My inbox is bursting at the seams with emails from readers asking when the next Legion installment will be posted (Not!), so without any further ado, let’s climb into our fictional time machine and travel to the 30th-Century for another adventure from DC Comics’ Silver Age with the Legion of Super-Heroes in…
“Mordru the Merciless!”
Adventure Comics #369, June, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Curt Swan
Cover art: Neal Adams, Inker: Jack Abel
Our story begins with Legion members, Duo Damsel, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, and Superboy, desperately fleeing Legion headquarters and the 30th-century via a time-cube to 20th-century Smallville, home of Superboy. In a subsequent flashback, we learn that Shadow Lass had inadvertently helped release Mordru the Merciless from a vault in the Legion headquarters’ subbasement where he was being held prisoner. Mon-El explains that Mordru had mastered the ultimate mystic powers of his sorcerers’ world and was gradually subjugating planet after planet in the galaxy. When Mordru set his sights on Earth, the Legion opposed him and were eventually able to imprison him inside an airless steel block, where he remained until newcomer Shadow Lass’s rookie mistake.
Safe for the moment in circa 1930s Smallville, the quartet knows that Mordru will soon be searching for them and arrange to blend into the town’s woodwork as quickly as they can. Mon-El stays with Superboy’s adoptive parents, the Kents, as a brush salesman cousin. Shadow Lass, with make-up covering her blue skin, stays with Lana Lang (Clark’s girlfriend) and her family as an exchange student, and Duo Damsel fibs her way into staying with Police Chief Parker and his family, pretending to be a distant relative.
Mordru quickly traces the team to Smallville and conjures up an evil darkness that methodically searches every crevice of the town for the heroes. Shadow Lass is able to shield her comrades with a protective shadow, but Mordru’s darkness turns some of Smallville’s citizens into his obedient spies.
Several catastrophes seem to overtake the town, but turn out to be only illusions. The heroes correctly surmise Mordru was trying to force their hand. Then, several real emergencies do occur, but Superboy and the other Legionnaires continue to hide their identities. However, another emergency overtakes Smallville when gangster, King Carter, and his entourage of henchmen roll into town and the King decides to make it his base of operations. The heroes’ hands are tied as the crook extorts tribute money from the town’s small businesses, but Pa Kent organizes a rebellion and the citizens successfully overthrow Carter and his thugs. Inspired by the example of the brave townsfolk, the Legionnaires ditch their disguises and decide to return to the 30th-century to confront Mordru head-on. Little do the heroes know they are being spied upon by Lana Lang, who is under Mordru’s control. In a matter of seconds, the teens are confronted by the powerful and angry sorcerer himself.
How can the foursome possibly escape their most powerful foe? Is this the end of the Legion? Find out in a couple of weeks when we review “The Devil’s Jury!” in Adventure Comics #370.
Once again, Shooter does the incredible by introducing Mordru the Merciless, one of the Legion franchise’s most formidable and enduring enemies. This was such a good story with a lot of personal interaction (always rare for a Legion tale), including Duo Damsel’s unrequited crush on Superboy. When Legion fans talk about the franchise’s top-ten tales, this is one that’s always in the mix and not just because of the plot-line. Neal Adam’s cover is probably the best in our 35-issue review series. Curt Swan’s pencil’s are top-notch as usual, but in this issue, Jack Abel, joins on as the Legion’s inker and the results are extraordinary! Wow! Abel’s use of “chiaroscuro” (the use of strong contrasts between light and dark) is masterful and strongly enhances this story of the sinister master sorcerer.
Trivia alert: Shooter identified Mordru’s home planet as “Xerox.” The same-named, Rochester-based, copier company was already successful by 1968, meaning that Shooter’s problematic designation somehow slipped by the editor.
Credibility alert: Would we really expect to find vaults with mechanical spindle wheel handles in the 30th-century?