Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Twelve Hours to Live!” (Adventure Comics #378, March, 1969)

It’s Brainiac 5’s birthday, and at least a few of his friends have decided to celebrate with him. Superboy, Duo Damsel, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra have gifted him with a Lumna-Organ. (No, that’s not something dirty!) Not at all baffled by receiving a musical instrument he’s never played, Brainy teaches himself in minutes, and has his friends swingin’ to the tunes. It’s still the Sixties, even if it is the 2960s.

One might not expect our young friend with the 12th level intellect to take so readily to music. I thought it was a nice touch, meaningful to me particularly because one of the smartest men I ever knew, a dear friend and mentor, collected pipe organs. Alas, Alzheimer’s has robbed him of his ability to play or enjoy them any longer. But Brainy is young and ingenious forever. That’s the beauty of fictional friends.

As a part of the celebration, the Legionnaires have secured ivory goblets from Colu, Brainy’s homeworld, and are toasting his birthday with Kono juice, as is traditional. Brainy, being Brainy, asks is “some rat who has it in for us” to have poisoned the juice, it being imported from off-planet. It’s at once a good character moment and a bit of a forced plot device. Does Brainy ask about the status of every foodstuff that’s delivered to the clubhouse? Once assumes gift packages come from parents and admirers all the time, and that there are already security measures in place. So Superboy having to do an impromptu scan would be surprising—especially given that he misses something obvious.

And because he missed something obvious—checking the juice and not the cups themselves—the Legionnaires are poisoned with Rakurga, the deadliest poison in the universe, for which there is no antidote. It’s laced with Green K (in millions of tiny, timed-release capsules!), so even Superboy is going to die with the rest of them, in about 12 hours.

Teen Angst Warning!

I’m surprised this issue isn’t the first one ever adapted by the CW, because it’s loaded with the stuff. Superboy goes to Smallville and fights back tears, seeing how the townspeople adore him, how pretty Lana is, which he’s never noticed, how swell his parents are… Duo Damsel goes home and plays games with her mom and dad, using her power to spend time with each of them. (Again, it’s not mentioned that, if her parents use their powers, they’re currently a family of eight.) Karate Kid, lamenting that he has no family but Sensei, silently declares his love for Projectra, but respectfully won’t intrude on her final hours. Princess Projectra, who wishes Karate Kid were with her, but knows he’d rather die fighting than consummating their relationship, goes to the park so a wandering philosopher can tell her death is her friend.

Okay, it’s not all angst. Superboy, tired of being maudlin, flies back to the 30th Century to do good deeds and let his family and friends think he just upped and vanished. Karate Kid decides to die fighting the Fatal Five, but, alas, he trounces them and runs them off, and lives. And Brainy resolves to die with a test tube in his hand, trying to find an antidote. Nice bit here is that Brainy recognizes that, if Superboy dies now, there will be no Superman. I believe that’s literally the first time in all Legion history that that point was made, but I may stand corrected.

Then they all gather back at the clubhouse to write their last will and testament. Pretty much everyone leaves everything to the Legion, although Brainy leaves his force field belt to Lyle. It’s interesting that he hasn’t made such belts for everyone. I don’t recall if it was ever revealed why that one is the only one.

And then everyone dies.

Okay, everyone falls into a coma, as a shadowy figure stalks the clubhouse, laughing maniacally…

Actually, one of the best stories of the Legion’s last year in Adventure–heavy on character and loaded with suspense.

Roll Call: Superboy, Brainiac 5, Duo Damsel, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra.

 

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