The Legion has come out of hiding to confront Mordru. It does not go well. A few minutes gone, Superboy, Mon-El, Duo Damsel and Shadow Lass had decided to take their own advice to the townspeople of Smallville, face their problems head on, and confront Mordru.
Now, four panels into said confrontation, having learned that all their comrades in the future are either dead or imprisoned, they have decided on the next step in their plan to defeat the evil wizard. It’s a plan originally developed by the valiant King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
It’s called, “Run Away!!!!”
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
This is a visually gripping cover, with the Legionnaires at center, being menaced by borderless, purple shadow images. With the vivid yellow, lime green and magenta around them, the artwork easily qualifies as “psychedelic.” This is part of a trend that began with Adventure 365, with more action-oriented poses (Superboy being punched toward the reader by Validus) and use of shadow and light to make the characters look more three-dimensional (as in the Legionnaires standing in the glare of the Fatal Five’s prison.) From here on, the covers wouldn’t feel as flat, and would depict more action, in keeping with the more realistic, often more somber tone of comics post-1968.
The Legion’s new headquarters is going up, and we’re told its construction is being funded by the United Planets, out of gratitude for all that the Legion has done for their worlds. It’s described as “a fortress,” with Inertron-based insulation in the walls, which even Superboy could not punch through. (Small dialogue error in this scene, as Brainiac 5 calls Sun Boy “Brainiac 5,” as part of a line of dialogue which it seems unlikely was meant for Sun Boy.
This issue picks up right where the last one left off, with the Talokian military bent on destroying the Legionnaires and Shadow Lass. Superboy observes that there are thousands of them, and he seemed nervous. Perhaps Shooter had decided that, at 15 or so, Kal-El was still depowered to 1938 levels. That might explain why, in this story-arc, he has Superboy schlepping through the desert like Lawrence of Arabia. At the very least, his super-speed must not have been up to Barry Allen levels yet, or he would have been able to quickly dispatch all those soldiers.
Of course, he is able to make it through the time barrier into the 30th Century with no troubles…
At long last, the Jim Shooter / Curt Swan team is back! It’s been four long issues since they brought us “The Legion Chain Gang.” The title of their triumphant return, though, betrays the mystery they so carefully develop in the story itself. It must have been an editorial edict that the cover and splash reveal that the Five were waiting on Page 19 of the story. The author and artist were otherwise too careful to keep it a secret.
Talok VIII is a peaceful, advanced planet that has suddenly undergone a dramatic change in its behavior towards other worlds. The cities have become armed camps, deadly anti-matter weapons are being tested in space, and any ship that comes near is blown out of the sky. (Actually, we’re told, it’s any ship that comes within “a million miles.” That’s awfully damn close, in planetary terms—less than four times as far away as the Moon is from Earth.)
Welcome to 1968! It’s a year of big changes in comics. Wonder Woman is going to lose her powers and her costume. Aquaman will begin a months-long quest for Mera, with art by Jim Aparo, and And while Silver Age greats like the The Challengers of the Unknown would soon fade away, the Doom Patrol would die, and Rip Hunter had already been canceled, over at Marvel, Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and The Sub-Mariner all premiered in their own titles. Within a year, Green Arrow would his fortune and become a hard traveling hero. Dick Grayson would go off to college. Neal Adams would take over the X-Men, too late to save their title. It was a time of change. Indeed, a house ad from DC, appearing in December, 1967’s Adventure Comics #363, heralded “New Things Are Coming from DC!”
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.
An Unknown writer brings us this Legion tie-in story from the pages of Jimmy’s late, lamented comic. Regular Olsen artist Pete Costanza drew it, and would draw the next couple of outings of the Legion in Adventure Comics as well. Costanza was 54 when this story was released, and has been a regular penciller of Captain Marvel and The Marvel Family, and Marvel-creator C.C. Beck’s chief assistant, from the time Billy Batson and company were created, until they folded under the weight of the DC lawsuit in the 1950s. Fawcett alumnus Otto Binder brought Costanza on board to draw Jimmy Olsen.
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.)
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.