Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Mordru the Merciless” Part Two (Adventure Comics #369, June, 1968)

Last week, as you recall, (okay, it was yesterday) four Legionnaires were hiding out in 1950s Smallville, the unstoppable sorcerer Mordru hunting them relentlessly…

The kids settle into their secret identities. With whiteface makeup applied, Shady becomes Betsy Norcross, an exchange student. She never says when she’s an exchange student from. And it’s a bit odd that an exchange student would go door to door, asking for a place to live, but that’s just what Shady does at Lana Lang’s house. These things are usually set up by the school, but Mrs. Lang takes her right in. One wonders what “Betsy’s” accent sounded like. Was she passing off as European? Australian? Asian? We saw in the last issue that Curt Swan did not draw Asians looking very Asian. They just had black hair and the same skin tone white people had. I guess that’s refreshing, given how badly stereotyped some comic artists had been in their depictions, only a few years earlier.

Luornu’s masquerade as “Marie Elkins” is a little less risky. She shows up at Chief Parker’s home, claiming to be a second cousin come for a visit, and “Didn’t you get Mom’s letter?” In small towns, these things may happen. My uncle used to urge me to just drop in on cousins I’d never met and ask for a place to sleep. I never tried it, but I guess it was done, or he wouldn’t have suggested it. Superboy has briefed Luornu on the Parkers’ relatives (long before he met Batman, he was apparently keeping files on people!), so she can answer casual questions. But if Cousin Clara’s arthritis really got better, I want to know what diet she was on!

Mon looks way too happy about selling brushes. Maybe it’s some kind of Daxamite fetish? But before he can indulge this kink, a strange shadow probe descends on the town, and the Legionnaires just know it’s been sent by Mordru to find them. Shadow Lass steps right up and bathes all of her friends in pockets of shadow, rendering them in-detectable. Especially with Shadow Lass’s arrival, Shooter made real strides in having the female members make a difference on missions.

Lana is possessed by Mordru, becoming his eyes, and the Legionnaires have a secret meeting in  the Kent basement. I love this touch, for some reason. It adds to the “going underground” feel of the story, and Swan draws the basement to look ominous and creepy. Superboy declares that, until they can come up with a better plan, they’re going to have to forget they were ever Legionnaires. Shadow Lass melts down, blaming herself for their predicament, and we get our first, tentative glimpse of Shady and Mon-El’s coming relationship. Alongside it, Duo Damsel displays again her romantic attraction to Superboy, last referenced when Invisible Kid was elected leader. She tries to get him to walk her home, but he doesn’t pick up the hint. Is he dense? Too attached to Lana? Still hung up on Marsboy? It’s hard to say, but the end result is Luornu crying herself to sleep, even as she kicks herself for her feelings, since she knows who Superboy will marry someday. Perhaps this is where she started to realize that Chuck Taine was more than a casual friend to her. They did, after all, have a chance to spend days cooped up in a space cruiser together just a few issues ago.

Compounding Lournu’s drama is Superboy’s crass suggestion a bit later that he, Lana, “Bob” and “Betsy” go on a double date. Poor Luornu! Couldn’t Clark ask Pete Ross to be her date? I mean, Clark, dude, that’s just cold. His dickishness is fortuitous, however, for Luornu beats a hasty retreat from the two happy couples, and walks right into an emergency in need of a super-hero. Two trucks are about to collide. Thinking fast, Luornu, who we learn for the first time has double the strength of a normal human in her merged form, throws a concrete-pillowed street sign in just such a fashion as to prevent the crash. Not only is this another great example of Shooter highlighting the heroines, it also shows how a smaller cast can really allow the characters to shine.

I love how, in thanking her, one of the truck drivers calls Luornu “Little Girl?” In 1950s Kansas, she’s of marryin’ age! Anyway, at least Superboy has finally noticed her. Turns out he has a thing for competence. That would tend to explain his feelings for Lois Lane as an adult, ‘cause she sure didn’t make it easy to love her otherwise.

After Shady has a scare because her makeup rubs off and her blue skin shows, Mordru uses illusionary attacks on the town to try and smoke out the Legionnaires. When all else fails, whether it’s through Mordru’s intervention or not, common criminals come to put the pressure on the masquerading Legionnaires. First there’s “a ‘human fly’ crook,” who appears in a panel which, out of context, could be taken for a Marvel comics shot. Then “King” Carter and his mob show up to take over the now-Superboy-less town.

The teens who can’t show their powers step up and encourage the townsfolk to stand up for themselves. It’s a stirring series of moments, as they rally everyone to resist. Short of pledging “Our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor,” I’m not sure what these four Legionnaires could have done to be more inspirational? What more inspires young American readers than seeing our heroes behave like the Founding Fathers? Another, similar, great story was in the Action 40th Anniversary issue, when Clark Kent lost his powers and his memory of being Superman, and became a crusader for justice nonetheless. This is real heroism, and it’s nice to see the Legion in that light. Again we have an “Is it DC or is it Marvel” moment on page 22, as the locals take down the mob. Swan and Abel deliver some amazing action artwork in this one.

Finally, moved by their own advice, the Legionnaires decided to stop hiding from Mordru. They don their costumes and appear in public. It’s a decision they’ll regret, as Lana, the “eyes of Mordru,” immediately spots them, and the evil sorcerer appears.

Roll Call: Duo Damsel, Mon-El, Superboy, Shadow Lass (Flashback: Sun Boy, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy)


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