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October 9th, 2019

Time for today's Legion of Super-Heroes classic re-read, in which a controversial member of the team becomes new Legion leader...





Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #225
March, 1977
"And Who Shall Lead Them?"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: James Sherman
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Uncredited
Colourist: Uncredited
Cover: Mike Grell (signed)
Editor: Dennis O'Neil

Mission Monitor Board:
Superboy, Wildfire, Dream Girl, Ultra Boy, Lightning Lad, Mon-El, Shadow Lass; Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy (cameos)

Opposition:
The Resource Raiders

Synopsis:
“And Who Shall Lead Them?”
The story opens during the ceremony to swear Wildfire in as new leader of the Legion of Super-Heroes. A very angry Superboy bursts onto the scene, claiming Wildfire cheated him out of the position - because he got the most votes! The entire process is being televised on WGBS. When Superboy claims he’s the more deserving of the job, Wildfire comments that all he deserves is a slap to the face to bring him to his senses. Mon-El obliges Wildfire, and clocks Superboy one before the viewing audience and the other Legionnaires. Dream Girl tells them to stop, as she says it will make a wonderful headline tomorrow: “Legion Ceremony Turns Into Brawl — Superboy Really Spoilboy!” After Ultra Boy and Mon-El restrain Superboy and he calms down, the two Legionnaires release him. Dream Girl, Lightning Lad and Wildfire explain that they changed the Legion Constitution. Part-time members were never covered, and with Superboy and Karate Kid spending spending most of their time back 1,000 years in the past, they are unable to fulfill the role of Legion leader. Mon-El says that they have a ceremony to conduct, but Superboy doesn’t buy it and stomps off in a huff. Shadow Lass goes after him, saying that she doesn’t believe he’d do something like this out of spite, but Superboy says that Wildfire cheated him out of what is rightfully his, though he thanks Shadow Lass for her moral support.

Several hours later, after the ceremony is long over, Wildfire leads a group of Legionnaires on their first assignment. The Resource Raiders, infamous throughout the galaxy for plundering various worlds, have been spotted on Earth for the first time, and are trying to destroy a dam. On arriving at the dam site, Wildfire assigns Ultra Boy and Dream Girl to rescue duty, and tells Lightning Lad and Shadow Lass to accompany him. Ultra Boy rescues a mother and her daughter from a ledge about to be overwhelmed by a flood from the dam being broken, while Dream Girl saves a girl from drowning in the waters released by the damaged dam. Meanwhile, while Shadow Lass provides cover, Wildfire and Lightning Lad attempt to attack the raiders’ saucer ship but are ineffective. Wildfire decides to try and stem the flow of the dam, but as he fires an energy blast, Superboy interposes himself and blocks the energy blast. Telling Ultra Boy to join him, Superboy and his fellow Legionnaire grab the raiders’ ship and throw it straight out of the Earth’s atmosphere. On returning, Superboy explains that the dam was coated in minute particles of explosive powder, which if ignited, would have destroyed the entire valley.

Sometime later, back at Legion Headquarters, in one of the lounges, Ultra Boy tells Shadow Lass, Lightning Lad and Dream Girl that there was no powder on the dam; if there had been, he would have been able to see it with his penetra-vision. Shadow Lass doesn't want to think that Superboy may be trying to set their new leader up, to which Dream Girl states that she thinks there might just be more going on here than meets the eye. The scene shifts to the Legion's Hall of Uniforms, where an embittered Superboy skulks in the shadows. He comes across his goal, a Wildfire costume, just as the real Wildfire enters the chamber. He tells Superboy that making a fool of him wasn’t enough, but now Superboy wants to frame him by stealing one of his costumes. A brief tussle ensues, ending in the darkness...and Wildfire leaves the chamber...or is it Wildfire?

Later, Wildfire searches for the Raiders, and finds them, and then thinks to himself that he will lead the Legion in this fight, the way it should have been. Alerting the other Legionnaires, Wildfire leads them up against them where they are hiding behind a bunch of old satellites. Shadow Lass can’t figure out how he found them, given his powers, to which Wildfire replies that he "has his ways." The Legion proceeds to attack the Resource Raiders, and Dream Girl notices that Wildfire is fighting like Superboy in disguise. When Dream Girl is about to be blasted by one of the raiders’ small ships, Wildfire interposes himself and is seemingly destroyed. However, another raider prepares to attack her with a needle ray weapon, but Superboy blocks the shot with his hand! As Superboy enters the fray and helps the team easily take out the Raiders, he explains that the reason he's been such a jerk is because he saw that the Legion computer predicted whoever was the new leader would be blasted and killed during their first mission... and he intended to be the one to literally take that bullet. However, during his fight with Wildfire in the Hall of Uniforms, Wildfire convinced him that he would have a better chance of surviving the (Kryptonite-laden) blast. Wildfire slips into his spare costume, and is as good as new. Ultra Boy promises that he’ll convince the Resource Raider captives to tell them where their homeworld is and why they’ve been stealing the galaxy’s resources.

Commentary:
Oh, dear...what to say about this story? Other than the first issue of the Karate Kid Vol 1 series, this was the first story written by Paul Levitz on the Legion, and it shows. It’s like Levitz took a Cary Bates story and re-wrote it...not very well. Even if Superboy was aware of a plot where the current Legion leader would die, he would never do the things that this character does, from interrupting a Leader's swearing-in ceremony to pretending to blow up a dam (that scene confused me) to fighting Wildfire but then not walking out with him? Legionnaires don’t do that, they make peace among themselves pretty much right away or at least by the end of the issue/story. And I’m not even going to talk about Mon-El bitch-slapping Superboy the way he did, other than to say that’s *not* Mon-El! In the letter column of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #230, author Levitz tried to clarify that he tried to get across that Mon-El’s slapping of Superboy was the act of an older brother trying to bring the kid brother in line. While I can understand the reason, no it just didn’t work. This whole drama isn’t helped by the plot that because the Legion's computer told Superboy (but nobody else?) that the Legion Leader would be blasted on his or her first mission. I’ve got a news flash for you: Legionnaires are blasted at all the time! I have to say that I was totally in Shadow Lass’s corner when she says, “What the hell is going on here!?!" Or perhaps that was part of the point - that Superboy and Mon-El, but notably the former, were not acting themselves, clueing the reader in that something was afoot. That said, luckily for Legion fandom, Paul (Levitz) got better at the writing gig on the DC top super-team of the time.

That said, there are two bright spots in this story, however. First, Dream Girl is portrayed as ultra-competent. While she may be the most (debateable) attractive female Legionnaire, she also has a brain: she talks to Superboy about the Legion Constitution as if she had a hand re-writing it. (Actually, she sat down and read the whole thing in her very first appearance, way back in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #317). Interestingly, there is the one panel where she saves a child from drowning, diving into the water and getting all wet and mussed up. This is a far cry from her later period where she’s self-indulgent and vain about her appearance. The second highlight of the story is the debut of artist James Sherman. While a lot of Legion fans didn’t like his work on the title, given that Mike Grell had just left and Dave Cockrum before him, Sherman’s artwork is truly great in its own way and quite distinctive in this first story. Furthermore, Bob Wiacek seems to bring out the best in Sherman’s pencils. I was also quite partial to the lettering in this story, though it is uncredited, as the bold emphasis on some of the talk (and arguing) is very well thought out and rendered for the maximum effect. Lovely stuff.

Then we have the second story of the issue…

"A Matter of Priorities"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: Mike Nasser
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Uncredited
Colourist: Uncredited
Cover: na
Editor: Dennis O'Neil

Mission Monitor Board:
Timber Wolf, Sun Boy, Princess Projectra

Guest Star:
Ambassador Relnic

Opposition:
Tseln of Thaun, a mass murderer

Synopsis:
This story occurs on a spaceship, where Legionnaires Princess Projectra, Timber Wolf and Sun Boy (all in disguise) are escorting Ambassador Relnic on a diplomatic mission. While sitting together in a common area, the group witness a body plunge to the ground from the lounge level above. The knife and the wound that Timber Wolf notes are a trademark of the intergalactic mass-murderer Tseln of Thaun, and shoving Sun Boy aside despite the latter’s arguments says that this will be his last murder. Timber Wolf clambers up and leaps to the lounge level where he sees a shadowy figure moving away in the distance. He grabs a lone drape off the wall and hurls it at his target - which turns out to be fellow Legionnaire Princess Projectra! Projectra tells Wolf that he’s getting overanxious again, but in the meantime, Tseln has escaped once more. Sun Boy and the Ambassador arrive, and the reader learns more about the mission of diplomacy. Relnic is to head to the Dominion Worlds to avert a pending war with the Dominators. However, Timber Wolf says that the Legion has followed Tseln across 12 planets, and still haven’t gotten a good look at him. It's said that he or she is quite superstitious and always kills using a ceremonial knife. Relnic attempts to reason with Timber Wolf to calm him down, saying that the Dominators cannot admit that Relnic is here and that if they knew the Legionnaires were present would suspect them of serving as Relnic’s bodyguard. He tells Timber Wolf that it is all a matter of priorities. Timber Wolf retires to his room, unhappy with having to wait, while Relnic, Sun Boy and Princess Projectra have themselves some dinner...

…and it turns out, a floor show! Suddenly the main area of the ship is filled with flame as a pair of smiling demonic beasts make a (very) dramatic appearance! The devilish creature starts speaking in very demonic stereotypes, claiming the passengers are its and to do with as it pleases. Seemingly sending an attractive female passenger to hell through a starry vortex, the arrival of the superstitious Tseln of Thaun on the scene, with his mithril silver knife that can kill any demon, brings the situation to a head. Tseln attacks, but gets taken down for his troubles. The Devil creature vanishes as ship security descends on the mass-murderer. A tannoy message apologizes for the fact that the scheduled ship’s entertainment got a bit out of hand, but since the drama resulted in the capture of a wanted criminal, hopes the passengers will accept their apologies. The Legionnaires wrap it all up, whispering to one another that they stopped the mass-murderer without Relnic even realizing it.

Commentary:
This is the type of story that Cary Bates excelled at. It’s a relatively straightforward drama featuring only a handful of Legionnaires. The story involves a diplomatic mission, a mass-murderer, a highly innovative means of capturing him without giving away who they are, and is a pretty tight tale told from the pen of Paul Levitz who, for all intents and purposes, got the Cary Bates formula down the right way. However, the Legionnaires don’t appear in costume and while Mike Nasser’s art continues to improve, it’s difficult at times to tell which Legionnaire is which. The “floor show” solution the Legionnaires come up with was highly entertaining and neat. Timber Wolf playing the devil under a Princess Projectra illusion with the flames courtesy of Sun Boy worked really well, and made for some good drama in the story. However, in many ways this is less of a Legion adventure and more of a Science Police case. When this story is taken into account with the lead story in this issue, there’s probably no hint of the greatness that was to come from Paul Levitz.

Final Notes:
This is the first Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes issue written by Paul Levitz. He would eventually go on to write more Bronze Age Legion stories than any other writer… This is also the first issue drawn by James Sherman. The letter column discusses the change in creative team, including story editor Denny O’Neil, but also states that Mike Grell is just off catching up on other duties and that James Sherman filled in for him this issue… One of the biggest disappointments with this issue was that the cliffhanger from the previous issue’s Stargrave story wasn’t realized, and it wasn’t even mentioned here in this issue at all…Wildfire is elected the 12th Legion Leader during the Legion's 10th year… Why exactly does the Legion HQ have a "Hall of Uniforms"? Whose uniforms are those besides Wildfire’s?… Given that Superboy received the most votes in the Legion election, did the amendment to the Legion Constitution come after or before the votes were in? And if they knew that Superboy could not serve as Legion leader, why did they vote for him?… This issue features the debut of Ambassador Relnic, who would be a major supporting character for the next ten years… Although Princess Projectra is on their mission, Timber Wolf uses facial make-up rather than hide behind one of her illusions. Why he is on an undercover case in the first place is a great question. They should have sent Chemical King, whom nobody would have recognized… Whose voice is on the speaker, announcing that the murderer was captured by actors? That's either a very clever, quick-thinking announcer, or perhaps it is one of the Legionnaires’ voices pre-recorded…


Next Issue: Karate Kid Vol 1 #7

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John Kahane

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