The Legion Academy Curse
by Matthew E. Childers
As long-time readers of the Legion of Super-Heroes may attest, one of the appeals of the series was the detailed 30th century setting that developed over the series lengthy run. One part of that setting was the Legion Academy. The Academy was an adjunct to the Legion whose purpose was to train future heroes in the use of their powers. Academy training did not guarantee Legion membership but several students did make the transition, most notably Timber Wolf, Dawnstar and Magnetic Kid. Unfortunately, something the Academy did not advertise on it's recruitment brochures was that it's students had an alarming tendency die, be mutilated and generally come to unfortunate ends, enough so that the Academy just might be seen as operating under... a Curse!
Although death was a regular occurrence in the Legion, perhaps more so than any other series, the untimely demise of so many former students is a coincidence that's hard to ignore.
The Academy was first seen in Adventure Comics 371 (8/68) as a large institution with a fairly large enrollment and a curriculum including self-defense classes, flight ring training and criminology techniques. The first students to graduate from the Academy were Timber Wolf and Chemical King, who were awarded Legion membership in Adventure Comics 372, (9/68). Although Timber Wolf served a long, if troubled, tenure with the Legion, it is Chemical King who set the standard for Academy students to follow.
Chemical King had a black cloud over him from the start. He was first glimpsed on the cover of Adventure 354 (3/67), a tale of the "Adult Legion" set in the Legion's future. The tale gave readers a glimpse at their heroes' lives in adulthood. Legionnaires married, had kids, retired, and in some cases died. (The story was seen as the "real" future of the team for many years after.) Chemical King was seen during this story as a memorial statue, with the inscription "He sacrificed his life to prevent World War VII." An inauspicious introduction, and his luck didn't get any better.
Following sporadic appearances over the next ten years, Chemical King was suddenly thrust back into the spotlight on the cover of Superboy 228 (5/77). Unluckily for him, the cover text included the blurb "Which one of these heroes will DIE?" A small hint... it wasn't Superboy. Writer Paul Levitz chose to fulfill the prophecy made on cover of Adventure 354 by having Chemical King sacrifice himself to, well, prevent World War VII! Ironically, Levitz himself would later refute the "Adult Legion" tale as the team's "true" future in Legion of Super-Heroes 300. Too late for Chemical King though.
Timber Wolf, the more fortunate of the first two inductees, had a more visible role in the Legion, although not necessarily a happier one. When he was introduced in Adventure 327, Timber Wolf was operating under the code name Lone Wolf, and thought he was an android named Karth Arn! The Legion helped him find out that he was really a human named Brin Londo who'd been given powers of strength, speed and agility by his scientist father through the use of the rare metal Zuunium. The android known as Karth Arn had in fact stolen Brin's identity and taken it for his own. At the end of the story, Brin had begun a relationship with Legionnaire Light Lass and was hoping to join the Legion.
His first spotlight story after induction, Action 378 (7/69) had him undergoing an addiction to "Lotus Fruit," (no real drug could be used under the Comics Code). He soon acquired a more lupine appearance, designed by Dave Cockrum. His next major role saw him as the brainwashed pawn of Legion villain Tyr, who'd kidnapped Timber Wolf and made the rest of the Legion think he was dead! The one bright spot for Timber Wolf was his ongoing relationship with Light Lass. Unfortunately, as we will see, the worst for Brin was yet to come...
The next Legionnaire inducted from the Academy was Dawnstar (Superboy 226, 4/77), a former bounty hunter from the Native American colony world Starhaven. Dawnstar had the ability to fly unprotected in space and had highly developed tracking abilities. Then-Legion leader Wildfire recruited her directly into the Legion personally, and the two began a rocky relationship which was hampered primarily by the fact that Wildfire was an energy being who was only given human form by a containment suit. Years of gloomy agonizing over the situation lie ahead for the two. As with Timber Wolf however, the worst for Dawnstar lie ahead.
Many years then passed without the Academy playing a significant role, until it was reintroduced by Paul Levitz, now as a smaller scale institution with only a handful of students at any time. The primary instructors were now former Legionnaires Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel (he could inflate and bounce like a ball, she could split into two identical bodies). The enrollment now included recurring characters who appeared frequently, including Magnetic Kid (younger brother of Legion co-founder Cosmic Boy), Laurel Kent (believed to be a descendent of Superman, who had inherited his invulnerability), Tellus (a methane breathing telepath) and Shadow Kid (brother of Legionnaire Shadow Lass) and a host of others.
Although Magnetic Kid and Tellus gained Legion membership, the majority of other students failed to join. Unfortunately for them, it didn't help them escape the curse of the Academy.
Laurel Kent was first shot by an unknown assailant who used a kryptonite bullet (LSH vol. 3, Annual 1), and was later revealed to be a Manhunter android during the company-wide Millennium crossover (LSH vol. 3, # 42 1/88), and self destructed. (How did an android know the bullet was kryptonite, and start bleeding? How did a doctor presumably treat the wound without noticing she had gears instead of muscles? How did Sun Boy go on so many dates and not get the idea she was an android? Crossovers were never kind to the Legion.)
Academy instructor Luornu Durgo-Taine a.k.a. Duo Damsel, originally known as Triplicate Girl, had already survived the death of one body back in Adventure 340 (1/66) at the hands of the renegade super-computer known as Computo. During the culmination of a multi-part "Conspiracy" story line, her second body was killed by the Legion foe known as the Time Trapper (LSH vol 3 # 50, 11/88.) Teaching at the Academy would seem to be no safer than studying there...
Magnetic Kid, who had survived having his neighborhood blown up with a nuclear device before entering the Academy, served with the Legion capably, but suffered the same fate as his predecessor Chemical King. He too made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life during the multipart "Magic Wars" storyline that saw the end of Paul Levitz' tenure on the title. To enable the Legion to reach the Zerox, the "Sorceror's World" Magnetic Kid heroically walked into a magical lock that he knew could only be opened at the cost of a life. Yet another student down.
After Levitz' long run on the title, DC decided to turn custodianship of the book to Keith Giffen, Levitz' most prominent collaborator on the title. Giffen was riding a creative high stretching from his Legion work to his humor character Ambush Bug and his revitalization of the Justice League as the light-comedy "JLI." Giffen chose as his co-creators long-time Legion fans Tom and Mary Bierbaum as cowriters (the three became known as TMK among fans) and Al Gordon as inker over Giffen's own pencils (and occasional co-plotting duties). What followed was one of the most controversial Legion eras of all time, and one that saw the Academy closed and the former students going through the proverbial wringer.
The series was restarted with a new number 1 issue and was set five years after the last Levitz issue. During the intervening years, the Legion had disbanded and the members scattered. (A pair of former students, Nightwind and Crystal Kid, had been inducted into the Legion during it's last days but this was never explored in any detail.) The government of Earth had been overtaken by the evil Dominator race and things in general looked gloomy, particularly for the former Academy students.
Timber Wolf had been transformed into a giant furry creature known as "Furball." He couldn't speak in that form, and hid his occasional reversions to his Brin Londo form from his teammates, who now included an enigmatic woman with tracking abilities known as only as Bounty. Eventually Brin was cured of his "Furball" state by Darkseid, but was then dying of radiation poisoning (LSH Vol 4, # 24 12/91). (We also learned that he had been in constant pain ever since he'd gained his powers. Nothing was overlooked by TMK when it came to adding layers of torment to the beleaguered Legion.) He was eventually cured but was transported back to the 20th century with a new "wolf-man" look, to star in a disappointing miniseries.
During a multipart story involving a war with the race of evil space-conquerors know as the Khunds (LSH vol 4, #'s 15 - 17, 2/91 - 4/91), two former students met their end. Jed Rikane, (formerly known as Power Boy), and Berta Skye-Harris (formerly known as Nightwind) were serving at the United Planets Militia Academy as trainers. During the course of the battles with the Khunds, both were killed, although fellow trainer and former student Tayla Scott (known as Lamprey) somehow survived.
During the aftermath of the final confrontation with the Dominators, it was learned that the Legionnaire known as Bounty was in fact Dawnstar, who had been possessed by the entity known as Bounty (LSH Vol. 4 # 36, 11/92). The Bounty entity had mutilated Dawnstar, removing her wings. It had also used her body to carry out it's blood-thirsty existence, with Dawnstar aware at all times what her body was being forced to commit.
Ultimately of course, all the Legion Academy students were wiped out along with the rest of the universe during the event known as Zero Hour. But at least those last few survivors simply blinked out of existence, instead of the more gruesome fates of their comrades.
Looking back, of the major Academy students seen during the series, five of them met their deaths during the series, Chemical King, Magnetic Kid, Power Boy, Nightwind and Laurel Kent. Another student, the annoying Comet Queen (who spoke like a space-valley girl) was believed to have died during the Five Year Gap, and another heroine who briefly attended, Mentalla, was killed by Legion enemy the Emerald Empress during an unsuccessful attempt to infiltrate the criminal organization known as the Fatal Five. Timber Wolf and Dawnstar both underwent gruesome transformations during the TMK years.
Could the Academy have been under a curse? It was never explored in a Legion story, but certainly the characters seem to have been born under a bad sign. From another viewpoint, the Academy curse could be seen as thus: aside from Timber Wolf and Dawnstar they were visible, recurrent characters who were familiar to regular readers, but who could be killed off for dramatic effect without raising the ire readers who are reluctant to see their favorites be die. Some, such as Chemical King, did not emerge as effective characters during their times. The majority of the students who did not join the Legion proper never were really more than cyphers.
Thus far in the rebooted Legion mythos, the Academy was briefly seen as a government-run institution which was closed down after a short time. It is unknown if the Academy will be making a return, but if it does, perhaps Legion fans should cross their fingers or throw a little salt over their shoulders for the new students.
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This piece is © 2001 by Matthew E. Childers.
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