As Oli-3 Queen piloted his hovercraft tour vehicle by the famous Weisinger Plaza where the headquarters of the Legion of Super-Heroes loomed proudly ahead, he gazed up at the amazing structure and shook his head.
Far freakin’ out! he thought. It still gives me a thrill to see that place! I don’t know about the tourists who flock here and hand out their hard-earned credits for my ever-popular guided tour, but this local boy sleeps easier knowin’ that our planet is protected by a selfless bunch like the Legion!
However, certain members of the far-famed team of intergalactic champions did anything but sleep easy that night. In a room dominated by star-charts, a specially designed space scanner, and bio-medical holo disks, a handsome young man groaned in his sleep, and his expression revealed deep anguish and concern.
His name was Lar Gand, although he was also known as Mon-El. His sleep was fitful as he tossed and turned on specially reinforced furniture designed to resist the amazing power the heroic Daxamite possessed.
If the capable Saturn Girl of Titan had been so inclined, she could have peered within his troubled mind and witnessed dreams of personal horror and loss. In his nightmare, Lar saw himself as he had been in his past. He was a skilled student of bio-technical medicine and a devoted explorer of deep space. He had been on such a journey of discovery when his path had taken him to Earth and there had an encounter that would change his very life in innumerable ways.
On Earth, the teen had thrilled to the sensation of having powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. He had also suffered great loss. He had lost his memory. He had groped for an identity with desperation, and when Earth’s young champion — Superboy of the doomed world Krypton — had offered him friendship and a possible role as the other hero’s sibling, he had eagerly accepted it along with the name Mon-El.
He remembered the feelings of pleasure this new identity had given him. He also recalled the way in which the Boy of Steel had helped him pose in yet another false guise as Bob Cobb in order to fit in with the people of Smallville, the community in which Superboy lived in his own role of Clark Kent.
Still, these memories were diluted in such a manner that they brought him only fleeting pleasure. You see, unlike the reality of that brief time, Lar’s nightmare version came with hindsight. He knew what was going to happen. He knew exactly what followed that happy time. He knew with the bitterness of memory and the harshness of a terrible life-altering experience. He also saw it all again with a strangely frightening nightmare distortion.
He felt again that pain that so defined his very life for centuries to come. The actual physical sensation had been brief, but the psychic scars it left behind had never completely healed. Lar had regained his memory and realized that he was not, in fact, Superboy’s lost sibling. He was a Daxamite, and as a member of that race, he shared certain genetic similarities with Kryptonians. But while the irradiated fragments of that destroyed world could bring death or bizarre transformations to its few surviving children, kryptonite had no effect on Daxamites. Daxamites like Lar had their own fatal vulnerability. Lead poisoned their systems and even a brief exposure to the substance could be deadly. Lar found himself, only to become seriously ill and face certain death.
He moaned again in his slumber as he felt that old pain anew. However, Superboy was already a champion without peer, and where he traveled, miracles were possible. Still, the sad irony of the situation had been that the only means of saving Lar’s life was to make it a nightmare in and of itself. Superboy could not heal the dying youth, and even Lar’s skilled medical knowledge offered no hope. Superboy had reluctantly used one of his late father’s remarkable creations, the Phantom Zone projector, to transport Lar into a weird realm outside the material world. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superboy’s Big Brother,” Superboy #89 (June, 1961).]
This place of imprisonment contained the worst criminals from Krypton’s history. Each one lived on as an insubstantial and physically unchanging wraith. They could see all that occurred, but they could neither touch anything nor be heard or seen. They were helplessly trapped in an unending sentence of isolation and alienation from the real world. Lar joined them, and he was saved from the certain death exposure to lead would have granted him. He felt no physical pain, but what good could living do him, since he no longer had any contact with the rest of the world? Superboy had vowed to find a cure for the condition and free Lar someday, but he could only do so much, and Lar felt only friendship and respect for the teen. Still, Lar suffered within the Phantom Zone in more ways than one.
He felt the mental and emotional agony of always being a helpless witness to various acts of violence or tragedy in the material world beyond the Zone. He saw murders. He witnessed deaths. He suffered vicariously through all those he watched. He suffered because he was a hero, and he would have gladly given his own life to help those in need. He also ached to experience life again and touch, taste, and feel so many things that were now only memories from a distant past.
He saw things of beauty and hope as well. He saw Superboy grow into a Superman, and he helped his friend as best he could. He was able to contribute to the welfare of that hero and his friends in several ways, and he used those small resources still open to him as best he could. Occasionally he would meet good people like Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen or Supergirl the Maid of Steel, but their time within the Zone was always temporary, and he could not truly want anyone else to suffer such entrapment for long.
He also suffered because of the unfriendly nature of the rogues with whom he shared his torment. They were killers, and their malice was directed at him, since he represented everything they opposed.
He ignored them most of the time, but this was only one more form of a growing distancing of himself from contact with others. He was forced to become increasingly introspective, and he learned the patience of necessity.
Finally, a thousand years after his confinement began, Lar Gand found freedom. A group of heroic youths called the Legion of Super-Heroes had banded together in the era of the thirtieth century. They had been inspired by the legends of Superboy and Supergirl, and through the means of time travel, those two heroes of twentieth-century Earth even met and joined the group for adventures and friendship. Lar Gand received his release and a means of protecting himself from the lead poisoning when members of that team created various methods of chemically protecting him from his weakness.
He contributed to their welfare as well with his superhuman powers and his keen mind. He developed a substance that defied gravity, and they eagerly used the metal for flight. Mon-El, for he resumed use of that name, became a hero among heroes, and he found friendship and purpose. The old siren call of the unknown lured him out into space once more, and he was content. He met Tasmia Mallor of Talok VIII, and he fell in love with the lovely heroine. As Shadow Lass she joined the Legion, and perhaps, in some way, Lar was repaid for all his years of lonely suffering by her companionship.
Still, he knew what was to come, for he had already lived through this recently. His nightmare held him firmly, even though he struggled to resist its somehow obvious end. The formula that protected him from lead began to lose its potency as his body built up a tolerance to it. He saw the pain in Tasmia’s eyes, and he saw the sorrowful resolution on the face of the brilliant Brainiac 5 as they all realized that they had no choice if they wanted to save his life. Mon-El would have to return to the Phantom Zone. (*) He would have to lose Tasmia, his heroic role, and everything that had brought him pleasure since his joyful release years before.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Back Home in Hell,” Legion of Super-Heroes v3 #23 (June, 1986).]
The idea of another eternity in that nightmare realm still gripped him like a fever, and he reacted with all the emotion and pain he had suppressed for so long. Mon-El screamed.