The power to eat matter in all forms is not likely to defeat, say, Superman in combat. In fact, the possessor of this power would be somewhat hard-pressed to beat Ron-Karr. But surprisingly, Tenzil Kem, whose power to do just that is common to all natives of his home planet Bismoll, has gotten by very well in the Legion, thanks to his engaging personality, good sense of humor, and underrated unarmed combat skills.
Despite his bizarre ability, his self-confidence enabled Tenzil to gain acceptance as a Legionnaire on his first try. In his first case, he was accused of betraying the Legion to the alien spy-master Meglaro. He was cleared when Brainiac 5 revealed the real Legion infiltrator — a miniaturized spy implanted in Lightning Lad's leg by Dr. Landro, one of Meglaro's accomplices. (Adventure #303)
As time went by, however, Tenzil masked feelings of inadequacy about his powers. It didn't help that when the Legion was imprisoned in the Super-Stalag of Space, the villain Nardo nearly killed Matter-Eater Lad and altered his atomic structure, making him super-fat. (Adventure #345) (He was later cured of this condition by Doctor Zan Orbal).
At home, he suffered from stress brought by his father, who was an alcoholic and a gambler. With the help of his good friend Shrinking Violet (on whom he had a crush), Tenzil stood up to his father and took his first steps towards true maturity. (Action #381) M-E Lad's father wasn't the only problem in his family, though. Tenzil's fame as a Legionnaire led to his brother Renkil to act out. After his family moved back to Bismoll, Renkil tried to take Tenzil's place in the Legion by convincing the others that Tenzil was plotting against them. (Superboy v.1 #184)
Soon after this, Tenzil's fate was taken out of his hands. He was drafted to serve in Bismoll's Parliament. At first he tried to resist the decree by acting outrageous in public, cavorting with well-known women and acting in holovision programs. This plan backfired; the public loved him and wanted more. In the end, Tenzil decided to use his unique positions to help people. He used the money from his side ventures to finance a well-organized and efficient staff (led by Legion reject Calorie Queen), and establish important political connections throughout the United Planets. (#212)
Since his retirement, he has been called back into Legion service only once. To save the universe from destruction at the hands of Omega, Brainiac 5 asked Tenzil to eating the Miracle Machine — a cosmically powerful device from which Omega drew its power. The Miracle Machine's unique energies drove Matter-Eater Lad insane. (Superboy & the Legion #251-252)
Brainiac 5 was true to his word and did not stop until Tenzil was fully cured of this condition. He returned to service on Bismoll. (Legion v.2 #289, 296, 297)
At some point, Tenzil returned to Legion service and joined a new assembly of the Espionage Squad, traveling back to the 21st century in order to shepherd the hero Mon-El on to his destiny. In Metropolis, he befriended Mon-El as a diner owner, “Mitch.” (Superman #688)
Matter-Eater Lad's real name was first revealed in Adventure Comics #338 (11.65). His parents first appeared (behind the scenes) in Adventure Comics #356 (5.67); their names were revealed in Action Comics #381 (10.69).
Jim Shooter on Matter-Eater Lad: A student, a scholar, a leader type, but not in the Legion. He is heroic and loyal and dedicated and intelligent and clever and too valuable to be out of place in the Legion. As a Legionnaire he brought up the rear and his valuable qualities were largely wasted in a context where they were not in demand. One doesn't negotiate with Mordru. He is a fine person who had to come from behind, in the sense of having a dismal background, to succeed—he has, and will. —Interlac (1976)
Tom & Mary Bierbaum on Matter-Eater Lad: He was the one LSHer who understood that life was meant to be fun and being a Legionnaire was the greatest gig in the universe. Absolutely understood how ridiculous his power and code name were and loved being a living, breathing Monty Python routine. —Interlac (2000)
Tom Bierbaum on Matter-Eater Lad: "I once got the chance to speak briefly with Jerry Siegel, who wrote the story that introduced M-E Lad back in Adventure 303, and Mr. Siegel had no recollection of the story or the character whatsoever." —It's OK I'm a Senator (2009)
Legion 1.5 (Post-Crisis)
In post-Crisis continuity (no longer valid), Tenzil returned to Legion service, distinguishing himself on several occasions…
After being drafted to serve in Bismoll's Parliament, Tenzil tried to get fired from the position by acting outrageously in public, consorting with well-known (and well-endowed women), and acting in holovision programs. Instead, the public loved him and wanted more, but the same could not be said for his fellow Parliamentarians. He decided at last to use his position to help people, using the money he made to finance a crack staff (led by Legion reject Calorie Queen).
He established important political connections throughout the United Planets, which was how he was able to travel to Earth after it was overrun by the Dominators. There he and Calorie Queen freed Polar Boy from prison. (It was Tenzil's showmanship rather than his legal expertise that got the job done.) (Legion v.4 #10-11)
On his way back to Bismoll, he was invited to the planet Tartarus by its ruler, Prince Evillo. There, he stumbled on a mystical netherworld where Evillo housed his former wives. In his absence, his opposing political party had him declared dead, and Calorie Queen took his seat. (#14) Tenzil considered wandering for a while, but instead elected to rejoin the Legion of Super-Heroes. (#15)
Back on Earth, the Dominators unearthed a batch of Legion clones dubbed SW6. Matter-Eater Lad was among them. Once the Dominators were overthrown, this younger Tenzil remained with those Legionnaires. He harbored a crush on Shrinking Violet. (#20-24) Both Tenzils soon met. (#27)
On Tartarus, he developed a relationship with Eve Ares (Saturn Queen), Evillo's wife and once a Legion foe. Together, they freed Tartarus from Evillo's rule and with Polar Boy's help, they left the planet to return to her home world of Titan. (#49) Eve was heir to the throne on Titan, but in order to keep it, she would have to marry—a role Tenzil was eager to fill. (#50) While enjoying their honeymoon, Tenzil was called upon to help rescue Rokk Krinn (Cosmic Boy) from Mordru and Glorith.
Soon after this, this timeline came to an end with the Zero Hour. Both Tenzils joined hands, smiling, and disappeared into the white wave.
Legion 2 (Earth-247)
There was another Tenzil Kem in the universe of Earth-247, which was destroyed in the Infinite Crisis. This Tenzil ceased to exist along with that universe. He was not a member of that Legion; he was their resident chef.
Tenzil Kem was working at a lunch counter when R. J. Brande, in the formative days of the United Planets, decided to take a low-key tour of the galaxy, that lunch counter being one of his stops. (Legion Secret Files #1) When Brande formed the Legion of Super-Heroes, he remembered Tenzil and hired him to be the Legion's resident cook, as he can create almost any dish known to the galaxy.
Although at first, he found it necessary to try and show off his skills in Legionnaires' presence (Legion v.4 #63), he and they have since grown accustomed to each other and he is no longer shy about being himself around them ...including revealing his native Bismollian ability to consume all forms of matter. (Legionnaires #25) He is surprisingly adept at combat, and is helped by the fact that his Bismollian digestive abilities include very caustic saliva, which he can expectorate toward unsuspecting targets . (#35) He has since become very social with the Legionnaires, at one point standing in for Star Boy on a date with Dreamer. (#59)
Legion 3 (Earth-Prime)
There is also a Tenzil Kem in Universe-Prime. He is not a Legionnaire, but a lawyer who aided them on one case.
Tenzil Kem is a special prosecutor with the United Planets Department of Justice. His involvement with the Legion began when they decided to bring a suit against Cosmic Boy for the destruction of the Dominion home world (what the public didn't know was that the Dominion had been moved to the Phantom Zone). He met the Legion via by Supergirl, who saved him from falling debris. (Supergirl & the Legion #31)
When a Legion team went to Winath, in search of Cosmic Boy, Tenzil surprised them there, too, hoping to gather evidence. Instead they became embroiled in a battle against the Wanderers' leader, Mekt Ranzz and Tenzil was coaxed into a trap by mysterious "Cult of Validus." (#32) Together, Tenzil and Star Boy uncovered Mekt's involvement, and when Mekt opposed Tenzil, the counsel bit off his finger! Mekt was captured and afterwards, Brainiac 5 unearthed evidence that Mekt had planted the idea to destroy the Dominion home world in Cosmic Boy's head. This may or may not be true, but regardless, it cleared Cosmic Boy of the charges. (#33)
Matter-Eater Lad also became a member of TV's Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon.
Natives of Bismoll have evolved the ability to ingest any matter for sustenance, as a result of their planet's toxic environment. The mineral Magnozite is the only matter that Bismollians cannot eat. (Superboy #184)
There appears to be no limits to what Tenzil can consume. As a byproduct of this ability, his teeth can cut through even the densest materials. This isn't to say there are no consequences to anything he eats. Upon consuming the energies of the Miracle Machine, he was driven temporarily mad.
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