Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

A few more reboots

Last month I posted about some of DC’s reboots from 1966. Continuing onward in my Silver Age reread, I stumbled across a few more from late that year and early 1967.

The most ambitious one was Challengers of the Unknown. From the beginning they’d been four guys — Red Ryan, Rocky Davis, Ace Morgan and Prof Haley — living “on borrowed time” after they survived what should have been a fatal plane crash (June Robbins, the unofficial “fifth Challengers,” disappeared from the series in ’65). All that changed with #55 by Arnold Drake and Bob Brown: Brown’s cover is not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story. Red Ryan’s borrowed time has run out. He’s joined the choir invisible.

For a small team like the Challs that’s a much bigger deal than for, say, the Legion of Super-Heroes. It had consequences too: after learning of Red’s death, teenage pop star and tech genius Tino Manarry devoted his every waking moment to destroying the team. It turns out that behind his stage name he’s Martin Ryan, Red’s brother and as far as he’s concerned, the surviving Challs got his brother killed.

Tino learns better, of course, and although he turns down an offer to replace Red on the team, he works with them for the next few issues. Then it turns out Red has survived and Tino vanishes as thoroughly as Chuck Cunningham. While the initial response to Red’s death was mostly favorable, a few issues later enough fans were angry that Drake and editor Murray Boltinoff decided to restore the pre-reboot status quo.

Adventure #350 (E. Nelson Bridwell, Curt Swan) gave us another reboot that didn’t take, once again accurately captured on the cover. A kryptonite cloud has attached itself to Earth’s magnetic field, making it lethal for Superboy or Supergirl to visit the 30th century for the two years the cloud will stay in place. Editor Mort Weisinger wanted to remove the Kryptonians from the series, believing they overshadowed the rest of the team. As noted at the link, Weisinger changed his mind midway through the two-part story so in #351 they return at the very end. It’s still a fun yarn.

Bridwell was obviously aware that readers would ask why Sun Boy couldn’t melt the kryptonite away or Element Lad transmute it. The story shows the Legionnaires using their powers without effect: the cloud is heat resistant and transmuting it makes the kryptonite particles explode. This is extremely hand-wavey but I give Bridwell credit for pre-empting the objections.

The story doesn’t explain why the Kryptonian cousins don’t start time-traveling two years further into the future to hang with the Legion. My head-canon answer is that it’s psychologically unwise: if two years for the LSH is, say, five minutes for Superboy, it could end up mentally unsettling (“Ferro Lad is dead? But I just saw him — oh. Wait.”).

To keep the cousins from remembering anything about the future, Shrinking Violet goes inside their bodies to implant microscopic kryptonite capsules in their memory centers (apparently the two year gap required something stronger than Saturn Girl’s usual post-hypnotic suggestion) in a Fantastic Voyage-style sequence. The rest of the two issues involve their handpicked replacements, Sir Prize and Miss Terious (yes, I know) —— who join the regular cast in fighting against Evillo and his Devil’s Dozen. The Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Legion of Super-Pets get in on the action for the first time in a long while. We also meet Dream Girl’s sister, the White Witch.

The finish is spectacularly upbeat. Not only do Superboy and Supergirl return but paraplegic Lightning Lad regains his lost limb, Bouncing Boy his lost powers, and Star Boy, previously busted down to the Subs, returns to the main team alongside Dream Girl. Finally Color Kid of the Substitutes uses his power to turn the green k cloud blue, which because of kryptonite’s “unique molecular structure” transmutes it into blue kryptonite, which effects only Bizarros. Superboy and Supergirl are safe. It’s another hand-wave but to be fair, Bridwell and Weisinger had to plot the resolution on the fly.

Over in Adventures of Bob Hope we got a small, gradual reboot. In 1965, Hope went to work at Benedict Arnold High to watch over his super-square nephew Tadwallader, AKA the super-obnoxious shapeshifter Super-Hip. They also worked in that perennial laugh-getter, parodies of Universal’s horror movie characters, working as the Benedict Arnold faculty.

On the cover of #104, the monsters took center stage while Super-Hip got nothing but a head shot. For the remaining five issues he didn’t appear on the cover at all. The monstrous faculty likewise dominated the stories inside. A very soft, very forgettable reboot — does anyone mourn the vanishing of Super-Hip? — but I’m mentioning it anyway.

While it’s not really a reboot, I can’t resist throwing in Adventure #354 (Jim Shooter, Curt Swan) in which Superman visits the Adult Legion of Super-Heroes. By this point, imaginary stories showing heroes getting married and having kids were routine. By contrast this story was canon, giving us the official future lives of the 30th century’s greatest heroes. Mon-El as a space explorer. Characters named Chemical King, Shadow Lass and Reflecto becoming Legionnaires only to die. The former Lone Wolf becoming Timber Wolf, joining the team and marrying Light Lass, plus multiple other marriages.

Paul Levitz later complained this was a horrible idea, tying the hands of future writers. I can sympathize with his frustration — he eventually wrote a story establishing it as just one possible future — but as a reader, it was damn awesome.

#SFWApro. Covers by Brown, Swan, Oksnerx2 and Swan again.


  1. Le Messor

    There’s another reason, maybe, why Superboy and Supergirl didn’t go into the Legion’s far future, and you kind of mentioned it at the end:
    They, and the Legion, were teenagers. If they go a bit too far into the future, they’ll be a couple of teenagers with a group of adults. They’ll have a much harder time fitting in (and coping with all their friends aging without them.)

  2. kdu2814

    Interesting read, and these sorts of reboots are always better than the later Nu 52 ignore-everything-it-never-happened type.

    One thing did jump out at me though;
    “The story doesn’t explain why the Kryptonian cousins don’t start time-traveling two years further into the future to hang with the Legion.”

    Wasn’t the point to get the Super-teens out of the book (at least for a while) and tell Legion stories with out them? It was the Legion’s feature, the book would continue to follow their adventures over the next two years (like when Superboy was dropped from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes).
    As for the Superteens, maybe they were going to travel the two extra years into the future, but the problem was fixed before they did (or before they thought to do so)?

      1. Yes, Le Messor, that’s it exactly.
        I do wonder what would have happened two years later because Legion fandom would inevitably have brought up that it was time for the Super-cousins to rejoin.
        Would the kryptonite cloud stay longer? Or something force the Legion to keep Supergirl and Superboy amnesiac about them?

    1. “Interesting read, and these sorts of reboots are always better than the later Nu 52 ignore-everything-it-never-happened type.”

      I much prefer the Showcase #4 “remember everything and then utterly ignore it” reboot.

      We got one panel: Barry Allen reading a Flash comic and chuckling at the hero’s adventures, implicitly telling us that Jay Garrick is not part of this story, and all of his adventures are on a different planet.

      That’s all we ever needed. Crisis on Infinite Earths could have been a caption on Page One of all the comics at once, “Meanwhile, on Earth-{insert unassigned number so that obsessive fanboys don’t lose their shit}, and boom, we’re done. “That was then, this is now. Keep up.”

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