Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Legion’s Space Odyssey!” (Adventure Comics #380, May, 1969)

In 1968, no film sparked the imaginations of viewers like Stanley Kubrik’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was released in the United States in the first few days of April, 1968, a year before Adventure Comics #380’s March 27th, 1969 release, and, initially not a financial success, MGM was convinced not to pull it out of theaters when young adults (rumor has It many of them on hallucinogens) began flocking to see it. Young, “mod” people who enjoyed psychedelia were exactly the audience DC Comics was after as the decade wrapped. So whether it was young Jim Shooter’s admiration for the film which inspired him to tell the story of a Legion space odyssey, or Editor Weisinger’s desire to hook an audience, this story seemed like a natural for DC’s most science fiction-oriented property. (By this time, Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern had left his job at Ferris Aircraft and become an insurance salesman, rendering him less spaceborne than before. And Adam Strange, though advertised in this issue, was only appearing in reprints.)

Unfortunate, this space odyssey is short on believability, and turns out to be one of the tiresome sub-genre of “trick” stories, which too many Superboy and Superman stories fell into.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Burial in space!” (Adventure Comics #379,

At the Legion clubhouse, six figures are still as death, silent, frozen in the shadowed hallways, as a seventh figure moves among them. Who turned out the lights? Automated systems in the walls, no doubt, conserving power as their masters and mistresses became silent. It must be sleep cycle, surely. The Legionnaires can’t all be—

Wait—Six figures? At the end of last issue, five Legionnaires had slipped into comas and were still. The intruder was not the seventh, as mentioned, here, but the sixth. Well, it turns out that this seventh figure is a second intruder, and the first is frozen, the last man standing amongst the fallen Legion, presumably his victims.

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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.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Heroes for Hire!” (Adventure Comics #377, February, 1969)

No, not those Heroes for Hire. This story came three years before the first issue of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, nine years before Luke and Iron Fist formed the company Heroes for Hire, and 28 years before Marvel published the first issue of Heroes for Hire. (The original Power Man / Iron First team was the real basis for the Netflix series, The Defenders, which has nothing to do with the original Bronze Age comic of the same name. Netflix is rumored to have gone with “The Defenders” because, as illustrated here, audiences get squeamish about the idea of heroes getting money for their services. They prefer that rich, powerful people or corporations fund their super heroes, an idea older than King Arthur and my 97-greats Uncle Charlemagne.

That, children, is what feudalism is all about, and we do love us some feudalism in these United States.

Which is why this story bothered me, the first time I read it, a dozen or so years ago. Yes, the Legionnaires are acting like Bastard People (for a reason, this time!), putting their desire to earn money apparently ahead of their concern for life and public safety. But a lot of the public outrage toward them seemed to me to be directed at the very idea that they would make money. Which is silly, because the Legionnaires are underwritten by the richest man in the universe and his corporation, and by the United Planets government. If either of those entities were to order the Legion to deny service to a person or a world, what would happen? That idea wasn’t explored in the Silver Age.

But, honestly, I liked this story better on a second reading. It really doesn’t focus that much on public outrage. It focuses more on a sense of “What the hell is the Legion doing?” which is classic in Silver Age stories, if maybe a bit outdated by 1969, especially in what had been one of the most forward-looking books in all of DC Comics. Probably the most.

So criminals are escaping the Science Police and hiding out on the planet Modo, a world protected by an entity called Modulus, and apparently welcoming to all evil. The Legion gets involved when criminals steal mind-altering drugs from a UP research facility. We get to see Brainy have a psychedelic trip, and Win Mortimer and Jack Abel show off some pretty 1960s graphics. One of the criminals is caught, and then we get to see a truly chilling psychic interrogation, in which the thief is told that “Anything you think may be held against you.”

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Execution of Chameleon Boy!” (Adventure Comics #376, January, 1969)

After the fairly dismal experience that was “King of the Legion!” this happy little adventure was a breath of fresh air, focusing on one popular but often underused Legionnaire, and making him sympathetic and even kind of noble. That Legionnaire is Chameleon Boy, and, considering he actually stole victory in last issue’s contest from Chemical King, it’s nice to see him further redeemed.

To be fair, he had already redeemed himself at the end of last issue—we just didn’t know it until this story explained what happened. As far as we knew last time, Bouncing Boy had won the contest which was to determine the mightiest Legionnaire, so that that member could go somewhere and fight someone. He immediately vanished, and a voice told the Legionnaires the battle was joined. Except that then another Bouncing Boy had appeared, and a quick x-ray vision check of fingerprints revealed that this was the real one.

So who got spirited away?

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “King of the Legion” (Adventure Comics #375, December, 1968)

Jim Shooter curtailed a lot of the harshness and nastiness with which the Legionnaires had treated each other during their first 46 issues in Adventure Comics, making what I call the “Bastard People” effect less noticeable. But King of the Legion? This thing is freaking Bastard People porn.

On an asteroid, the Legionnaires meet the Wanderers, a previously unheard-of super team. They shake hands and swear eternal friendship. Ornitho, one of the Wanderers’ number, demonstrates his power to turn into any kind of bird. The others don’t demonstrate, or get names, except for their leader, Celebrand. Kind of an interesting oversight.

Shortly after they part company with the Legion, the Wanderers fly near the Nefar Nebula and are temporarily turned into criminals. Meanwhile, the Legion has returned to Earth, where Superboy will test a supposedly indestructible armor plate for the Galactic Security Force—by flying into is full speed. Now the plate is invulnerable and so is Superboy. But the plate doesn’t look especially well-anchored. It seems the result would be simply that it would move when he hits it. Or, if it is somehow anchored, we’ll find out what happens when an irresistible force hits and immovable object. And they’re performing this stunt on Earth. You’d heard the expression NIMBY—Not In My Back Yard? I would think every citizen of Earth would be shouting NOMFP about this. I’ll let you work out the acronym yourself.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “School for Super-Villains” (Adventure Comics #372, September 1968)

Recapping last issue, Colossal Boy’s parents have been turned to glass and kidnapped. CB, by way of ransom, is sharing confidential information about the Legion Academy’s training methods. He’s been expelled from the Legion and now walks the streets of 30th Century Metropolis a broken young man.

Adding insult to injury, the Science Police accost Gim (Colossal Boy) Allon and tell him he’s under arrest for betraying the Legion. They’re key to U.P. Security and actions taken against them are something approaching treason. But Gim knows his parents are in enough danger now that he can’t get more information from the Academy. He’s not going to rot in jail while they’re turned into decorative fill for fancy glass containers. He shoots up to giant size and flies away. Very quickly, he’s reunited with the goons who glassed his parents last issue.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Colossal Failure!” (Adventure Comics #371, August, 1968)

This little 11-page gem uses a clever device to show us something that, until now, readers did not know existed—the Legion Academy. Possibly it was just established as the new HQ allowed the space for it. As I recall, Paul Levitz, about 20 years later, would establish that the Academy was an initiative begun by Invisible Kid when he was leader.

Colossal Boy, with an evening free, goes to have dinner with his parents. Before they can sit down to a meal, however, a galactic TV crew (?) shows up at the door, asking to interview the family. Kind of an odd “surprise” interview, but the Allons, surprisingly star-struck by a TV camera, decide to go for it. And it’s fake, and Mom and Dad get turned to glass. They’re still alive as Mrs. Allon’s glowing life gem proves. Unless Colossal Boy turns over the secrets of the Legion Academy, his parents will be smashed to fragments. And returned to him, of course. It would be dishonest to keep the fragments. That would be theft.

CB explains that full members have no clue what happens in the Academy. That’s closely held information. So he can only get in there if he screws up and gets ordered to re-training, which he’s willing to do. And he does, carefully planning a “mistake” that doesn’t directly threaten lives.

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Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “The Devil’s Jury” (Adventure Comics #370, July, 1968)

The Legion has come out of hiding to confront Mordru. It does not go well. A few minutes gone, Superboy, Mon-El, Duo Damsel and Shadow Lass had decided to take their own advice to the townspeople of Smallville, face their problems head on, and confront Mordru.

Now, four panels into said confrontation, having learned that all their comrades in the future are either dead or imprisoned, they have decided on the next step in their plan to defeat the evil wizard. It’s a plan originally developed by the valiant King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

It’s called, “Run Away!!!!”

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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.

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