It’s time once again to climb aboard 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…
Adventure Comics #374, November, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter; Penciller: Win Mortimer, Cover: Curt Swan
We open the story with various groups of Legionnaires scattered across the galaxy consumed in various leisure and crime-fighting activities. One by one, each contingent is abducted by some unseen enemy.
Back at the Legion’s headquarters in Metropolis, Earth, five of the team’s heroes – Ultra Boy, Dream Girl, Element Lad, Matter-Eater Lad, and Supergirl – are contacted by an entity who represents SCORPIUS, a powerful criminal space gang. The being informs the quintet that SCORPIUS is holding their teammates hostage and that they must eliminate five super-outlaws – Rogarth, Black Mace, Mystelor, Shagreck, and Qunto – who are working for a rival gang, TAURUS. Realizing the crooks have them “over a barrel,” the five heroes disguise themselves to avoid identification by the Science Police and engage the TAURUS super-outlaws, but the melee is broken up by the Legion of Substitute Heroes who aren’t privy to the extortion plot. The quintet retreats, but Polar Boy of the substitutes manages to recognize a couple of the disguised heroes. Polar Boy’s observation will lead the substitutes to launch an investigation that will ultimately pay dividends at the story’s end.
In the meantime, the five heroes contemplate how to infiltrate the top echelon of TAURUS. When Dream Girl ascertains the circumstances of the next attack by the five super-outlaws, Ultra Boy concocts a scheme to disguise himself as Black Mace in order to infiltrate TAURUS. The scheme backfires when Ultra Boy is knocked unconscious in the tussle, but Dream Girl is able to subdue Mystelor and, using a quick disguise, takes her place among the outlaws.
Aboard the super-outlaws’ spaceship, Dream Girl, as Mystelor, is able to stoke resentment against TAURUS’s leadership and the crooks decide to travel to TAURUS headquarters to demand proper compensation. However, they’re not aware that Dream Girl has secretly signaled her four Legion co-conspirators to follow along. At the rival gang’s headquarters, the leader of TAURUS is revealed to be R.J. Brande, the Legion’s billionaire benefactor! But is it really Brande? The Legionnaires come out of hiding and arrest “Brande” with no interference from the super-outlaws who are on strike for higher wages. The Legionnaires quickly determine the leader of TAURUS is not actually Brande, but is Chief of the Science Police, Zoltourus, who had kidnapped Brande and secretly used the billionaire’s vast funds to finance TAURUS’s operations.
The five super-heroes are suddenly transported back to SCORPIUS headquarters where they are joined by their released Legion comrades. Thinking the ordeal is over, the heroes quickly realize they’ve been double-crossed by the SCORPIUS gang, which intends to kill them all. Just as the Legionnaires’ doom seems certain, Polar Boy and the Legion of Substitute Heroes attack SCORPIUS headquarters and subdue the criminal gang.
This tale was a bit convoluted and wasn’t among Shooter’s best efforts. The thought should occur to the inquisitive reader that if SCORPIUS is powerful enough to kidnap 21 Legionnaires, it should also be powerful enough to neutralize the five super-outlaws by itself. However, it was always interesting whenever the substitute heroes played a role in a story. I remember feeling sad for these Legion “rejects” whose powers obviously far exceeded those of regular Legion members, Matter-Eater Lad, Bouncing Boy, and Duo Damsel. Speaking of Matter-Eater Lad, I’m guessing that Shooter purposely chose him as well as Dream Girl, Element Lad, and Supergirl as four of the five main protagonists in this story in an attempt to compensate for their infrequent appearances relative to other Legionnaires.
Postscript #1: Whenever enthusiasts compile a list of the most ridiculous comic super-heroes of all time, Matter-Eater Lad is inevitably included.
Postscript #2: DC Comics discontinued its Legion of Super-Heroes series in 2013 because of low readership. However, over the last couple of years DC has been teasing Legion fans with hints of a series relaunch. Recently, I learned that DC will be reintroducing the Legion in LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: MILLENNIUM #1 due out at comic shops on Wednesday, September 4. This is the first of a two-part prelude that will be followed by a monthly, ongoing series from writer, Brian Michael Bendis, and artist, Ryan Sook.