|First appearance||Adventure Comics #303 (December 1962)|
|Created by||Jerry Siegel
|Alter ego||Tenzil Kem|
|Place of origin||Bismoll|
|Team affiliations||Legion of Super-Heroes|
|Abilities||Able to bite through and consume all forms of matter; including that which is supposedly indestructible like Amazonium or Superman. This is essentially a range touch; takes extra time disintegration attack with a 'silly' explanation.|
Matter-Eater Lad (real name Tenzil Kem) is a superhero in the DC Universe. He is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes and possesses the power to eat matter in all forms, as do all natives of his home planet, Bismoll. He first appears in Adventure Comics #303, (December 1962).
Fictional character biography
Matter-Eater Lad is the fifteenth member inducted into the Legion of Super-Heroes, joining soon after Bouncing Boy. In his first appearance, Matter-Eater Lad explains his origins, saying that the natives of Bismoll found that microbes had made all their food inedible, and that the populace evolved their ability to eat all matter as a survival mechanism. Tenzil's mother is named Mitz Kem, his father Rall. His brother, Renkil, tries to take Tenzil's place in the Legion during one story (Superboy #184). Their family life is shown to be rough. He has an unrequited crush on Shrinking Violet, which features for the bulk of the Legion's run in Adventure Comics.
He appears rarely in Legion stories, as the writers struggled with the problem of how to make his power useful in a fight and was routinely written out via a plot device where Tenzil was constantly being drafted into his planet's political system due to his fame as a Legion member. During one of his first draftings to be in politics, he put in a good word for fellow Bismollian, Calorie Queen, who had somewhat similar powers as him, but also had the ability to turn caloric energy into super strength. Matter-Eater Lad does have one major moment of heroism though, saving the universe in Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes #251 by eating the previously thought to be indestructible Miracle Machine, though the energies of the device leave him insane for several years. He is ultimately cured by Brainiac Five. He would later avert the conquest of Bismoll by an army of Computo replicas, with the assistance of the Legion Subs (this mission would cause Polar Boy to disband his group, and join the Legion proper). It was not until the launch of Legion of the Super-Heroes, volume 4, that the character becomes a major figure in the Legion series. Keith Giffen, who had much success with humor in his 1987 Justice League relaunch, revamped Tenzil Kem (which could arguably be explained as consequence of his regained sanity) as a free spirit who rebels against his planet's virtual enslavement of him as a senator by becoming a multi-media celebrity, using his planet's tax money to finance multiple television shows that allow Tenzil to leave his planet for multiple trips to Earth and other planets for adventure and fun. While Tenzil's exploits make him persona non-grata with his world's rulers, they make him even more popular with the masses of his homeworld, resulting in Tenzil being kept on as senator. "Trust me, I'm a senator" is an oft-uttered catchphrase during this period. Tenzil eventually comes into conflict with former Legion villain Prince Evillo, founder of The Devil's Dozen, and is sent to a Hades-like dimension. Having been technically "dead," Kem is voted out of office by the opposition party (who dislike both his disrespect for their traditions and his overwhelming popularity) and leaves Bismoll to find adventure.
During the "Five Year Gap" following the Magic Wars, Earth fell under the covert control of the Dominators, and withdrew from the United Planets. When fellow Legionnaire Polar Boy was unjustly imprisoned by Earthgov for speaking out against the Dominators, Tenzil traveled to Earth, and used his force of will and absurdist sense of humor to free him. Tenzil rejoined the Legion, and since the team was operating without the assistance of the United Planets, his political connections and owed favors became very important to the Legion. Matter-Eater Lad ultimately seduced and married former Legion villain Saturn Queen.
Soon thereafter, the members of the Dominators' highly classified "Batch SW6" escaped captivity. Originally, Batch SW6 appeared to be a group of teenage Legionnaire clones, created from samples apparently taken just prior to Ferro Lad's death at the hands of the Sun-Eater. Later, they were revealed to be time-paradox duplicates every bit as legitimate as their older counterparts. After Earth was destroyed in a disaster reminiscent of the destruction of Krypton over a millennium earlier, a few dozen surviving cities and their inhabitants reconstituted their world as New Earth. The SW6 Legionnaires -- including their version of Matter-Eater Lad -- remained.
After the events of the Zero Hour miniseries, Legion continuity was completely rebooted. Tenzil Kem (along with Bouncing Boy) are recast as part of the Legion's civilian support staff. Tenzil serves as the team's personal chef. Unlike the post-Zero Hour Bouncing Boy (who ultimately does join the team, as the group's pilot) Tenzil never joins the team, though he does help the team out during several battles when the group's base is attacked. Unlike his pre-Zero Hour counterpart, Tenzil's spit is similar to acid.
Tenzil Kem was reintroduced in the current run of the Legion as a government agent, investigating Cosmic Boy's disappearance and the legality of his final act as Legion leader. He seems to possess the powers of his previous incarnations, escaping a deathtrap by devouring an entire silo full of grain. He also bites off the pointer finger of Mekt Ranzz.
The events of the Infinite Crisis miniseries have apparently restored a close analogue of the Pre-Crisis Legion to continuity, as seen in "The Lightning Saga" story arc in Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, and in the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" story arc in Action Comics. Matter-Eater Lad is included in their number but is MIA. In Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5, the SW6 version of Matter-Eater Lad was among the many Legionnaires pulled from the Multiverse to fight the Time Trapper.
In Superman #694, Matter-Eater Lad is revealed to have been masquerading as Mon-El's friend Mitch, owner of a local cafe. He reveals his identity by stepping in to save a woman trapped in a burning car, allowing Mon-El to continue fighting the larger threats.
In other media
- In an episode of the Legion of Super Heroes animated series, Matter-Eater Lad (voiced by Alexander Polinsky) appears (in his civilian identity as Tenzil Kem) as a participant in the Intergalactic Games, an Olympics-like event in which Lightning Lad also competes. When the Fatal Five attack the Games, Kem, along with Jo Nah of Rimbor, helps the Legion defeat them, at one point eating through the handle of the Persuader's Atomic Axe. He does not have a speaking part in the episode. He reappears in the episode The Substitutes, where he tries out for the Legion as Matter-Eater Lad and gains membership. He distinguishes himself by calmly eating an ionosphere-eating monster without a worry - and notes it tasted like chicken. In addition, he appears in the first season finale, Sundown, helping to stop the Sun Eater. He returns in the Season Two premiere, taking a bite out of Emerald Empress' magical weapon, the Emerald Eye of Ekron, and accidentally putting himself into a coma. In the episode In The Beginning, he is shown to be conscious, but still in the hospital. In the Dark Victory two-parter, he is shown to have returned to active duty.
- American indie rock band Guided By Voices recorded a song based on the character called "Matter-Eater Lad" for their 1994 EP Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer.
- Matter-Eater Lad was included as part of Mattel's DC Universe Classics Legion of Super-Heroes 12-pack of action figures.
- Adventure Comics #303
- "Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes" #250-251 (April-May 1979)
- Legion of Substitute Heroes Special (1985)
- Legion of Super-Heroes (Vol. 4) #38, Late December 1992.