Secret Origins #37: Legion of Substitute Heroes and Doctor Light

Ryan Daly and returning guest Siskoid review the origin of the Legion of Super Substitute Heroes from Secret Origins #37. Then, Aaron “Head” Moss helps Ryan cover the story of the supervillain Doctor Light.

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“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music: “Substitute” by The Who; “Everyday is Like Sunday” by Morrissey; “Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance.

Thanks for listening!

29 responses to “Secret Origins #37: Legion of Substitute Heroes and Doctor Light

  1. (Trying again as the last attempt seems to have failed…)

    Another great listen, thanks so much to you, Mike and Aaron.

    I’ve loved the Subs in both moods – the earnest little heroes who could and the daffy defenders of the 30th century. There’s no problem reconciling the two, sometimes people, heck, life itself, gets silly. Their Five Years Later freedom fighter status coming comparatively soon after the more light-hearted tales made them seem all the more impressive.

    And as offensive powers go, Infectious Lass has one of the best – if you’re throwing diseases at folk, who cares if you can’t conjure specific bugs?

    And oi! I read JLI3001 too – Anj and I are forever trying to impress Marc DeMatteis with our blog reviews, to the extent he quotes a comma or two from us on a trade cover.

    I read Dr Light’s first appearance as a kid via my ‘passed on by a neighbour’ Silver Age DC stack and loved the guy’s whole schtick – his look, his powers, his status as a hymn to nominative determinism… stupid, stupid Identity Crisis.

    I hope you do get to the current Secret Six, Ryan, the Sue and Ralph story is touching, and the moment when Elongated Man finally returns saw me tearing up. Gail Simone, Tom Derenick, Dale Eaglesham and co are producing a superb book. Heck, the cover to #4 alone should have convinced everyone to try it (btw, how does a body insert images here?).

  2. Another great episode review of another issue I don’t have!!!

    Like Mart, I like the subs in all their incarnations although the straight slapstick version by Giffen in DCCP and the Special is my least favorite. I’m all for the plucky underdogs! As said, their 5YL versions is where they really shine, getting an ovation from the world after the Dominators are kicked off the planet. Funny that Giffen was the creative force behind that incarnation since he was the one that made them the joke they were at this time. As for favorite storyline, I like that they help an insane Brainiac 5 defeat the seemingly undefeatable League of Super-Assassins in Superboy and the Legion #254. I will also add that Johns/Frank do make them a mix of humor and capability in their Legion story in Action Comics. I mean, they arrive to fight the evil justice league in a short school bus. The image speaks for itself.

    As for Dr. Light, I first encountered him when he battled Batman and Supergirl in Brave and the Bold #147 ( I agree his costume is pretty kicking. But the stain of Identity Crisis might be too deep to be scrubbed away even from the most powerful reboots. I mean raping Sue was horrific. But then he is frothing at the mouth, yelling that he can see a wedding ring under the Flash’s costume and that Flash’s wife is next. Hooray for ‘mature’ stories (rolls eyes). He has become a humorous villain on the insane Teen Titans Go! cartoon.

    And yes, JLA 3001 is an under-read treat. But all the cool kids recognize how awesome it is!
    Thanks again for the coverage.

  3. I have this issue!! The Subs story was a lot of fun. My only experience with Dr Light before picking up this issue was Identiy Crisis and following on from Dr Anj’s comments, I dont know if Dr Light could ever come back from that. Also JL 3000/1 is a very fun read and everyone should check it out. It wasn’t the “version” of the characters I was expecting but it is a very fresh take on them.

  4. What, no comment on Night Girl’s hips? I mean, c’mon, the girl puts Shakira to shame! She’s hot (TM Shag. 2016). Templeton’s handling of Chlorophyl Kid with a gut in his tighty-whiteys always sticks out in my mind. The man’s a comedic genius.

    Dr. Light…yeah, there’s no coming back from Identity Crisis. Nothing against those who truly like that series, but I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who was turned off by it. I just can’t understand these big-name creators who “love” their old comics so much they have to reimagine the characters in ways their creators never intended. Go create a new book people.

    I never knew this story was followed up on, so it’s good to know. Parobeck is one of my all-time favorite artists. Such a talent, lost way too soon.

    Great episode, despite the closing song. 😉


  5. I go back to Mike Grell, for the Legion (with Cockrum filtering in here and there) and followed it off and on through the years, up to Waid and the reboot. However, in all of that, I barely made contact with the Subs, apart from Night Girl (via her relationship with Cosmic Boy). It seems like I always missed their appearances. The annual was one of the few I ever read. This was pretty entertaining.
    Dr Light was a character I always enjoyed, even as an incompetent. The costume was great, the powers were strong enough to be dangerous, and the stories were usually inventive. He seemed no more incompetent than any other supervillain, until it was beaten into the ground, from New Teen Titans onward. Even in Titans (at least, early on) he was still a decent threat. I won’t even get into to the later crap.
    I first met the character in JLA, where he is responsible for scrambling the identities of the JLA members, which I thought was a pretty cool story. He also has a pretty decent story in World’s Finest, when it was a team-up book. Those stories made him at least seem to be a pretty decent villain.
    This story was great, with a nice use of Mike Parobeck’s skills. Parobeck was such a good storyteller that it’s amazing it took so long for him to finally get the proper showcase, with Batman Adventures. His Justice Society work was tremendous, but it was ignored. BTAS was such a hit that Batman Adventures had a built-in audience and it turned out to be THE Batman book of the 90s. It’s such a shame that Parobeck was taken so young.

    Meanwhile, who knew that Hazel’s boss was involved in such criminal matters? And a ghost named Jacob is a little too on the nose.

  6. I LOVED this issue! As much as I love Roy Thomas’ single-minded obsession with the Golden Age of comics, I thoroughly enjoyed Waid’s tenure on this series, and this issue is to me the first issue where his presence is felt. That cover is a classic.

    I think I agree, Dr Light is forever tainted via his use in IC. It would be hard for me to watch him in a comic getting his ass handed to him by Ma Hunkle or somebody for laughs after reading that series (well, the first issue and a half–I threw IC #2 across the room midway through and never went back to it).

    Always happy to hear Siskoid on the show, he is almost my favorite Fire and Water Network host.

    Sorry about not getting the Mighty Quinn/Eskimo reference. I think it says more about that story than anything else.

          1. Pretty sure Rob’s favorite are the ladies from oHOTmu or Not. If they are #1, and Siskoid is #2 or #3, then I’m pretty sure I’m #R or #%.

  7. I am so jealous of Sikoid and Aaron covering these stories, not that I have any particular insight or into the characters, just that these are fun stories.

    Getting kinda sick of the hate for MCR. I unironically really love lots of the band’s work and I’d put Welcome to the Black Parade in my top ten all time albums. This stance existed long before there was any connection between a certain comic that I am known to focus on podcastically. Plus, connecting Dr Light to the lyrics of Teenagers is pretty funny. I do recognise that NO ONE should ever cover Bowie or Queen, but don’t write them off for that sin. Also MCR never sang about not liking Star Wars.

    Another instance of me swerving away from the pack: I much prefer the Secret Origins issues after issue 30 than those that came before. Roy ain’t my boy, know what I’m saying!

    1. Hey, I don’t mind My Chemical Romance, if it keeps us from another round of Kelly Clarkson. 🙂

      Since we have Green Arrow & Speedy coming up, might I suggest ABC’s “Poison Arrow?”

      1. Jeff – “Poison Arrow” is on the short list. Will it make the final cut? We’ll see…..

        Paul – I joke about My Chemical Romance, but the fact is I have like 45 MCR songs in my music library. I picked “Teenagers Scare The Living $#@% Out of Me” for Doctor Light’s song six months ago; it wasn’t purely a reaction to the listener feedback.

        1. I wasn’t accusing you of the hate. That also reminds me I have to talk to you about a song choice for an upcoming episode.

  8. The Subs story is incredibly quotable, even 30 years later. “It’s the Legion of Super-Heroes home game”
    My first exposure to the Subs was a reprint of Adventure 350-351 where Color Kid saved Superboy and Supergirl by turning a Green Kryptonite cloud blue. Even as a kid, I knew that was not the way radiation worked.
    I always wanted to see a Legion story built around the various parents of the UP doing horrific experiments on their kids so they could get powers and join the Legion.

    Dr Light also got a quickly retconned revamp in Underwear Unwashed, er, Underworld Unleashed.
    Maybe some compare and contrast from the Dr Light origin from DC Super Stars #14

  9. I was not expecting to have my reputation as a podcaster of integrity besmirched on this episode. 25 cents or under means 25 cents or under. I hardly ever cheat!!!!!!!! Ad when I do, it’s only to make The Irredeemable One angry, so I assume that’s allowed …

  10. Another fun episode Ryan.

    I really love the DCCP issue of the Legion of Substitute Heroes – brilliant fun all round. I do appreciate the humour version – they had a cameo in the JLE Armageddon 2001 crossover when a time lost Blue Jay appeared during Legion tryouts but was rejected by the Legion and Polar Boy then immediately offers him membership to the Subs! The problem with having them as plucky underdogs, especially in the early adventures of the Legion was that they were able to save the world despite being “not good enough for prime time” and so what difference were they to the main Legion? I enjoyed the re-interpretation Johns and Frank put on them in the Action Comics series – full of heart but unfortunately likely to mess it up!

    I am one of those who liked Identity Crisis (*puts up shield to avoid the tomatoes being thrown at me*) – I can understand why others don’t though. Re Dr Light’s transformation there – I know why others put a lot of blame on what Meltzer did to make him a credible threat once more, but it is interesting how few make mention to the rights of earlier writers like Ostrander and Wolfman, who turned Light into such a joke that they had to go the nuclear option to make him a heavy hitter once again. While there was some fantastic work done in the 80s and 90s, one unfortunate side effect was to make the classic villains of the Silver Age somewhat of a joke. Many of these villains, like Dr Light, Chronos, Flash’s Rogues, were made to look incompetent or worse. It took a while for some recent writers to make them a credible force once again, like Johns did with Sinestro and Flash’s Rogues. With Dr. Light however, they went way too far that has now made him a toxic character to bring back any time soon.

    1. I think you could have made Light a vicious villain, without resorting to rape. I also think you could achieved the aim of the story without brutally murdering Sue Dibny. I’m not necessarily against high stakes in superhero comics; but, it all seemed gratuitous, to me.

      In my mind, just having Light making successful attacks on JLA members ups his game and makes him credible. All he had to do was take several of them out, possibly gravely injuring them, including some of the heavy hitters. At the same time, you could have had an attack that badly injured Sue or another character, to make the JLA members believe their loved ones were in danger and get the reactions that Meltzer scripted.

      I just think there are lines you shouldn’t cross with certain characters and the JLA are characters that I feel should be able to appeal to an audience of both children and adults. I think you can do that without brutal rape and murder; threats of violence and dager, certainly; but keep it PG. Plenty of great adventure stories, beloved by all, fell in that area.

      1. Oh I agree, they went overboard in trying to bring Dr Light back into heavy hitter status, and what you suggested Jeff would have done that better than the way they went. Unfortunately, even after the event, it became something writers had to refer to in Dr Light’s subsequent appearances – there was a disturbing Titans story by Geoff Johns where he captured the Titans, Morrisson had Light looking for viagra during Final Crisis, and even when Rucka killed him off in the Spectre Final Crisis spin-off, Light was in a middle of an orgy with women dressed like the Teen Titans. It became a scab that DC writers and editorial felt the need to pick on all the time.

  11. I can definitely vouch for the existence of quarter bin comics. I currently work at a used bookstore and I’m in charge of the comics and graphic novel department, so they fall under my jurisdiction.

    I hope you guys like mid-90s Spider-Man and back issues of Brigade. I’ve got plenty.

  12. I was introduced to the Legion of Substitute Heroes through a hilarious Ambush Bug appearance in DC Comics Presents I found in a quarter bin in 1989. I fished their one-shot out of the same bin, but it wasn’t the same without Ambush Bug. I was able to take them reasonably seriously in later Legion stories because they were not that funny anyway. The concept is fine.

    I don’t own this comic. I was really happy to not have to read a comic before listening to the show, then sad because you put a bunch of scans up that I felt I had to read, and so I did, and I wish you didn’t make me do that. One or two pages would have been fine, but no, you had to put a bunch of pages and I had to read them and they weren’t anything special but they went on and on like this sentence I’m now making you read and I haven’t even read the Doctor Light pages yet and how does that make you feel, huh? I also found this issue in a dollar box at a comic convention today, and didn’t buy it twice as hard as all the other times I didn’t buy it and will continue to not buy it until I am dead which will probably be after the whole entire comic industry is dead because of oversold mediocre comics courtesy of people like “Scans” Daly.

    But the Subs are fine. Mordru needs legions of jobbers to whup up, and the Heroes of Lallor shouldn’t shoulder the entirety of that burden.

    P.S. In the Houston greater metropolitan area, I cannot find comics for less than one American dollar in specialty shops or at conventions (not even the Traders Village Comic “Convention” where they still priced books according to Wizard Magazine circa 1996) but I did just recently buy a fifty-centish at Half Price Books, along with a stack of dollar CDs, perfectly complimented dying mediums of decreasing novelty and desirability to anyone whose age couldn’t also be described as a fifty-ish. I did find some dime bins a few years ago, at a shop that somehow hadn’t yet closed but since has who were as charming as Rush Limbaugh with the business sense of the He-Man Woman Haters Club.

  13. First ran into Dr. Light in a New Teen Titans story involving Hawkman and the accidental release of angry Hindu mythological beings. It was a great looking story that tripped my brain, but Light was defined there as a coward and a bit of a screw-up. Next up was his Who’s Who entry, and tons of less memorable appearances. Arthur Light made the same mistake as the DCEU– he fought the League first before swiftly spinning off into solo combat that gave the impression of a rapid downward trajectory, especially by starting off against The Atom. Further, by being designated as a common use DC Universe bad guy, he never made his way into any one property’s rogues before he defaulted into the Batroc of the Titans. He was actually among the most viable classic League villains by virtue of a solid name, cool bad guy threads, formidible versatility of powers, and not having a silly noun/adjective name ending with an “o” or a head shaped like a keyhole/starfish/etc.

    All of these attributes were rendered moot by raping Sue Dibney and following that up with salacious posturing around super-kids thereafter. Sooner or later, those actions will end up on a listicle that ignites a hashtag that alerts a Warner Brothers executive that Dr. Light has appeared in cartoons intended for young children and they will do everything in their power to scrub the character clean out of all media. Someday, Identity Crisis will be the Song of the South of DC Entertainment.

    I liked Mike Parobeck, but until I saw this early work I never noticed the enormity of John Byrne’s influence on his style. He just kept removing more and more of the details until you couldn’t see it, but the echoes reverberate through the rest of his career.

    I don’t know My Chemical Romance well enough to hate them, as I only recall that one music video at the funeral with the umbrellas. I stopped paying attention to most modern music by the mid-00s, and contemporaneously was more into Interpol, Dresden Dolls, Panic! At The Disco, Death Cab/The Postal Service… insert other name drops as requested. Also, vexing as it may be to some, Kelly Clarkson had several strong releases in that time period worthy of sampling. I was particularly taken with “Walk Away.”

    If they killed off all the characters at DC I didn’t like, the universe that remained would probably have all the impact and appeal of Dark Horse Comics Greatest World or Continuity Studios. I can hate unreservedly in part because I know my tastes aren’t mainstream, much less universal, so I can offer a different perspective without worrying that it’ll have any major negative effect. Plus, I can willfully ignore later redemption arcs for characters like Booster Gold because it interferes with my personal narrative/intractable biases. Besides, I barely even read DC Comics anymore. Just don’t know of any good Image podcasts, and they’re dominated by tiny spheres of unrelated continuity anyway.

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