The villain of this month’s piece looks mighty familiar, and for good reason. Dr. Mantis Morlo was co-created by Jim Shooter and Pete Costanza. As mentioned yesterday, Costanza was a longtime senior member of the Marvel Family creative team. He surely drew the Big Red Cheese’s (that’s the original Captain Marvel’s) arch-nemesis many times over. No doubt, when he was told that this issue called for an evil mad scientist, he thought of Dr. Sivana, consciously or non. If it was consciously, well, it had been a dozen or so years since Sivana legally appeared in comics. In comics time (at the time, and from the perspective of the publishers) that’s a couple of generations.
An Unknown writer brings us this Legion tie-in story from the pages of Jimmy’s late, lamented comic. Regular Olsen artist Pete Costanza drew it, and would draw the next couple of outings of the Legion in Adventure Comics as well. Costanza was 54 when this story was released, and has been a regular penciller of Captain Marvel and The Marvel Family, and Marvel-creator C.C. Beck’s chief assistant, from the time Billy Batson and company were created, until they folded under the weight of the DC lawsuit in the 1950s. Fawcett alumnus Otto Binder brought Costanza on board to draw Jimmy Olsen.
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.
This is part one of one of the most memorable two-parters of a memorable run. The entire Legion is featured—even the oft-forgotten Supergirl!—we get more glimpses of the Legionnaires private lives, some Legionnaires go on the run and others wind up in prison on the hellish world of Takron-Galtos.
While all the Legionnaires are off Earth (with one team performing the impressive feat of slowing down the supernova death of a sun by pumping chemical compounds into its core), the President of Earth is killed in a freak accident, and his V.P., Kandro Boltax, steps up. His first act is to force through a worldwide water purification plant. (I don’t want to sound like a McCarthy-ite, but any time a new leader wants access to the water supply, ya gotta ask if he’s on the up-and-up.)
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.)
“The Five Legion Orphans” was only 12 pages long. To fill the rest of the book, one would expect that perhaps a new Superboy adventure would have been commissioned. Perhaps another outing by Otto Binder, who had given us “The Six-Legged Legionnaire” last issue. What we got, instead, was the closest Silver Age readers were going to get to an explanation of why Star Boy first appeared with powers identical to Superboy, and, when he showed up again after missing 19 Legion adventures, was suddenly equipped only to make things super heavy.
The explanation comes in a text box added to the last panel of 356’s reprint of “Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” a story written by the aforementioned Otto Binder.
A note on the Grand Comics Database entry for this reprint says that Star Boy was “partially refried from Adventure #195.” Partially refried? Like the beans?
So, looking at the cover of this issue, you get that feeling you’ve been here before—not that long ago, either. Several Legionnaires were turned into babies by the Time Trapper back in Adventure #338. That wasn’t really an experience worth repeating, either, but Nelson Bridwell, filling in for Jim Shooter for the third time seven issues, obviously saw un-mined potential in the idea. It’s a different group of Legionnaires getting babified this, with just Element Lad taking a return trip to Toyland, and Superboy and Brainiac 5, who were the adults in the room last time out, getting shortened this time.
It goes down like this: It’s Parents’ Day in the 30th Century—a combination of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, proving that the greeting card lobby is weaker in a 1000 years, but not powerless. Metropolis celebrates with a parade led by the Legionnaires and their parents. Well, that is just the Legionnaires of have parents. While Star Boy, Invisible Kid, the Ranzz Twins, Duo Damsel, Sun Boy and Cosmic Boy share a sumptuous post-parade banquet with their families, the Legion orphans—Supes, Brainy, Dream Girl, Element Lad, Mon-El—eat cold sandwiches and guard the clubhouse.
Rounding out an issue left short by an abrupt end to the Adult Legion saga, Otto Binder contributes his last Legion story, bringing one of his favorite characters, Lana Lang, to the clubhouse to apply for membership.
In 20th-Century Smallville, Lana catches Superboy changing clothes in a phone booth, but resists the urge to learn his secret identity, giving him his privacy instead. She knows that, if his identity were revealed, he’d have to give it up, and that would be sad. It seemingly doesn’t occur to her that knowing his identity might also expose her to personal danger. The women in Clark Kent’s life seem oblivious to the idea of danger.
As a reward, Superboy takes Lana to a Legion meeting. The meeting itself is a secret, so he leaves her to explore future Metropolis. It occurs to me here that Superboy must place a high level of trust in Lana, if he’s willing to let her wander unescorted 1,000 years in the future. Even a future city is still a city, but he probably figures that Metropolis is inherently safe and Lana doesn’t have the worst judgment in the world.
Lana has brought her Insect Queen costume and ring, and she uses them to get an aerial view. Along the way, she encounters and endangered space liner, and uses her powers to extinguish a fire in the engine compartment and save the passengers and crew. One of the passengers is Dream Girl, who tells Lana she handled the crisis as well as any Legionnaire would have, and also that she owes Lana a favor.
This puts an idea in Lana’s head—and, minutes later, she shows up at the Legion clubhouse as an applicant for membership. The application process is back to its old form, with no pre-tests to rule our Lana’s artificial powers, and no evident vote by the members. Invisible Kid lets her go through her whole dog-and-pony show before telling her she’s not qualified. At least he’s nice about it!
As she goes to sit with the rejects (ouch!), a distress call comes in from Ice City at the South Pole. Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet are dispatched. Lana, still hoping to prove herself, cashes in her favor with Dream Girl and asks for a prophecy. Dream Girl reveals that the Legion team is in danger, but that Lana must not turn into a moth today—that will lead to tragedy.
Superboy flies Lana to Antarctica and shows off Ice City—a metropolis carved from solid ice. The residents avoid freezing to death by wearing special parkas, and Superboy gets one for Lana. Strangely, the fully human Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet never put on parkas. I suppose it’s possible the Chameleon Boy can adapt to extreme cold, but the question is never addressed.
Sure enough, the Legionnaires are in danger from an escaped criminal named Oggar-Kon, who plans to use fantastic technology to either melt Ice City, blow it away, or shake it apart. Nearly defeated, Oggar-Kon flings Green K dust all over Superboy. As expected, the only way Lana can think to save the love of her young life is to change into a moth-girl. She saves Superboy, but loses her bio-ring. She’s trapped in moth-form… forever. Well, it seems like forever. It’s until Light Lass demonstrates her amazing control over her power—she can make an object light, even if she doesn’t know where it is, and without making the other objects around it light. She causes the ring to float upward—from its place inside the secret pocket on Superboy’s cape.
Lana demonstrates real bravery in this story, and earns a place as a reserve Legionnaire. We won’t get to see her in action too many times, but there’s no denying she’s one hell of a Legionnaire. One wonders if Insect Queen would have run more issues than Superwoman did.
Roll Call:Superboy, Dream Girl, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Shrinking Violet,
Firsts: Insect Queen as an honorary member