Eighteen With A Bullet

This morning’s post features my favourite DC comic for most of the Seventies, Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, no. 205 , dated December 1974. My copy has a Thorpe and Porter stamp (15p!), so it was distributed somewhere in the UK.

I have no recollection where I bought this one- probably a comic mart in the mid- 80s. It was the second (and last ) 10o-pager for the Legion. The cover is  a cheerful orange,  at odds with the firing squad in the Cardy illustration! Nick Cardy is DC’s answer to Gil Kane when it comes to Bronze Age covers.  The frontispiece is adapted from Neal Adams’ 1969 cover of  Adventure 378: a morbid tale of impending death and my third issue.

The Legion of Super-Executioners:  For the first time since the summer of 1968, Superboy takes Lana Lang to attend a LSH meeting for her birthday.  I’ve counted the candles on the cake and I think Lana’s eighteen. Ultra Boy has contracted an insanity virus and Supey flies off for a cure; Jo and Lana then face a Legion firing squad!  Oh, what a birthday surprise! Luckily, Lana is wearing her bio-ring and Insect Queen returns. ( A Lesley Gore reference seems appropriate in a Legion post).

Supey, Jo and Lana thwart the Master, a spindly alien dwarf with a “mind-melder” who has a plan to subdue the LSH in order to breed a super-army. The icky plan of the immortal villain ( a kind of futuristic Noah’s Ark) is a bit of an anti-climax, given the air of paranoia and betrayal Cary Bates evokes. Presumably  Legion singletons like Element Lad, Sun Boy and Chemical King will either share the females or be killed? And what about bodiless Wildfire?

There’s a lot of action in the story from the more physical Legionnaire. This is the first time Grell draws Karate Kid to resemble Bruce Lee. Mon-El seems based on a real model (can’t tell who) and Ultra Boy’s sideburns are luxuriant.

Meet “Iron Mike” Grell:  a profile of the new artist which mentions his interests in shooting and survival techniques; these  themes will be explored in his work on  Green Arrow, The Warlord and Jon Sable.

The One-Man Team:  a dull Superboy short from1961, where Supey gives a display of school sports and catches five armed crooks. Smallville could give Gotham a run for its money.  I’ve been very positive about Superboy stories before and this one is about the values we can get from team games. But it’s very mundane.

Super-Talk: rave reviews for Mike Grell’s first full issue . Two letters lament the loss of the original Invisible Kid; this was, of course, a deviation from the Adult Legion story. One reader suggests IK’s ghost could appear.  Chemical King’s powers are explained  for the first of two occasions in this issue. I think Schoolboy Shooter overestimated his readers (and certainly his editors) understanding of chemistry.

The Outcast Super-Heroes: the first part of a wacky two-part adventure from Adventure (Nov-Dec 1966) by Swan and E. Nelson Bridwell. This is a “novel” with a lot of charm. A cloud of Green Kryptonite envelops 30th-century Earth, requiring an  honourable discharge for both Superboy and Supergirl. Why they don’t just agree to return two years later, when the cloud is scheduled to dissipate, is unclear. Rather cruelly, they are given  mementos of their time with the team but not permitted to keep them. Then Shrinking Violet does a bit of DIY brain surgery, inspired by Fantastic Voyage.

On departing for their own time, the cousins recommend their own replacements, armoured and anonymous heroes Sir Prize and Miss Terious. Oh dear. Even masked Ferro Lad is suspicious of the secretive pair. We are then introduced to Prince Evillo, “evil genius” and ruler of the dark planet Tartarus.

Evillo (a descendant of Challs-foe Villo?)  leads a Devil’s Dozen which has four lieutenants: The Hag, a crone riding a rocket-broomstick; The Wild Huntsman, a centaur dressed like William Tell with an elastic lasso and a “storm horn”; Sugyn, allegedly a  Welsh folk tale hero. (The only reference I’ve found is to Loki’s wife Sigyn. This character seems like Volstagg anyway); and the godlike Apollo.

Next, Apollo tames the sentry-beasts of the Interplanetary Bank with his lyre and bewitches all the female tellers, in order to loot the place: “Ha, ha! Every man from my world has this power over chicks!”. The Legion arrives.  Colossal Boy wrestles with a  Jigsaw Beast; Sir Prize downs a Loudspeaker Beast and Cham takes on the Asteroid Serpent. He also breaks the fourth wall to make a joke about Spider-Man! A sense of unease about Marvel’s success informs the story and the campy tone seems an awkward attempt to capture Stan’s “voice” . Of course, as usual, it fails.

Saturn Girl recognises Apollo as space-jacker Tal Obrin but even the Legion’s toughest chick falls under his spell. It seems Apollo’s mission has been to abduct a Legionnaire and he absconds with Lightning Lad. The story ends on a paranoid note as both Ultra Boy and Saturn Girl suspect Sir Prize and Miss Terious of being the Kryptonian cousins gone rogue…

The storyline of the secret identities of the  “Lead-clad Lad” and the ” Metal-plated Miss” was done once before with Unknown Boy in 1965 and would repeat itself again in the Sensor Girl saga of the 80s. As we saw yesterday, Supergirl (and Superboy for that matter) will come and go from the Legion.

Lore of the Legion: three pages of powers and origins of the Legionnaires, including obscure reserve members Kid Psycho and Rond Vidar. The first two pages are drawn by Dave Cockrum. Surprisingly, Karate Kid has reverted to his judo gi, rather than the high-collared outfit he’s best known for. This feature doesn’t have the enormous nostalgic significance for me of the first instalment.

The Forgotten Legion: The giant-sized Legion issues of ’77 and ’78 made the Adventure Era sound epic and referred to the other heroes of the 30th Century in their engrossing text features.  I first bought the original edition of this story by mail order from a guy in Ireland who’d advertised in  Exchange and Mart. It arrived some time in the winter of 1980, I think, alongside Adventure 375, which introduced The Wanderers. I know every panel inside-out. It’s just as fanciful as the first episode.

For the very first time Legion bankroller R. J. Brande is mentioned as the Legion set off to rescue him from Xola Aq, the Hag. It’s bizarre seeing stuffy Legion leader Invisible Kid punch Ultra Boy on the jaw for insubordination. Another Marvel influence?  Evillo fails to corrupt Lightning Lad with his essence of evil because Garth has been thinking about the Legionnaires’ good deeds!

The Hag conjures up paintings, foretelling the future for the heroes. Ferro Lad’s portrait shows him consumed by flame, prefiguring the upcoming Sun-Eater story! Cosmic Boy’s portrait is “too dreadful” according to Miss Terious but she has a plan to beat the Hag. It involves a lock of hair from a magician and the print of an enchanted shoe. Cue a Legion mission to Zrfff and a haircut for Master Mxyzpylk. Things get even more loony as Evillo banishes Sugyn the Mighty Drinker (who has captured Bouncing Boy) with a blast from his horns.

The Substitutes fight the Super-Pets (!)  back in 1966 and get the hoof-imprint  of the Steed of Steel, Comet. The resultant magic potion turns the Hag into Naltorian heroine, the White Witch, a slinky redhead. Miss Terious and Sir Prize are revealed as Dream Girl and Star Boy (who appear to have joined the LSH in order to restore Nura’s sister). Since Naltorians ( e.g. brothers Kenz Nuhor and Yark Althu) don’t have the same surname, is Xola Aq intended to be the civilian name of the White Witch?  When she joins the Legion in the 80s as a fairy-like heroine, she’s called “Mysa”.

It’s like panto : all the members plagued by the Legion Jinx (see a future post!) are restored by a doctor (another victim of Evillo) and the villains are rounded up. The Devil’s Dozen never return, although Evillo and Sugyn turned up in the 5YL Era. ENB recycled the Wild Huntsman as a barbaric  German hero in Super Friends.

New Sub Color Kid changes the Kryptonite cloud-cover to blue (?)  and the Kryptonians rejoin.  It’s such a goofy story, given the mostly-dramatic storylines of 1967-69,  but it features virtually every Legion character of the day, which would be  a ten-year-old fan’s dream.

I would probably rate this issue higher if I’d read it as a child-or if it had featured a different two-parter. Maybe the Mordru story  or the Adult Legion saga. More about them in future posts!

Coming soon: Crisis on Earth-3 ( or is that Earth-2?)

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


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