Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read: “Target: 21 Legionnaires” (Adventure Comics #348, September, 1966)

For his first Legion adventure written and drawn after being hired by DC, Jim Shooter fleshed out the origin of Sun Boy, a favorite character who had not been featured in a while. He appeared in #342’s “The Legionnaire Who Killed,” and the Computo Two-Parter, but in fairly minor roles, as compared to his early, take-charge appearances. His last real character moment was back during the Starfinger saga.

And Sun Boy’s origin is tied to that of Dr. Regulus, the villain of the piece.

The story begins, traditionally enough, with Superboy arriving at the clubhouse for a meeting—an election, in fact. Invisible Kid is the new Legion leader, a good thing for Lyle Norg, since he has played, up until now, a fairly small part in the Legion’s adventures. Most likely writers had a hard time figuring out what to do with his fairly limited powers.

His first assignment for his team? Again, fairly traditionally, to go to a charity show and do stunts for the audience. In good Legion form, while they’re out wowing the crowd, something happens back at the clubhouse. Well, something happens back at the hole in the ground where they used to have a clubhouse. It’s been stolen!

So here’s a moment that puts the lie to the (admittedly very cool) blueprints for the clubhouse and its sub-basements, published later. When the rocketship is picked up, there’s only “a big empty pit” underneath it. There is not a series of underground rooms. Perhaps some sort of automated systems disguised them, so that passersby wouldn’t have access to the Legion’s secrets; but, if that we the case, they coulda thrown a tarp over the hole and still had a headquarters. Instead, they make quite an issue of having to hole up in an empty rocket.

But, before the clubhouse is stolen, a surprise earthquake knocks Sun Boy off his feet. His friends find him unconscious and super-charged with heat which only Superboy can withstand. When Sun Boy awakens, he’s forgotten who he is. Agitated and frightened, he runs away. The Legion has no time to search for him, however, as the news of their stolen clubhouse is brought to them at that moment.

The clubhouse-thief is one Dr. Regulus, a scientist who uses gold to capture the power of the sun. He is the cause of Sun Boy’s amnesia, as we learn (through interminable thought balloons) that Dirk Morgna is Regulus’s greatest threat. Speaking of Sun Boy, he’s eluded police, and, exhausted, hides out in an unsecured nuclear power plant (really?) where a “carelessly opened power source” (REALLY?!) bathes him in radiation as he collapses into sleep.

The Legion easily tracks Regulus’s ship (it is apparently made of solid gold, after all!) and confronts him. But Regulus is prepared. A giant robot makes short work (ouch!) of Colossal Boy. A Cosmic Boy robot catches Phantom Girl and Duo Damsel by surprise. (Maybe it wouldn’t have, if not for Invisible Kid’s cringe-worthy, “The two girls stick together!” order.) Superboy is brought down by two Green Kryptonite-bearing robots, Cosmic Boy shackled by anti-magnetic gold bands which spring from the walls, and Invisible Kid kayoed by a beam of pure sunlight. (Was he so traumatized that he resolved, were he to die and be reborn in a new universe, that he would wear all black in protest?)

Sun Boy, meanwhile, awakens, his memory restored by the radiation bath. He also has no trouble locating the golden ship, and he confronts Regulus, his very presence sucking the power from the Doctor’s sun-powered weaponry. But Regulus has good, old-fashioned, missiles, which he fires. Sun Boy would be a goner, if not for the happy circumstance that Cosmic Boy, who is now free, can control the steel missiles and direct them away from his friend.

How did Cosmic Boy get free? Regulus’s thought balloon tells us, “Cosmic Boy is free!” And that’s all the explanation we get. One assumes Sun Boy set him free, and it would have been so easy to add that as a line of dialogue. “Good thing you set me free before coming in here, huh?”

We get a quick flashback to Dirk’s origin, and how Regulus was a part of it, and then Regulus rounds out the story by vowing to give Sun Boy “The slow death he deserves!” (I wonder if he ever considered recruiting all the girls Dirk was a douche to to help him?)

This story does not have the “Marvel” feel that Shooter’s debut brought to the book. There are lots of six-panel pages, and exposition is clumsily handled. That may simply be the error of a new writer, coming up to speed. Although, if memory serves, Stan Lee was given to lots of villainous internal monologues in his day!

Also disappointing to readers was probably the absence of Ferro Lad, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra after their much-lauded arrival in the last two issues. I suspect that this story, and its follow-up, “The Rogue Legionnaire,” were based on ideas Editor Weisinger had in inventory, at least mentally, and pitched at Shooter.

There is one nice “Shooter” touch, which would be developed in future issues: Duo Damsel’s “more than political” interest in Superboy, as noted by the man who knows all about girls noticing boys: Sun Boy. “And why not?” he asks himself, “He’s one of the most powerful Legionnaires!” Funny that Luornu would ultimately select a de-powered Legionnaire as her partner.

Firsts: Dr. Regulus

Roll Call: Superboy, Sun Boy, Duo Damsel, Cosmic Boy, Phantom Girl, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Brainiac 5

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  1. Pingback: Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Mordru the Merciless” Part Two (Adventure Comics #369, June, 1968) - Steven H. WilsonSteven H. Wilson

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