Monday, August 18, 2014

The Legionnaires: Colossal Boy

 We're tackling a big topic today.

Colossal Boy, aka Gim Allon of Earth (Mars in the reboot era), aka Leviathan, Micro Lad. Created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney.

Colossal Boy has been a Legionnaire since way back when. He's usually represented as a Science Police recruit who got superpowers from a strange meteor and became a Legionnaire instead of an SP. He's one of the only longtime Legionnaires who didn't quit on the team during the Five Year Gap; he's unfailingly loyal and well-intentioned. He and Chameleon Boy have long been close friends.

Problem is he's also pretty incompetent. He's famous for crashing starships, his brief leadership stint during the reboot era was a disaster, and he married a woman who turned out to be an impostor. Worse than that, he's the Legion's tomato can: any time the writer needs to show how tough a villain is, he has him or her beat up Colossal Boy. Gim has been killed twice: in the reboot, and in the Superboy's Legion Elseworlds series.

Part of the reason for this is the nature of Gim's powers: he grows really big. This means that he gets correspondingly stronger. This is the kind of superpower that sounds good but the more you think about it the more you realize that it's not that great a deal. It makes you really noticeable, it's hard to use indoors, and it doesn't come with extra toughness to match the strength. He's perfect for the bad guys to demonstrate their powers on.

Which makes him not that great as a solo hero, but it's still a good enough superpower for the Legion as is. He definitely has his uses. And there are plenty of times, not enough of them but some, where you can see Gim acting with some professionalism and savvy. There was one such case in the threeboot, for instance, where Jim Shooter had him and Ultra Boy down in the sewers chasing stink rats, or whatever it was, and they got mixed up in some kind of domestic. He did some neat size tricks. Certainly he's no dummy; he's just kind of a schmendrick.

And now a slight digression about Blue Beetle #19.

In this issue, Jaime Reyes ends up fighting Giganta, and the Peacemaker instructs him in the arts of fighting giant people. See, giant people are not like giant robots. Giant robots are engineered to be that big; they work fine. People are not engineered to be that size, and in fact they shouldn't be that size. The square-cube law messes them up with body heat and bone cross-section and what have you. To make them that size generally requires magic.

Which works fine for most of DC's giant-person characters... but not for Gim. I don't recall any suggestions that his "strange meteor" was magical. (Although, of course, there's no reason why it couldn't be.) So let's say it's some kind of non-magical cosmic effect that gave him his powers. What does that imply?

It implies several things. First, if Gim grows 100 times taller, he also grows 100 times wider and 100 times deeper. So the cross-section of his bones grows 100x100 times... but his mass grows 100x100x100 times. In other words, the job of his bones in supporting his body has become 100 times tougher. And the bigger he gets the worse the problem is; instead of a factor of 100 it might be a factor of 200 or whatever. And yet: does Gim have any trouble moving around? Does he break an ankle every time he takes a step? He does not. So maybe he does get tougher as he gets bigger. Maybe his powers do give him some invulnerability, plus more strength than we previously thought, and more the bigger he gets.

Second, if he grows 100 times taller, the surface area of his skin increases by a factor of about 100x100... but, again, his mass increases by a factor of 100x100x100. So his skin has to work 100 times harder to disperse his body heat. Where does all that energy go all of a sudden? If we're designing a superhero, this is a great problem to have. Is his body coated in flame? Does he get heat vision? Does the energy go to power the invulnerability we talked about before? Does it make him faster?* Does he get some kind of compensatory cooling power like Polar Boy? Colossal Boy ought to be way more powerful than he's ever been shown to be. Future** Legion writers take note.

Here he is in his origin story, starting as he means to go on: he doesn't see what's coming, and he crashes his vehicle. Get used to it, big guy.


* You know all those huge characters where the hero fights them and says, "So big! And yet... so fast!" We could make Colossal Boy one of those guys.

** You know what I mean.

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