Legion Lane

Keith in Moray was, until a few weeks ago, literally the place Where The Streets Have No Name. But now the local authority has changed all that and one of the streets is Legion Lane. Now, I realise this is a reference to the British Legion but for me, this is the Legion:

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This tabloid edition is dated October 1976, quite late in Mike Grell’s tenure as LSH penciller. And of course, this is a comic I bought a couple of years ago on ebay, so it was only an image in an advert when I was thirteen.  The sunny, wrap-around cover doesn’t indicate that the contents are old-timey Legion adventures from the late 60s but that was the era in which I first encountered the team.

In June 1968, Marvel unleashed Steranko’s Nick Fury in his own title with the psychedelic Scorpio. Dr. Strange had also spun off from Strange Tales so perhaps it’s appropriate that the villain in this 2-part Shooter-Swan classic is “Mordru the Merciless”, a gaint wizard who looks like a debauched and malign version of Thor.

The omnipotent Mordru has escaped from imprisonment in the Legion’s basement and four Legionnaires flee from him into the past – specifcally Superboy’s Smallville adolescence. There’s a sweet soap opera as the two girls Duo Damsel and newcomer Shadow Lass try to integrate into a Fifties High School. It’s much easier for that big dullard Mon-El, who once lived in the town as salesman Bob Cobb.

Foiling the invasion of gangster “King” Carter and his hoodlums inspires the quartet to resist Mordru but they are sold out by the wizard’s unwitting pawn, Lana Lang. Mordru materialises and announces he has crushed the rest of the Legion!

I owned a second-hand copy of part two- “The Devil’s Jury” in the early 80s when I first assembled my LSH back issue collection by mail order. Despite interference from Supey’s pals Pete Ross and the rather silly Insect Queen, Mordru levitates the entire town as Shooter will have his villain Graviton do in  Avengers nearly a decade later. The wizard also assembles a hanging jury of 30th century criminals. Not only do we get a groovy Lovecraftian reference to Yog-Sothoth, many of the Legion’s old foes are name-checked: The Fatal Five, Time Trapper, Universo, Dr.Regulus, Mantis Morlo and the Devil’s Dozen. Sadly, there’s no visual reference for this rogues gallery.

Wraithor, Mordru’s magical ally, betrays him however, and the master mage is buried alive again through his own hubris. Returning to the future, the Legion discover how Princess Projectra, Dream Girl and her sister the White Witch tricked the wizard . Huh! Imagine! Three mere girls! This is the second and final Silver Age appearance of the slinky, redhead White Witch but a year later, a Superman story refers to her as an ally of the Adult Legion. Perhaps Shooter had long-range plans for this Bridwell creation. She finally joins the team in the Great Darkness Saga of the early Eighties.

This is one of the great Shooter two-parters, alongside the “Outlawed Legionnaires”/Universo story and the Sun-Eater tale. This tabloud has additional features of course: a two-page map of the LSH HQ from Adventure Comics 403 and a guide to some of the other facilities “on campus” from the Bates/Cockrum/Grell era.

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Speaking of Cockrum, the centrespread from the marriage ceremony of Duo Damsel and Boucning Boy is reprinted from 1974’s SLSH 200. Among the guests are allies Rond Vidar; the Tornado Twins; the Substitute Legion, the Heroes of Lallor and the obscure Wanderers- including the doomed Quantum Queen. Cockrum threw in the Martian Manhunter and Tars Tarkas for fun since the wedding took place on the Red Planet. The key to the wedding picture mistakenly gripes about the Thark’s missing arms.

I think I would have been delighted with this comic if I had obtained it in the Seventies. It certainly entertains me now, particularly since the JLA tabloid was very dull. The cover of this first Legion Tabloid was re-interpreted by Alex Ross for a recent edition of Back Issue and captures the joy and optimism of the series.

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Coming Soon: The Return of the King

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Thunder in the Mountains

Today’s post in this series on Marvel’s Treasury Editions concerns an unexpected addition to my weekly comics order in 1976. Tommy and Sheila Cringan correctly assumed that I’d want this Kirby reprint, with its big bold logo and wrap-around cover.

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This is a four-part 1968 Thor serial from Stan and Jack’s later period on the title. The Tales of Asgard and Inhumans back-ups are no more but the grandiose scale of the story foreshadows the Fourth World saga at DC.

To Wake the Mangog: the epic begins with a glimpse of Valhalla as the death goddess Hela comes to claim an injured Lady Sif. Meanwhile Ulik the Troll ( an ancestor of Kalibak the Cruel?) discovers a cache of Enchanti-stones and the hidden prison of the Mangog. This almost-comically grotesque creature is one of Stan’s omnipotent villains, like the later Overlord and Over-Mind.  He swears revenge on Odin and advances on Asgard.

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These cats look more Marie Severin than Kirby to me…

Thor, meanwhile, gives a group of hippies advice about “dropping in” rather than “dropping out” while Balder the Brave undergoes a trial by combat with the Norn Queen’s Legion of the Lost.

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Now Ends the Universe: I owned an original Sixties copy of this issue. We learn that Mangog comprises the power of a billion, billion beings. Kirby revisits the Colonizers of Rigel (with their bulbous skulls); Ego the Living Planet and the android Recorder. There’s also time for a portrait of the Warriors Three. Meanwhile Kirby combines sci-fi with myth as an Odinian force-arrow is unleashed on Mangog and the Storm Giants attack Thor.

The Hammer and the Holocaust: sneaky Loki usurps the throne (again) as Odin undertake his reviving Odin-Sleep. There are futher inspired splash ages as the Recorder descends on the Rainbow Bridge. The story reaches a climax with a recovered Sif standing guard over the Odinsword- an apocalyptic weapon (pun intended!)

Behind Him Ragnarok: Balder’s battle with the Legion of the Lost ends in victory thanks to his virtue. The craven Loki decides to run away and as the Magog unsheathes the Odinsword and cosmic shocks reverberate, the All-Father finally wakes up. He breaks his spell as the living prison of the Magog dissipates. The alien race, having done its penance, is  restored to life.

I’m not a fan of Colletta’s inks and much prefer Royer or Sinnott but this Treasury makes me long for a one-shot or back-up for Prester John, the guardian of the Evil Eye ( FF 54, 1966).

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 While perhaps not as inspired as the 1966-67 Thor sagas, the Mangog serial is a cosmic epic and points (quite literally) toward the New Gods of the early Seventies.  Shortly, we’ll look at the second coming of Kirby to the Baxter Building in the next Marvel Treasury. But first…

Coming soon: Mordru the Merciless

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Premiere League

I may have got the order of these posts on Treasuries and Tabloids slightly wrong. I understand that this Justice League issue was supposedly on sale during the late summer of 1976; perhaps my upcoming post on Thor should precede it. In any case, I never saw a single DC tabloid in newsagents in South Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Glasgow or Galloway: my environs in those halcyon days.

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Collected here are two Fox-Sekowsky-Sachs JLA cases from the early 1960s. This is the kind of material I raved about to the London sci-fi club members I met at Longleat thirty years ago.

Decoy Missions of the Justice League: the JLA are tricked by bug-eyed alien Kanjar Ro into battling non-existent menaces while the villain steals the Earth and moves it to orbit Arcturus. This is a sequel to “The Planet that Came to a Standstill”- the first team-up of the JLA with spaceman Adam Strange- and also to a second Zeta-Beam tale: “The Super-Brain of Adam Strange”, reprinted in Action Comics 443 (1975) which we’ve revisited here previously. And, as we saw,  that story also spawned a sequel, “Amazing Thefts of the IQ Gang”.

Fox was a hugely prolific scripter and this story spotlights his pulp fiction roots: aural duplicates; a Dawn Age atomic world; the menace of alien trees in the famine-struck Ninety-Second century and an invasion by the figureheads of sunken ships. However, the multiple scenarios are quite complex and the heroes have identikit personalities. This genteel sci-fi seems rather juvenile compared to Englehart’s kozmic history of the Kree and the Cotati in Avengers circa 1975.

The Deadly Dreams of Dr. Destiny: the villain of this 1965 case reminds me of the JSA’s foes in the Forties, like the original Psycho Pirate. The genial-looking convict has created a “Dream Materioptikon” (ker-azy name!) which he hopes will enable him to defeat the JLA-ers in their dreams and in reality.

Despite guest appearances by the Joker and the one-off Katar Hol villain Chac ( a Mayan priest), this is a dull tale which even recent inductee Hawkman can’t rescue. To my knowledge, Dr. Destiny was never seen again until 1978 and the Giant-Size era of the JLA. If Len Wein had stayed on as JLA scripter instead of moving to Marvel, perhaps he would have revived the villain.  In any case,when Destiny reappeared, it was as a hooded, skeletal madman who had power over the realm of dreams, not unlike Dr. Strange’s foe, Nightmare.

The extra features are charming, however. Terry Austin’s centre-spread poster of the League and its major allies in the mid-70s includes Metamorpho, Zatanna and Phantom Stranger- but neglects other significant guests, chiefly Hawkgirl and  Sargon the Sorceror.

Alex Toth’s model sheets from the Super Friends tv series present Superbaby, Jay Garrick and Plastic Man- a character who obviously had a following at DC but one who has never broken through to maintain a comic for any length of time. These pages are an intriguing look at a tv show that was never broadcast in this country ( although I enjoyed the Bridwell/Fradon comic.)

The back cover features annual favourites, the Justice Society of America. Forties stalwarts Atom, Starman and Johnny Thunder are absent. Surprisingly, so are Power Girl, Robin, Wildcat, Hourman and the Star-Spangled Kid: all featured in the revival of All-Star Comics at the beginning of ’76.

It seems strange (no pun intended) not to include the Mystery in Space story unless it was because it had been previously reprinted four years earlier. Equally oddly, given the JSA on the back cover, why not just reprint  the 1965 “Crisis on Earth-A”, with the first revival of the original Mr. Terrific, the criminal Johnny Thunder and his Lawless League? 

In 1976, JLA was still strip-mining Fox’s legacy with space opera tales of Despero and the Queen Bee while a floundering Supergirl (who should have been inducted there and then) guest-starred. What the JLA needed  was a grittier revamp after Wein departed but this tabloid was an opportunity to capitalise on the patriotic summer and the revival of the Justice Society. They blew it.

Next: Thunder in the Mountains

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The Fury of a Cyclone

Yesterday on Place, I alluded to the great era of Golden Age DC reprints, ushered in by the late Carmine Infantino. One of the factors that influenced my purchase of Marvel’s Treasury Editions was how many of the stories I had already read. After all, by 1976, Marvel UK had been reprinting stories in b/w – and other colours- for four years. The heyday of British Marvel was over, thanks in part to the double-dip recession of 1975. So, if Giant Superhero Team-Up went on sale in South Lanarkshire, I declined to pick it up. However, today, it’s an visually appealing souvenir of mid-Sixties Marvel.

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In the Rage of Battle: my favourite story in this collection is from 1968 and the early months of the Thomas/Buscema Sub-Mariner solo series. The Sepent Crown, disguised as The Helmet of the Ancients, is in the custody of the Thing. Namor, eager to return the mind-controlling helmet to the Antartcic, becomes involved in a spectacular struggle with Ben Grimm. The conflict is only ended by the arrival of a mysterious female- revealed to be an elderly Betty Dean, the widow and ex- policewoman who was formerly Namor’s Girl Friday in the Forties.

The Thing provides humour in a melancholy story about ageing and lost love which even has time for a cameo of Thomas’ new star, the Vision, wrapped in his enigmatc musings with Goliath ( in his garish, short-lived red and blue costume).

Thomas is at the height of his powers here, evoking the elemental Golden Age clashes with the android Torch in a few deft scenes. Almost twenty years later, he would probably have devoted several issues to his nostalgia for the Forties. The cleverest element is counterpointing lovestruck Diane Arliss ( sister to Tiger Shark, effectively Namor’s mosntrous co-star in those days) with the former Betty Dean and subtly foregrounding Lady Dorma as Namor’s real romantic focus. Thomas is a much more engaging and sophisticated writer than Stan Lee as this comic proves and it makes me wonder why his Mar-Vell series stuttered and failed.

Not to denigrate Buscema, whose heroes are powerful and whose women are smouldering. Big John also brings realism to the devastation of NYC ( as we will see again later). This is a gorgeous and poignant story, which makes me want to re-read the Sub-Mariner series.

In Combat with Captain America: a violent if pointless 1968 brawl between Dardevil and the Star-Spangled Avenger. After several panels of soap opera mooning over Karen Page, Daredevil is again exposed to that old McGuffin, radioactivity.

 DD subsequently displays an abrasive cocky personality, not unlike Hawkeye in the days of the Kooky Quartet. There follows a dynamic ehibition of pugilism and martial arts at Madison Square Garden. Gene Colan mastefully depicts both the angished, lovelorn Matt Murdock and the reckless boxer’s son in the ring. There is also a cameo of the villain du jour, the sinister Jester: very much DD’s Joker in the mid-sixties.

The Mighty Thor battles the Incredible Hulk: this is a 1965 vignette revisiting events from Avengers 3, the clash with the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk on Gibraltar. Thor intervenes in a squabble between two youthful factions of Thor- and Hulk- fans ( Kirby’s preppy kids in fedoras) to settle the oldest Marvel question: “Who’s the strongest?”

 The Wasp gets no screen time in this “director’s cut”  but it’s fun to see the original Avengers sprawling over one another. Thor entreats Odin to reduce his might to make his fight with the Hulk a fairer one. It certainly enhances the power and rage of Ol’ Greenskin. Not one of my favourite Thor episodes but it ends with a contemplative Thunder God.

The Surfer and the Spider: for me, this is the weakest story in the collection but it has beautiful art from Buscema and Adkins. This is a Silver Surfer episode I first read in b/w in the weekly Super Heroes UK reprint title. It comes from 1970 and is four issues away from the end of the Surfer’s first run. 

It’s another pointless slugfest, this time with Spider-Man ( and next month will see an equally pointless, if slightly more evenly matched , clash with Johnny Storm). The selflessly noble but melodramatic Surfer is difficult to sympathise with and will soon be eclipsed by the sombre Vision as Marvel’s most popular Stranger in a Strange Land. 

Stan the Man presents a self-referential world where Marvel’s heroes appear in comics.  A comics-obsessed kid is an unwitting passenger on the Surfer’s board but while his unhip dad  represents the square, comics-loathing establishment, how will young Henry respond to the trauma of being caught up in super-human conflict? The story rather leaves us siding with the Man, even if the Surfer is seen as a benevolent alien.

Despite some thin scripts, this Treasury is a great sampler of classic Silver Age art at Marvel and a companion piece to 1978’s paperback Marvel’s Greatest Superhero Battles.

Coming soon: The JLA in Bicentennial Year.

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Let Valour Write in Skies of Strife

Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles must have been the first Kirby comic I actually turned down. I recall seeing it on sale in the Barn Street paper shop in Strathaven in 1976. As a fan of Kamandi, the Demon and Mr. Miracle (and  to a lesser extent, the New Gods) I was drawn to new Kirby Kreations but this one never grabbed me.  It seemed too patriotic, I suppose.

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Flash-forward more than thirty-five years and Bicentennial Battles presents a kaleidoscope of images from American history. The comic opens with the astrally-projecting Mr. Buda, a “strange little man” who sends Cap on his “ultimate trip”. Barry Smith ( ironically a Kirby imitator in his early career) provides inks which soften Jack’s figures as we are pitched back to the Star-Spangled Avenger’s earliest days with cameos for Bucky, Hitler and the Red Skull.

Cap is then propelled through a series of cinematic vignettes: Ben Franklin; the Depression Era; Geronimo; a mining disaster in Kentucky; a WW1 dogfight; a bout with John L.Sullivan; a runaway slave; the Great Chicago Fire and a Jaws tribute, reminding us of the impact of the first 70s blockbuster movie.

The time-travelling continues with a  firefight on the Moon; a Hollywood musical (homaged in the recent Cap movie); Country Music and a two-page assembly of multi-racial kids. I think it’s fitting that the man who brought us so many groups of young people, from the Newsboy Legion to the Forever People chooses to end on an image of youthful potential: “That’s America- a place of stubborn confidence!”

(One of the criticisms of Kirby’s run on Cap was that the Falcon’s emergent black consciousness was neglected. I feel that’s somewhat unfair as I don’t know where the Falcon could have gone after Englehart revealed him, quite dismissively, as a bespoke assassin created by the Red Skull. I think Kirby treated him with respect as Cap’s equal in the Madbomb storyline. I also like to imagine that Jack might have  created a new Bucky to tap into his theme of the potential of the younger generation: someone like Krunch from The Dingbats perhaps.)

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But that double-page spread in Battles wasn’t quite the end. There’s a playful pin-up section  featuring Colonial Cap, Western Cap, the Astro-Hero and Steve Rogers himself. The whole package is zany but celebratory.

Critics within the House of Idea savaged Kirby’s mid-70s work on Captain America: the vicious satire of  “Jack the Hack” indicates how  out of step his writing and pencilling seemed to the Kozmic Krew. It’s true that Bicentennial Battles still seems an off-kilter pageant of  Gerald Ford’s America but I think it has a  charm and verve and, above all, an imaginative sweep that failed to materialise elsewhere ( I’m thinking specifically of Englehart’s abortive “Occult History of America” in Dr. Strange)

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I’m now wondering what Kirby might have wrought if Infantino had given the Shazam! title to him instead of C.C. Beck. Comics like Fighting American and the 70s Sandman suggest the King would have been at home with Talky Tawny, Mag Sivana and Mr. Atom. But as Kid Robson has wisely observed, it would probably have been too Marvel for DC fans and vice versa.

Next: Giant Super-Hero Team-Up

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