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
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
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
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.