Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Heartbreak of Continental Drift

When I got home from work today I decided that it was time to put away some comics I took out of storage boxes four months ago, because I'm right on top of my housework and super efficient and stuff, right? Anyway, I was putting away some issues of "Karate Kid" from the 1970's in the box where miscellanious "Legion of Superheroes" comics go when I spotted this:

Secret Origins #46

"Secret Origins" #46, one of the most hilarious yet depressing comics that I own.

"Secret Origins" was a series published by DC Comics in the 1980's, offering the origins and backgrounds of many of their characters. It was kind of entertaining for comics fans, as it often elaborated on the backgrounds of second and third tier characters who might not get a lot of individual story time otherwise. Where else was there going to be time to explore Chemical King's lonely childhood and implied homosexual relationship with Invisible Kid, or to see Fury become an avatar of lost Greek gods in order to seek vengeance on her patricidal Italian fascist-Nazi sympathizing brother?

By the time #46 rolled around, though, "Secret Origins" was on the decline, and an issue featuring the previously untold secret origins of the Justice League, Teen Titans, and Legion of Superheroes' headquarters must have helped pound the nails right into the cancellation coffin. "Secret Origins" bowed out four issues later with the incredibly depressing story of how Black Canary's widowed mom, the World War II Black Canary, died a lingering painful death from cancer. Comic books are totally fun for all ages, right?

Back to number 46, though, I have to wonder both what the editor was thinking in featuring these stories and whether the writers' humor was intentional. While the story of Titans Tower was boring and poorly drawn, Grant Morrison decided not to dwell much on the origin of the Justice League's mountain cave headquarters in Rhode Island, and to use the time instead to let us know that the stone itself was semi sentient and that it had spent the last several million years missing Africa:


Continental drift ruins lives, and geology breaks hearts. There's your proof.

On the other hand, you have to wonder if the tears Grant Morrison wiped from his eyes after writing that were from sorrow or laughter. "O Africa, my love..." I can't read it without giggling, and it perfectly sets up the tragic comedy that is the secret origin of the Legion of Superheroes' rocket shaped clubhouse.

Our story opens with the three founding Legionnaires, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad, holding open tryouts for members in the park. The Legion did this a lot in Silver Age comics, with the most common results being that the rejects kept coming back for more tryouts, formed their own groups of rejects, or became the Legion's sworn enemies for life. Oh, and occasionally someone was actually invited to join the team. Half of those people later turned out to be traitors.

Our story opens with the Legion rejecting perennial applicant Arm Fall Off Boy, whose power is to detach his limbs and beat people with them. Arm Fall Off Boy is immediately shoved aside by the next applicant, Mnemonic Kid:

mnemonic kid

If this tryout was a reality show, Mnemonic Kid would be the girl who looks straight at the camera in the first five minutes and loudly proclaims, "I'm not here to make friends." She further cements this impression by starting an argument with Saturn Girl about the spelling of her name:

mnemonic bickering

The best part of that argument? Saturn Girl is a telepath. She can settle the argument in less than a second by reading the correct spelling from Mnemonic Kid's mind, but she'd rather just keep arguing. The guys, of course, are probably just hoping that the girls will start wrestling and then start making out, but instead Mnemonic Kid decides to shoot a random child in the head with her memory destroying powers:

mnemonic demonstration (1)

Again, this is a tryout for the Legion of Superheroes. I don't think the word "hero" means what she thinks it means, and Lightning Lad kind of agrees with me:

mnemonic demonstration (2)

Mnemonic Kid stomps off, vowing revenge. As the first Legion applicant to do so, she's the founder of a grand tradition. Just ask Spider Girl, Storm Boy, Jungle King, Phantom Lad, Calorie Queen, Tusker, Eyeful Ethel, Golden Boy, Chameleon Kid, Mentalla, and a host of other members of the Legion of Supervillains.

With Mnemonic Kid offstage vowing revenge and buying weapons (no, she really is), the star of our story finally arrives: Fortress Lad. Here, he explains his power for the founders:

fortress demonstration (1)

fortress demonstration (2)

He's from the planet of the big-assed people, and he turns into a building. The Legion, who have accepted members like Matter-Eater Lad (who has the power to eat anything), Bouncing Boy (who can inflate himself into a super elastic ball), and Dream Girl (who can see the future, but only when she's asleep) without really batting an eye, decides that turning into a building is a completely useless power, and they reject him just in time for Mnemonic Kid to come back and erase their memories of being superheroes. That's just her warm-up, though, because she's also going to shoot them all to death with her ray gun until Fortress Lad springs (well, sort of) into action:

preventing attack

As an equal opportunity hater, Mnemonic Kid turns her memory destroying powers on Fortress Lad, slowly removing his memory of being a person while the Legion recovers inside:

mnemonic's revenge (1)

I guess her permanent memory deletion wasn't so permanent after all, but she's got a backup plan. When the recovered Legionnaires exit Fortress Lad, she throws a metal grenade at them that Cosmic Boy uses his magnetic powers to repel:

mnemonic's revenge (2)

Everybody ducked but Mnemonic Kid, who died in the blast. Unfortunately, Fortress Lad's true identity died with her. Her attack turned him into a mindless vegetable, and the Legionnaires remembered everything except that the building next to them used to be a person. Instead, they decided to move in:


So, in closing, everyone who reads "Secret Origins" #46 gets to enjoy the heartwarming tale of how the Legion's whimsical upside down rocket ship clubhouse is really a mentally incapacitated coma victim that they live inside. I promised hilarity, though, so let me direct you to the punchline. Take a look at this picture again:

preventing attack

Fortress Lad's head and arms are on top of the rocket, and his feet are on the bottom. Later in the story, the door that the Legion exits Fortress Lad through is also on the bottom. Between his legs. A spot where most humans have a backdoor of another type. Congratulations, Legion of Superheroes.

Your lobby is somebody's colon.


Liz said...

My youth was empty for not including stuff this weird.

Tommy Tejeda said...

I'm very glad for your post, I needed Fortress Lad reference to draw for my Blog. Thank you so much!