trapper scoffed at him... and then caused a very large gun to appear. A gun which Superboy should now use to slay his eight friends. After all, the Trapper mused, as true heroes they surely wouldn't mind sacrificing themselves to save the planet Earth. And of course you can guess Superboy's response -- he crushes the gun in his bare hands, forming it into a ball and hurling it at the Time Trapper. And the Legion breaks free of their trance!
Doug: The Time Trapper rose to meet the Legion, growing his form to Colossal Boy-proportions. Superboy and Sun Boy attacked, but were repelled. The Trapper gloated that he was entropy incarnate, the dark ending of time itself. The Legionnaires mounted the best offensive they could, and it got a little better when Brainy figured out that he could use the stasis ray of his own crafting to free the first four that had been trapped by Superboy's ray. So now nine super-teens rallied against an unbeatable foe. Superboy launched a violent attack that only resulted in destroying the machine that held Earth together against the anti-matter. Now with that safety net gone, the focus shifted from the Time Trapper to saving lives outside Smallville High School. And then, in the midst of this suspense, we get another one-pager, this time showing mopey Polar Boy doubting his leadership abilities while being comforted by Dream Girl. Who cares??
Doug: All of the Legionnaires headed outside, sans Superboy, Ultra Boy, and Mon-el -- the power trio. Those three took to the very skies, attempting to halt the advance of the red skies. The Time Trapper stood atop the high school, mulling over his plan and other-worldly events conspiring against him. He settled back to the ground to goad Brainiac-5. The Trapper reiterated that this Earth was never that of the Legion's past, but only a sliver of reality. Brainy threw a forcefield around the Trapper in a vain attempt to hold him. Brainy pressed him -- would the 30th Century survive? Sure -- your 30th Century, said the Trapper. But not this one. And as a true hero, Brainiac said to think again. The Time Trapper laughed loudly and vanished.
Doug: Cosmic Boy implored Brainy to figure out a way to save the day, but Brainy balked. The technology and power sources were beyond him. He didn't have the right supplies to fix what had been broken in the fight. But in the sky, Superboy suddenly had an epiphany -- he could fix what was wrong! Streaking past his teammates and straight to the containment device, Superboy attached himself to it as a living conductor -- he was attempting to allow it to repair itself by running all the energy through himself. With his teammates begging him to stop, the Teen of Steel used his super-breath to repel Mon-el and Ultra Boy. Sun Boy remarked that he felt like the team was being pulled back -- even transported away, to their future. As the Earth groaned, the residents of Smallville could tell that the end was nigh. Lana, Pete, Ma and Pa Kent -- all of them knew something was not right. Ultra Boy and Mon-el could hardly contain themselves as they watched their "brother". But you know what? He did it. Superboy saved his Earth. Instruments showed that the Earth was moved away from the anti-matter -- Superboy's universe was healthy, alive. The Legionnaires quickly grabbed his limp body, Brainy ordering everyone into the time bubble so that he could examine young Kal in the multi-lab back in the 30th Century. Superboy muttered to Brainy, asking if Earth was OK. Brainy assured him that it was. And as everyone got into the bubble and Blok readied for take-off, Superboy moved back outside and slammed the door shut!
Doug: Hoisting the bubble on his shoulders, Superboy flew it under his own power into the time stream, all the way to the Legion's time. As they passed through the final year, the Legionnaires burst out of the bubble, catching Superboy as he fell away from the strain. Mon-el caught him and flew like lightning toward the multi-lab. As they sped, Superboy mustered one more breath, and asked Mon-el to take care of the Earth for him. And then he died. The Legion assembled for the funeral some time later. The White Witch reported that she could not find Superboy's Earth, but that she knew it was fine. And then the team met in their hall of fallen heroes, among the statues that memorialized Supergirl, Ferro Lad, the first Invisible Kid, Chemical King, and Karate Kid. Now another statue joined those ranks -- that of Kal-el, Superboy.
Doug: I think Paul Levitz wrote a touching story that was a bit more emotionally-charged toward sadness than Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" 2-parter. Moore's story seemed to want to shock, almost as if he was mad at this turn of events in the DCU and wanted to take everyone else down with him. Here Paul Levitz pulls on our heartstrings with the heroism of Superboy, and the void we know he will leave in the lives of Mon-el and the rest of the Legion. But did you catch the "out" there at the end of the story? The White Witch said that while she couldn't find that Earth, she knew it was OK. But aren't all serialized stories written with that sort of a fail-safe? But I'm still left wanting here. How did Superboy die? Where did the pocket Earth really go? Where did the Time Trapper go? How did the Legion journey back to the pocket Earth without creating a divergent timeline that would have led to a Legion of Super-Heroes in the pocket universe? And someone please help me with this -- how could Kara and Kal-el exist together in the 30th Century, with Kara always believing that Kal was the teen version of her older (to her) cousin? Was the pre-Crisis Superboy "real" on the same Earth on which Kara arrived to?
Doug: Yeah, that multiverse thing was a lot simpler. Give me Mr. Tawky-Tawny on Earth-S any day...
Karen and Doug are honored to have been asked to join this summer's Super Blog Team-Up. Come July, we'll be back in the reviewers' chairs and taking a look at one of the great treasuries of the Bronze Age!
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On Sunday, 4/23/17, Martinex1, Doug, and Redartz gathered for a day of fun at C2E2 in Chicago. It was great to finally meet in person after years of online cameraderie.
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Karen and Doug met on the Avengers Assemble! message board back in September 2006. On June 16 2009 they went live with the Bronze Age Babies blog, sharing their love for 1970s and '80s pop culture with readers who happen by each day. You'll find conversations on comics, TV, music, movies, toys, food... just about anything that evokes memories of our beloved pasts!
Doug is a high school social science teacher and department chairman living south of Chicago; he also does contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is married with two adult sons and a daughter-in-law.
Karen originally hails from California and now works in scientific research/writing in the Phoenix area. She often contributes articles to Back Issue magazine. She is married. She hangs out with Joe Biden occasionally.
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Back Issue #45
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