Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read: “The Super-Moby Dick of Space!” (Adventure Comics #332, May, 1965)

The “A” team returns, with Edmond Hamilton and John Forte bringing us an important chapter in Legion history—the conflict with a space beast so powerful that even Superboy can’t defeat it. In discovering and attempting to subdue the metal-eating monster which is ravaging space traffic, Lightning Lad is caught in a backlash of his own powers. His lightning blast, poisoned by some green radiation emanating from the Super-Moby Dick’s body, infects his right hand and arm. To save his life, eminent physician Dr. Lanphier must amputate and provide the poor kid with a robot arm.

A very short roll call graces the splash page of this story, made a bit shorter by the fact that Sun Boy is missing from it. He appears in several panels and speaks, but doesn’t try to take over any missions. Maybe someone wasn’t sure it was really him.

Saturn Girl continues to display her real power of super-stoicsm, showing no concern whatsoever that her boyfriend is missing an arm. Although, to be fair, they hadn’t really “declared” yet in this story that they were an item. The only real feeling they’d shown each other up to this point in time was tied up in Saturn Girl’s guilt over Lightning Lad’s (later-reversed) death.

Superboy relates the story of Moby Dick, and references Melville’s novel. It’s a nice literary allusion, though one hopes no young reader attempted to use those few panels as the basis for a book report. (Life was rough in 1965. You couldn’t just crib a few blog entries in order to do your homework.) Strangely, though, Superboy leaves out the character of Captain Ahab and does not explain that the whole point of the novel was that he was destroyed by his own obsession.

For the first time, a mission commander apart from the elected leader is appointed, even though Saturn Girl is going to be present on the mission to track down Super-Moby Dick. Brainiac 5 is chosen, but Lightning Lad drags himself out of his sickbed to invoke a clause in their constitution which provides that the guy who saw the big space whale first gets to be the boss. (Okay, so it says that the Legionnaire most familiar with the mission parameters should command, but it would not surprise me if a clause in the Legion constitution actually began with, “In the event that the Legion should encounter a green and purple space whale…”)

So Lightning Lad is standing in for Captain Ahab, determined to destroy the beast that cost him dearly. Or is he? A clearly guilt-ridden Dr. Lanphier also insists on joining the mission to stop the creature, and he and Lightning Lad are conspiring. What are they up to? Saturn Girl can’t tell because their minds are closed. That’s a new and interesting limitation on her power. One assumes that she means, “Too closed for me to read without applying undue telepathic force.” Otherwise, her ability to read minds wouldn’t be particularly useful against the enemy, now would it?

When Dr. Lanphier is injured trying to save Superboy from the green Kryptonite-charged Moby, we learn that Ultra Boy can fly faster than a Legion cruiser to get him back to Earth. This has always been inferred, since he, Mon-El and Superboy often do not ride in a cruiser to a mission (though they both do on this one), but it’s never been plainly stated.

Lightning Lad’s shock-induced personality change, which turns him into a super-dictator, wears off quietly between panels, and he merely reduces Super-Moby’s size, rather than killing him. We learn that this we proposed by Dr. Lanphier, who was, in fact, responsible for enlarging the harmless creature and creating a monster in the first place.

Lightning Lad is left with the iconic robot arm, capable of enhancing his powers, so that’s something, which he would keep for months to come.

Firsts: Lightning Lad loses his arm

Roll Call: Lightning Lad, Superboy, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, Sun Boy, Colossal Boy, Ultra Boy

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