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October 12th, 2019

Time for another Legion of Super-Heroes classic re-read on this Saturday. This time out, an evil Brainiac 5, sort of...





Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #227
May, 1977
“War At World’s End!”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Joe Staton
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: Uncredited
Colourist: Uncredited
Cover: Mike Grell (signed)
Editor: Dennis O’Neil

Mission Monitor Board:
Superboy, Wildfire, Colossal Boy, Phantom Girl, Princess Projectra, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Shrinking Violet, Lightning Lad; Sun Boy, Star Boy (flashback)

Opposition:
Pulsar Stargrave, Holdur, Quicksand

Synopsis:
Brainiac 5 floats in space above Colu along with his one-man ship, as a Legion cruiser approaches. The Legion vessel is blasted and destroyed by another vessel that emerges from behind a moon. Brainiac 5 gloats about his easy victory over the Legionnaires. However, suddenly Superboy grabs him by the shoulder and then punches the spacesuit clad Brainiac 5! The Legion realized that this was not Brainiac 5 as Wildfire saw that he was wearing the spacesuit; the real Brainiac 5 has no need for a suit in space. Thus, they abandoned the cruiser and survived the attack. Grabbing the false Brainiac 5, Colossal Boy hopes to get the information on where the real Brainy is, but Phantom Girl reappears from inside the one-man craft and tells the Legionnaires that she’s found Brainiac 5. While she frees the real Coluan, the other Legionnaires go after the ship that attacked them, but breaking inside find that it is deserted. Dream Girl says that it’s another deception, like the one that lured them to Colu in the first place. False Legionnaire, false attacker, false ambush. With Phantom Girl having freed the real Brainiac 5, they emerge from the one-man ship. Brainiac 5 says it was done to mock them, to show the futility of opposing him, and when asked Brainiac 5 says his father, or rather the man pretending to be his father - the original Brainiac! Brainiac 5 recounts the events of how the Legion first met Pulsar Stargrave, how he joined forces with the man who claimed to be his father, altered by aliens, and then travelled to Zerox on a mission to steal an item. Avoiding various traps, Brainiac 5 learned the truth from the mystic Star Stone: Stargrave is actually the original Brainiac. As the Legionnaires head for the planet, Brainiac 5 tells them that Brainiac intends to conquer Colu as it is the one place in all the universe that he hates. To determine what Brainiac plans, Saturn Girl reads the mind of the impostor Brainiac 5 and sees the images of a gravitron monitoring station at Colu’s north pole and a vast air filter plant in the Coluan desert. Wildfire sends a team of Superboy, Princess Projectra, and Phantom Girl to check the airfilter plant, while he takes Shadow Lass, Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet to investigate the gravitron. Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad will remain with Brainiac 5 where they are in case of trouble. The Legionnaire teams depart.

At Colu’s north pole, Wildfire explains that he learned from the Legion dossiers that Colu is a planet suffering from intense tidal flux caused by its proximity to its sun and the six moons orbiting the equator, and that despite the earthquakes and the like that befell the planet and limited technological development, the Coluans eventually created the gravitron to control and offset the lunar tides. No sooner does he finish his explanation than the gravitron comes under attack from battle robots trying to destroy it. While Wildfire and Colossal Boy deal with the robots, Shadow Lass and Shrinking Violet see a figure race into the gravitron structure. Violet questions whether they shouldn’t wait for the male Legionnaires, but Shadow Lass says she voted for Superboy, not “that egotist”, and that they can handle the job themselves. Rushing in, they come across Holdur and Violet avoids his attack by shrinking down while Shadow Lass trips him up and gives him a boot to the head, knocking him unconscious. They go deeper into the complex, turning on the lighting system, and find Stargrave at the heart of the place in the control room. Telling them there’s nothing they can do to stop him, Stargrave waves his hand at them, and the two Legionnaires go down (off-screen).

Meanwhile, in the desert, Superboy, Princess Projectra and Phantom Girl arrive at the airfilter plant to find that nothing unusual is happening. A giant robot emerges out of the ground and attacks the heroes, sending Superboy flying with a massive strike. While Princess Projectra distracts it with the illusion of a wild Venusian wart-bull, the two female Legionnaires go and check on Superboy. He tells them that he’s fine, that he was merely stunned, but is more worried about the plant as he thought he saw someone enter it. Phantom Girl says she’ll go in and check things out, and phases into the plant. She thinks that Superboy sometimes forgets that she was one of the first Legionnaires; she’s even more experienced than he is. She rounds a corner and comes upon Stargrave - who blasts the female Legionnaire with an energy burst sending her tumbling.

Back in the Coluan city, Brainiac 5 comes to a sudden realization. He has Lightning Lad attack the fake Brainiac 5, with just enough energy to short-circuit it if it’s a robot and is proven correct. Saturn Girl says it’s impossible that she read the mind of a robot, but Brainiac 5 says that’s not true with an android genius such as the original Brainiac. At Lightning Lad’s request, Brainy gives them a refresher course on the original Brainiac. Brainiac was originally built when Colu was ruled by computers to be a spy among the human population. However, he eventually broke off from them and began capturing cities and miniaturizing them with technology that his brilliant mind developed. This brought him to the attention of Superman, whom he fought over and over again. Bored, Brainiac decided to seek challenges in a new time, and built a time machine that brought him to the future. He was discovered by aliens, as he told Brainiac 5, but the rest of it was a lie. The three head for the Science Museum. Bainiac 5 believes that his ancestor will go there to re-activate the computers that created him, then use them to enslave Colu. While Brainiac isn’t there yet, Quicksand is. She imprisons the three Legionnaires, burying them in the ground and then solidifying it once more. Saturn Girl knocks out Quicksand before she can take any other action, the effort rendering Saturn Girl unconscious. Stargrave arrives at the museum, blasting a hole through the wall from the outside, and tells the heroes that Brainiac 5 had guessed partially right: He intends to bring to life those ancient computers that had given him life, and help them enslave the Coluans once more. As he starts to energize the computers, Superboy and Wildfire appear on the scene out of nowhere and combine their powers to knock Stargrave into Colu’s sun and “that should keep him out of trouble for a while.” While they free Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Brainiac 5, the two explain that there were too many coincidental elements and why did he need to send robots to attack the gravitron and the airfilter plant when he could have easily destroyed them himself? Comparing notes, they realized that both teams were fighting Stargrave and that the power blasts he’d fired at Phantom Girl, Shadow Lass and Shrinking Violet had been relatively harmless. Realizing they were fighting imposters, the two teams rushed back just in time. Brainiac 5 convinces the heroes to help the Coluans with the rebuilding the next day, after they get some rest. Colossal Boy and Superboy agree wholeheartedly.

Commentary:
Oh, dear...what can I say about this story? I really wanted to like this story, I did, but the problems with this tale are just too...glaring in so many ways. This story is meant to be the tale that concludes the story about Pulsar Stargrave that began in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #224 and continued with the shorter Brainiac 5 story set on Zerox, the Sorcerers’ World, in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #226. The first adventure was written by Jim Shooter, who left the story, the comic and the company to pursue a career over at Marvel, and it is clear that the folks at DC didn’t have a clue what to do about the plot and how to proceed with the story. That said, what really seems to have happened is that none of the folks involved with the writing and plotting of this story had actually *read* the original story, including editor Denny O’Neil, who should have known better. What’s even more clear in the story is that the men in charge of this weren’t Legion fans, either. There is something wrong in this story on almost every single page of the tale.

Here are some of the more notable bits that really got to me. The biggest glitch in the story is the fact that the authors and editors forgot that Pulsar Stargrave’s original purpose was to fight Mordru and defeat him, thus leaving the way clear to conquer the galaxy. What happened to that plan? Part of me thinks that Pulsar Stargrave was never meant to be the original Brainiac at all, that he was supposed to be Querl Dox’s father gone bad, but that obviously changed. On to other stuff... On pages 1 and 2, the Legion allows their cruiser to be destroyed, even though they suspect that the guy waiting for them is not really Brainiac 5. No putting up of defensive shields, here, just let the ship be destroyed. One of the female Legionnaires (it’s impossible to tell if it’s Shadow Lass or Phantom Girl) even points out that their patron, Rene Brande, may be rich, but even he shouldn’t have to go around replacing the cruisers. There are some glaring colouring mistakes and dialogue mistakes, more than I am comfortable counting. The most obvious one is on page 3, when Saturn Girl is coloured as Princess Projectra and Lightning Lad is coloured as Brainiac 5. The Legionnaires head down to Colu without their spaceship, but then they... lose their spacesuits in the space of one panel. Exactly how does that work? There are almost no local Coluans, but the ones that are there are coloured as if they are Caucasians. Shadow Lass is referred to as Shadow Girl on page 8...by Shrinking Violet, no less, who calls her by her first name (Tasmia) but then forgets her code name! Really? Speaking of Shadow Lass, she lets her dislike of Wildfire and his leadership get in the way of her professionalism when she doesn’t tell him that she saw Pulsar Stargrave run into the gravitron facility. Pretty bad planning, and could have ended very badly if it had been the real Stargrave. That said, I did like the fact that Shady had an opinion about Wildfire, which was made clear in the earlier story when he was inducted as leader, so that at least gave some consistency to her character.

All three of the villains in the story were treated pretty shabbily. In his last appearance, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #224, Holdur kept pace with Superboy and even had him in a headlock that the Teen of Steel had trouble breaking. Here, he is defeated by a couple of slick moves by Shadow Lass, who’s certainly not in Superboy’s power league. More importantly, the darkness in the gravitron facility is coloured yellowy orange. While both Holdur and Shadow Lass can see in the dark, the scene was rendered ineffective. But I did like Violet’s shrinking out of Holdur’s way when warned by Shadow Lass. While Quicksand was dealt with very effectively by Saturn Girl, even the real Stargrave, once he shows up, is taken out with relative ease by the combined punch of Superboy and Wildfire. This against a villain who created a tear in the fabric of space and who tossed Superboy out of the planetary atmosphere in his first appearance.

How is Princess Projectra able to fool a giant robot with one of her projections? although her wild Venusian wart-bull was...impressive. Jeckie’s reply to Phantom Girl about “the beauty of a good illusion is in making it real” just doesn’t wash, unless she means that she can actually fool the senses of a robot with the illusion powers. Hmm... When Phantom Girl confronts Pulsar Stargrave, why doesn’t she turn immaterial? Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad sit around the city for one hour waiting for their friends. That just doesn’t seem right, both in the timing and the fact that the Legionnaires wouldn’t be worried about their teammates by that time. Saturn Girl reads the mind of an android, which she herself says is impossible. Obviously a serious glitch in terms of the author and editor remembering what her powers are... Brainiac 5 tells us that Brainiac became bored with fighting against Superman in the 20th century, so decided to come to the 30th Century. This is a direct contradiction with the history of the character given to us by Brainiac 5 back in his first appearance, in Action Comics Vol 1 #276.

While I think that Gerry Conway did a decent job with the story in a lot of respects, primary among these being writing a story around the plot involving Pulsar Stargrave, his lack of knowledge about the Legion comes through somewhat, but he definitely has the writing chops here and interestingly enough become the regular writer on the comics. The artwork by Joe Staton was capable, and showed flashes of excellence and a dynamic style that was once more muted somewhat by Jack Abel’s inks. That said, the best art in this issue I think was the cover by Mike Grell.

Final Notes:
This is the first appearance by later regular Legion of Super-Heroes writer Gerry Conway and artist Joe Staton. When they take over the title full-time themselves, the stories and artwork will be very, very good... This is the final appearance in Legion history of both Holdur and Quicksand. I think that she would have made an interesting recurring villain, but they both made for villains with potential... There is another plug in the letter column for the next issue, commenting that the story will feature the death of a Legionnaire. Those who read in the previous issue’s letter column that Chemical King would be appearing in issue #228 could not put one and one together to guess whose number was up.


Next Issue: Karate Kid Vol 1 #8

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John Kahane

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