This one’s a little offbeat. As the story opens, we’re informed that the war with the Dominion has been going on for 20 years.
As I’ve been saying all too often lately, “Wait… what?”
You mean to tell us, Master Shooter, that Earth and the United Planets (because, as far as we can see, Earth is the United Planets) have been at war the entire time we’ve been reading these Legion adventures, and we never knew it? So Lyle, Gim, Dirk, Chuck, and the late, lamented Andrew were all born on a planet at war? It sure doesn’t feel like it!
But that may be part of the point. Jim Shooter was born in 1951, in the midst of the Korean War. That ended in July, 1953. But just over two years later, on November 1st, 1955, the United States went to war again. Jim Shooter was not yet two when peace broke out, and had just turned four when it ended again. His nation would be at war in Viet Nam until he was 23. (If you’re American and you want to get really depressed, here’s a Washington Post piece on how much of your life has been spent in war time.) (Yes, I’m being political, but I don’t believe I’m being in any way partisan.)
Ironically, the group for whom this story is named barely appears within its pages. Superboy, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Element Lad and Matter-Eater Lad, sentenced to ten years on the prison world of Takron-Galtos, appear only on the splash page and one other page before the story’s conclusion, when they return to Earth. One wonders if perhaps someone’s intention was to set an adventure on the prison planet, and the cover was drawn to illustrate that idea, but then the creative team realized that the Legion had all-too-recently done a prison story, the memorable “Super-Stalag of Space.”
After the obligatory recap of the previous issue, which tells readers why eight Legionnaires are hiding out in the thousand-year-old sewers of Metropolis, our heroes find one of Lex Luthor’s underground lairs, as immortalized in Richard Donner’s film, Superman. Being Luthor’s lair, it’s high-tech even by 30th Century standards, with food and clothing synthesizers included. The fugitives are soon fed, rested and clad once again in their Legion uniforms.
So I celebrated my birth month back in Adventure #335. This issue falls in the birth month of my lovely wife, Renee.
Of the two events—her birth and Otto Orion’s, I think I favor hers. She has, after all, been by my side for just about every step of this crazy journey into fandom I’ve made these last 34 years, and most of it wouldn’t have happened without her. But I might be biased. Anyway, on with “The Hunter!”
This month, Mort Weisinger’s assignment to his student writer (Jim Shooter) was to do a Legion story based upon Richard Connell’s 1924 story from Colliers, “The Most Dangerous Game.” Well, now, that’s not so bad, is it? I mean, who remembers a story from 43 years earlier, after all?
Damn near everyone, it seems. The story had been filmed no less than five times before Otto Orion showed up in the pages of Adventure. And it was familiar to TV viewers as the plot of episodes of Get Smart, Gilligan’s Island, Bonanza, and The Outer Limits. Later, it would also be adapted for Logan’s Run, Fantasy Island, The Incredible Hulk, Dexter’s Laboratory… The list goes on endlessly. Clive Cussler even “borrowed” the story for his Dirk Pitt adventure, Dragon. Continue reading
Andrew Nolan was not out of Jim Shooter’s system, no matter how determined the young writer was to leave his creation dead. No soon was Ferro Lad’s empty burial urn safely landed on Shanghalla than Shooter told the tale of the Adult Legion, which was focused heavily on memorials to the dead heroes, amongst which naturally Ferro Lad was prominent. On top of that, the “villain” of the first adult Legion story was Andrew’s twin brother Doug, Ferro Man.
(And Ferro Man might have been to have a future—in the letters page to Adventure #359, the editor (Weisinger or more likely Bridwell) told readers that there would be future tales of the adult Legion, and that they would include Sun Man, Chameleon Man, Color King and a youth auxiliary. One would assume it would have also included Ferro Man, once he was healed of the psychic trauma inflicted on him by Saturn Queen. Sadly, these tales never surfaced.)
This 12-page adventure is not so much a continuation of “The Adult Legion” as a sequel. It is teased at the end of the previous issue’s full-length story, with the reveal that Ferro Man was under the control of the Legion of Super-Villains, but it feels fairly disconnected otherwise. Superman leaves right at the beginning, to return to the 20th Century, and Timber Wolf has just vanished between issues.
The reduction in force was necessary to match the LSH and LSV person for person, so that they could face each other in single combat after the Super-Villains had kidnapped Brainiac 5.
This is one of my all-time favorite Legion adventures, despite the fact that it tells the tale of a much-depleted membership, and, apparently, that it was forced on young Jim Shooter by his crusty old editor, Mort Weisinger. Shooter nonetheless did the idea proud, taking the Legion credibly forward, and, along the way, creating two new permanent Legionnaires (never mind that they were doomed to die someday), as well as the Wanderers and a mystery named Reflecto.
It’s a gripping cover, isn’t it? A memorial hall to a bunch of dead Legionnaires, only one of whom readers had met at the time, and he had died in the previous issue. This was the first of many ways that the Legion would let us know that Andrew Nolan, Ferro Lad, was gone, but not forgotten.
Yeah, Ferro Lad’s been dead almost as long as I’ve been alive, so I don’t think I’m blowing any secrets here. The last time a Legionnaire died, there was no fanfare, no announcement on the cover, and almost no emotion shown. Of course, Lightning Lad came back not long after his “death.” But Ferro Lad stayed dead. (Yes, he returned as a ghost, as his twin brother, as a clone (twice!) and as a character in a reboot Legion. But this Andrew Nolan died in Adventure 353, and is still dead in current continuity, such as it is.)
It sounds like Jim Shooter always planned to kill Ferro Lad. He told Roger Stern that he didn’t think he’d be allowed to kill any existing Legionnaires, so he created some “extras” in his first story. Since no regular character in a comic like this had been permanently killed before, he thought it should be tried. (14 years later, he tried to apply similar logic to the idea of turning a long-standing character permanently evil, but Jean Grey just came back to life as a hero again, so I don’t think that idea stuck. It’s a shame, but it begs the question—would we remember Ferro Lad so fondly if he had lived?
This is Jim Shooter’s most famous Legion story—well, the first part of it anyway. It introduces the greatest threat the team ever faced, and also, arguably, a team of their most memorable villains. While I’m actually a big fan of the Legion of Super-Villains, let’s face it, they’re five copycats and a bunch of Legion rejects. Lightning Lord and Nemesis Kid are their only real contenders, and that’s because of their ties back to the Legion itself.
The Fatal Five, on the other hand, are their own creations; and while they’re a bit two-dimensional here, each carries in his (or her) origin story the makings of a fully realized character. Look at the first three: Validus, a creature who is not evil and does not want to hurt anyone, but is nonetheless sentenced to death because he cannot control his violent rages; Tharok, who hates all protectors of law because a police officer’s stray shot vaporized half his body and left him a disfigured cyborg; Mano, a mutant shunned by his peers because of his destructive hand, who turned that hand on his very home world and killed everyone on it.
Still drawing his own layouts, finished by Curt Swan and George Klein this time, Jim Shooter created an enduring Legion villain, Universo, and an important supporting character, Rond Vidar. (Although, surprisingly, Rond is not named in this story. He’s just, “The kid who invented the time cube.”)
Like the Dr. Regulus story last issue, this story opens more traditionally than Shooter’s “One of Us Is a Traitor,” with the Legionnaires visiting a science fair. It then uses the same device used last issue to pull the team away from a public appearance—an emergency at the clubhouse. Brainiac 5 informs them that someone is desperately trying to break in, though he never explains how he knows.
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.