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The Comic Book Fools of April – The Legion of Substitute Heroes Special #1

Every day in April I will be featuring a humorous comic (either an issue or a series of strips) that I found particularly amusing. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com the comic stories that are your favorites when it comes to hilarity, and I’ll see if I can’t feature some of them this month, as well!

Today is the second part of a two-part look at two funny comics featuring the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Today we look at 1985′s The Legion of Substitute Heroes Special, by Keith Giffen (plot and pencils), Paul Levitz (script) and Karl Kesel (inks).

This was a fun little one-shot where former Legionnaire Tenzil Kem (Matter Eating Lad) decides that something fishy is going on at his home planet of Bizmol (where he is a Senator). So he decides to ask for help from the Substitutes (because he is unsure if things are REALLY bad). Here is a bit where he tries to “sell” his fellow Senators on using the Legion…

Of course, as it turns out, Kem was correct – Pulsar Stargrave shows up!!!

Watch Kem take a…ahem….bite out of crime…

One of the coolest bits from the comic is the fact that the Legion is stuck in their ship above Bizmol (where they ran out of gas) while squabbling (Infectious Lass got Color Kid sick with a gender switching disease, and now Color Kid is a woman) when Paul Levitz takes control of the story…

Hilarious.

The next few pages involve spotlights on each member of the team with a little info of each one of them, as they get into mischief on Bizmol…

You have to read the comic to find out how the Subs defeat Stargrave. It’s pretty darn funny. This issue shouldn’t be too expensive in the back issue bin. Go find it!

17 Comments

Not expensive at all – copies in really good condition can be found for less than a dollar online, probably cheaper in actual comic book shops. And it’s totally worth it – like you said, it’s a fun(ny) little story.

Really, really enjoyed this one as a kid, right from the opening ballad (seeing a duck creature’s chorus of “ya, ya, ya, ya” really amused me for some reason).

Tom Fitzpatrick

April 24, 2011 at 5:41 am

A classic Giffen issue.

Maybe some of his best art.

I really didn’t find this issue very funny when I first read it in ’85, but maybe it’s aged better.

On the other hand, the DC Comics Presents team up with Superman and the Subs (where Ambush Bug came into his own as a character) is comic genius.

Most people forget that the Subs were originally intended as a serious concept. Oh, their powers were silly, but finding creative ways to use them was the challenge. And the characters themselves were NOT stupid. Not anymore than your average Silver Age DC character, anyway. And they DID help the Legion in secret for a time. Fans wondered when the Legion would find out about them, and what they would do about it. The Subs even saved the Legion at least once.

They were obviously intended as characters that the readers could identify with: how many of us have felt that we don’t have anything special to offer, and dream of proving ourselves one day? It’s a pretty common formula in fiction.

Unfortunately, just because someone (Giffen, I assume) felt they were too silly (and expendable) they got turned into the sad cases you see above. (Oh, and Stargrave, when he first appeared, was among the Holy Sh*t How Powerful Is That Guy How Are They Going To Beat Him kind of villains to show up in the early Bronze Age. But here, he too is reduced to joke). I wouldn’t mind this so much if the whole thing had been set outside continuity like the Ambush Bug series, but just saying long-time Legion characters were losers out of nowhere was annoying.

Well, Giffen also wrote stories that took the Subs very seriously as competent heroes, such as in the “Five Years Later” Legion series. It’s the same with the Justice League — just because he wrote humorous stories about them doesn’t mean that he reduced them to idiots. I mean, you could think that about the JLI too, I suppose–that the fact that he joked about them made them a joke–but the equation of poking fun at something automatically equalling disrespecting it is a fallacy. Giffen clearly LOVED the Subs — he’d played a major role in having them really come into their own in his work with Levitz. You could just as easily write a story like this with, say, Spider-Man, the original hard-luck kid. Embarrassing, slapsticky things happened to him all the time, but that’s not because he was a moron or anything, just because his stories were (sometimes) light-hearted.

I love all of the Ambush Bug stuff, but this one always fell a bit flat for me. Love the art though

Buttler: I agree with you that you can have otherwise-serious characters have silly adventures and not come across as stupid or useless. Heck, I don’t even mind mostly-silly characters who are still competent enough when needed. I enjoyed many JLI stories (and that team’s systematic elimination by DC since Identity Crisis was the first sign of how humorless the current DC regime, Giffen included, is) but I never felt that any of the Giffen-era Subs stories ever treated them with any real respect. Admittedly I have never seen the Five Year Later stories, mostly because everything I’ve heard about them is awful, so I might be wrong there, but I’m not inclined to read them to find out.

Oh gosh, I loved the 5YL run. The fact that it not only hasn’t been reprinted but that DC basically pretends it never happened I think is a crime.

The poor Subs. Night Girl has Kryptonian-level strength that only works in darkness, so she’s rejected for membership *by a team that does most of its work in outer space.* (Contrast Dawnstar’s speed.) And Polar Boy took 25 years to get as much control of his power as any Marvel mutant except Rogue manages in about four issues’ worth of Danger Room training.

Back in the early days of the internet, when steam engines turned the gears that pushed usenet through the system of pipes, 5YL/ v4 was the subject of endless Great Debates. But I think eventually a consensus has emerged that at least the first two years, and maybe all three years when Giffen was involved, were really excellent comics. They were a dramatic change from everything that had come before, but Legion readers have eventually gotten used to radical changes in tone. The switch from late-Levitz v3 to v4 isn’t nearly as radical as the switch from late-reboot to DnA/ Legion Lost, and what looked dark and un-Legionny in the late 80s just doesn’t look as dark after two more decades of gore, dismemberment, and rape posing as Silver Age nostalgia…

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