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Welcome to the two-hundred and twelfth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and eleven.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is now part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com.
COMIC LEGEND: Mike Grell tried to introduce a black character into the pages of Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes, but saw his efforts literally whitewashed away.
When Mike Grell became the new regular artist of the Legion of Superheroes (which appeared in Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes) in 1974, there was something that he noticed that troubled him a bit.
In the future world of the Legion of Superheroes, there did not seem to be any black people.
So a few issues into his run as the artist on the book, Grell took a new Science Police character that Cary Bates was introducing in Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #207 (who appeared to be a one-off character), and drew him as a black man.
However, editor Murray Boltinoff told Grell that they were already planning on having a black character show up in a few months, so Boltinoff then had the character Grell intended to be black just colored white, instead (in addition, Boltinoff did not want the first black character in the Legion to show up as a sort of traitor).
Grell continued to pester Boltinoff over the next few months, “So, when are we going to get this black character you said we would?” until finally, Grell got his wish….and probably wished he didn’t.
Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #216, from late 1975, tried to explain why there didn’t seem to be any black characters in the world of the Legion of Superheroes.
You see, they all lived on an island that, like Brigadoon, would disappear from this dimension for years at a time. And Tyroc was their resident superhero.
Grell, naturally, did not take kindly to the idea that the first black superhero in the Legion (heck, Tyroc predated Black Lightning, even!) was a separationist! As a result, he tried to make Tyroc look as goofy as he could.
Later writers tried to redeem the Tyroc character a little bit (Keith Giffen even made him President of New Earth in the Five Years Later Legion!).
Thanks to Bruce MacIntosh, from Back Issue #33, for the information!
NOTE: In the past, Grell has said that the character he drew as a black man that was “whitewashed” was the character Soljer, from Superboy and the Legion of SUPERHEROES #210…
Soljer was a, well, soldier who was killed but some sort of freak accident brought him back to life as a sort of phantom creature. He wasn’t REALLY alive, but his soul told him he was. So he, in effect, got soul but he was not a soldier.
So he fights the Legion and eventually Chameleon Boy convinces him to let himself die.
However, the quote by Grell saying that it was Soljer is pretty clear that Grell is talking about the story from Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #210.
The Soljer quote goes:
It was “Soljer,” or something like that. It was about a young man who’s one of the Space Troopers who comes into a conflicting situation. He has to make a choice. Like a lot of us, he makes a couple of mistakes, but then he turns out all right. He does the right thing in the end. I saw that as a very positive thing.
So yeah, Grell there clearly states that he doesn’t remember the name exactly and he then describes the story from #207, just with the wrong name.
So it’s definitely #207 that Grell was talking about.
Thanks to Michael Grabois for showing Grell’s re-telling of the story from a recent convention (where he also sticks with #207 as the issue in question). But also, thanks to Glen Cadigan’s Legion Companion for the earlier Grell comments, so we can see the full story!
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