Unbagging Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes – Tabloid Edition


This post contains spoilers for a comic from 1978, a comic with some seriously problematic depictions of ethnicity.

This tabloid-size masterpiece reprints a classic Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes story at full size for the first time. Superboy arrives in the future for the wedding of Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad only to find a world totally different from the one he is used to visiting, but the Legionnaires insist it has always been that way. With Superboy unable to convince his teammates that something is wrong, the wedding proceeds as planned, only for the bride and groom to be kidnapped by the Lunarites. Convinced that the altering of history is the real issue, Superboy leads a team of Legionnaires back in time, while the rest of the group attempts to rescue the kidnapped couple. Can Superboy’s team correct the flow of time and save the future? Includes a two-page pinup of the entire Legion by Mike Grell and an eight-page feature containing information on each of the Legionnaires by Paul Levitz, illustrated by James Sherman and Jack Abel.

Today everyone is armed and at war–Earth against Mars–Mars against Jupiter–Jupiter against Winath–and so on throughout the stars!

I swear that there will come a day in which I do an Unbagging that involves a comic that either has been or will be bagged and boarded, but today is not that day, as today’s subject is a hardcover reprint of an oversized Treasury Edition and as such sits unbagged on a shelf in my library.

(This is the one I had originally intended to write about before changing my mind and writing about It’s Lonely At The Centre Of The Earth.)

Treasury Editions loomed large in my imagination as a kid because I saw so many ads for them in the comics I read, but never actually encountered any in the wild. Most of the ads I saw were in older comics I had, and by the time I started regularly buying new comics they had pretty much stopped making Treasury Editions.

I only own one original Treasury Edition – the second Superman/Spider-Man crossover – which I picked up from a comic dealer at a convention a few years ago, but I have a couple of the hardcover reprints, including, obviously, this one.

As someone who became a fan of the Legion – and of the art of Mike Grell – early in the 1980s, the ad I saw for this Treasury Edition from just a year or two before I began reading about the adventures of those 30th Century super-teens permanently etched itself into my memory. In part because I knew it featured the wedding of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, but also because I always wondered what the heck Saturn Girl, a telepath, was doing on that cover to fight off that attacking alien horde (more about the horde in a bit, but as a preview: yikes). Like, was she trying to scare them off with her impression of a Rockette?

Not that I expected the actual story to answer that question – it doesn’t, as the cover is just a general representation of the story contained within, not a depiction of a specific event in the story – but that imagery just stuck with me. (I get that she just kicked a guy in the face, but still, it just stands out to me, given what her powers are.)

In any case, it turns out the Wedding of the (30th) Century is the least significant aspect of the story, as Superboy, time-traveling in from the 20th Century for the wedding immediately learns that something is terribly wrong, as the militaristic, paranoid world he finds himself in is very much not the peaceful 30th Century to which he’s become accustomed.

Despite all of the Legionnaires insisting that things are as they have always been, ever since the United Nations disbanded in 1978 and the people of Earth became increasingly warlike, a fact that fellow Legionnaire Karate Kid confirms, as he just recently returned from an extended visit to the 1970s, Superboy is certain that something – or someone – has changed history since the last time he made his way to the 2978.

However, that’s a problem that he’s ready to put off dealing with until after the wedding of two of the Legion’s founding members, a wedding that has many special guests, including writer Paul Levitz (front left) and artist Mike Grell (front right).

Can you name all of the wedding guests? I actually can’t. I can name all of the active Legionnaires, and some of the people up in the balcony on the right, but I’m not sure who all of them are. I also have no idea who this random woman officiating the wedding is.

After the wedding, however, there is neither time to celebrate nor time to investigate, as the Earth immediately comes under attack, and while Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl – who are no longer eligible to be in the Legion because they’re married – intended to go on their honeymoon, the Moon, which is very much not as sweet as honey, has come for them.

Which brings us to the alien horde on the cover and the biggest of big yikes. While they are technically aliens, in that they are not inhabitants of the Earth, the Lunarites who have attacked the Earth and kidnapped LL and SG are the descendants of the Terrans who colonized the Moon.

Specifically, the Chinese Terrans who colonized the moon.

Yeah. Even by 1978 standards that choice of skin tone is a massive yikes, and that’s before you get into the characterization of the Lunarites living in “New Cathay.”

The Lunarite fleet managed to overcome the Legion and prevent them from following, but given that they’re from the Moon, it’s not hard to figure out where they’re going, so a plan is formed to head to the Moon to rescue the newlyweds. However, there is dissension in the ranks, as Superboy is convinced that the bigger issue is whatever has gone wrong with time and that they’d be better served by looking into that rather than rushing off to rescue their two former members.

After all, if they fix the problem with time, the abduction will never occur. Legion leader Wildfire says no to Superboy’s plan to travel back in time, insisting that they’ll deal with it after dealing with this emergency, but other members of the team side with Superboy, and so, with Wildfire’s grudging agreement and with some snark from Light Lass, twin sister of Lightning Lad, the assembled Legionnaires split up to pursue their separate missions.

The newlyweds, meanwhile, have managed to escape captivity, but ultimately only manage to crash land somewhere on the Moon, leaving them with a rapidly fading life support system and no way to call for help, and their former teammates who opted to rescue them are powerless to find them, even with the peerless tracking abilities of Dawnstar.

So Lightning Lad, AKA Garth Ranzz, and Saturn Girl, AKA Imra Ardeen-Ranzz, opt to go out on their own terms.

But not so fast! It seems that the Legionnairs had an ace up their sleeve in the form of the third founding member of the Legion, Cosmic Boy.

Wildfire, however, isn’t satisfied with the rescue of Garth and Imra, given that it happened no thanks to Superboy and the others who followed him into the past.

Speaking of, Superboy and crew head to New York, 1978, which seems to be where the troubles began.

While exploring the past, the Legion discovers that Superboy is correct, and something has changed history. Or rather, someone: the Legion’s old foe the Time Trapper. Wanting to toy with the Legion some more before completely destroying them once and for all, the Time Trapper allows Superboy and his compatriots to return to the 30th Century where (when?), after some heated debate, the skeptical members of the Legion come around to accepting the truth of what Superboy has been saying all along.

With the help of the precognitive powers of Dream Girl, they determine that the Time Trapper lives at the end of time, and so they travel there in the hopes of unraveling his evil scheme.

However, upon arriving at the end of time they are immediately captured and imprisoned by the Time Trapper.

The true identity of the Time Trapper has been “revealed” many times over the years, with a different person being identified as the evil, hooded master of time with each reveal, but I believe this is the first reveal. Here, he’s shown to be one of the Controllers, a race of powerful beings who are devoted to maintaining justice at any cost.

The Legion has had many significant encounters with Controllers – who are a more extreme offshoot of the Oans who went on to become the Guardians of the Universe – and some of their weapons and devices over the years, such as the Sun Eater, which claimed the life of the Legionnaire Ferro Lad.

Later, they encountered and defeated – possibly with the assistance of the ghost of Ferro Lad – the Controller who had let the Sun Eater loose on the galaxy, a Controller who had, like the Time Trapper, decided to embrace evil rather than justice. In fact, that renegade was a student of the Time Trapper, who reveals that he was the first Controller to ever be banished. (For being evil.)

For their defeat of the rogue Controller, some of the other Controllers gave the Legion the gift of the Miracle Machine, an incredibly dangerous device that can do anything by turning thoughts into reality – even destroy the universe – and which the Legion has kept locked away only for use in the direst of emergencies.

Unfortunately, the Time Trapper has gotten his evil hands on the Miracle Machine, and he intends to use it to destroy time in the Milky Way because that will, apparently, give him the energy to conquer every dimension?

Whatever it is he plans to do, his first step is to use the Miracle Machine to think the Legion out of existence. However, the Legion pulls together and concentrates their collective will on the destructive energy that is approaching them.

The Legion uses the power to undo the changes made by the Time Trapper, and return to a 30th Century that is familiar to all of them, and the happy couple is free to go off on their honeymoon.

The issue is rounded out by several pages featuring portraits and biographies of all of the Legionnaires past and present, as well as some of their friends, and also some details about their headquarters and some of the special tools and weapons in the Legion’s arsenal.

The book opens with a dedication to the many Legion writers and artis who came before in the group’s – at the time – 20-year history, in particular, Edmond Hamilton and his successor the 13-year-old Jim Shooter, which I assume was included in the original Treasury Edition, and closes with an Afterword from Paul Levitz, which, being written in 2021, most certainly was not included in the original, and the original pitch for the Treasury Edition that Levitz wrote back in the day.

…yeah, I gotta say, this isn’t great.

It lacks the charm of earlier Legion stories and the polish and sophistication of the later Legion stories written by an older, more mature Levitz than the 20-year-old who wrote this story.

Even the Grell art, which should be glorious at this scale, is disappointing, owing largely, I think, to the fact that he’s inked here by Vince Colletta. But even allowing for that, Grell just didn’t seem to be at the top of his game here.

There’s definitely potential, and there are clear hints of some of the interpersonal dynamics that will develop as the Legion moves on into the 1980s (and 2980s), particularly in the conflict about what action to take with regards to Superboy’s concerns, a conflict that’s interesting because neither side is actually wrong per se.

I do feel like the wedding element of the story, which was one of the main selling points for it when Levitz pitched it, as wedding issues tended to be popular, kind of got the shaft. Sure, we got an oversized double-page spread, but that was basically it.

As for the overall plot, again, it had potential, and though it wasn’t explained how other than really just a “Time Trapper did it” handwave, I did like that while history had changed substantially, certain elements remained true to the real history, such as the members of the Legion, their core character traits, their various romantic entanglements, friendships, and strained relationships.

It could have just been lazy writing – I don’t think it was – but even in that case it worked well, as things were different enough for Superboy to find it troubling, but not so different that he couldn’t set aside the strangeness long enough to enjoy the occasion that brought him to the 30th Century in the first place.

Of course, there is the problem of “New Cathay,” to which I again say yikes. That was one element that really soured the experience for me.

Even back when I was sheltered kid in that era who had never had any significant interaction with anyone other than other white people, the way certain ethnicities were depicted in comics bothered me. Particularly when it came to the coloration of Asian characters, though there were also plenty of other offensive aspects to the depiction of non-white characters in terms of their facial features and behavior. Mostly just because I at least knew what people looked like on TV and in movies and even the most accurate depictions of anyone who wasn’t white in comics – due largely to the color choices – didn’t reflect reality very well.

And the depiction of the Lunarites here is incredibly bad even in an era of generally not great depictions of Asian people. This is Golden Age levels of ethnic caricatures.

Which is a shame because it really takes away from what is otherwise, at worst, a somewhat mediocre story.

Despite that, and despite the fact that even setting that aside it’s far from the best Legion story I’ve ever read, I’m still glad I own this specific reprint, given how deeply ingrained it isn’t into my mind as result of seeing the house ad for it so many times as a kid.

I should mention that I also have this story reprinted in the hardcover collection Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 1, which also reprints the cover, though on that cover the Lunarites are made to look even more alien by having a greener tint to their skin. But while I have the story available in a collection, it’s not the same experience as having the full tabloid-size reprint.

And with that, the second Unbagging that was supposed to be the first comes to a close. Remember that there’s all kinds of stuff you can do to support this site in particular and OpenDoor Comics in general and maybe consider doing some of them.

In the meantime, I’ll likely see you next with either a Pull List or Mail Call post.

Born and raised in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.

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