Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Mission Diabolical” (Adventure Comics #374, November, 1968)

This adventure should have come under the heading “Underused Hero Showcase.” Aside from new Legion leader Ultra Boy, it focuses largely on heroes who have not appeared much lately. I discussed Element Lad’s scant appearances last time. Supergirl was mostly a no-show throughout the Legion’s Adventure run. Matter-Eater Lad had been absent for a while. Like E-Lad, his first Shooter appearance waited until “The Outlawed Legionnaires!” Then he went ten issues without an appearance. Dream Girl fared a little better than these two, although she waited just as long to first appear under Shooter, and didn’t do much then. In between the “Outlawed Legionnaires” and this issue she had an obligatory appearance in “Mutiny of the Super-Heroines” and a cameo in the Mordru saga.

Whether Shooter disliked these characters, who seemed to be heavily employed whenever Bridwell did a fill-in, I don’t know. Maybe he was just overwhelmed at the number of Legionnaires he had to keep up with.

It’s too bad that this, the first story to really feature this team under Shooter’s hand, is a heavy disappointment, with unbelievable plot points and very little character development.

Most of the Legionnaires, to include Superboy and Mon-El, are kidnapped in the first six pages of the story. Highlights are the pairing of Gim and Vi as they star in a film(!) and a cage match between Saturn Girl and Projectra on an amusement park ride.

Returning to headquarters, Ultra Boy and his team of misfits find the place empty—even new members Chemical King and Timber Wolf, stuck with monitor duty, aren’t present. These two are mentioned, and that’s nice, but they don’t appear at all. Here I stop for a bit of a rant. The two-part (one-and-a-half-part, really) origin of the Legion of Super-Villains a couple of issues back made these two members. That fulfilled a prophecy from “The Adult Legion,” in which Lone Wolf had changed his name and become a member, and Chemical King had been introduced, joined and died by the time the Legionnaires were in their 30s.

But these two new members were really given short shrift, even in their alleged intro story. Chemical King was introduced in #371, and didn’t get so much as a close-up panel, even though he accompanied Superboy to infiltrate the Villain School. Timber Wolf got better coverage art-wise, but isn’t even introduced when he appears in #372, except with a name plate and once being called by name. It’s not explained how or when he came back to the Legion after a 50-issue absence. Neither of them has any distinguishing personality traits, and, considering Timber Wolf is a boy who spent years thinking he was an android, that’s a bit surprising. Both would eventually play spotlight roles in years to come, but, for these issues, it felt like Shooter was just rushing to fill the gaps in the Legion’s history.

So the remaining five Legionnaires are teleported to the home world of Scorpius, a criminal cartel. They’re told their friends will be spared if they battle the super-powered pawns of Taurus, a rival operations. (And, while they’re told to kill if necessary, the moral quandary depicted on the cover is not addressed in the story.) The Taurus gang’s muscle are, appropriately, five super-villains: Black Mace, Shagrek, Mystelor, Quanto and Rogarth. Black Mace would appear again in the Legion’s pre-Crisis continuity, and Shagrek in Paul Levitz’s much later Legion run in a revived Adventure Comics in the 21st Century.

Taurus launches an attack on one of R.J. Brande’s facilities, and the Legion, in plain uniforms, move against them. The battle does not go well. Particularly disappointing is Supergirl’s battle with Rogarth, who just keeps grumbling that he has to battle a girl. Turns out he’s too strong for her (REALLY?!). By the time Science Police Chief Zoltorus and the Substitute Heroes (likewise absent for quite a while now!) show up, Supergirl is asking, “How do we make a fast exit?”

Gee, Kara, I dunno. Maybe Super-Speed????!!!

If you look through Shooter’s stories, you’ll find that he wasn’t ever comfortable to the nigh-infinite power of the Kryptonian cousins, and he tended to make them come off as lightweights and defeat them fast. That was never more evident than here.

In a cut away from the Legion (which is unusual in these stories), we see a suspicious meeting between Chief Zoltorus and billionaire Leland McCauley in his first appearance. Zoltorus accuses McCauley of being behind Scorpius, saying he’s jealous because Brande is richer. McCauley scoffs that he has no proof, and Zoltorus leaves. A bizarre little interlude that serves to do little for the story other than toss out a red herring.

The Legionnaires concoct a plan for their next encounter: Ultra Boy will disguise himself as Black Mace and infiltrate Taurus. They spend hours training him for the role. Then they confront Taurus in a casino and it’s all for naught. Ultra Boy is kayoed. Although Dream Girl’s power should have foreseen this, the Legion has planted a Brain-Wave Nullifier to cancel out Mystelor’s telepathic powers. It seems it also blocks Nura’s precognition. So she does the only thing she can to salvage the situation when she sees the boss go down—she takes out Mystelor and takes her place.

This stretches all suspension of disbelief until it looks like a pretzel tied up in knots and run through a taffy puller. Never mind that DG puts on a wig, never mind that maybe the two girls are roughly the same body type—their faces would be different! Their voices would be different! They would smell differently!

Nonetheless, the four other Taurus members are fooled, and, in case you were curious, Nura explains her hair color change with what has to be the most awkward line ever written in a Legion comic. “Has Quanto seen something wrong with this wig I got from a female gambler and combed like Mystelor’s hair?”

Ouch. It burns.

Quanto’s observation about the “new” Mystelor is that she’s now “as beautiful on the inside as [she is] on the outside.” Is Quanto telepathic? Does his somewhat touching affection for Mystelor ever bear fruit? It doesn’t matter, because we’ll never see either of them again.

Chief Zoltorus gets a message about a billionaire, and says he’s headed for “Millionaire Row.” Even in the 20th Century, most truly wealthy people did not all live next door to each other. Meanwhile, Dream Girl has cleverly conned Taurus into going to see their “Mr. Big” in order to demand more money. She knows the Legion can track her, so there’s going to be a confrontation. And there is—with R.J. Brande? Nope, it’s not R.J. Brande, it’s Chief Zoltorus. Get it? Zol-TORUS? He’s kidnapped Brande and has been using his money to build a criminal empire.

The Legionnaires are teleported back to Scorpius, where their colleagues are released, only to be told that now they’re all going to die. The Subs, who recognized the Legionnaires back at Brande’s raided facility, show up and save the day. A pretty abrupt ending, and it turns out that McCauley is not the head of Scorpius.

Or is he…?

Roll Call: Ultra Boy, Supergirl, Element Lad, Dream Girl, Matter-Eater Lad

And the victims… Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet, Lightning Lad, Shadow Lass, Cosmic Boy, Light Lass, Sun Boy, Star Boy, Princess Projectra, Saturn Girl, Duo Damsel, Brainiac 5, Bouncing Boy, the back of Invisible Kid’s head, Superboy, Phantom Girl, Karate Kid, Chameleon Boy.

One thought on “Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Mission Diabolical” (Adventure Comics #374, November, 1968)

  1. Pingback: Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read - "Burial in space!" (Adventure Comics #379, - Steven H. WilsonSteven H. Wilson

Leave a Reply