Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Mordru the Merciless” Part Two (Adventure Comics #369, June, 1968)

Last week, as you recall, (okay, it was yesterday) four Legionnaires were hiding out in 1950s Smallville, the unstoppable sorcerer Mordru hunting them relentlessly…

The kids settle into their secret identities. With whiteface makeup applied, Shady becomes Betsy Norcross, an exchange student. She never says when she’s an exchange student from. And it’s a bit odd that an exchange student would go door to door, asking for a place to live, but that’s just what Shady does at Lana Lang’s house. These things are usually set up by the school, but Mrs. Lang takes her right in. One wonders what “Betsy’s” accent sounded like. Was she passing off as European? Australian? Asian? We saw in the last issue that Curt Swan did not draw Asians looking very Asian. They just had black hair and the same skin tone white people had. I guess that’s refreshing, given how badly stereotyped some comic artists had been in their depictions, only a few years earlier.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Mordru the Merciless” Part One (Adventure Comics #369, June, 1968)

And here is Jim Shooter and Curt Swan’s Legion masterpiece. It’s so great, in fact, that I need to split the review of just the first half into two parts. If you don’t believe me, believe the DC Limited Collector’s Edition series of tabloid-sized comics, which chose this story to be its first representation of the Legion back in 1976.

The original issue begins with a Neal Adams cover, depicting the hands of Mordru the Merciless, heretofore unheard of in Legion lore, tearing through the solid metal walls of his prison vault, as Mon-El laments that they’re “Dead! His magic is greater than our combined super-powers!” Continue reading

Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Black Day for the Legion” (Adventure Comics #363, December, 1967)

It takes a while for Part Two of the Mantis Morlo story to start. After the splash page, there’s a page of recap of the last issue, then the first actual page of news story just repeats the story elements already shown on the splash page. The Legionnaires, were left in battle with the Chemoids at the end of last issue, and they weren’t doing well.

Now they trade Chemoids, and their powers work well when used against a Chemoid who was adapted for one of their teammates. That suggests that the Chemoids are not as versatile as Morlo claimed, or maybe they just don’t adapt quickly enough to handle multiple opponents. Superboy takes out the smog generator that was endangering Orando. The mission is accomplished, but Morlo escapes, jumping off a flying platform and vanishing utterly.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Chemoids Are Coming!” (Adventure Comics #362, November, 1967)

The villain of this month’s piece looks mighty familiar, and for good reason. Dr. Mantis Morlo was co-created by Jim Shooter and Pete Costanza. As mentioned yesterday, Costanza was a longtime senior member of the Marvel Family creative team. He surely drew the Big Red Cheese’s (that’s the original Captain Marvel’s) arch-nemesis many times over. No doubt, when he was told that this issue called for an evil mad scientist, he thought of Dr. Sivana, consciously or non. If it was consciously, well, it had been a dozen or so years since Sivana legally appeared in comics. In comics time (at the time, and from the perspective of the publishers) that’s a couple of generations.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Unkillables!” (Adventure Comics #361, September, 1967)

This one’s a little offbeat. As the story opens, we’re informed that the war with the Dominion has been going on for 20 years.

As I’ve been saying all too often lately, “Wait… what?”

You mean to tell us, Master Shooter, that Earth and the United Planets (because, as far as we can see, Earth is the United Planets) have been at war the entire time we’ve been reading these Legion adventures, and we never knew it? So Lyle, Gim, Dirk, Chuck, and the late, lamented Andrew were all born on a planet at war? It sure doesn’t feel like it!

But that may be part of the point. Jim Shooter was born in 1951, in the midst of the Korean War. That ended in July, 1953. But just over two years later, on November 1st, 1955, the United States went to war again. Jim Shooter was not yet two when peace broke out, and had just turned four when it ended again. His nation would be at war in Viet Nam until he was 23. (If you’re American and you want to get really depressed, here’s a Washington Post piece on how much of your life has been spent in war time.) (Yes, I’m being political, but I don’t believe I’m being in any way partisan.)

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Legion Chain Gang!” (Adventure Comics #360, September, 1967)

Ironically, the group for whom this story is named barely appears within its pages. Superboy, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Element Lad and Matter-Eater Lad, sentenced to ten years on the prison world of Takron-Galtos, appear only on the splash page and one other page before the story’s conclusion, when they return to Earth. One wonders if perhaps someone’s intention was to set an adventure on the prison planet, and the cover was drawn to illustrate that idea, but then the creative team realized that the Legion had all-too-recently done a prison story, the memorable “Super-Stalag of Space.”

After the obligatory recap of the previous issue, which tells readers why eight Legionnaires are hiding out in the thousand-year-old sewers of Metropolis, our heroes find one of Lex Luthor’s underground lairs, as immortalized in Richard Donner’s film, Superman. Being Luthor’s lair, it’s high-tech even by 30th Century standards, with food and clothing synthesizers included. The fugitives are soon fed, rested and clad once again in their Legion uniforms.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Outlawed Legionnaires” (Adventure Comics #359, August, 1967)

This is part one of one of the most memorable two-parters of a memorable run. The entire Legion is featured—even the oft-forgotten Supergirl!—we get more glimpses of the Legionnaires private lives, some Legionnaires go on the run and others wind up in prison on the hellish world of Takron-Galtos.

While all the Legionnaires are off Earth (with one team performing the impressive feat of slowing down the supernova death of a sun by pumping chemical compounds into its core), the President of Earth is killed in a freak accident, and his V.P., Kandro Boltax, steps up. His first act is to force through a worldwide water purification plant. (I don’t want to sound like a McCarthy-ite, but any time a new leader wants access to the water supply, ya gotta ask if he’s on the up-and-up.)

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Hunter” (Adventure Comics #358, July, 1967)

So I celebrated my birth month back in Adventure #335. This issue falls in the birth month of my lovely wife, Renee.

Of the two events—her birth and Otto Orion’s, I think I favor hers. She has, after all, been by my side for just about every step of this crazy journey into fandom I’ve made these last 34 years, and most of it wouldn’t have happened without her. But I might be biased. Anyway, on with “The Hunter!”

This month, Mort Weisinger’s assignment to his student writer (Jim Shooter) was to do a Legion story based upon Richard Connell’s 1924 story from Colliers, “The Most Dangerous Game.” Well, now, that’s not so bad, is it? I mean, who remembers a story from 43 years earlier, after all?

Damn near everyone, it seems. The story had been filmed no less than five times before Otto Orion showed up in the pages of Adventure. And it was familiar to TV viewers as the plot of episodes of Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island, Bonanza, and The Outer Limits. Later, it would also be adapted for Logan’s Run, Fantasy Island, The Incredible Hulk, Dexter’s Laboratory… The list goes on endlessly. Clive Cussler even “borrowed” the story for his Dirk Pitt adventure, Dragon. Continue reading

Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Ghost of Ferro Lad” (Adventure Comics #357, June, 1967)

Andrew Nolan was not out of Jim Shooter’s system, no matter how determined the young writer was to leave his creation dead. No soon was Ferro Lad’s empty burial urn safely landed on Shanghalla than Shooter told the tale of the Adult Legion, which was focused heavily on memorials to the dead heroes, amongst which naturally Ferro Lad was prominent. On top of that, the “villain” of the first adult Legion story was Andrew’s twin brother Doug, Ferro Man.

(And Ferro Man might have been to have a future—in the letters page to Adventure #359, the editor (Weisinger or more likely Bridwell) told readers that there would be future tales of the adult Legion, and that they would include Sun Man, Chameleon Man, Color King and a youth auxiliary. One would assume it would have also included Ferro Man, once he was healed of the psychic trauma inflicted on him by Saturn Queen. Sadly, these tales never surfaced.)

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Five Legion Orphans” (Adventure Comics #356, May, 1967)

So, looking at the cover of this issue, you get that feeling you’ve been here before—not that long ago, either. Several Legionnaires were turned into babies by the Time Trapper back in Adventure #338. That wasn’t really an experience worth repeating, either, but Nelson Bridwell, filling in for Jim Shooter for the third time seven issues, obviously saw un-mined potential in the idea. It’s a different group of Legionnaires getting babified this, with just Element Lad taking a return trip to Toyland, and Superboy and Brainiac 5, who were the adults in the room last time out, getting shortened this time.

It goes down like this: It’s Parents’ Day in the 30th Century—a combination of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, proving that the greeting card lobby is weaker in a 1000 years, but not powerless. Metropolis celebrates with a parade led by the Legionnaires and their parents. Well, that is just the Legionnaires of have parents. While Star Boy, Invisible Kid, the Ranzz Twins, Duo Damsel, Sun Boy and Cosmic Boy share a sumptuous post-parade banquet with their families, the Legion orphans—Supes, Brainy, Dream Girl, Element Lad, Mon-El—eat cold sandwiches and guard the clubhouse.

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