Yeah, Ferro Lad’s been dead almost as long as I’ve been alive, so I don’t think I’m blowing any secrets here. The last time a Legionnaire died, there was no fanfare, no announcement on the cover, and almost no emotion shown. Of course, Lightning Lad came back not long after his “death.” But Ferro Lad stayed dead. (Yes, he returned as a ghost, as his twin brother, as a clone (twice!) and as a character in a reboot Legion. But this Andrew Nolan died in Adventure 353, and is still dead in current continuity, such as it is.)
It sounds like Jim Shooter always planned to kill Ferro Lad. He told Roger Stern that he didn’t think he’d be allowed to kill any existing Legionnaires, so he created some “extras” in his first story. Since no regular character in a comic like this had been permanently killed before, he thought it should be tried. (14 years later, he tried to apply similar logic to the idea of turning a long-standing character permanently evil, but Jean Grey just came back to life as a hero again, so I don’t think that idea stuck. It’s a shame, but it begs the question—would we remember Ferro Lad so fondly if he had lived?
But on with the story itself! The Legion has assembled the Fatal Five to stop “It,” the Sun-Eater, from carving a path of destruction through the galaxy. Tharok, being the smartest, declares himself the leader. One thing I love about comics: the smartest person in the room always knows he’s the smartest, with mathematical certainty. Hank Pym, we know, is the seventh smartest man alive. The only uncertainty I recall is when Amadeus Cho thought he was the seventh smartest, but surrendered the title because death is scary. In my experience in real life, the person who declares himself the smartest in the room is usually someone below last.
After Mano and the Persuader try to kill each other, Tharok goes off on his own to think up ideas. The Legionnaires keep an eye on the rest of the Fatal Five, in case there’s trouble, which there is. Mano tries to put the moves on Emerald Empress, who has somehow found an 8×10 glossy of Superboy and declared, “I’ll be in my bunk.” (Where did she get a photo? Does the clubhouse have a gift shop?) Superboy breaks it up, but the Empress gets out the candles, wine and Kryptonite. Fortunately, Cosmic Boy breaks up her plans.
Tharok has formulated a plan: Sun Boy will lure Sun-Eater off course, the Persuader will chop the Sun-Eater up into pieces, and then each of the ten will fight a piece. And Tharok will boost everyone’s power so that they’re ready. And, along the way, he’ll secretly take control of Validus’s mind. (It’s kind of a damned shame that Invisible Kid isn’t present for this adventure. He might at least liked to have seen the back-stabbing maneuver that would someday cost him his life!)
It doesn’t go well. Even a piece of the Sun-Eater is too much for any of the team. The only progress made is that Princess Projectra discovers that Validus is sweet on her, and Ferro Lad discovers that there’s a high school science lab model of an atom at the heart of the Sun-Eater.
No, not exactly. Tharok, observing all of their attempts, builds the Absorbatron bomb, which can wipe out the Sun-Eater. But he didn’t have time to build a launching mechanism. It will have to be detonated manually, and that means… Somebody. Has. To. Die.
Geez, Tharok, I bet Brainy could have figured out a way to build a launching mechanism!
We all know—or should know—what happens next. Superboy says he’ll take the bomb. Ferro Lad tells him he’s too weak from the Sun-Eater’s red sun radiation, so Ferro Lad takes the bomb. (D’yever notice that nobody ever says, “We can’t let you die, you have to grow up to be Superman?” Nobody!)
Ferro Lad is successful, the Sun-Eater Blows up, and…
The Fatal Five are pardoned, but nonetheless try to kill the Legionnaires. Validus, despite Tharok’s control, must defend his cruch, Projectra. He and Tharok clash, and the five disappear in a bust of energy. Dead? Probably not, we’re told.
Wow. This one’s a lot to process. We barely got to know Ferro, and he didn’t even show off his signature glibness in this adventure. But we were warned, by the cover, that “One of these heroes will DIE!” This was back in the day, when that phrase on the cover actually came as a surprise. Now it’s just a pseudonym for, “We tried to make this story interesting enough to spike sales this month.”
RIP, Andrew Nolan, Ferro Lad.
Roll Call: Superboy, Ferro Lad, Princess Projectra, Sun Boy, Cosmic Boy, (And, at the funeral) Brainiac 5, Invisible Kid, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy