Digest-ible

 Today’s post functions as an insert in the Great Darkness Saga.

There had previously been two Legion of Super-Hero digests in the early 80s. The first reprinted the debut of the Fatal Five in the “Death of Ferro Lad” 2-parter and the first appearance of the hypnotist Universo.

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Wonderful Nick cardy cover

The second reprinted the sequel to the Sun-Eater/Fatal Five adventure which introduced Shadow Lass and the Dark Circle story which gave details of Karate Kid’s background and revealed the new Legion HQ. In addition, Dave Cockrum’s vital depiction of “The Fatal Five Who Twisted Time” rounded out the tiny comic.

The third LSH digest ( May 1982) promised a new story and new costumes- signalling a new era for the team as part of a renaissance at DC. Ironically, this rebirth coincided with not only the British Invasion of writers and artists but the exodus of Marvel creators from the regime of Legion alumnus, Jim Shooter.

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Like the previous digests, I got this one by mail order, since they weren’t carried by any of my local shops.

Murder in Glass: this is a framing sequence for a two-parter from Adventure.  Where Steve Ditko’s surreal cartooning seemed almost too humorous for the modern Legion, the airy futurism of Carmine Infantino seems more suited.

Partly to lay to rest rumours of a governmental feud, President Marte Allon honours the four Terran legionnaires: Sun Boy,Karate Kid, Wildfire and her son Colossal Boy. However she is turned to glass in a re-enactment of…

The Colossal Failure: in this Shooter/Swan story, Colossal Boy is blackmailed for details of the LSH Academy, its training programme. Ordered to retrain after making mistakes in action, Gim encounters Chemical King, whose death was foreshadowed in Adventure 354. The plot is uncovered by Bouncing Boy and Colossal Boy is expelled for espionage and treason. The last expulsion was when Star Boy killed in self-defence- these military-style storylines are rare among Marvel teams.

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Rare cover appearance of TW in his Lone Wolf costume. Cover by Neal Adams

School For Super-Villians: Shrinking Violet follows the trail of the blackmailers to a duplicate training centre. This is the origin of the Legion of Super-Villains, organised by Tarik the Mute: a crook with a telepathic android which speaks for him.

Chemical King and Timber Wolf ( formerly Lone Wolf) infiltrate the enemy camp with Chameleon Boy and a disguised Superboy. The trainees are awarded full membership ( as foretold in the Adult Legion story) and Colossal Boy is exonerated. We get glimpses of Lightning Lord; LSH traitor Nemesis Kid; Spider Girl; Radiation Roy and paper-thin flat man Ronn Kar who will all return later in the 80s.

Murder in Glass (conclusion) we learn Tarik the Mute died of a heart attack but his telepathic android is carrying out a vengeance scheme. There’s a tocuhing mother/son reunion at the end of the story.

Meet the Legion: after the revolutionary re-designs by Cockrum in the early 70s, the 16 pages of new costumes heralded on the cover are something of a disappointment. Only four Legionnaires actually get redesigns: Blok ( chains and a kilt!); Cosmic Boy ( his previous uniforms fused together); Shadow Lass( a black bodystocking and huge collar); and the hirsute Timber Wolf ( a chest-baring costume and spiked belt).  Raven aside, I find Perez’s designs fussy and unappealing.

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Other Legionnaires’ costumes were tweaked somewhat: Dream Girl gets a big D belt-emblem; Phantom Girl loses her flares and Wildfire his pirate boots. Projectra’s decolletage is demurely concealed by a coronet -pattern. Duo Damsel gained gloves and a longer cape and Star Boy lost the deep v-neck from his starfield costume.

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Invisible Invader: I had read this short by Bridwell and Tuska when it was originally published in the Superboy issue above. Here we learn that the drably-costumed Chemical King is a mutant- a rarity in DC comics of the time and the second such hero in the team after Ferro Lad.

 Invisible Kid’s origins are explored as a crook uses a duplicate of his invisibility serum. CK cancels it out however in a logical use of his obscure power. This story lays the groundwork for the intense relationship between these two Legionnaires.

The Ghost of Ferro Lad: supernatural stories grew in popularity during the Sixties culminating in Orlando’s revamped House of Mystery/Secrets titles. Here we have the LSH’s first venture into that Gothic trend.

 This is  the second, almost-instant revival of Ferro Lad ( previously impersonated by his own twin in the Adult Legion 2-parter). It begins with a visit to the cemetary asteroid Shanghalla and reveals the guilt over FE Lad’s death felt by Superboy and Cosmic Boy as it becomes clear that the iron-bodied mutant is haunting the clubhouse.

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Brainiac 5 suspects regal Kim Novak-lookalike Princess Projectra of staging the ghostly happenings but she is revealed to be a hereditary spiritualist- an Orikall of Orando. After holding a seance, the LSH is instructed to disband  and the Sun-Eater group ordered into banishment.

It turns out to be a plot by a renegade Controller (a near-omnipotent Watcher-like alien) who is subsequently frightened to death by the real spectre of Ferro Lad. This is an exciting spooky tale for teens and features a cameo by Cosmic Boy’s kid brother – later to join as Magnetic Kid. It was the most satisfying story in the collection.

I enjoyed re-reading this comic again after more than 30 years. I know the digest is a popular format, especially with public libraries. Yesterday in Nairn I found that library stocked a copy of a FF digest ( the whole Doom-Surfer megilla). In 8 years, it had been withdrawn 26 times- at least three months of every year- which I think is testament to a forty-seven year old comic book. Perhaps the Big Two should publish more digests?

Coming soon: the Servants of Darkness

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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