Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Execution of Matter-Eater Lad!” (Adventure Comics #345 – June, 1966)

Continuing the story of Legionnaires in a prison camp, departing writer Edmond Hamilton reminds us that a Stalag is not a place for amusing hijinx, contrary to what Hogan’s Heroes would have us believe. Some modern readers may not even get that reference to a TV sitcom about Allied inmates in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. Today, many consider Hogan’s Heroes to be in bad taste, since Nazis and their atrocities aren’t funny in the slightest. I was recently told by a friend from Germany, however, that the show is still watched there, and very popular.

We wrapped last issue with Blockade Boy and Matter-Eater Lad, having just escaped, being caught by the villainous Nardo. Now they await death at his hands, but Blockade Boy, heroic to the end, uses his power to transform himself into a steel shield and saves Matter-Eater Lad’s life. Nardo vows to execute the Legionnaire later, to make an example of him.

Saturn Girl’s telepathy is once again seen to be pretty unreliable, as she can’t determine that Matter-Eater Lad is still alive after he and Blockade Boy are blasted by Nardo. Even though he’s unconscious, you would expect that she would be able to pick up his brain activity.

The inmate called Weight Wizard is revealed as the traitor who caused Blockade Boy’s death, in a departure from the Stalag 17 story on which this two-parter is based. He’s been informing on his fellow inmates in exchange for extra rations and better treatment by the guards, but he attempts to make amends and dies. Of the named, non-Legion heroes, only Shadow Kid is not killed, and he only gets a single-panel appearance. He has no dialogue, and his powers are never explained. One wonders if, at the time Shadow Lass was introduced in person 20 issues later, a connection between the two had been made. There’s also an unnamed man in a blue jumpsuit who urges the Legionnaires to kill Weight Wizard when his treachery is discovered.

Meanwhile, in the women’s camp, Saturn Girl, Light Lass and Duo Damsel decide it’s time to escape. (Actually, they don’t so much decide as wistfully express a desire to “help the boys break out.”) I cannot help but wonder why Saturn Girl has clearly waited days to telepathically contact her colleagues in the other part of the camp. I also wonder why they waited so long to make a move. I hope that Hamilton wasn’t thinking that the girls would sit idle until they were inspired by the boys’ attempt.

On the plus side, it’s the three female Legionnaires who wind up executing the plan that gets all of them out of the camps. Duo Damsel separates into two people, and sends one of her selves out into the wilds beyond the camp to lure the wild beasts called Phanders toward the boy’s camp, where they plow down the fences and the android guards. The team, seizing the opportunity to escape, encases Nardo in lead so that he can neither move nor blast them with his radiation-based powers. Then they go to free Matter-Eater Lad, who has been forgotten since about page three.

But Nardo gets loose, immobilizes the Legionnaires, and goes forward with his plan to put Matter-Eater Lad before a firing squad. Enter the big three—Superboy, Ultra Boy and Mon-El—deus ex machina. They were on a mission in the past, but arrived home in time to realize something had happened to their friends and come flying to the rescue.

Unfortunately, though Superboy blocks the shot at Matter-Eater Lad, “the atomic particles” of the beam (Ouch! Really?) are changed upon hitting Superboy’s body, and then wrap around to hit ME Lad and make him morbidly obese. And here ends the lesson, and Edmond Hamilton’s Legion career.

Apparently, new writer Jim Shooter didn’t want to deal with ME Lad’s sudden weight gain, not soon, anyway. He would not appear at all in the next several issues.

It’s never really made clear why Nardo is capturing and imprisoning super-heroes—and particularly young super-heroes. We’re to assume that he just hates the law and those who enforce it. Why he considers them “prisoners of war” is also never explained. Presumably because this was a Stalag 17 parody, and for no other reason.

Sadly not an auspicious ending for Hamilton’s long run on the Legion. “Evil Hand of the Luck Lords” would have been the note to go out on, as it was one of his best. Still, he rendered impressive service, turning out 29 stories and co-creating:

Polar Boy

Night Girl

Stone Boy

Fire Lad

Chlorophyll Kid

Element Lad

Light Lass

Proty

Ron-Karr

Dream Girl

The Time Trapper

Spider Girl

Gas Girl

Beast Boy

Life Lass

Evolvo Lad

Duplicate Boy

Lone Wolf

Magnetic Kid

Starfinger

Color Kid

Shadow Kid

… And, of course, Inertron!

Roll Call: Matter-Eater Lad, Brainiac 5, Invisible Kid, Chameleon Boy, Element Lad, Cosmic Boy, Light Lass, Duo Damsel, Saturn Girl, Ultra Boy, Superboy, Mon-El

 

 

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