December 25th, 2020

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #254

Time for today's treat re-read of a classic Legion of Super-Heroes comic. Enjoy! :)

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #254
August, 1979
"A Madman Shall Lead Them"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Joe Staton
Inker: Dave Hunt
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colourist: Gene D'Angelo
Cover: Dick Giordano (signed)
Editor: Jack C. Harris

Mission Monitor Board:
Superboy, Element Lad, Mon-El, Princess Projectra, Cosmic Boy, Dream Girl, Lightning Lad, Wildfire, Saturn Girl; Light Lass, Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy (suspended animation, and at end of issue)

Guest Stars:
Brainiac 5; R.J. Brande; The Legion of Substitute Heroes (Polar Boy, Night Girl, Fire Lad, Chlorophyll Kid, Color Kid)

The Legion of Super-Assassins (Lazon, Silver Slasher, Titania, Mist Master, Neutrax, Blok)

The story continues from the previous issue... On Earth, the pre-occupied Superboy arrives at the mental institution on St. Croix, where he goes straight to the isolated chamber on the uppermost floor oi the highest tower which is guarded and secured like no other at the hospital. There, he tries to talk to Brainiac 5. Before they can exchange more than a quick greeting and Brainiac 5 tells him that he's in the middle of a most crucial experiment when Superboy asks for his help, there is a sound like thunder and Lazon arrives on the scenes. Brainiac 5 notices that Superboy suddenly looks afraid, and with good reason. After a short game of cat-and-mouse, Lazon's wavelength (??) changes to that of Green Kryptonite and blasts Superboy. As Superboy falls, Lazon triumphantly says that the Boy of Steel is as dead as their homeworld Korlon, the world that Superboy and his fellow Legionnaires killed. Before Lazon departs, he is scanned by Brainiac 5 (whom Lazon completely ignores) on a delicate instrument. As the guards arrive, Brainiac 5 tells them to summon the hospital's Board of Directors, as he has a matter of life and death to discuss with them and a proposal to make.

Meanwhile, on the asteroid home of Legion friend and financier R.J. Brande, Lightning Lad has led a group of Legionnaires to ask for financial backing from him for the Legion to rebuild their HQ and re-equip them. However, Brande says that he's unfortunately unable to help them out, as according to the United Planets Department of Finance and the Worldbank computers, R.J. Brande Enterprises is bankrupt. The Legionnaires are shocked and disbelieving, but Saturn Girl picks up Brande's thoughts and confirms that this is true.

Back on Earth, in the former rocketship Legion Clubhouse, a meeting of the Legion of Substitute Heroes is underway. Polar Boy is going through a series of tactics with the others with the help of the Science Police tactical computer when Brainiac 5 arrives with a bodyguard and psychological assessor robot and the bodies of the six "dead" Legionnaires (Superboy, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Timber Wolf, Light Lass and Colossal Boy). Brainiac 5 tells them that the situation is not what it appears, and explains about the robotic assessor and the guard, as well as the fact that the six Legionnaires are not dead.

Brainiac 5 explains the events that occurred at the hospital, and that after Lazon left, he examined Superboy's body and discovered that Superboy wasn't dead but in a state of suspended animation. Watching the medical facility's tapes, he discovered that Superboy had achieved the suspended animation condition by striking his own body with his x-ray vision, triggering a chemical in his body that placed him in suspension. Since the condition is likely permanent unless he uncovers a way to reverse the suspension, and believing that other Legionnaires might also be affected, Brainiac 5 made a deal with the hospital's Board of Directors and was allowed to take Superboy in a medical coffin and go to the ruins of Legion HQ, where he found the bodies of the other five Legionnaires, also in the same state of suspended animation. Using the Legion recording devices that still survived at the ruined HQ, he learned of the attack by Titania and Neutrax there on Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy, but also saw the blurred image of Superboy pass by, triggering the suspended animation effect in them with his x-ray vision as well. He witnessed the arrival of the other assassins and learned that they are the survivors of the dead world called Korlon, who blamed Superboy and the others for their world's destruction, and gained their revenge with the super-powers given them by "the Dark Man" whose commands they must now obey as the price for their revenge. Polar Boy asks how the chemical compound in the Legionnaires' bodies got there, and Brainiac 5 explains that the chemical at the Aquarius Niteclub is a sense depressant liquid while the air at the Hologram show was enhanced with a chemical used for suspended animation in space travel. Fire Lad asks if there's any way to negate the suspended animation, and Brainiac 5 says that there is: they have to capture the super-assassins first, and hope they don't get killed in the process.

Sometime later, beneath an expanse of unmarked rubble on the outskirts of the ruins of Metropolis, Lazon, Silver Slasher, Titania, Mist Master, Neutrax and Blok are celebrating their victory over the six "dead" Legionnaires, Titania and Lazon notice the temperature has dropped by a lot. The walls begin to ice up and then explode, but the six would-be assassins escape to the surface. They come under attack by plants and other vegetation, but before they can make short work of it, are engulfed by total darkness that absorbs all visible light. Night Girl attacks, striking Mist Master and Neutrax crashes his flying chair into a tree and he goes down. Titania panics as she's surrounded by plants and flames rising from the ground, and when she encounters a wall of ice she is punched out and down by Night Girl again. Silver Slasher rallies Mist Master's spirits, but he is taken out by a force-field from Brainiac 5 that surrounds him, closes in on him, and smothers him. Silver Slasher tries to fight her way free, but encounters wall after wall of ice, and is eventually frozen solid. Lazon realizes that he and his cousins have been taken by surprise the way they did the Legionnaires, and striking force field after force field, finally succumbs to unconsciousness from overuse of energy. This leaves the contemplative Blok, who realizes that all is lost, and saying, "He who sows the whirlwind will reap a harvest of pain..." before he is engulfed in a hand of ice. The Legion of Substitute Heroes and Brainiac 5 step out from the shadows, the Subs congratulating themselves and Brainiac 5 for the tactics used. They never let the would-be assassins see them and took them by surprise: Chlorophyll Kid controlling the attacking plants, Fire Lad creating the flames, Polar Boy setting up the ice barriers, Brainiac 5's force fields, and Night Girl's darkness-based super-strength courtesy of the blackness created by Color Kid. Brainiac 5 tells them there's still lots more to do.

The next day, back at the lab facilities on the hospital island of St. Croix, Brainiac 5 explains to Polar Boy that they needed to capture the assassins as Lazon is the key to reviving the six "dead" Legionnaires. He drains Lazon of radiation, leaving him weak but unharmed, and Light Lass, Timber Wolf, Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy, Colossal Boy and Superboy are revived. Light Lass wonders how Superboy knew about the assassins, and he admits that he had overheard the Lazon and the others planning on killing him and his friends, so he decided to use the chemicals the Legionnaires had absorbed during their evening at the night club and holo show to put them into suspended animation.

When asked why Lazon and the others wanted to kill them, Superboy asks if they remember a planet called Korlon. Ultra Boy remembers that they helped evacuate the populace a half-dozen years ago. However, Superboy says, the assassins don't remember it that way. They thought that somehow the six Legionnaires had actually caused the planet's destruction, and someone called The Dark Man tried to use their obsession to use them to destroy the Legionnaires. After destroying the suspended animation chemicals with his heat-vision, Superboy vows that they will have to track down the Dark Man someday. But he also thinks that first, they have to find a cure for Brainiac 5, the madman who saved their lives.

This story is the second part of the tale from the previous issue, in which six super-powered youths seeking vengeance came to Earth and enacted it on five of six specific Legionnaires. The issue begins with Superboy going to the island of St. Croix and the hospital there where Brainiac 5 is incarcerated, and follows quickly with Lazon arriving and seemingly killing the Boy of Steel as Brainiac 5 watches dispassionately. The plot of the story could have taken a lot of different directions, but what happens next comes as a surprise.

The story turns into a Brainiac 5 story essentially, setting him up as the six Legionnaires' saviour. However, let's get serious here: How many mental patients, especially such dangerous ones as Brainiac 5, are allowed to walk around freely after being committed, let alone permitted to go out and play? Now granted, Brainiac 5 establishes these are rather unusual circumstances and all, but the mental institution/asylum never calls in the rest of the Legion after six of their members are seemingly killed? Brainy's insanity is a mixed bag for me at this point, because he seems to still retain his mental faculties and genius, as the rest of the story shows, and manages to figure out a cure for the six "dead" Legionnaires. At least writer Gerry Conway establishes very early on that these Legionnaires aren't dead, but still...

The most pleasant surprise and element of the story this issue is the return of the Legion of Substitute Heroes to an active role in stories. The Subs have always been an underrated team of heroes, perhaps because some writers who have ‌involved them never really understood their powers and their dynamics. In this issue that's not a problem, as Brainiac 5 determines the strategy that the Subs will use against the would-be assassins. And it was a good strategy for such an insane mind, but still... The Subs take down the would-be assassins easily enough, showing that they are very effective when written well, but I find it interesting that they make for a very effective team when Polar Boy is *not* leading them. One does have to wonder if the Subs know that our Brainy is totally bonkers, but that's another topic for a rainy day.

The would-be assassins in the story (I will not call them the League of Super-Assassins, since they themselves never use that title or group name, and nor does anyone else in the story, other than Brainiac 5 for some reason that I don't fathom) are handled well, but they are seen pretty minimally this issue, other than Lazon's attack on Superboy near the beginning and the "fight" with the Subs near the end. I will say that the would-be assassins would have been more of a realistic threat to me if instead of coming from Korlon they had come from Mordan, the world destroyed by the Fatal Five in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #231. The group of would-be assassins run the gamut of emotions this issue, when they are featured, but the one enigma among them is Blok... He does not participate when his friends and cousins are fighting the surprise attack by the Subs, and he accepts their defeat with equanimity and an almost surrender to fate, as if he knew all along this would be the outcome of their plan for vengeance on the six Legionnaires. Blok comes across here as a very calm, serene, centred individual for all the violence that he displayed in the first part of the story, notably taking down Light Lass.

My only real gripe with the story is Superboy's actions throughout. He overhears the would-be assassins planning their attack on the Legion. Instead of rushing back to help Colossal Boy during the attack my Mist Master and perhaps calling in any other available Legionnaires, he opts for putting Gim and his other friends into suspended animation. I'm not sure how that helps Phantom Girl, whose brainwaves were neutralized, as she should be dead regardless of whether she's in suspended animation. I understand that he allows this to happen so that Brainiac 5 can save the day, but is this good planning or poor writing. Only the individual reader can answer that. I just found it somewhat...frustrating.

The artwork by Joe Staton and Dave Hunt was once again adequate, the latter's inks bringing Staton's cartoony art style under control again. There aren't any scenes or panels in the story that strike me as particularly noteworthy, though the five pages of the assassins/Subs conflict were nicely drawn, and the expressions of wonder and fear and hate on the assassins' faces were handled quite well.

Not a great story overall, but a fine tale of focus on Brainiac 5 and the surprise, active appearance of the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

Final Notes:
The story continues from the previous issue...

The cover of this issue is in some ways very reminiscent of the cover from Adventure Comics Vol 1 #379, in which Superboy is propelled into space in a coffin by his Legionnaire friends in a funeral rite. That cover is by Neal Adams (pencils) and Carmine Infantino (inks). Here, of course, the cover is much more sinister...

Shadow Lass is shown on the cover and in the "Roll Call" at the top of the issue's splash page, but does not appear in the story. How someone got her and Phantom Girl mixed up is beyond me. The editor, perhaps? Note that on the cover, Shadow Lass is drawn without a cape by artist Dick Giordano...

Once again, it should be clearly noted that the Lazon, Mist Master, Silver Slasher, Neutrax, Titania and Blok never refer to themselves as "The League of Super-Assassins." Why Brainiac 5 gives them this appellation in the issue is not clear at all...

Element Lad clearly appears during the sequence on R.J. Brande's asteroid in this issue, but then he does not re-appear in this series until Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #266. Interesting that he doesn't appear during this time because he is the Deputy Leader of the Legion under Lightning Lad. His absence is never explained...

This is the Legion of Substitute Heroes first appearance since the Earthwar Saga, in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #243 and #245...

For some reason that is not explained, Stone Boy does not appear with the Legion of Substitute Heroes in this tale...

The group never actually refers to themselves as "the League of Super-Assassins."

Next Issue: DC Comics Presents #13