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“The Little Legion of Super-Tykes.” Adorable line of plush dolls to follow. – Adventure Comics #356

February 3, 2012

I’m sensing that there may have been a missed marketing opportunity with “Little Mon-El.”

Remember when the “Little Endless” made their first appearance, in the Jill Thompson-pencilled The Sandman #40? Remember Cain’s reaction to Abel’s story introducing them? The one told to Daniel, the future-Dream? You don’t? Then I shall quote it for you:

Children? They didn’t even look remotely human. None of us did, back then. What are you trying to feed the child — sanitized pablum? Li’l Death? Li’l Morpheus? Revolting!

Revolting. When I saw the Legion of Super-Heroes miniaturized in the above cover, that was my initial lean, despite baby Brainiac-5’s charming PLEASE ADOPT ME building block edifice.

Then again…

Remember (sorry for the “remembers”) that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where a part of the crew (Captain Picard, Ensign Ro, Guinan and Keiko) were turned into kids? I wanted so much to hate that one, to work myself up into a Category 5 dither that a show which offered such stellar drama as “The Inner Light” would sink so low. But the sight of little Picard hugging his towering “Dad” Will Riker, and his lamentful caress of his bare scalp when restored to bald adulthood (I feel your pain, Jean-Luc), made me love it. It was a 180. A deserved one.

And I sort of love this comic. There’s something about seeing the late, great Curt Swan roll around in ridiculous Silver Age tomfoolery that gets me every time. EVERY TIME. Put him together with the Legion, a group ripe for such nonsense, whether it’s alien femiNazis or gem mines, and you have a baseline of success. There’s only so low that you can go with Swan.

That rock bottom is ever-reassuring, but there’s no reason to worry about tickling that lowest mark here, because this issue has more than enough of the aforementioned tomfoolery. Scads. And, friends, it’s of the highest order. A chunk of the Legion of Super-Heroes reduced to orphanage-bound shenanigans — that’s worth a look.

And that isn’t all that’s lurking within. There’s also a dark twist, and I don’t think the crew forging this brief tale really realized how dark it was/is. Maybe it’s just jaundiced, cynical 2012 eyes reading sinister things into 1960s innocence. Maybe. Maybe not.

We’ll get to all that in a moment.

The action in this E. Nelson Bridwell-scripted and George Klein-inked affair starts on Parents’ Day. (Mother’s Day and Father’s Day combined into one? Surely this must be THE FUTURE.) There are accompanying parades and receptions for this holiday, both of which include the superstar Legion:

That panel proves that, even in the far future, reporters can still get stuck with crummy beats.

There’s no party for the Legion orphans (Brainiac-5, Mon-El, Superboy, Dream Girl and Element Lad). For them it’s white-bread sandwiches and the call of duty:

An interstellar distress call comes through in short order. A planet’s power supply has been disrupted because their power-generating crystal has been stolen (or something, my eyes glazed over), and now it’s submerged in an ocean. The Orphanairres answer, and when half of the response team dives down to get it, they come back up tots. Superboy and Mon-El then prove that super-sense isn’t in their mutual array of powers:

The end result?:

“Little Mon-El.” THIS WOULD DRIVE CAIN STARK-RAVING MAD.

Planetary authorities, not making the obvious connection between these costumed kids and the Legion, cart them off to an orphanage. I guess we should simply be thankful that it’s not an interstellar Romanian orphanage. We then get a replay of the cover scene, and the kids are almost immediately adopted. Fortunately for them, Brainiac-5 still has his super-synapses, and when they arrive at their new homes he starts putting two and two together:

There was something in the water, if you haven’t guessed. Brainiac-5 cooks up a cure, and uses a variant on the “A Spoon Full of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down” gambit to get the rest of the kids to swallow it:

Restored to their normal sizes and cognitive capacities, the Legionnaires confront their new parents, who have some ‘splanin’ to do:

Dying children. Cheery. And could there be a more depressing image than the UNUSED AIR-BIKE?

This might reverse your sympathies (enter the mild darkness):

“So you’re a step — a step — above those people who kill pregnant women and rip the babies from their still warm wombs. But hey, no harm, no foul.” Not to diminish the pain of a lost child, and call me Draconian, but maybe a short stint in the hoosegow (of THE FUTURE) might be in order? A fine? Some community service? SOMETHING?

I’m probably making too much of this. Or maybe I’m not. Whatever.

Curt Swan. THE MAN. I’m racking my brain right now, and their isn’t an artist on the planet, passed on or living, that I’d rather have illustrating this story. The image of that little scamp Brainiac — with his ENORMOUS head — running around trying to find a cure is going to stick with me for a good long while, and in a good way, not in an awful Skateman way. It’s enough to help a reader overcome that ickiness about the forlorn parents ruining the lives of others to fill their empty hearts.”MEANT WELL” MY ASS.

This comic was reprinted in DC’s Legion of Superheroes Archives Volume 6. Maybe track down a copy. Silver Age Swan — the most nourishing of brews.

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