Bizarro Back Issues: Bow Down To Bouncing Boy (1968)
Ever since I wrote that Ask Chris a few weeks back about how I'd rebuild the Legion of Super-Heoroes, I've been seized with the desire to go back and re-read some of the classic Legion stories from the Silver Age, but when I sat down to do just that, I was really surprised. Not because the stories are weird, mind you -- I knew they were pretty bonkers from the first time I read them, and they certainly haven't gotten any less weird since -- but because they threw the light on one of the most grievous oversights of my writing career. See, as happy as I was with the lineup I came up with for that column, I left out the character who is unquestionably the most powerful member, the actual, official "King of the Legion." I speak, of course, of Bouncing Boy.
You may laugh, but it's true, and it happens in a comic where he schools the rest of the Legion so bad that they literally start tearing off their clothes in some kind of organized tribute ceremony. And that's not even close to being the weirdest thing that happens here.
If you're unfamiliar with the Legion, there's basically two things that you need to know before we move on, and the first is a brief history of Bouncing Boy. In the far-off future of the 30th Century, Chuck Taine -- that's his government name -- is basically the team's resident doofus, and it's been like that since day one. This is a dude who got his super-powers when he was delievering a top-secret serum for a scientist, stopped on the way to watch a game of Future Baseball, got hot sitting in the stands and decided that this untested and potentially deadly bottle of unknown substances with which he had been entrusted was prrrrrrobably a soda, and drank it. Seriously, that's his origin. Kid makes Jo Nah look like Querl Dox.
If you got that joke, please report to your nearest bully for your choice of wedgie, Hertz Donut or swirlie.
Anyway, the second thing you need to know is that the Legion of Super-Heroes are quite possibly the only children in comics who are actually written like real children, by which I mean they are completely horrible to one another literally all of the time. They're just casually cruel to each other constantly, as you will see, and it's pretty great.
Now that you're all caught up, we can start in with the events of Adventure Comics #375, which featured art by Win Mortimer and a script (and layouts) by teenage wunderkind Jim Shooter. At the time, Shooter was 17 years old and already three years into his comics writing career that would eventually see him as both Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics and a dude who wrote a super-creepy treatise on the Legionnaires' sex lives that ran in a fanzine. Google it. You won't/will be extremely sorry.
Anyway, we kick off with the introduction of a new set of characters: The Wanderers:
I actually like this a lot, because it's one of the first times that there's ever a hint that there are other super-teams operating in the Future. I mean, the strip's called Legion of Super-Heroes so it makes sense that they'd be the focus, but it also makes sense that, given that it's the future of an entire dang universe full of superheroes, there might be a few out there who actually had their high school diplomas. And as a bonus, Mortimer makes sure to draw them to look like old, dumpy grown-ups, complete with Celebrand looking like he's about to leave for his job selling Space Insurance.
Anyway, they're all buddy-buddy with the Legion, until they depart and end up flying straight into the Nefar Nebula, which of course is made up entirely of cosmic rays that turn you evil. Explain that one, Neil deGrasse Tyson. They obviously decide that their new #teen friends need to be #spacemurdered.
At the same time, there are some completely unrelated shennanigans going down involving a giant gauntlet that appears out of nowhere and starts carving vague threats into a metal slab:
Props to Superboy for busting out "Shades of Belshazzar!" Maybe this is just my heathen upbringing showing, but that seems like a pretty deep cut OT reference. Also, in a truly amazing touch, the giant gauntlet finishes writing the message and throws itself down to finish the challenge.
Now, you may be tempted to think that this all part of the Wanderers' plot, but I assure you, it is not. It's a plot from some other group that's going to be dealt witih in the next issue (which, I'm sure it goes without saying, is also weird as hell). It's at this point that this threat they spent the first few pages introducing, this super-powered team of heroes gone evil, just becomes a background for the real story.
And just what is that real story? An even split between a tournament designed to find out who the most powerful member of the Legion is, and people being complete a-holes to Bouncing Boy.
Oh my God, Cosmic Boy. Rude.
Instead of using my beloved Planetary Chance Machine -- an actual plot device in Legion used for decision-making where, I swear to God, a model of the solar system would spin around at high speeds until a piece of it broke off and bonked one of them in the head -- they decide on a slightly more elegant solution. They break down the Wanderers into brackets, and then send Legionnaires out to capture their newfound frenemies, with the person who manages to actually make the arrest advancing to the next round.
First up is Mon-El (who has all the powers of Superboy), Element Lad (who is willing to turn the serum keeping his pal alive into iron so that he almost dies) and Bouncing Boy going after Dartalg, master of the (space) blowgun and his magic darts. Element Lad poisons Mon-El, who knocks him out with a punch in realliation right before he passes out, leaving Bouncing Boy to face down the villain alone. He pretty much wins by default, largely because he is not a balloon.
Next up is the squad of Saturn Girl, Chemical King and Chameleon Boy going after Ornitho, the Wanderer with the incredible ability to turn into a bird. Chameleon Boy snags the victory in that round, and if you've been paying attention, you've probably already sussed out exactly how this is going to go down.
Seriously, it's hardly worth it to go into detail on the next few fights, but they actually are interesting, and the first one features Karate Kid cold beating the living bejeezus out of Ultra Boy, Element Lad and their target, Quantum Queen, while looking raw as hell:
I love you, Karate Kid.
The next one has a pretty awesome trick, too: Brainiac 5, Superboy and Timber Wolf go after Immorto, who has the power of reviving every time he dies, which means, according to Brainy, "he's all the more dangerous because there's nothing he won't dare!" He seriously just tries to kill himself by jumping off a buildling in order to escape Brainiac, only to be snagged by Superboy.
So, advancing to Round 2, we have Bouncing Boy, Chameleon Boy and who cares because they're the only two who matter. And sure enough, when they go to apprehend the emotion-altering Psyche, there's a sudden time jump.
HMM. HMMMMMMM. HMMMMMMMMMMM. WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED.
It only gets more complicated when Bouncing Boy and Superboy head to the final round of their space-crime busting tournament, when they go to get Celebrand and he immediately surrenders after looking at a set of seven mystical stones. How mystical, you ask? Well, he says "three of the stones show the visible things, past, present and future, three show invisible things, past, present and future, and one peers into other dimensions," so yeah, I'd say they're pretty darn mystical.
And with that, the promise of the cover is realized:
And then Bouncing Boy vanishes into the ether, and that brings us to the end of the issue.
Okay, okay, here's the actual explanation: It turns out that Bouncing Boy is, of course, Chameleon Boy, and that the Chameleon Boy that was recovering in the Legion's infirmary (a weird fakeout plot point that they don't actually mention until the next issue) is actually Proty, Chameleon Boy's pet who is actually a shape-shifting fully sentient alien being which is a whole thing, and all of this happened offscreenso that Chameleon Boy could go have an adventure with weirdly Kirbyesque Arthurian knights in Adventure #376.
I don't think anybody tore off their costume in that one, though.