Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Legion’s Space Odyssey!” (Adventure Comics #380, May, 1969)

In 1968, no film sparked the imaginations of viewers like Stanley Kubrik’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was released in the United States in the first few days of April, 1968, a year before Adventure Comics #380’s March 27th, 1969 release, and, initially not a financial success, MGM was convinced not to pull it out of theaters when young adults (rumor has It many of them on hallucinogens) began flocking to see it. Young, “mod” people who enjoyed psychedelia were exactly the audience DC Comics was after as the decade wrapped. So whether it was young Jim Shooter’s admiration for the film which inspired him to tell the story of a Legion space odyssey, or Editor Weisinger’s desire to hook an audience, this story seemed like a natural for DC’s most science fiction-oriented property. (By this time, Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern had left his job at Ferris Aircraft and become an insurance salesman, rendering him less spaceborne than before. And Adam Strange, though advertised in this issue, was only appearing in reprints.)

Unfortunate, this space odyssey is short on believability, and turns out to be one of the tiresome sub-genre of “trick” stories, which too many Superboy and Superman stories fell into.

As Superboy and Invisible Kid perform daily maintenance in the Legion’s monitor room, Dream Girl calls in, having witnessed a disturbing vision. Superboy doesn’t reveal its nature, and even lies to Invisible Kid about it. A radiation alarm sends the boys scurrying to evacuate the clubhouse, but, before they do, an explosion knocks out everyone who’s home. Fortuitously, they were all in the same room. They awake together on another world far from Earth. Superboy is immediately devoured by a Green K-fanged monster.

Two issues ago, Brainiac 5 ruminated on the fact the Superboy is fated to live to adulthood, and that his death in the 30th Century could tear time itself apart. So, while the Legionnaires are shocked by their friend’s death, you think they’d also be frightened by the impending destruction of time. It’s not even mentioned, which is disappointing.

They build a monument to him, and then Light Lass, Cosmic Boy and Sun Boy, three Legionnaires who haven’t done much lately, build a rock house. Bouncing Boy finds Duo Damsel alone, mourning Superboy, whom she loved. He comforts her, and we see that beginnings of their romantic relationship. It’s the high point of the issue.

Ultra Boy and Invisible Kid decide the only way to get home is to build a spaceship, which their powers allow them to do. This is a stretch. Yes, they have power to shape and form metal, and plenty of raw materials at their disposal. But the idea that they could build a ship to include rocket power with their bare hands defies belief. Ultra Boy launches it with his super strength, and barely makes it aboard with super speed before it leaves the atmosphere. He tells us he can’t switch to invulnerability because he needs his speed. It occurs to me that, because of inertia, he wouldn’t even need his speed to catch up with the ship. He would only need a burst of strength powerful enough to kick off the planet. Once in motion, he could become invulnerable.

Light Lass speeds up the ship by making it lighter, so that gravity doesn’t affect it. Um… gravity doesn’t affect a ship in free space. Gravity only affects it when it’s near a planet. So while Light Lass could prevent the ship from being pulled back to the planet’s surface, she couldn’t make it move faster.

A meteor threatens the ship, and, while Ultra Boy is able to shatter it, the hull is badly damaged, forcing the Legionnaires to land. And they land on a world of mirages, where they see a phantom Legion cruiser, and their fallen comrade, Superboy. Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel get some quality time stranded on a tiny island in the midst of a storm, then Invisible Kid and Ultra Boy come up with a way home—Ultra Boy swings the ship on a cable until a space warp forms, and they’re back at Earth instantly.

Okay, so the only thing that doesn’t fall apart at this point in the story is the hand-crafted spaceship. Imagine if you will the force being applied to human bodies inside the ship as UB flings it in a circle. The ship has no seats or seatbelts, not protective devices, and they’re not wearing the protective suits fighter pilots do to withstand the 8 or 9 Gs without their blood leaving their upper bodies. And then Ultra Boy flies, unprotected, through the space warp he’s created. There’s no way in hell he could hold onto the cable that attaches him to the ship without super strength, and he even tells us he’s using super speed to enter the ship.

In other words, all these Legionnaires should be dead by now.

Radioing Earth, they’re told they can’t land, because they’re impostors. With his ultra vision, UB sees that, indeed, there are duplicates of them in the clubhouse—for a minute. Then a ray blast strikes the clubhouse and destroys what were obviously robots. Now the traveling Legionnaires are told they can come home. They find that Superboy is alive and well, and that he, Mon-El and the Super-Pets are behind the entire “odyssey.” Dream Girl’s crazy premonition was that a man in a sailboat would endanger the Legion. On that slender information, Superboy and Mon decided to be the only people home for a while. They had to engineer a series of challenges to keep the others away, because they wouldn’t have believed the truth.

Huh? Why is it that Superboy and Mon-El believe the truth, but no one else would? Why is it that they can’t just render the others unconscious and store them back in the 20th Century for a while? Why the elaborate ruse?

Because, without all that, there would be no story.

Although it has its childishly fun elements, this is a sad showing for the Legion’s final Adventure adventure. Their next new story would appear three months later in Action Comics #378, as Supergirl took over Adventure Comics.

Roll Call: Superboy, Invisible Kid, Dream Girl, Duo Damsel, Light Lass, Bouncing Boy, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy, Cosmic Boy, Mon-El.

 

Leave a Reply