Must Pretend Timidity!

This afternoon’s post revisits two issues of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes from 1975.

I associate SLSH 207 with Ayr Bus Station’s  waiting room- an interior clad, like many 70s public spaces, in brown wood panelling. My first issue of Adventure Comics was bought here in the late 60s, as were copies of Astonishing Tales, Thor and on the day in question, the return of Hawkman to the JLA:

Maybe Yellowjacket would have been happier in the JLA?

Let’s say for the sake of it that it was a Sunday during the Easter holidays and if it wasn’t too grey a day, we might have stopped for an ice cream cone at Renaldo’s.

Aside from the angular  figures of Mike Grell (check out the slightly-off Dutch Tilt of the cover!) , I was enthralled by this issue as an eleven-year-old because it featured two Legion villains I’d read about in lettercols.

The Rookie Who Betrayed the Legion features Universo. Bald, bearded and be-flared, the master hypnotist never actually speaks in this story -apart from when Chameleon Boy is impersonating him. The plot revolves around a rookie Science Police officer who owes his life to the extravagantly-named Argus Oranx III ( maybe officer Dvron reminded Universo of his own son, scientist Rond Vidar? )

This story is well-known since artist Grell claimed he intended to represent black Americans through the rookie. But he was vetoed because the character’s motives seem underhand, initially. However, Grell refers to the character as “Soljer” in interviews- the title of the resurrected  warrior in Jim Shooter’s Soljer’s Private War. (SLSH 210)   “Comic Book Legends Revealed” and other sites suggest that Grell misremembered and conflated Soljer with Dvron.

Aside from the final panel, I can’t really see the alleged  “blackness” of the character. However, I can with Soljer and my suspicion that fans have employed logic to wrongly correct Grell’s error. He may very well have had liberal values when it came to race but he didn’t have any ethical struggle when dressing female characters like Night Girl and Laurel Kent in skimpy stripper outfits.

I wouldn’t see Universo again until the Giant-sized era of 1977-78 when he made two appearances- one in a reprint ( but what a reprint!) and one as an illusory figure in Jeckie’s subconscious mind.

The back-up is Lightning Lad’s Day of Dread:  a comment posted on “Comic Book Legends” revealed suggest this strip replaced a “pornographic” Duo Damsel story. I wonder if this is another just another seedy urban myth; arising from the salacious “threesome” imagery adult fans bring to the marriage of Chuck and Luornu?

In any case, I “met” Lightning Lord here. Reading the story again, I realised it gets some essential facts wrong. Garth and Mekt aren’t twins but Garth and Ayla are. Mekt wasn’t born with white hair- it was a result of combat with Garth in ’71. It also seems unlikely that Garth and Ayla could have concealed the deaths of their parents from telepathic Saturn Girl.

The next issue blurb is electrifying: ” The ultimate battle is already brewing- the Legion of Super-Heroes vs. the Legion of Super-Villains! yes, finally it’s an all -out war that’s been simmering for years, which is triggered off in the very next issue! The Beginning…” Well, that sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Of course, I don’t see the next issue for five years.

The letters page, Super-Talk,  features an extensive Dept. of New Heroes and Heroines, which we formerly knew and loved as Bits of Legionnaire Business. Quantum Queen is mentioned  ( Still waiting, over 35 years later…);  Power Boy ( as a black hero- a new black hero is being developed, we’re told: that will be Tyroc, a year later); Iron Devil, Bluejay Screamer and Invisible Kid as a futuristic Spectre ( I like that idea!); and the strangest and boldest suggestions: empathic healers Nears and Moldok; ,and Shandra W’thirru an energy-draining werewolf.  What a fantastic concept! The creativity and devotion of  Legion fans is inspiring.

As I said, it wasn’t until I discovered mail order comics in the Exchange and Mart that I got a hold of a copy of SLSH #208. This was in the late autumn of 1980. I was in my final year at Hamilton Grammar School; I disliked it somewhat less intensely than the previous year but  a succession of head colds was a good excuse to take plenty of time off.  I recall reading this one to death in my parents’ ” good room”,  where I was sleeping so my brother wouldn’t catch my germs.Radio hits of the time included Kate Bush’s morbid waltz Army Dreamers, Diana Ross’s glossy, funky My Old Piano and Ottawan’s Eurotrashy D.I.S.C.O.

Vengeance of the Super-Villains:  the splash page shows the LSV gleefully watching a model LSH headquarters blow up: a rehearsal for their scheme to kill Henry Kissinger- er, Larx Kenrik. It was unusual for DC to caricature real public figures but Grell would do it again with Bruce Lee in #210.

The story proper begins with the parents of Ultra Boy and Superboy betraying their sons. The dialogue for Martha and Jonathan is darkly comic and creepy. Grell excels at selling the villainy of the “Villainaires” ( who sound like a doo-wop vocal group). They slouch or brood in their secret hq; as young and attractive as the Legionnaires, their costumes  have darker, more sinister colour schemes ( apart from Sun Emperor and the gaudy Chameleon Chief). As a 17-year-old, however, I thought Radiation Roy was the most ludicrous name for a villain I had ever heard.

Unfortunately, the LSV are dispatched in one page although this is made up for somewhat by a  feature on the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Nonetheless, it’s hardly the “all-out war” we were expecting. Oddly, the LSV wouldn’t return for nearly a decade. Chemical King also makes a cameo appearance- he will only appear in one more story as an active member before his death. Next to Dream Girl, he’s the most neglected member in the Grell Era.

Lana Lang’s Superboy Identity Detection Kit: Whew! Any more words you’d like to include in the title, Jerry Siegel? An old-fashioned and frivolous short from 1961. When Lana endangers Superboy’s secret identity, her dad punishes her, removing her magazines and lps AND banning pie. It’s bad  enough to be denied your Ricky Nelson and Bobby Vee records but pie?!

Chameleon Boy is recruited to help thwart Lana’s snooping. He refers to the delightful  idea of  writing the whole thing up in an article  for the Super- Heroes Club Newspaper. Levitz, who writes for it now? I bet it’s Chemical Kid and that it’s really snarky.

The Evil Hand of the Luck Lords: After a flight through the unlucky Gorilla Nebula and Proty’s transformation into a Durlan jinx-stone, the Legion’s unlucky streak goes into overdrive. However, it turns out to be a hoax perpetrated by some alien crooks. It was clever to link the tragedies in the 1965-66 stories together. But what was expelled Legionnaire and Sub Star Boy even doing at HQ?  Even the Super-Pets get in on the act in this Hamilton/Swan saga.

Rather less cleverly, the “real”Luck Lords appeared in the late 80s:  monocular cosmic entities with a rather Marvel-ous  hand in Lightning Lad’s destiny.

Super-Talk: Editor Boltinoff pleads “Come on fellers, it’s been sometime since Cockrum was the Legion’s caretaker, so can’t we put his name in mothballs and forget about him?” Ow. Next month’s Giant-Sized X-Men #1 wasn’t easily forgiven, apparently.

This giant is one of my favourite issues from Mike Grell’s tenure. Although the stories aren’t terrifically well-written, they’re reminders of my late adolescence, a time when back issues were hard-won prizes.

Next: Born on a Monday: my 99th post!

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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2 comments on “Must Pretend Timidity!

  1. Kid Robson says:

    I was never into DC’s team books for some reason. Perhaps it was because Superman (or Superboy) made any other heroes redundant as he was a one-man team-supreme. Super strength, super speed, super everything – what need had he for anyone else? Apart from keeping them around for a bit of company, that is. Am I too cynical?

  2. Dougie says:

    I think it;s the iconic quality that makes the Boy of Steel an important element of the LSH, like Captain America in the Avengers. Any Legion stories with Superboy or Supergirl in the early 80s seemed extra-special.

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