With over sixty years of history to draw from, DC has a long list of traditions that they revisit over and over again.
Lana Lang trying to prove that Superboy was Clark Kent (obviously never thinking of just ripping the glasses from his face).
Bad-guy-of-the-month learning Batman's secret identity, and dying shortly thereafter, before communicating the secret to anyone.
Green Lantern teaming up with the Flash.
Super-powered gorillas beating up on [insert name of hero here].
The annual three-way slugfest between the Inferior Five, the Legion of Super-Pets, and Suicide Squid; and many more.
And then we have the Legion Try-Outs.
Let's set the stage. In the thirtieth century, young heroes from many worlds joined together under the common banner of 'The Legion of Super-Heroes' (very literal-minded, these kids). Each had a different super-power; for example, Saturn Girl was a telepath, Lightning Lad hurled bolts of, well, lightning, and Cosmic Boy had a magnetic personality. These three were the founding members of the Legion, and the ranks swelled fairly quickly through an interesting plot device: the cattle call.
Essentially, wanna-be heroes would demonstrate their abilities in front of the assembled Legionnaires, and be voted on. Rejected applicants received a complimentary flight belt, a pat on the back, and a thanks-for-coming-out speech. Look at this way - better a cattle call than a casting couch, right?
Now think about this for a moment from the writer's perspective- you're writing one of these try-out stories, which means you've got one or two potentially good characters to add to the Legion's ranks. This means you also have to come up with a few losers, to fill out the audition. A few choice examples:
- Eyeful Ethel
- Eyes on all sides of her head, letting her see in all directions at once. Ick.
- Antenna Boy
- His antenna pick up radio broadcasts from all over time and space. Can't turn it off.
- Infectious Lass
- Can spread all kinds of disease without being affected herself.
- Calamity King
- Causes accidents and disasters to happen.
And so on.
One of these stories featured a group of rejected applicants gathering together under their own rubric, calling themselves the remarkably unimaginative 'Legion of Substitute Heroes'. Here's the role call:
- Polar Boy
- Able to generate intense degree of cold and ice; rejected due to Legionnaires' concern over him losing control at a critical moment
- Night Girl
- Super-strength in the absence of light; rejected due to her power's inherent limitations
- Stone Boy
- Can turn his body to stone, placing himself in a form of suspended animation; rejected due to his inability to do anything while in his stone form
- Fire Lad
- Breathes flame; considered too dangerous for membership
- Chlorophyll Kid
- Makes plants grow really fast and really large; considered….um….useless.
It's an interesting assortment - characters not quite ready for prime time, but not so lame that they weren't useable. (For what it's worth, I've always felt that the 'he might lose control' justification behind Polar Boy's rejection was kind of contrived; the Legion never seemed worried that Sun Boy might flare up and melt everyone, for example). The really scary thought is that the Subs have an auxiliary of sorts, made up of people whose powers don't quite measure up to Subs-standards. Yikes!
These try-out scenes have always been a light-hearted aspect of the whole Legion mythos (not that the series had much in the way of serious dramatic overtones), and the above strip gently mocks the process, throwing in a rare bit of political humor too! Brainiac 5 and Superboy are the Legionnaires conducting the auditions, and the applicant is former President Jimmy Carter, shown here as 'Peanut Eater Lad'.
He was a peanut farmer before entering politics, remember? Okay, so it's weak political humor. You can put those eyebrows down now.
As for Brainiac 5, he's the direct descendant of Superman uber-enemy Brainiac (the one who stole an entire city from the planet Krypton, and shrank it down to fit into a large bottle). As his name implies, Brainiac 5 is incredibly intelligent, but he also has a remarkable facility for blowing up his own laboratories, particularly when Supergirl is hanging around. Perhaps Peanut Eater Lad isn't the only one with lust in his heart….