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.)

Shooter took an issue off after the Adult Legion, but, upon his return, Ferro Lad was still front and center. In this chilling tale of a lime-green ghost in the clubhouse (and here I have to complement the striking and unusual color scheme of this issue’s cover), the four survivors of the Sun-Eater mission are tormented by dreams of their dead comrade. It’s easy enough at first to write off to survivor’s guilt their nighttime visions of Ferro Lad accusing them of causing his death. But then Superboy is attacked in the clubhouse, and he says his attacker was the ghost of Andrew Nolan. This is confirmed by a threatening message carved in the wall,

Saturn Girl and Brainiac 5 return from a deep space mission to aid their stricken comrades, though, as always, they are the two who scoff at any mention of a ghost. Brainy suspects that Projectra, like Nemesis Kid before her, is a traitor and is creating illusions of ghosts. He places an illusion suppressor on her cape to see if the manifestations cease. The scoffing stops when Saturn Girl confirms the psychic presence of Ferro Lad, and then passes out.

Princess Projectra reveals a bit more about her background: “Princess” is not just a Super-Hero name, it’s her actual title, as heir to the throne of Orando. Spiritualism is common on her world. She offers to lead a séance to contact Ferro Lad. She succeeds, the ghost appears, and he tells them to get the hell off Earth and disband the Legion. The four survivors follow his instructions, leaving Brainy alone to assume the mantle of leader. He uses his authority to contact the rest of the Legionnaires and tell them they’re to stand down for good. As he leaves the clubhouse, a shadowy figure emerges to tell, well, no one in particular that he is responsible for the haunting, and that he is a Controller.

Superboy, planning to return to his own time, is kidnapped by a mysterious transport ray and brought into the presence of a Controller. Another one? The same one? It isn’t clear, but I assume it’s the same one. This Controller reveals that he and his people come from another universe, one which survived horrible wars long ago. The well-meaning (?) Controllers decided to go to the universe next door and prevent war. Each Controller policed one sector, just like the Green Lanterns, and, like the GLs, each was given a weapon. Only this wasn’t a nifty ring that allowed them to create wacky, Rube Goldberg devices with their minds. No, one of these weapons, the one given to this Controller, was…

The Sun-Eater!

WTF? “We’re from the universe next door, we’re here to help.” By what standard could the Sun-Eater ever be considered a tool for benevolence? It eats suns! Conti the Controller insists that he only used it to eat suns in systems that were uninhabited, or “which threatened the peace.” Um, okay, that’s chilling.

And then he went bad.

Then he went bad? Not when he was killing who solar systems, no. It was, y’know… later. He decided not to return home when the other Controllers declared that the universe was safe. He decided to stay and conquer. Sounds like maybe we’ve established who was the problem in the Controllers universe.

I do not like this man. Nor did he like Ferro Lad sacrificing his life to kill his monstrous pet. So he created the ghost of Ferro Lad in order to drive the Legion off Earth. That would destabilize the population and leave them susceptible to the Controller’s machines, which were designed to control the minds of people in turmoil. His plan is foiled by the actual ghost of the actual Ferro Lad.

Ghosts. Vile Villains. Arrogant invaders who think they know better. Ferro Lad. How can you not love this story?

Firsts: Controllers

Roll Call: Superboy, Cosmic Boy, Princess Projectra, Karate Kid, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl

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