We all aged together, characters, friends/audience and me. I’m sure working with a teen-aged writer aged Mort a few zillion years, too, but the point is that the Legion grew up with me from early 1966 to early 1970. That may not mean much to anyone else, but to my point of view, it made those characters very special, and good, bad or indifferent, I feel responsible for the characters of the Legionnaires I wrote in that period.
With Mort’s blessing I struggled to find raison d’etre for a character called Bouncing Boy, who previously had been offered up at face value, and played straight and serious. I found my Bouncing Boy among my Bethel Park Senior High classmates, in the person of a friend whose initials, T.K., and slightly rotund body had earned him the nickname “Teakettle.” Going through high school coping with a weight problem and the name Teakettle is not a whole lot different, I think, than being Bouncing Boy in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Thus, in my mind, they became one, and BB grew into a bright-but-insecure, self-effacing, lovable guy who was resigned to the role of comic relief and once described himself as the Legion’s “…self-appointed chief of morale.” I found similar models for the other Legionnaires. It was easy. Everyone is a character in high school, because no one has learned to hide it yet.
Naturally, the high school “character” I knew best was the tall skinny kid with the armload of science books who was renowned for “drawing cartoons,” so there was quite a bit of me scattered among my 20-odd Legionnaire charges. When Karate Kid did something impulsive and got himself in trouble, believe me, I knew just how he felt.
So we all progressed – my friends/audience/characters/self thundered toward adulthood together. Together, we abandoned the shy, uncertainty of our first dates and slowly learned about love. In my first Legion script ever (Adventure Comics #348, “Target – 21 Legionnaires”) Duo Damsel girlishly flirts with Superboy, eager to hold hands with the “most powerful” Legionnaire, eager to be seen with the Legion’s equivalent of the Big Man On Campus. Didn’t all freshman girls want to hang out with the football stars? Her crush on Superboy grew as issues passed, while he noticed her less and less. The tension built to the kind of cataclysmic heartbreak that only a sophomore girl, shattered by unrequited love, can know.
Just like the classmate she was modeled after, Duo Damsel went on to discover that just as her love had gone unnoticed by Superboy, someone else’s love for her had gone unnoticed. He was a bright-but-insecure, self-effacing, lovable guy, more than a bit on the plump side, but that was okay. She had learned, and grown, and was able to find in Bouncing Boy things that mattered, things that made him special to her. Their relationship blossomed…they were seniors at the Sweethearts Ball, truly in love.
I’ve been thinking about Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy being married now. For a time, I didn’t like the idea, but I’ve changed my mind. I figure Teakettle would like it that way.