Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Favorite Characters: The Biter from Bismoll

This week being Legion of Super-Heroes week, I'm going to showcase my all-time favorite Legionnaire- Matter-Eater Lad.
I know, I know, but the thing of it is there seems to be an army of M-E Lad fans. Par example, this guy has a fantastic post in support of Tenzil Kem: the 30th Century's answer to Jughead Jones in space. I doubt Jerry Siegel and John Forte suspected what they had unleashed when they added him to the Legion's roster in 1962.
Thanks to a deadly microbe that poisoned the food of planet Bismoll, the inhabitants either evolved over eons or were bioengineered within a thousand years (depending on which reality you prefer) to eat ANYTHING. If it is solid and he can fit it between his harder-than-diamond teeth into his acidic digestive system, Tenzil Kem can devour it. In seemingly limitless quantities.
He apparently takes a lot of flak from people who think this is patently ludicrous.
Which it is.
See how he battled Atlanteans on holiday in Tom & Mary Bierbaum & Adam Hughes' 1993 story:
Tenzil Kem emerged from fevered Silver Age brains and chomped his merry way right into my heart. In a good way.
It is not easy to take Matter-Eater Lad seriously. And, this is critically important: you're not SUPPOSED to.
But what are the objections, after all? His power isn't that good? Frankly, eating ANYTHING is the BEST survival trait of all history. Ask the dinosaurs. Why else be afraid of a T-Rex?
You don't think it's so good on the offense? Ohhh, it's Offensive, all right.
And just think how much money you'd save on groceries if a handful of gravel was as palatable as popcorn!
Plus he can eat Kryptonite. Nuff said.
But really, I just love this guy's attitude. Fun-loving, masticating, skirt-chasing (o.k. so he's not exactly like Jughead) he's the funniest LOSHer and one of the best for morale. He brightened up the generally lackluster LOSH cartoon series for me immeasurably just by being there.
My utter favorite issue for Tenzil is LOSH#11, September 1990, by the Bierbaums, Keith Giffen, and Craig Brasfield. This occurs during a period where things are as bleak for the Legion and their realm as it ever got. Following a terrible interplanetary civil war (where two Legionnaires even fought each other on different sides of a brutal jungle skirmish) Earth's government has grown bloated and fascist, with the caste-obsessed alien Dominators behind the scenes conducting grisly human experiments. The Legion is wounded and scattered. The innocent Tornado Twins are publically executed. There is no hope in sight and month after month every issue was revealing how dark and depraved the future utopia had become.
Along comes Tenzil and he really gets to shine. He's been drafted into his government, hating every minute, and has funnelled his wealth and popularity into what could best be termed an 'Enhanced Reality Show' staring himself in outlandish adventures, as an archeologist, private eye, and well, action-lawyer.

His old Legion buddy Brek 'Polar Boy' Bannin has languished in prison for two years on charges of conspiracy, and Kem gets to free him with his greatest weapon: his mouth. Pleading diplomatic immunity, he becomes Brek's public defender and FILIBUSTERS his way to victory, improvising an air-tight case mostly by accident.
A single life saved, in the middle of all those horrors, and I don't think any other character would have been better suited to RULE that moment. Kem simply flabbergasts everyone and walks out with his friend. When any overt action would've called down swift and terrible reprisals, Matter-Eater Lad bests a lumbering beaurocracy at its own twisted game, at least partly by being Completely Unexpected.
I've read Mark Waid suggesting that one of the best things about being a LOSH fan is feeling like you found a character NO one else knows about. 'No one else loves Shrinking Violet or Element Lad but me.' Or so you get to think.
So for me and all the other M-E Lad fans, wherever you're hiding... ugh, this stuff I'm drinking tastes like old crankcase oil. Is it too much to ask for a pot of FRESH crankcase oil?

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