Needless Character Analysis: Matter-Eater Lad
It never fails, that someone will decide to do a click bait article on the worst, dumbest, or lamest super-heroes or super-powers and near the top or at it is Matter-Eater Lad. Well, I’m sick of it. He is silly, but do comics always have to be serious, gritty, and dark? Of course not. This where a character like Matter-Eater Lad comes in, and really great writers have used him successfully in such a manner.
Tenzil Kem was born on the planet Bismoll, where the inhabitants found microbes that made all of their food inedible, so they quickly evolved the ability to eat all matter. He traveled to Earth to join the Legion of Super-Heroes as its fifteenth member. His ability to eat through any form of matter often came into play when the Legion was captured, and he could chew his way to safety.
He is shown to have a unrequited crush of fellow Legionnaire, Shrinking Violet, and after moving his family to Earth, where they suffered financial hardship until Tenzil was able to help them. His place in the Legion was challenged by Calorie Queen, who could channel energy from matter she ate into super-strength, but he was able to defeat her and her allies in combat with teamwork from his fellow Legionnaires, who had also been challenged. Following that, he was drafted into political service on his home world, and upon leaving, was magnanimous enough to recommend Calorie Queen for membership, which she did not receive.
He was called back in to aid the Legion when Brainiac 5, suffering from insanity, used the Miracle Machine created Omega, a creature that threatened the universe. Matter-Eater Lad ate the Miracle Machine, destroying it. The energies of the Miracle Machine drove him insane until a recovered Brainiac 5 could restore his sanity. He went back into political service on his homeworld, once aiding the Legion of Substitute Heroes in defeating Pulsar Stargrave who threatened to take over Bismoll.
In the Legion series called Five Years Later, Tenzil had created a secondary career as a popular, if not absurd television celebrity. It was in this capacity he returned to Earth, now controlled by the Dominators, to represent Polar Boy at trial. Getting the charges dropped on a technicality, he, his aide Calorie Queen, and Polar Boy fled Earth only to be captured by the tyrant or Tartarus, Evillo. Overthrowing his despotic rule, Tenzil found that the opposition party on Bismoll had declared him dead and removed him from office. He opted to join the reformed Legion, where he served through the liberation of Earth until he married Saturn Queen and became royal consort on Titan.
During this time, a younger duplicate Legion was discovered, including a younger Matter-Eater Lad. That Tenzil served very visibly, standing toe-to toe with the Persuader until the 30th century reset during the crossover event Zero Hour.
On Earth-247, the Legion of the 30th century knew Tenzil as their chef but he saw action when Legion HQ was invaded and he used his acidic spit as a weapon against the invaders. On Earth-Prime, that Legion met Tenzil as a government representative that was investigating Cosmic Boy for treason. He demonstrated his powers when he was trapped on Winath in a grain silo, and he ate his way out.
When the original Legion was re-introduced, Tenzil was part of a group of Legionnaires that went back in time to the 21st century to aid Superman against Brainiac when he attacked New Krypton, and assisted Mon-El in seeding several Legionnaire home worlds. After returning to the 31st century, he did not rejoin the Legion and was last seen out of continuity announcing the election for Legion leader.
Some of Tenzil’s best stories are from the early 1990’s, especially the issue where the Legionnaires travel to Atlantis on vacation. If you’re looking for some of his earlier stories, I suggest the following books:
(FULL DISCLOSURE: The Recommended Reading links to pages on Amazon where you can buy those books and support Needless Essentials through their Associates program.)