A memorable Legion tale in more ways than one

It’s hard to believe that it’s already time once again to 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…

“School for Super-Villains!”
Adventure Comics #372, September, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Curt Swan, Inker: Jack Abel, Cover: Neal Adams

5 Stars

Plot

A couple of weeks ago, we witnessed Colossal Boy being expelled from the Legion in disgrace for stealing classified training material. Unbeknownst to the Legion, he had been blackmailed by mysterious criminals who were holding his parents captive.

As the action picks up, Colossal Boy dejectedly walks the streets of Metropolis deciding on his next step when he is accosted by Science Police. He escapes, but accidentaly drops his mother’s “life jewel” in the tussle. The criminals subsequently reconnect with the fugitive ex-Legionnaire and offer him a new deal.

In the meantime, Brainiac 5 deduces the recovered “life jewel” can guide the team to Colossal Boy’s mother for some answers. Shrinking Violet diminishes to sub-molecular size and follows the beams connecting the life jewel with its owner across the galaxy. The beams lead her to a distant planet and a training center for the newly-created Legion of Super-Villains run by Tarik the Mute, with Colossal Boy as the reluctant trainer. Violet returns to Earth and informs the Legion of her findings, including the real reason why Colossal Boy turned traitor. Brainiac 5 devises a plan in which Superboy and Chameleon Boy and candidates, Chemical King and Timber Wolf, infiltrate and subdue the collection of super-criminals and free Colossal Boy’s parents.

With Superboy and Chameleon Boy in disguise, the quartet stage a phony battle with the Science Police on Mars in hopes of attracting the attention of Tarik’s recruiter. The ruse works and the four are transported to the super-villains’ training center. The heroes observe several disgruntled Legion-rejects from the past including Nemesis Kid, Spider Girl, Radiation Roy, Ronn Kar, and Lightning Lord; Legionnaire Lightning Lad’s brother. However, Colossal Boy recognizes Superboy, and, out of fear for his parents’ safety, sounds the alarm. A battle ensues and the super-villains overcome the super-heroes. Tarik condemns the four to death, but as they await their execution the following day, Superboy conceives of a plan. But will it work?

At dawn, Tarik orders Colossal Boy to use a ray gun to turn the Boy of Steel into glass, just like his parents. When the teen titan hesitates, Tarik pulls the trigger and an executioner immediately shatters Superboy into a million pieces with a sledge hammer (see cover photo). Enraged by Superboy’s death, Colossal Boy snaps and joins the three remaining heroes in battling the villains. In the melee, Timber Wolf radios Legion Headquarters for reinforcements and Duo Damsel, Phantom Girl, Starboy, and Ultra Boy quickly come to the rescue like a 30th century cavalry. Just as Tarik prepares to smash Colossal Boy’s crystallized parents, Superboy KOs him with a steely left hook. Huh? Superboy? Turns out Chameleon Boy and Superboy had disguised themselves as each other prior to the dawn execution and CB had dodged the ray gun, changed himself to glass, and then into broken glass at the appropriate times.

The criminals are taken into custody, Colossal Boy’s parents are restored to normal, and he’s voted back into the Legion along with new members, Chemical King and Timber Wolf.

Commentary

This was an entertaining story, especially since it includes the origin of the Legion of Super-Villains and the introduction of Chemical King and Timber Wolf as Legion members. The abrupt and overly-simple ending was admittedly a bit lame, but quite par for the course for the Silver Age era. This issue is significant for a couple of more reasons. It was Curt Swan’s last outing as the Legion’s penciller. His drawings would be judged as stark and too simple today, but his classic lines put him at the very top of the DC’s pencillers of that era. This was also my last Legion comic book at that time. I began following the Legion in November, 1966 in Adventure Comics #350 and would continue for twenty-two issues, but I reluctantly quit comics after that because I was entering into seventh-grade and reading comics was definitely “not cool” as it would become a couple of decades later (and comic book plots would become so convoluted, no seventh-grader could possibly follow them). But don’t worry, we still have eight more Legion installments to review before DC ended the franchise’s tenure in Adventure Comics with the May, 1969 issue.

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Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes Crossover: Mr. Spock, meet Brainiac 5

Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes
Written by Chris Roberson, Pencils by Jeffrey Moy, Inks by Philip Moy, Colors by Romulo Farjardo, Jr.
IDW Publishing and DC Comics, 2012, 152 pages

4 Stars

What do you get when you mix the crew of the original Star Trek television series (1966-1969) with DC Comics’ Legion of Super-Heroes? Writer, Chris Roberson, explored that fascinating concept in this crossover graphic novel, which compiles six separate installments published monthly from October 2011 to March 2012.

Plot

Chapter One

The story begins with six Legionnaires – Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Shadow Lass – traveling in a time bubble from a mission back to the 31st century. Something goes wrong with the craft and Brainy struggles to make an emergency “landing.” Meanwhile, back in the 23rd century, the senior officers of the USS Enterprise – Captain James T. Kirk, Lieutenant Commander Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and officers Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov – enter the ship’s transporter expecting to enjoy some shore leave in San Francisco. What about Scotty? Hey, somebody has to stay behind and run the ship. The Legionnaires and Star Fleet officers reappear in different locales on 23rd century Earth; the Legion immediately harassed by an angry mob and the Trekkers confronted by hostile military units, but both Brainy and Spock deduce it’s a different Universe!

Chapter Two

We learn that a mysterious emperor controls the Imperial Planets from his palace on Earth and his forces relentlessly subjugate additional worlds. The Legion escapes the mob via their super-powers and the Trekkers escape the Imperial army via a shuttlecraft. Brainy leads the Legion contingent on a hunt for the source of two “temporal disturbances” registering on his “chronometer,” when the sextet is suddenly confronted by the equally surprised Trekkers (i.e., temporal disturbance #1).

Chapter Three 

A confrontation ensues between the Legionnaires and Trekkers, but serious damage is averted when cooler heads (Brainiac 5 and Spock) prevail. After the formal introductions, the two teams begin to discuss possible solutions to the timestream problem when they are attacked by the “new universe” version of the Legion’s classic foe, the Fatal Five (replete with some Star Trek elements), in service to the Imperial Planets. The attackers are defeated by the Legionnaires’ powers in combination with the Trekkers’ technology. The two teams then adopt a joint plan: three LSHers and three Trekkers will take a jury-rigged time machine to try and fix the time line at the “point of historical divergence” while Team B checks out temporal disturbance #2.

Chapter Four

Team A (Brainy, Spock, Bones, McCoy, Checkov, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl) don’t get too far with their time machine jalopy and “crash land” in the pre-historical past where they are confronted by primitive tribesmen. Team B (Kirk, Uhura, Sulu, Shadow Lass, Lightning Lad, and Chameleon Boy) follows their sensors to the headquarters of the Imperial Planets where the emperor, informed of their approach, awaits. Both teams come face to face with the same “immortal” being known by various names in different eras: Vandal Savage/Flint/Vandar the Emperor.

Chapter Five

On pre-historic Earth, Vandal Savage imprisons Team A. Shortly afterwards, a young girl helps the six escape. Who is she? The girl is actually being mind-controlled and leads the team to a powerful being, although captive, who has been secretly playing a major role in this story from the start. The being reveals himself to be the powerful Q (a character in the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager Star Trek series), who has been forced to do the bidding of Vandal Savage/Flint/Vandar. Forward to the 23rd century; Vandar initially fetes Team B, but then reveals his intent to forcibly extract information from them about the future so that he can manipulate the present reality accordingly.

Chapter Six

Emperor Vandar tortures three members of Team B close to death, but with no results, and prepares to interrogate the remaining three. Kirk buys time by chiding Vandar and eliciting unrestrained emotion. Back on pre-historic Earth, Brainy and Spock discuss with Q possible ways to free him from the control of Vandal Savage. Vandal and his savage tribesmen interrupt the deliberations, but when Cosmic Boy releases the “inhibitor collars” from the warriors, they resort back to intertribal squabbling. Spock and Brainy free Q from his confinement and the powerful being immediately “fixes” the time line. We next see the six Legionnaires back in their time bubble headed to the 31st century and the six Star Fleet officers beginning their shore leave in 23rd century San Francisco, both groups completely unaware of their alter-Universe adventure.

Commentary

I enjoyed this crossover quite a bit. Fans of the Legion and/or Star Trek will appreciate the many details Roberson includes from both franchises. The intellectual sparring between Brainy and Spock is not to be missed. Kirk’s brash bravado is also well-characterized. The artwork is a big step-up compared to the illustrations of the Legion’s latter years, especially Romulo Farjardo, Jr.’s striking coloring.

The plot of this story was a bit convoluted with the various timelines and the alter-Universe. But that’s the name of the game these days. I cut my teeth on comics during DC’s Silver Age, when time was linear, reality was reality, and there was only one Universe. But DC and comics in general are in a precarious financial situation and reboots with changing characters and different dimensions and Universes are intended to keep things perpetually in flux for younger minds that are less satisfied with linear predictability.

Justice League (and a Legionnaire) vs. The Fatal Five

DC Comics pulled the plug on the Legion of Super-Heroes’ own comic book series back in 2013, but the teen heroes from the 31st century have been busy making cameo appearances in a variety of other venues, including the very recent…

Justice League vs. The Fatal Five
Directed by Sam Liu
Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment, 2019, 77 minutes

4 Stars

Plot

In the 31st century, three members of the galaxy’s most powerful crime team, the Fatal Five, break into the Legion’s headquarters in Metropolis, and abscond with a time-travel sphere with Star Boy clinging on for dear life. Their destination? 20th century Earth. But Star Boy is able to place the villains in state of stasis before the vehicle crashes. Superman recovers the sphere and brings it to Justice League of America’s headquarters.

Meanwhile, the stranded Star Boy has some big problems. He suffers from a form of schizophrenia and his medication is back in the 31st century. His increasingly erratic behavior results in being sent to prison.

Mister Terrific of the Justice League inadvertently releases the three members of the Five – Mano, Tharok, and the Persuader –  and they immediately search for Jessica Cruz, one of the Green Lanterns, who has some mental health issues of her own. What do Mano, Tharok, and the Persuader want with a Green Lantern and where are the other two members of the Five; Emerald Empress and Validus?

The unstable Star Boy breaks out of prison using his impressive mass-altering powers and defends Jessica from the villainous trio. The Justice League – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Mister Terrific and trainee, Miss Martian –  soon join in the fray and the crooks are forced to flee.

The JLers set up a mind-meld and ascertain from Star Boy’s memories that Emerald Empress and Validus were apprehended by the Legion in the 31st century and sent to the 21st century to be imprisoned in the only facility strong enough to hold them; the Green Lantern Corps’ impenetrable Sciencells on the planet Oa. Ah, so that’s it! The villains need Green Lantern Jessica to lead them to their imprisoned comrades.

Mano sends an ultimatum to the JLers: turn over Jessica or explosives will detonated in cities throughout the world. Metropolis is suddenly rocked by powerful blasts, forcing the JLers to flee, and Jessica is impelled to lead the villains to Oa and the Sciencells where Validus and the Emerald Empress and her powerful Emerald Eye are freed following a tussle with two Green Lantern guards. Jessica’s Green Lantern ring is destroyed in the melee, rending her powerless. The Emerald Empress then super-charges the powers of the Eye using the Green Lanterns’ Central Power Battery.

The Five return to Earth and the Princess initiates her plan to use the Eye to destroy the Sun, thus annihilating Earth and eliminating the Legion as future antagonists. The JLers intervene, but succumb to the power of the Five. Just when all seems lost, Jessica finds her nerve back on Oa and reassembles her Green Lantern ring and reclaims her powers. She returns to Earth and apprehends the Five. However, the Eye is already well on its way to a cataclysmic rendezvous with the Sun. Superman, Jessica, and Star Boy give chase, but it’s too late, the Eye plunges into the Sun and it begins to fracture. Star Boy sacrifices himself and flies into the Sun, knowing his powers to alter mass can reverse the fracturing process and save Earth.

In the final scene, the JLA members are joined by a contingent of Legionnaires from the 31st century to honor the fallen Star Boy.

Comments

Hey, I enjoyed this animated film quite a bit! It was a good story and I appreciated the LSH tie-ins. The inclusion of once-taboo mental health topics into the story-line was interesting. The “Clutch Cargo” animation was extremely stiff, but that’s what fans of DC’s low-budget, direct-to-video, super-hero animated films have come to expect. Last July, we reviewed the origin of the Fatal Five in Adventure Comics #352 (see here) and the sacrifice of Ferro Lad to save the Sun, so it was interesting to see another Legionnaire sacrifice his life for the same purpose, although this time the Fatal Five were opponents rather than reluctant allies. It was strange to see Mano portrayed as the leader of the Five in this film, when Tharok, with his half-computer brain, was the historical leader of the evil quintet. Good stuff. Lots of fun for an old DC Comics Silver Age fan. Legionnaires making cameo appearances include Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Dawnstar, Mon-El, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, and Tyroc.

Colossal Boy betrays the Legion?

It’s the beginning of the month, so that means it’s time to once again 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…

“The Colossal Failure!”
Adventure Comics #371, August, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Curt Swan, Inker: Jack Abel.

5 Stars

Plot

After a routine day at Legion headquarters, Gim Allon, aka Colossal Boy, heads home for an evening of rest and relaxation with his parents. Two strangers show up at the door claiming to be journalists and ask the famous super-hero and his parents for an interview. But the men’s 3-D camera is actually a ray machine that transforms the parents into glass. The couple are somehow still alive in this fragile form, but the villains tell Allon they will destroy them unless he divulges the secrets of the Legion’s candidate training and testing process. Not privy to that information, Allon reluctantly agrees to acquire it.

In the Legion’s very next emergency mission, Colossal Boy purposely displays uncharacteristic incompetence resulting in the Legion’s newly elected leader, Ultra Boy, ordering him to attend re-training classes. Bouncing Boy notices Allon’s strange satisfaction with the demotion and several days later, after Colossal Boy has begun his retraining regime, breaks into his comrade’s apartment in search of clues, only to find a stash of classified candidate training documents. Allon is brought before the Legion council and charged with conspiracy. He offers no defense and is found guilty. The story ends with Colossal Boy being expelled from the Legion and walking dejectedly out of the team’s headquarters. Is this the end of Colossal Boy? Who were those thugs working for? Find out in a couple of weeks when we review Adventure #372.

Comments

This is a good intro to an interesting two-part saga. With the large number of Legion members, a story that focuses primarily on one member is always a nice change of pace. One of the more memorable events in this story is Shooter’s introduction of Chemical King as an aspiring Legion candidate. In our review of the Adult Legion in Adventure #354 last August (see here), we learned that Chemical King would join the Legion and subsequently sacrifice his life “to prevent World War VII.”


Also included in this issue is the lame secondary story below:

“When Superboy Walked Out on the Legion!”
Writer: Ed Hamilton, Penciller: George Papp, Cover art: Neal Adams

2 Stars

Plot

Strange aliens from the planet Thrann visit Smallville and put the town’s entire populace into a deep slumber with a sleep ray. When Superboy confronts them, the visitors inform him that they desire that he be one of Thrann’s resident super-heroes. Fearful that the scientifically advanced Thrannians could wreak havoc on Earth if he refuses, Superboy reluctantly complies. At that moment, a contingent of Legionnaires show up at Smallville saying they need Superboy’s help with an emergency in the 30th century, but the Boy of Steel declines, saying he’s joining a new super-hero team. On their way back to their planet, the Thrannians pick up five additional heroes from different worlds using the same gentle extortion. Assembled together at Thrann, the super-heroes gradually warm to their new environs, but the sextet still miss their home planets. A quarrel soon breaks out between Superboy and the other five, and the Thrannians reluctantly advise the entire group to go back to their own worlds. Behind closed doors, the group celebrates the results of their staged quarrel and return to their own planets.

Commentary

This story was originally presented in Superboy #101 (December 1962) as “The Valhalla of Super-Companions.” Two panels were added to the original layouts for this issue in order to force-fit an awkward Legion connection. This is a very simple story with simple artwork typical of super-hero comics in 1962. It’s rather surprising that the cover is connected to the much-inferior secondary story rather than to the primary Colossal Boy saga.

Argh! Those “massive fireballs of force” will getcha every time.

Yes, it’s time once again to 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…

“The Devil’s Jury!”
Adventure Comics #370, July, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Curt Swan, Inker: Jack Abel

Plot

We pick up where left off last issue (see here); in 1930s Smallville with Legionnaires, Duo Damsel, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, and Superboy hunted down and cornered by the powerful sorcerer, Mordru the Merciless. Before executing the four heroes, Mordru boasts that he has destroyed the other members of the Legion and their headquarters back in 30th century Metropolis. But before Mordru can act, Superboy saves himself and his comrades by burrowing an escape tunnel at lightning speed. In order to thwart Mordru’s evil mental probing, the Boy of Steel uses a hypnosis ray to erase all memories of the Legion from the minds of the quartet and they quickly assimilate into Smallville’s citizenry.

Foiled in his attempt to locate the Legionnaires, Mordru summons his formidable army from the 30th century. To limit the search for the foursome, the powerful sorcerer isolates and lifts Smallville to the fringes of outer space. Mordru’s soldiers eventually apprehend the four teens as likely suspects, but release them when they manifest no knowledge of their hero identities.

In the meantime, Pete Ross, Clark Kent’s best friend and the only person on Earth who knows Clark’s true identity, is befuddled by his friend’s inaction in the face of such calamity. Surmising that Clark has somehow forgotten his identity, he devises a plan, with the help of Lana Lang as Insect Queen, to trigger his friend’s memory, which proves successful. Superboy then uses the aforementioned hypnosis ray to jolt Duo Damsel, Mon-El, and Shadow Lass back to full cognizance.

With Pete Ross disguised as Superboy and one of Duo Damsel’s selves masquerading as Shadow Lass, the Legionnaires attack Mordru’s army, but are defeated. In his cavernous lair on the outskirts of Smallville, the sorcerer prepares to execute the four, but the real Superboy and Shadow Lass, along with Insect Queen, attack and momentarily defeat Mordru. However, the sorcerer’s powers prove to be too formidable and all six teens are subdued.

The young prisoners are forced to stand before Mordru and a jury of the “greatest criminals of the 30th century” where they are unanimously found guilty of “numerous acts of anti-crime” and sentenced to a slow death in a sealed, underground vault. However, the jury foreman turns out to be a malcontent who enables the heroes to escape. Nevertheless, Mordru becomes aware of the breakout, and prepares to annihilate the heroes once and for all with a conjured “massive fireball of force.” Instead, the powerful fireball causes the cavern to collapse, entombing Mordru and freeing the six teens.

After the hypnosis ray is used once again to erase Lana’s knowledge of Clark Kent’s true identity, the four Legionnaires return to 30th century Metropolis expecting their fellow Legionnaires to have been annihilated as Mordru had claimed. Instead they discover that through the combined efforts of Princess Projectra, Dream Girl, and her sister, the White Witch, Mordru’s sorcerous attack had been neutralized and he was tricked into believing he was victorious.

Commentary

This issue was a decent ending to the excellent introduction in Adventure #369, although the reader will inevitably ask themselves why Mordru went to all the trouble of staging a foregone jury trial after he had vanquished the Legionnaires. The novelty of seeing the Legionnaires navigate the 20th century along with cameos by honorary Legion member, Lana Lang, and reservist, Pete Ross was entertaining. The artwork in this issue is noticeably not up to Curt Swan’s usual high standards. Perhaps Shooter’s preliminary layouts were given too much prominence in this case? Swan was undoubtedly running out of steam at this point given all of his responsibilities at DC. His assignment as the Legion’s penciller would run out after two more issues.

I surely don’t endorse the presentation of sorcery, witchcraft, etc. in this and some of the other Legion tales. It’s strange that young writer, Jim Shooter, utilized “metaphysical” content in some of his stories when there were so many non-metaphysical possibilities in a fictional series based in the 30th century. But this preoccupation with the occult and non-Christian “spirituality” was as prevalent in 1968 as it is now. I’ll address this topic at more length at the end of this series.

Folks, only ten more issues to go in our thirty-five-issue, Legion Silver Age series. Let’s throttle back the rocket engines and begin our long descent to the Metropolis Spaceport!

Wait!!! Don’t touch the spindle wheel on that vault! Ach, too late.

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

Plot

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.

Commentary

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?

Feminism fractures the Legion

Yes, blogging friends, it’s time once again to 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…

“The Mutiny of the Super-Heroines!”
Adventure Comics #368, May, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Curt Swan
Cover art: Neal Adams

In some of the previous Legion story-lines that we’ve reviewed, writer Jim Shooter indirectly alluded to some of the hot-button issues of the late-Sixties, including civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the environment. With this story, Shooter takes a look at the rising feminism of that era.

Plot

Karate Kid and Superboy are engaged in some manly, physical sparring when they’re summoned to the Legion control room along with Brainiac 5, Duo Damsel, Invisible Kid, Light Lass, Lightning Lad, Phantom Girl, Saturn Girl, Shrinking Violet, Star Boy, Supergirl, and Ultra Boy. The team is dispatched to the Metropolis Spaceport where a spaceship carrying an alien ambassador has crashed. The heroes are able to rescue the diplomat who turns out to be…huh…a woman!?!?!? Unbelievable! Thora, an emissary from the planet Taltor, is likewise surprised the Legion and United Planets government have male leaders since her world is an absolute matriarchy. The heroes return to their headquarters and in the girl’s dorm, Dream Girl, Princess Projectra, and Shadow Lass join the other heroines in discussing the novelty of a matriarchal society.

In the meantime, Thora deviously creates statuettes of the female Legionnaires and, by exposing the icons to radiation from her power bracelet, she is somehow able to correspondingly increase the girl’s super powers. In a couple of subsequent crime-fighting events, the girls seriously outperform the boys. Brainiac 5 quarantines the females to study the phenomenon, while Thora amps ups the volume on the changes to the girls, including mind control and the impartation of an increasingly resentful attitude.

When the boys run into trouble responding to a prison breakout, the girls leave their confinement and come to their aid. But rather than being grateful for their help, the Legion’s leader, Invisible Kid, orders the gals back to quarantine. Fed up with the boys’ chauvinistic and patronizing attitudes, the girls give them a thorough thrashing and expel them from the Legion. Thora satisfyingly contemplates the success of the initial phase of her plan to use the powerful heroines to transform Earth into a matriarchy. However, while the other girls have been thoroughly brainwashed by the ambassador, Supergirl seems to have some misgivings about turning against her boyfriend, Brainiac 5.

The ousted male members must resort to using a Legion spacecruiser as their headquarters. When they’re summoned to several emergencies, the girls must once again bail the boys out with their superior powers. Supergirl then gratefully presents Thora with a bracelet charm as a token of appreciation for her guidance. Suddenly, the male members storm the Legion headquarters, saying they’re wise to Thora’s scheme. The ambassador orders the female heroes to kill the boys, but her power bracelet suddenly explodes, freeing the girls from the grip of Thora’s mind control. Supergirl’s gift was actually a tiny bomb. Jolted back to full-cognizance by the thought of harming Brainiac 5, Supergirl had uncovered Thora’s plot and worked with the boys to bring her down. Defeated and humiliated, the dignitary bites down on an empty tooth filled with poison, ending her life (Note from Tom – biting down on a poison-filled tooth seems so 007-ish and so out of place in the 30th-century).

Commentary

This story is undoubtedly Shooter’s reaction to the rise of radical feminism in the 1960s. As we’ve seen in the previous twenty-two stories that we’ve reviewed, the male Legionnaire characters are decisively more powerful than the females (except for Supergirl who is rarely featured) and much more apt to be portrayed as the decision-makers. The characterizations reflected the prevailing culture of that time.

The roles of men and women in society have changed dramatically in the fifty years since “The Mutiny of the Super-Heroines!” was published. Some of that change was positive and absolutely necessary, while some changes have wreaked havoc, including the genocide of thirty million female babies (and thirty million male babies) in the U.S.A. alone via legalized abortion. In our foundationless culture, even gender can no longer be taken for granted these days. The “battle of the sexes” has become an anachronism with the advance of gender theory.

The Legion saves Earth (again) and gets a new headquarters to boot

Yes, my friends, it’s time once again to 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…

“No Escape from the Circle of Death!”
Adventure Comics #367, April, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Curt Swan
Cover art: Neal Adams

Plot

At the conclusion of our last story, the Legion claimed victory in their nasty conflict with the Fatal Five, but their humble clubhouse was in ruins. This tale begins with a tour of the Legion’s impressive, new, partially-constructed headquarters, completely financed by the United Planets (U.P.). Contributions of the latest crime fighting technology and equipment from the grateful worlds of the galaxy continue to arrive at the Legion’s new home. Brainiac 5 is puzzled as to the function of one particular gift, and decides to have it placed in storage for the interim. Memo to self: keep this mystery gift in mind!

Unbeknownst to the Legionnaires, they are being observed by the leaders of the “Dark Circle,” an alliance of five planets whose aim is to control Earth and the U.P. One of the leaders notes that with the Fatal Five having absconded with two of the three keys needed to operate the U.P. Universal Weapons Control Panel in the Presidential Palace, and with the Legion’s members either on leave or preoccupied with the construction of their new headquarters, Earth is in an extremely vulnerable position.

Speaking of Legionnaires on leave, we follow Karate Kid to Tokyo where he revisits the elderly sensei who raised him from infancy and taught him karate. The reunion is interrupted by a major explosion which nearly kills the old man. The Kid quickly ascertains Tokyo is being invaded by an alien army; the forces of the Dark Circle alliance. He engages the aggressors, but is seriously outnumbered. He contacts the Legion for reinforcements, but is told Metropolis is being invaded as well as other major cities around the world.

We then switch back to Metropolis where a small contingent of Legionnaires – Brainiac 5, Cosmic Boy, Duo Damsel, Lightning Lad, Phantom Girl, and Superboy – are struggling to defend the city. As the forces of the Dark Circle gain the advantage and capture his teammates, an unarmed Brainiac 5 races to the new headquarter’s storage area, hoping to find a suitable weapon amongst the many donations. While Brainiac 5 searches the crates, the invaders draw nearer and the Coluan offhandedly wishes Karate Kid were there to buy him more time. Immediately, the Kid appears out of thin air and neutralizes the attackers.

Brainiac 5, with his twelfth-level intellect, quickly ascertains Karate Kid’s appearance was made possible by the strange gift he had dismissed earlier. He sits in front of the uncrated machine and “concentrates the power of his mighty mind.” After “long moments,” the machine emits powerful radiations that hurl the invaders off the Earth, through space, and back to their worlds. If that weren’t improbable enough, subsequent rays from the machine complete construction of the Legion’s headquarters! Superboy and the other Legionnaires are amazed by the “miracle machine” that “converts thoughts into reality.” B5 surmises the device was a gift from the Controllers in gratitude for vanquishing one of their rogue members (see the details in my review of Adventure #357 here). At that very moment, one of the Controllers appears before the Legion and confirms Brainiac 5’s astute deduction. However, because of the machine’s potential for great harm, the Legion elects to seal it inside a cube of impenetrable inertron, “until mankind is ready to use it wisely.”

Comments

Shooter delivered an excellent tale with this single issue. It was interesting to see some of the details of the new headquarters, insights into Karate Kid’s past (Silver Age Legion tales were notorious for their lack of character development because of the large number of members), and links to previous stories involving the Fatal Five and the Controllers. Kudos to Shooter for squeezing so much action into one issue, although the “miracle machine” is a bit “over the top.” Will the hokey device ever appear in another Legion tale? Yup, some research revealed it has appeared a total of six times in Legion lore, the last time in 2009.

The Fatal Five has the Legion on the ropes!

Yes, friends, it’s time once again to 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…

“The Fight for the Championship of the Universe!”
Adventure Comics #366, March, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Curt Swan, Cover art: Neal Adams

We concluded our last issue (see here) with the dreaded Fatal Five – Tharok, the Emerald Empress, Mano, the Persuader, and mighty Validus – freed from an alter-dimension and five thousand Talokite soldiers under Tharok’s control advancing towards four Legionnaires – Brainiac 5, Cosmic Boy, Karate Kid, and Superboy – and Talok VIII’s teen heroine, Shadow Lass.

Plot

The teen heroes are on the verge of being overwhelmed by the soldiers, but in the melee Superboy is inadvertently knocked into a machine, a mass mind-control machine as it turns out, destroying it and releasing the soldiers from Tharok’s domination.

While the Legionnaires lick their wounds on Talok VIII, the villains are aboard a rocketship speeding through deep space, quarreling about their next move. Tharok informs them that he has much bigger plans than a simple heist at the Galactic Bank.

A short time later, all seems tranquil in Metropolis, but suddenly Validus, Mano, and the Emerald Empress appear in separate sections of the city wreaking havoc. With the entire police force preoccupied with the multi-pronged assault, Tharok attacks the Presidential Palace and abducts the President and his cabinet while the Persuader single-handedly subdues the United Planets Defense Headquarters. While Metropolis is under the criminals’ control, Tharok’s comrades nervously anticipate the U.P.’s intergalactic armed forces eventually coming to the city’s defense. But Tharok then reveals the Universal Weapons Control Panel located in the presidential palace, which controls every weapon system within the U.P. However, there’s an important caveat; three large keys control access to the panel. Tharok has two of them; the president’s key and the defense minister’s key. But who has the third key? You guessed it; the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The Fatal Five journey to the Legion clubhouse and expect to take the third key without a fight, but are instead confronted by the four Legionnaires and Shadow Lass who have returned to Earth from Talok VIII. A battle ensues with the Legion clubhouse battered relentlessly in the onslaught. As the teens anticipate certain defeat, Shadow Lass requests to become a Legionnaire and the others readily swear her in. Tharok then gives the heroes an ultimatum: surrender the third key or atomic missiles will destroy Metropolis and its fifteen million inhabitants. Superboy counters Tharok’s demand by suggesting a “fight to the finish, hand-to-hand combat, winner take all” battle. The impetuous villains accept the terms and the fight begins. The heroes are initially no match for the incredible powers of the Five and all appears lost, but when new Legionnaire, Shadow Lass, envelops the entire combat area in pitch-black darkness, the teens are able to get back on their feet. Just as the Five prepare for a second and final assault, a U.P. military armada appears overhead and the Fatal Five must retreat. The Legion has the victory, but their clubhouse is in shambles.

Comments

Jim Shooter delivered a fantastic two-part story, wonderfully augmented by Curt Swan’s pencils. Shadow Lass is a nice addition although Legion readers know from Adventure 354 that she’s destined to die “saving the Science Asteroid.” When was the last time a new member joined the Legion? We have to go all the way back to Adventure 351 when Star Boy and Dream Girl were added to the roster. No doubt the notion of the 30th-century U.P. Universal Weapons Control Panel being secured by three physical keys was inspired by 1960s-era U.S. nuclear weapons protocols, but the idea is antiquated just fifty-years after this comic was published.

The first big question we must ask is why would Tharok agree to Superboy’s counter-proposal when the Fatal Five had the Legion on the ropes? The second big question is, what are the Legionnaires going to do now that their clubhouse is destroyed? We’ll answer that question in a couple of weeks.

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News Flash! And speaking of the Fatal Five, Warner Brothers in cooperation with DC Comics will be releasing an animated film, “Justice League vs the Fatal Five,” on DVD on April 16th. The Fatal Five, as you remember, made their debut in the epic Legion tale, “The Fatal Five,” in Adventure Comics #352 (January 1967), which we reviewed here. This new film pits the Five against the Justice League – Batman, Green Lantern, Miss Martian, Mr. Terrific, Superman, and Wonder Woman – but there’s also appearances by Legionnaires (I spotted Brainiac 5, Dawnstar, Mon-El, Saturn Girl, and Shadow Lass in trailers) including a rather large role for Starboy. See the official trailer here. See a sneak peek with comments from the filmmakers here.

The Return of the Fatal Five!

Yes, friends, it’s time once again to 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…

“Escape of the Fatal Five!”
Adventure Comics #365, February, 1968
Writer and layouts: Jim Shooter, Penciller: Curt Swan

After three somewhat lame stories, Jim Shooter gets back on track with this classic, two-part tale.

Plot

A small contingent of Legionnaires – Brainiac 5, Cosmic Boy, Karate Kid, and Superboy – are summoned to United Planets headquarters. They are informed that, over the course of six months, the peaceful planet of Talok VIII has been transformed into a belligerent, warlike world that’s become a threat to the galaxy. The heroes’ assignment is to find out who or what brought about the drastic change. Shadow Lass, the teen heroine of Talok VIII who was on a faraway mission during her planet’s strange metamorphosis, will guide the Legionnaires.

The heroes stealthily land on Talok VIII and begin their overland journey to the capital city, unaware that they are being observed by the Talokites, who are being directed by an other-dimensional mastermind entity. As the Legionnaires become exhausted by their long trek, the Talokites are ordered to create an oasis for the heroes with food and water to ensure the team will be in “perfect fighting shape” when they arrive at the capital.

After their respite, the heroes make their way into the citadel that guards the city. Suddenly, powerful rays transport Shadow Lass and the four Legionnaires to seemingly inescapable and deadly circumstances: Karate Kid inside a giant, hollow diamond with a dwindling air supply; Cosmic Boy in an enclosed room with five non-metallic spheres furiously hurtling at him, Superboy in a pressure sphere, Brainiac 5 in a chamber with spiked walls closing in, and Shadow Lass imprisoned in a brightly lit room that saps her powers and life. Each of the quintet battles to survive, but begins to succumb to their deadly situation. Mustering every ounce of their remaining strength and powers, all five are able to break free.

Unbeknownst to the heroes, the energy they used to free themselves had been harnessed by the Talokites and used to shatter the dimensional barrier that imprisoned the mastermind and his accomplices, who just so happen to be Tharok and the rest of the Fatal Five – The Emerald Empress, Mano, The Persuader, and Validus – last seen together in Adventure Comics #353. While imprisoned in an alter-dimension, Tharok located a window, which opened on Talok VIII, but was still impassable. He was able to control the minds of the Talokites in order to hatch his plot to ensnare the Legion and use their powers to free him and his comrades.

The five heroes search the citadel for clues as to what had happened and discover the dimensional portal. Brainiac 5 surmises the Fatal Five are at the root of the mayhem, but before the team can formulate a plan, five-thousand Talokite soldiers controlled by Tharok swing open the wide doors of the citadel and attack them.

Is this the end of the Legionnaires and Shadow Lass? If the heroes were somehow able to defeat the Talokite army, the immense powers of the Fatal Five would await them. Find out the fate of the Legionnaires in Adventure Comics, #366, “The Fight for the Championship of the Universe!”

Comments

It’s great to see Shooter back in fine form accompanied by Curt Swan’s master pencils. This issue marks the debut of Shadow Lass. Ring a bell? Back in Adventure 354, the tale of the Adult Legion, it was revealed that Shadow Woman would die “saving the Science Asteroid.” Introducing a doomed character was a very interesting ploy. It’s also delightful to see the reemergence of the Fatal Five, collectively one of the Legion’s all-time most powerful opponents.

Trivia: Curt Swan drew all of the covers of the Adventure issues we’ve reviewed prior to this one. Neal Adams, who would go on to become the quintessential Batman artist, drew this cover and most of those remaining in our series.