Days of Legion Past – Part 1: The Miracle Machine

In light of the return of the original Legion of Super-Heroes (or a reasonably close analogue thereof) to the DC Multiverse, I thought it might be a good idea to write a series of articles covering various aspects of the team’s history that newer readers might not be familiar with. We’re revisiting an incarnation of the team that’s been abandoned for the better part of two decades, after all, so it’s to be expected that many references will go over the heads of people who aren’t longtime fans.

Before we begin, please bear in mind that these essays will be covering a lot of comics from the 1950s to the 1970s, where crazy plot twists, horrendously dated references, bizarre story resolutions, and just plain bad science, physics, and fashion abound, so you might want to grab some extra strong mental cables to make sure your belief is well suspended before proceeding. Also, since the purpose of these articles is to discuss the history of the current incarnation of the team, we will be limiting ourselves to Legion of Super-Heroes stories published between April 1958 (their first appearance in Adventure Comics #247) and August 1989 (their final appearance in Legion of Super-Heroes #63) unless otherwise noted.

At the beginning of Final Crisis #6 (January 2009), Brainiac 5 transports Superman to the 31st century in order to show him the Miracle Machine, the technological equivalent of Aladdin’s magic lamp and possibly the only hope of saving reality from the evil machinations of Darkseid:

Behold! The 31st century's bitchingest pizza oven!

While its detailed history and name in the language of the Controllers, Geh-Jedollah-the-Absolute, are pure Grant Morrison, the device itself has had a long, complicated history that stretches back over 40 years.

Adventure Comics #367 (April 1968)

“No Escape From the Circle of Death!” by Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, and George Klein

To reward the Legion of Super-Heroes for the role they played in thwarting the Fatal Five’s recent attempt to seize control of Earth and the United Planets, the government has decided to fund the construction of their new headquarters, as their old one had been heavily damaged in the aforementioned attack. Among the Legionnaires overseeing the construction are Karate Kid, Sun Boy, and Braniac 5.

"Hey guys! Check out my karate chop action!"

After taking a grand tour of their as-yet-incomplete clubhouse – including the weapons, memorial, and control rooms – with his teammates, Karate Kid heads to Tokyo via the nearest core-tube station (a futuristic subterranean transportation system equivalent to a worldwide subway network) for a few weeks of rest and relaxation. Apparently, he’s not the only one taking advantage of the situation, as several of his teamates have gone on vacation as well, leaving a skeleton crew of no more than ten members behind.

Superboy soon arrives with “housewarming presents” from various U.P. members and friends of Legion, including replicas of damaged trophies, new space cruisers, gym and lab equipment, and power jewels for their generators. However, there is at least one mysterious gift among them whose origin is a complete mystery to everyone:

"This gun is the property of Anton Chekhov."

With that plot device set up with all the subtlety of a blow to the back of the skull, we shift our attention to an undisclosed location halfway across the galaxy, where a secret board of shadowy figures has gathered for a session of mustache-twirling and evil laughter:

"So...are we finally going to cut eyeholes into our full face masks or what?"

In spite of their questionable math skills – what with seven representatives for five member worlds and all – this plan is absolutely brilliant by Silver Age standards, and the unanimous decision is made to launch an attack.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Karate Kid has arrived in 30th century Tokyo, where we discover the reason he dodged Brainiac 5’s earlier question about visiting his parents.

That Japanese chick is totally checking out Karate Kid's ass.

Unfortunately, Val’s joyful reunion with his old martial arts instructor is short-lived, as an explosion tears through the building they’re both in shortly after his arrival, knocking the elderly man unconscious and leaving his former pupil dazed. Upon learning that he’s up against an entire invasion force, Karate Kid, determined to not stand idly by, decides to takes them all on singlehandedly. In spite of the incredible odds, he manages to hold his own, but quickly realizes the futility of his situation when reinforcements arrive and decides to call Braniac 5 for help. His teammate, however, confirms the worst: the Dark Circle has initiated a planetwide surgical strike and he’s on his own.

With Cosmic Boy, Duo Damsel, Superboy, Phantom Girl, and Lightning Lad incapacitated and access to the Legion arsenal blocked, Brainiac 5, now completely alone, realizes that the only way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is if he can find a weapon somewhere amongst all the free swag they’d received earlier.

Good grief...an automatic crowbar? How lazy are people in the future?

Though both Legionnaires are initially confused by this unexpected occurrance, Brainiac 5 quickly realizes what’s going on:

The Miracle Machine! It slices! It dices! It provides a full body massage!

Unleashing the full power of his newly-discovered plot contrivance, Brainiac-5 manages to not only repel the entire Dark Circle invasion force and return them all to their respective homeworlds but also to repair all the damage to their new headquarters and even complete its construction…all with a thought. He then explains to his baffled teammates his belief that the so-called “Miracle Machine” – which can convert thoughts into reality and had conveniently been switched on accidentally – was a gift from the Controllers for having twice foiled the schemes of a renegade member of their race with ambitions of universal conquest. His theory is soon confirmed when one of the extraterrestrials in question appears before them:

...and that's the story of how the Legion got their new coffee table.

Superboy (Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes) #213 (December 1975)

“The Jaws of Fear” by Jim Shooter and Mike Grell

The Miracle Machine next becomes the focus of attention when a man named Benn Pares breaks into Legion Headquarters, and, in what is either a display of massive testicular fortitude or monumental stupidity, introduces himself to his future victims as…

That's the ugliest porn star mustache I've ever seen.

Faced with the unenviable prospects of either destroying the device they were entrusted with by the Controller or risk its being stolen and misused, the Legionnaires put things to a vote and decide to do the latter. However, they soon learn that ten billion years of Oan craftmanship are nothing to sneeze at.

It's under warranty. Whether you like it or not.

Unable to destroy the Miracle Machine, they reseal it in inertron, install new security measures cooked up by Brainiac 5, and even lock themselves in the vault with the damn thing overnight, only to discover the next morning that Benn Pares also holds the title of “biggest showoff in the entire galaxy”:

Okay, now he's just being a dick.

Left with no choice left but to take the offensive, the Legionnaires leave the inertron cube in Superboy’s care and attempt to hunt their adversary down, their only clue to his whereabouts being a meager scrap of information Saturn Girl managed to gleam from his mind during their brief encounter: an image of huge, white, jagged gates located somewhere in Space Sector 14. While exploring this vast, (supposedly) lifeless expanse in their cruiser, however, they soon find out that it’s not quite as empty as they first thought:

"Objects in mirror are close than they appear."

In a sudden burst of inspiration triggered by Phantom Girl’s words, Saturn Girl realizes that the thief’s headquarters must be inside the giant creature and attempts to use her telepathic powers to coax it into opening its mouth, not realizing that her actions are having unintended consequences:

Because we've all had that nightmare about being swallowed by giant radioactive space dragons at one time or another.

With his control over the Galactosaur’s jaw suddenly restored, Pares attempts to destroy the cruiser while Superboy can only watch the entire drama unfold from a distance with the help of his super-vision. Frustrated that there’s no way for him to reach his friends in time to save them, Superboy angrily wishes that he could get his hands on the man responsible for the impending tragedy…only to suddenly find himself doing just that a moment later, much to the surprise of both him and the thief.

Meanwhile, out in space, the Legionnaires are having problems of their own.

"Yep, you've got a cavity. That's molar's gonna hafta go."

Ask and ye shall receive. Just as Ultra Boy is about to succumb to exposure to the vacuum of outer space, he is suddenly rescued by Superboy and rushed back to a medical center on Earth, where he is expected to make a full recovery within a week. Puzzled by the incredibly fortuitous turn of events in this case, Shrinking Violet and Brainiac 5 find out that Ultra Boy owes his life to the Miracle Machine and that Benn Pares quite literally became a victim of his own ambition:

The fact that the Legion has won two separate victories by accidentally leaving the switch on the deus ex machina in the "on" position does not instill me with a whole lot of confidence.

All New Collector’s Edition: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes (1978)

“The Millennium Massacre” by Paul Levitz, Mike Grell, and Vince Coletta

After heading to the 30th century to attend Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s wedding, Superboy is shocked to discover a darker, more violent future than the one he’s used to upon his arrival, one where Metropolis looks a military camp, the fascist government of Earth is under constant attack by other worlds, and everyone’s an angry, paranoid douchebag. His feelings of dread are only compounded when Princess Projectra gives him a quick history lesson:

I'm not sure what's worse: the nuclear war, a millennia of global and interplanetary conflict, or Princess Projectra's hideous disco era costume.

Unfortunately, the other Legionnaires are neither aware of the changes to the timeline nor do they believe Superboy when he tries telling them about it, and the team is soon divided amongst itself when the freshly married bride and groom are kidnapped by the Oseldan Khan, the ruthless ruler of the Chinese space barbarians from the Moon known as the Lunarites…

Okay, time out.

I just know that some of you reading this right now think I’m making crazy stuff up as I go along. I choose to repond to that accusation thusly:

I can't even begin to describe what's wrong with these panels.

Now, as I was saying: a schism develops within the Legion’s ranks – with acting leader Wildfire wanting to rescue their captured teammates and Superboy insisting that they nip this thing in the bud by finding out who’s been screwing around with time – and they split up into two teams based largely on personal loyalties and faith. This rift only widens when the former group barely manages to find the couple alive and the latter returns from their little reconnaissance mission in the past armed only with the information that their old adversary, the Time Trapper, is attempting to destroy the space-time continuum by stretching history to the breaking point so that he can recreate reality in his own image.

Eventually, clearer heads prevail, and, after Dream Girl’s prophetic visions are augmented by a mental link with Saturn Girl between and Superboy, it is discovered that the Time Trapper’s hideout is located at the End of Time itself. With the help of Rond Vidar’s time travel technology, the Legionnaires make their way to that distant era, but are easily captured and imprisoned by their foe. Believing his triumph assured, the overconfident Time Trapper decides to reveal his true face to his adversaries for the first time:

Hey kids! Let's tie together all the unrelated plot points we possibly can to create a Gordian knot of continuity so massive a dinosaur could choke on it!

After the Time Trapper uses the Miracle Machine to set up a seemingly inescapable death trap for the Legionnaires, Superboy initiates a desperate gambit for survival by using Saturn Girl as a focal point for their mental energies. Together, their collective willpower proves to be greater than that of the Controller, and they use the device to send him back to his native, otherdimensional universe for punishment, restore history to normal, and return to the 30th century with the Miracle Machine.

Many years later, in Legionnaires 3 #1 (February 1986), it was revealed that this renegade Controller had not only ended up being imprisoned on the penal planet Takton-Galtos following his final encounter with the Legion of Super-Heroes but that his equipment had been provided to him by the real Time Trapper, who had sanctioned the masquerade just to get his own jollies off. He then found out the hard way what happens when you fail to amuse your superior:

The Time Trapper gives new meaning to the phrase, "You just lost the game."

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #250 and #251 (April and May 1979)

“This Is the Day the Universe Dies!” and “The Man Who Destroyed the Universe!” by Steve Apollo, Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, and Dave Hunt

This grim two-parter opens with Chameleon Boy being incapacitated by a mysterious hooded assailant who, several months earlier, had orchestrated the murder of a girl named An Ryd with the help of a robotic duplicate of the team’s then-leader, Wildfire, and framed her ex-boyfriend, Ultra Boy, for the crime. While the latter’s name was ultimately cleared, a formal inquest was launched with Chameleon Boy in the role of lead investigator. The disturbing conclusion he reached – that one of their own was responsible – was what led to his being silenced, though not before he had voiced his suspicions to Wildfire (albeit without naming names) and hidden an encoded copy of the evidence he had accumulated in his flight ring for the latter to retrieve.

Wildfire calls a meeting to bring the teammates up to speed, but no sooner has he finished announcing the presence of an traitor in their midst than an interactive hologram of the masked individual appears before them. The obligatory supervillain tirade concerning his adversaries’ imminent defeat then follows, though the subsequent question and answer session with posturing is interrupted by the sound of the Deep Space Alarm. Superboy and Mon-El head out to investigate, only to find this waiting for them:

All right, we get it. You're evil. Sheesh.

Needless to say, this first encounter ends quite crappily for the forces of good, as Superboy is forced to retreat with his teammates’s body in tow after Mon-El is sidelined with a severe concussion after being struck by a single blow from Omega…

"Mommy...you must have a really wide fist...you got both of 'em."

…who then proceed to slowly “walk” through outer space on his way to Earth. Once the two of them return to their base of operations and Wildfire outlines his basic strategy for taking on the creature, the unanwered question of why Omega even needs to come to Legion HQ in order to destroy the universe prompts him to finally expose the traitor in their midst:

"And I've also been peeing in the coffee pot in the cantina for months now!"

Unfortunately, during his insane exposition, Brainiac 5 reveals little else other than the fact that Omega is quite literally the physical incarnation of hatred: both his own and those of his teammates. During a subsequent confrontation with Karate Kid and Princess Projectra, he merely reinterates his previous claims of self-entitlement, though with a twist:

"But most of all...I hate those goddamn Mudkips!"

As Brainiac 5 finishes ranting himself into unconciousness, Superboy, Dawnstar, and Ultra Boy confront Omega in deep space, the first of several waves of Legionnaires scheduled to engage him in combat (and doomed to fail miserably). Meanwhile, back on Earth, Princess Projectra succeeds in her attempt to revive Brainiac 5 through a novel application of her illusion-casting powers, though the initial results are less than encouraging:

"I also want a sombrero, a pair of traffic cones, and an inertron bucket filled with Winathian strawberry yoghurt!"

Meanwhile, Omega has arrived on Earth and effortlessly plows his way through the Science Police and United Planets forces as well as Timber Wold, Star Boy, and Colossal Boy, though they manage to delay him long enough for Matter-Eater Lad to make his way to Earth. Now left with no choice but to implement Brainiac 5’s plan, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, and Wildfire attempt to distract the creature long enough for him to so, though even the latter’s release of an anti-energy blast so massive that it obliterates most of Legion Headquarters doesn’t do the job. Ultimately, the only thing standing between Omega and victory is his creator:

There's been a protein spill. Cleanup in Aisle 12, please. Cleanup in Aisle 12.

So how the hell did a device that withstood the combined powers of all the Legionnaires without a scratch finally get destroyed? Well, it seems only fitting that that our resident lunatic explain that himself:

I want to be as far away from this place as possible the next time Matter-Eater Lad has to use the crapper.

As far as Legion stories go, this one ends on a pretty somber note, with their base of operations in shambles, half of 30th century Metropolis destroyed, and two members driven insane (one because of something he ate, the other having suffered a mental breakdown due to acute, unrelenting stress), though, thankfully, there were no other casualties (other than Ultra Boy’s former girlfriend).

The Continuity Verdict

No two ways about it: the Miracle Machine’s continued existence in Final Crisis #6 doesn’t jibe with what we know about its ultimate fate from pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity. Since it’s impossible to tell how many of the aforementioned stories (if any) are still part of official canon, we’re left with the following possible explanations:

  • The events from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #250 and #251 either didn’t occur or Omega was defeated in a manner that differed significantly from what was seen in the original stories.
  • The Controllers eventually replaced the Miracle Machine that Matter-Eater Lad devoured with a new one.
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes acquired a second one under as-yet-unrevealed circumstances.
  • Since the very fabric of reality was breaking down around them, Brainiac 5 decided to take advantage of the situation and bring Superman back to a point in time where the device still existed.

Only time will tell which one of these, if any, is the correct solution.

On a final note, I find it hilarious that the change in the Miracle Machine’s size in its various depictions over the years has been inversely proportional to that of real-life computer technology: it started out little bigger than a laptop and has grown into an ENIAC-sized monstrosity.

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