Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Legionnaires: Stone Boy

Stone Boy, aka Dag Wentim of Zwen. Created by Edmond Hamilton and John Forte.

Stone Boy was one of the original members of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, and, like most of the rest of the Subs, joined the Legion for a little while during the Five Year Gap. We haven’t seen him in the reboot or threeboot, but he did have quite a memorable appearance in the animated series.

Stone Boy’s problem is that his superpower really is kind of useless. He can turn to stone, and that’s it. This would actually be a good power if he could move around while he was in stoneform, but he can’t; he’s an inert statue. (In the Five Years Later stories, when the Subs are guerrilla fighters working with Universo to bring down the Dominion, it’s revealed that at some point Stone Boy learned some kind of self-hypnosis technique that allowed him to remain animate in stoneform, which made him suddenly very useful, but that may actually have been the last significant appearance of the character, so it was sort of too-little-too-late.) What Stone Boy really has to bring to the table is heart. He’s going to do as much as he can with what he has, not because of his ambitions, but because he’s in this to help people.

In his signature appearance, in Adventure #315, the Legion has just recently learned of the existence of the Substitute Heroes, and are quite taken with the idea. So they figure that they’ll give these kids another chance to qualify for the Legion, and set up a friendly competition. Each Sub will be given a task, and be scored on how well he or she accomplishes it. Whoever gets the highest score will be invited to become a Legionnaire.

So, Polar Boy, Night Girl, Fire Lad and Chlorophyll Kid all complete their tasks creditably, and it’s Stone Boy’s turn. His job is to save a village from a dangerous wild animal. He doesn’t have a lot to work with, but he comes up with what’s probably the best plan available to him (sorry about the scan quality):

A reasonable idea, but it doesn’t work, so, and this is what makes it his signature moment, he calls for help:

He figures he blew his opportunity, of course, since the other four Subs all succeeded at their tasks. But when the votes come in, Stone Boy is the winner and is offered Legion membership. See, the Legionnaires doing the judging understand a couple of things that it’s easy to forget in this context:

1. Getting the job done is more important than winning some little contest. Stone Boy was willing to give up his chance to join the Legion, if it helped the villagers against the monster. It’s the same choice Superboy made three times in Adventure #247, and it’s the right choice.
2. Stone Boy isn’t auditioning to be a solo superhero; he’s trying out for the Legion. And the whole point of the Legion is that there are always fifteen, twenty other people around who can help you if you ask.

Stone Boy’s actions, in other words, were in the finest tradition of the Legion. And so was the next thing he did:

...which itself was great for several reasons.

1. It’s an admirable display of loyalty, and loyalty is another important Legion virtue
2. It affirms that the Legion of Substitute Heroes is also an institution of consequence, and one with its own traditions that are worth preserving
3. If one Legionnaire can always ask another for help, because that’s what they’re there for, so too can the Legion always ask the Subs for help, because that’s what they’re there for

The Subs started as a secret organization, one that held itself in reserve until it was needed in the Legion’s absence. They never sought or received any publicity, and in fact kept the Legion unaware of their existence for a long time. And then there was the story where they thought the Legion actively disapproved of them, to the point even of declaring war on the Subs. That wasn’t the real Legion, of course; when the real Legion found out about them, they thought the Subs were great.

But a question remained, at that point: were the Subs just a bunch of wannabe Legionnaires, or had they built something that would stand on its own? Stone Boy settled that question once and for all when he turned down the Legion’s offer.

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Blogger Richard said...

In one Adventure Comics appearance written by Siegel rather than Hamilton, Stone Boy is able to turn one fist to stone while leaving the rest of his body flesh...which stretches a reader's suspension of disbelief maybe a little too far, and always seemed like a cop-out to me. So does the "Five Years Later" idea. The whole point of using the Substitutes is for the challenge they represent, forcing a writer to surprise the reader with novel ways for a seemingly useless power like this to actually be useful. If a writer has to change those rules, why use those characters at all?

1:35 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well... yes, and in that sense I shouldn't have implied that the living-stone 5YL story is how they should have been writing him all along. Quite correct.

But that's Stone Boy in particular. I wouldn't say it about all the Subs. Some of them had perfectly good superpowers: Polar Boy, Night Girl, Fire Lad. The real challenge for them was to portray them like they weren't good enough for the Legion in the first place.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I didn't mean any criticism of you; I agreed with every word of your post!

In Polar Boy's first appearance he lowered the temperature all around him, indiscriminately. This strikes me as a bit more realistic (!) and definitely more entertaining in a "how can this be made useful?" way. When that was set aside and he became as skillful as Bobby Drake, you're right that he didn't seem unfit to be a Legionnaire anymore.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's actually a point I can weave into my upcoming Polar Boy piece; thanks.

6:44 PM  
Blogger CandidGamera : said...

Actually.. Stone Boy gets a one-panel, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the Reboot Legion - I think it's the same issue where Magno, Umbra, and Sensor join.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks. Duly noted.

7:20 AM  

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