The Legion of Super-Monsters!

I don't know, somehow the title of this one seems like false advertising. The Silver Age Super-mythos was chock full of "Legions," from Super-Heroes to Super-Villains to Super-Pets and even Substitute Super-Heroes, but the threat in Action Comics #326 (July 1965) isn't so much a Legion of Super-Monsters as it is a mindless swarm of insects. After all, "Legion" implies a deliberate alliance, usually of a disparate variety of members, whereas this bunch is as mindless as any collection of bugs, not really allied and in one case fatally at odds with each other.

Anyway, "Legion" was doubtless one of those words guaranteed to sell Superman comics back in the day, just as "Baby," "Seduction" and "Rogue" are ubiquitous to modern romance novels, so a Legion it is.

The Grand Comics Database credits (or indicts, depending on your viewpoint) Otto Binder with writing this issue, and the art chores are handled by the great team of Curt Swan and George Klein.

We open with Clark Kent and Lois Lane enjoying time off at a "lake resort" (although Lois, predictably, spoils the fun by pining for Superman) when a gigantic, magenta sea serpent with a rattlesnake tail shows up to terrorize vacationers. When her speedboat conks out, Lois swims for it, but Clark puffs on the boat with super-breath to make it seem to have sputtered back to life, and is dragged away behind it on waterskiis, giving him a chance to change to Superman.

Flying down at the serpent-monster, Superman lands a punch, but is astonished to see "my fist bounced back!" The serpent coils around Superman and drags him underwater, where the cold water revives him. Sizing up the situation, Earth's greatest hero heads for the hills.

That's right, kids, he runs away. This isn't the first time Silver Age Superman throws in the towel on meeting up with a stronger opponent, though it's usually less a case of outright cowardice than a shrugging attitude of "Eh, whaddaya gonna do?" Sorry folks, lake's closed. See ya, bye. Anyway, after Round One the score stands at Monsters 1, Superman 0.

Next morning at the Daily Planet, Clark gets a teletype report of flying monster attacking a passenger jet. As Superman, he flies to the scene and finds a huge mosquito/dragonfly creature cutting into the plane's fuselage with its "sword-like beak." Superman repairs the plane in mid-flight, but then the insect charges him, ripping his cape. When Superman tries to continue the fight, the monster flies away faster than he can follow. Monsters 2, Superman 0.

Another day passes and "Metropolis awakens to a staggering sight among its skyscrapers!" As an employee notes when looking out the window, "Look! During the night that giant spider web was spun between buildings!" That's overnight, not in the last few minutes, meaning Perry White either makes his staff sleep in the Planet offices or no one bothers to look up on their way into the building each day; otherwise they could hardly have missed a web with cable-like strands stretching across the street, and a spider the size of a Volkswagon.

Clark changes again and as Superman, tries to destroy the web with heat vision. Failing that, and having already met two giant bugs more powerful than himself, he devises the ingenious strategy of charging into the web to break it. Rather predictably, he's only caught in the web, with the spider closing in to make him breakfast. Luckily, the mosquito/dragonfly creature picks this moment to return and, stirred to anger again by Superman's red cape, puts another hole in Superman's costume but happily also manages to break the web and free Superman (even more happily, the bug chooses to spear the little bit of Superman's cape peeking out, and not the more obvious red target of Superman's trunks!).

Spider and "dragonfly" are out of the game now, but as the Man of Steel is just a bystander, I'm calling it Monsters 3, Superman 0 anyway. Next, an army of alien insects marches on the city, devouring buildings. Now super-intellect kicks in as "a sudden thought strikes Superman!" Ingeniously, Superman reasons, "Large animals from Krypton would be more powerful than I am...just as an Earthly elephant is stronger than an Earthman! But that means I can defeat these army insects, since I'm bigger than they are!" That's your science lesson for today, kids: if you can't beat an elephant, try a Schnauzer.

Superman swoops down on the army of bugs, but they are unharmed and swarm all over him. Try as he might, he can't shake them loose, even by flying through the sun. At his wit's end, he lands back on Earth, whereupon they drop off on their own.

Superman notices the sun is setting and realizes that "Instinctively, they always go to sleep at sundown!" Naturally. So now the score stands at Monsters 4, Superman 0.

Back at his Fortress, Superman monitors trouble spots around the Earth as Army tanks, H-bombs, and even green kryptonite dropped from bomber planes fails to stop the invading insects. But then Superman spots an alien space probe sitting around and guesses at a connection to the monsters. He goes to the probe and flies in, whereupon the door closes and the probe takes off. Superman is unable to break free, but by now he must be getting used to it.

Eventually Superman is transported to a red-sun planet even larger than Krypton, where three weird aliens offer the salutation, "Hail Death! All over the Universe! Hail to Death!" The aliens reveal that all life on their own world was wiped out by a space blight, leaving them the only survivors. Traveling to this "leper world of Gigantia," they took an oath to "bring death to 100 other worlds" via their probe full of super-monsters. Hey, if they're not happy, why should anyone else be, right? How they arrived at the number of 100 worlds is anyone's guess, but the bad news is Earth just makes the list at number 100, and so with their vow fulfilled, the the aliens are now going to blow up the planet they're standing on.

Superman hightails it to the probe and escapes just as the planet explodes. Returning to Earth, he still has no idea how to handle the monsters, so he parks the probe in orbit to think for a while. Suddenly he notices the monsters are all dropping dead, and wonders why.

It turns out that the exploded remnants of planet Gigantia have been changed to Orange Giantite, a substance deadly to the monsters. A huge load of Giantite has been pulled along in the slipstream of the space probe like a comet's tail, and falling to Earth, kills the bugs. Happily, Superman notes "Without knowing it, I saved the Earth after all!" Yeah, nice job there, hero. Your medal's in the mail.

Yes, that's right, with millions of dead space insects lying around as potential trophies, Superman memorializes his adventure with a ripped cape. And not even the actual cape the bugs ripped, but a facsimile cape he's gone to the trouble of sewing, then ripping to approximate the original rip. Earth nearly destroyed by huge bugs, H-bombs set off causing Lord knows what damage, 99 other nameless worlds wiped out, and Superman is focused on his laundry woes. Talk about narcissism.

Apparently readers were meant to attach the same Earth-shattering significance to this wardrobe malfunction, as it features on the cover of the issue. But consider that at the same newsstand that offered Action #326 in July 1965 you might have seen the cover to the Fantastic Four #40, showing the FF teamed with Daredevil in a desperate bid to defend the Baxter Building from Dr Doom. Or Avengers #18, with the team in pitched battle against the sword-wielding (and gigantic) Commissar. Or X-Men #12, with the Juggernaut tossing the team aside on his way to flatten Professor X (whose origin, we are promised, is revealed inside).

If Superman was helpless against an invasion of giant bugs, he'd soon be even more ineffectual in halting the Marvel Age of Comics, with heroes who regularly found themselves outclassed in terms of strength but kept fighting anyway. In fact, after this tale I have to wonder if Otto Binder wasn't secretly getting checks from Stan Lee.