THE NEWSBOY LEGIONMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1942
Creators: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
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Walt Kelly did for Dell Comics. In comic books of the early 1940s, a lot of people think the best kid gangs were the ones by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, creators of Captain America, Young Romance and many other influential comics.
The Newsboy Legion is the second such feature Simon and Kirby did, debuting in Star Spangled Comics #7 (April, 1942, the same issue that introduced Robotman), about eight months after The Young Allies, their first. DC Comics, publisher of Star Spangled, showed such confidence in the new feature that they put it on the cover, permanently displacing the title's original stars, The Star-Spangled Kid & Stripesy.
The newsboys were Tommy (the leader), Big Words (who, inevitably, wore glasses), Gabby (a little guy with a big mouth, and no relation) and Scrapper (a little guy with big fists). They were orphans living in Suicide Slum, who, as the title suggests, made their living selling newspapers — but as the series opened, they weren't above supplementing their income with a little petty crime. Naturally, this led to skirmishes with the law, specifically, police officer Jim Harper. But Harper took a liking to the boys, and became their legal guardian in the first story. After that, they stuck to the straight and narrow.
Harper was a "guardian" in more ways than one. Earlier in the story, while off duty, he'd been chased by three thugs into a closed costume shop. There, he helped himself to a set of blue tights (complete with mask), plus yellow shorts (worn outside), shield and hard hat (leaving money behind to cover what he took). Declaring himself to be The Guardian, he proceeded to bring his assailants to justice. Afterward, he maintained his new persona, finding it a convenient way to avoid all the little legalities that so badly hamper a policeman in his battle against crime (a ploy also used by The Black Hood, The Ghost Rider and The Woman in Red). He may have been the first superhero to be used as a supporting character in a non-superhero series.
The boys suspected their guardian was The Guardian, but were never quite sure, despite the fact that they had adventure after adventure together, month after month, until Star Spangled Comics #64 (January, 1947). As of the February issue, Batman's partner, Robin, took over the cover and their space in the magazine, and they were out in the cold. No movies, TV shows or anything — their only excursion outside the Star Spangled series was in Detective Comics #76, where they and The Sandman guest-starred with The Boy Commandos.
Decades later, Kirby returned to DC and used the boys, now grown and working on a large genetics research project, as supporting characters (along with their sons, who were a lot like they'd been as kids). He added a new member, a black man who had also been a newsboy in Suicide Slum. The group first appeared that way in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 (October, 1970). Jim had died in the intervening years, but not before telling them the truth. A few issues later, they activated a clone of Jim, who promptly went into the superheroing business as The Golden Guardian.
Since then, they've been here and there in the DC Universe. In the late 1970s, a member of The Teen Titans temporarily used the Guardian name and costume. In the '80s, Jim was retconned into The All-Star Squadron, a conglomeration of all the '40s heroes DC owns. At some point along the way, it was mentioned that Jim was the uncle of Roy Harper, aka Speedy, Green Arrow's sidekick. Also, the current boys have been retconned into clones, rather than conventional sons, of the originals.
In 1994, they starred in a mini-series, Guardians of Metropolis (where Suicide Slum was retroactively placed). But in today's superhero-oriented comic book market, it seems unlikely anything so retro as a kid gang will get more prominent treatment in the future.