No, not those Heroes for Hire. This story came three years before the first issue of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, nine years before Luke and Iron Fist formed the company Heroes for Hire, and 28 years before Marvel published the first issue of Heroes for Hire. (The original Power Man / Iron First team was the real basis for the Netflix series, The Defenders, which has nothing to do with the original Bronze Age comic of the same name. Netflix is rumored to have gone with “The Defenders” because, as illustrated here, audiences get squeamish about the idea of heroes getting money for their services. They prefer that rich, powerful people or corporations fund their super heroes, an idea older than King Arthur and my 97-greats Uncle Charlemagne.
That, children, is what feudalism is all about, and we do love us some feudalism in these United States.
Which is why this story bothered me, the first time I read it, a dozen or so years ago. Yes, the Legionnaires are acting like Bastard People (for a reason, this time!), putting their desire to earn money apparently ahead of their concern for life and public safety. But a lot of the public outrage toward them seemed to me to be directed at the very idea that they would make money. Which is silly, because the Legionnaires are underwritten by the richest man in the universe and his corporation, and by the United Planets government. If either of those entities were to order the Legion to deny service to a person or a world, what would happen? That idea wasn’t explored in the Silver Age.
But, honestly, I liked this story better on a second reading. It really doesn’t focus that much on public outrage. It focuses more on a sense of “What the hell is the Legion doing?” which is classic in Silver Age stories, if maybe a bit outdated by 1969, especially in what had been one of the most forward-looking books in all of DC Comics. Probably the most.
So criminals are escaping the Science Police and hiding out on the planet Modo, a world protected by an entity called Modulus, and apparently welcoming to all evil. The Legion gets involved when criminals steal mind-altering drugs from a UP research facility. We get to see Brainy have a psychedelic trip, and Win Mortimer and Jack Abel show off some pretty 1960s graphics. One of the criminals is caught, and then we get to see a truly chilling psychic interrogation, in which the thief is told that “Anything you think may be held against you.”
I’m better now.
The crook reveals that his gang operates from Modo–and even Superboy can’t raid them there, because Modulus has access to Kryptonite. So the Legion says, “We’re gonna think about this,” and goes into hiding. Newspapers (that still makes me laugh) demand to know what’s happened to the heroes. And then Superboy gives a statement that the Legion and the Science Police are defeated, and they’ve given up trying to fight crime. But then they do resurface to help people, each time demanding substantial payment for their services. One of their new customers, Leland McCauley III, goes on 30th Century television and accuses the Legion of creating the menaces they’re being paid to overcome. In 2018, we call that a conspiracy theory.
To be fair, in 2018 we call the ingredient list on a tube of toothpaste a conspiracy theory, but I digress.
The Legionnaires collect money in all different forms, a tribute to the Hamilton / Forte days when we saw glimpses of life on all those different United Planets. There’s gas money, and living crystal money that eats metal, and energy money… They keep it all on a single space cruiser far from Earth.
So naturally, criminals from Modo raid the cruiser and take it back to their base while “Brainiac 5 and some other guy” escape in a life pod.
Can you say “set-up?” Maybe the 30th Century needed a little more belief in conspiracy theories, so that these guys wouldn’t be so easily fooled. They take this odd collection of monies back home, and “some other guy” uses his power to manipulate chemical reactions to cause the different to react and bathe all of Modo in crippling radiation.
“Some other guy,” was, of course, Chemical King, brought in from another mission at the right moment in order to use the specific collection of chemical compounds assembled under Brainiac 5’s instructions to create the radioactive reaction. It’s (finally) a nice showcase for the new Legionnaire’s powers.
The Legionnaires will use their personal fortunes (which we should never have doubted they had!) to replace the money they’ve charged. All is well with the Universe.
As long as Brande doesn’t get greedy.
Roll Call: Princess Projectra, Brainiac 5, Duo Damel, Karate Kid, Superboy, Chemical King