Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #228
"That A World Might Live...A Legionnaire Must Die!"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: James Sherman
Inker: Jack Abel
Colourist: Liz Berube
Cover: Mike Grell (signed)
Editor: Dennis O'Neil
Mission Monitor Board:
Wildfire, Chameleon Boy, Superboy, Light Lass, Shadow Lass, Colossal Boy, Timber Wolf, Saturn Girl, Chemical King (dies in this story)
Deregon; The Dark Circle
In Metropolis, President of Earth Kandru invites Legion leader Wildfire and Legion Espionage Squad leader Chameleon Boy to a meeting. He tells them that Earth has been at peace for over 200 years but that the peace is now threatened by one man - Governor Deregon of the Australian region, the elected leader of one-seventh of the world, who appears hell-bent on starting a war. As the official briefing ends, the President asks Wildfire and Chameleon Boy in their roles as Legion and Espionage Squad leaders what they can do to stop Deregon.
The next day, in Perth, Western Australia, two secretaries from the Governor’s office out for a late night stroll are kidnapped by the Legion. Light Lass and Shadow Lass quickly change into the secretaries’ clothes, and Shadow Lass applies make-up to conceal her blue skin. After Saturn Girl is able to telepathically “share” the secretaries' knowledge and memories with her two fellow Legionnaires, Light Lass and Shadow Lass take their place. Timber Wolf and Light Lass share a tender moment, and as the rest of the Legionnaires depart, Timber Wolf tells Saturn Girl that sometimes he thinks she doesn’t have a tender bone in her body. The next day, Superboy observes the Australian Army, where Colossal Boy and Timber Wolf have infiltrated the military machine. Deregon comes to observe the troops, and in a routine Army exercise, the two Legionnaires have to fight two of the Army instructors. Colossal Boy and Timber Wolf defeat them without using their powers. While Deregon notices them and pays them tribute, he doesn’t recognize them as Legionnaires. Meanwhile, in Deregon’s office, Light Lass and Shadow Lass report to an unseen person, revealed to be Chameleon Boy. Deregon reports to someone via hyperbeam transceiver, and never misses a call. The two Legionnaires have a detector that records the hyperbeam communication signal that Deregon is using to communicate with. The Legion hopes that this will allow them to prove that he is doing something illegal or unethical. Chameleon Boy changes into an Andaluian hawk and transports the detector out of Deregon’s office and building, and tells Light Lass and Shadow Lass that it’s now up to the next team.
Out in space, Chemical King is able to use his powers to strengthen and stabilize the hyperbeam signal so that they can trace it back to the source. Chemical King comments that it’s rare enough that he can be of help to the Legion, and while Superboy argues the point, the Teen of Steel then goes and stops an incoming meteor, intercepting it with his body and causing it to explode. Chemical King once more makes the point that he can alter chemical reactions while Superboy can destroy galaxies, so how does that make them equal? Meanwhile, Deregon is communicating with his off-world allies when the meteor near miss disturbs the hyperbeam signal. He spots the two false secretaries watching through the door, and summons them inside. Believing that blows their cover, Chameleon Boy changes into an octocrawler of Vorn, and goes into the office to get the girls out. They say they could have talked their way out of the situation, but it’s too late. Despite their efforts and use of their powers, Deregon’s guards overpower them, and the Legionnaires go down in the fight. Deregon says that the world’s governments are spying on his activities, using the Legionnaires, and that means war. Back out in space, Chemical King and Superboy talk about war as the former completes the the reaction needed to find the source of the hyperbeam. It leads them straight to a world where Superboy can see that it is a bastion of the Dark Circle. Now armed with proof that Deregon is up to no good, the two Legionnaires rush back to Earth.
At a rally during what Deregon considers a crisis, the Australian governor puts the three captive Legionnaires on display, stating that the only punishment in times of war for spying is death. Timber Wolf won’t stand back when his girlfriend, Light Lass, is threatened, so he and Colossal Boy attack the Australian Army! Deregon uses the attack of the Legionnaires to try to flee back into the building and gladly uses the incident to start World War VII. He takes the three hostage Legionnaires and heads back into the building. At the touch of a button on his waist, the citadel building becomes an even tougher fortress, but Colossal Boy punches his way through the wall, and Timber Wolf races after Deregon and his three captives. Defeating the guardian robots inside, Timber Wolf catches up to them, only to see that Deregon is mad enough to have a cosmic energy sphere that he plans to use; it would destroy Australia, the entire planet. Deregon boasts that he works for the Dark Circle, not Australia, and that Chameleon Boy is correct. This would then cause World War VII among the survivors, allowing the Dark Circle to take over what is left. Timber Wolf leaps for Deregon, but the radiation of the sphere is too much for him and he collapses. Superboy and Chemical King arrive back on Earth, only to find Perth surrounded by an energy field that is Superboy impervious. Chemical King uses his power to speed up the field’s natural decay reaction, and the two head down to Perth. Superboy, Colossal Boy and Chemical King smash through the walls, but there is Kryptonite radiation being emitted from the sphere, which weakens the Teen of Steel. Chemical King races forward and pits his power of controlling reactions against the power of the cosmic energy sphere. After Deregon teleports away, Chemical King causes the sphere to implode inward rather than outward. In the process, however, he absorbs a lethal amount of radiation, sacrificing himself so that Earth will live. The Legionnaires are stunned with shock, but then the look on their faces proclaims that he will be avenged! The story continues in the next issue.
This is one of the great, superb classic stories of this period in the Legion timeline that is somewhat flawed. The story clearly puts a focus on Chemical King for the most part this issue, even though the character isn’t seen right away. Chemical King has always been one of my favourite Legionnaires, but the fact of the matter is that most of the writers and editors on the series since he debuted back in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #372 have really not understood his powers and/or not been able to come up with plots that make effective use of his powers. I really didn’t want to see him die this issue, to be honest. His insecurity and death in this story are something I’ll come back to, below.
There is some good stuff in this issue. The basic plot with Deregon planning World War VII against the Earth on behalf of the Dark Circle was pretty good, and he had a clear plan that got blown to bits when the Legionnaires got involved. The fact that the Legion was brought into the situation made sense, and the use of the LSH Espionage Squad was a pretty good idea. On the subject of the LSH Espionage Squad, they seem to have a clear plan and they stick to it in good Mission: Impossible style until the train gets derailed due to a bit of Chameleon Boy’s jumpiness. The idea that Chemical King was working behind the scenes, so to speak, tracking the hyperbeam was quite neat. With a non-visual power like Condo (Arlik) has, it makes sense that he would be at HQ (or in a space lab) analyzing and supporting, instead of actually being out in the field. From the art perspective, James Sherman does a great job moving the action along in this story. The scene shifts are smooth and exciting, and I was pretty fond of how the word balloons linked the scene changes, such as when the first word of Chemical King's conversation is the last word of Timber Wolf's speech from the scene before. The splash page for the issue was really good, as it told us all the readers needed to know about what is about to happen. I was also pretty fond of the sequence where Saturn Girl shares the memories of the two secretaries with Light Lass and Shadow Lass. Lovely page spread, and very effective.
If I had a real problem here with the story, it’s this: the choice of members for the Espionage Squad team. I like that Wildfire was asked to assign the Legion Espionage Squad to the job, and then is never seen again. It should be Chameleon Boy's show, and he does a great job under the circumstances. I also loved how Saturn Girl shows up, does her job, and then moves off the stage. It makes sense. But where are Chameleon Boy's usual go-to girls, Shrinking Violet and Phantom Girl? I suspect if they had been the secretary spies instead of Light Lass and Shadow Lass, the story might have ended differently. That said, from what I could tell, Light Lass and Shady (with make-up of course) were possibly chosen because they resembled the two secretaries. If that was the case, why isn't Princess Projectra involved in this mission?, as she could have hung around and never been seen! For that matter, Timber Wolf is not really an undercover agent type, though I know that Paul Levitz likes(liked) him. Someone like Element Lad, Ultra Boy, or Karate Kid would have made more sense as the other army recruits. Even Chemical King, for that matter, as he could have waved his hand and made half a dozen army men faint from lack of oxygen in their blood.
When it comes right down to it, I really like the tension that keeps getting ratcheted up during the story until it’s inevitable climax. However, Chemical King's characterization before that leaves a bit to be desired, and then his big moment lasts less than one whole page! Really? Any long-time Legion fan who sees the cover of this issue knows how this is going to end. If DC had really wanted to build suspense, the cover should have featured Shadow Lass, Dawnstar, or other newer non-"Adult Legion" fated members. I also didn’t like the fact that we get a self-conscious and insecure Chemical King before he stands up and saves the entire Earth. I would have liked to have seen his insecurity toned down somewhat, perhaps a comment or two with less bitterness, and then at least one whole page of him fighting against Deregon and the radiation. And where’s the death scene? You know, a tearjerker of a “Did I save everyone?” sort of thing before dying, as opposed to just dropping dead with the thump of the radiation sweaty body onto the ground. That said, for a somewhat better re-telling of his death, see Secret Origins Vol 1 #47 from the late '80s. However, the shocked expression on the Legionnaires' faces and Superboy's sad expression as he picks up his friend's dead body does get the point across. Though Chemical King doesn't recognize it, he is the most important member in this adventure. If he hadn't tracked Deregon's hyperbeam, the Legion would not have known that he was working for the Dark Circle. Likewise, Chemical King burns a hole in Deregon's force field, allowing Superboy to save their friends' lives and for him to save Earth. Chemical King didn't get any respect while he was alive, but now he will get respected for the rest of history.
Rest in Peace, Condo Arlik.
To anyone with any Legion knowledge at all, the cover tells you specifically who is fated to die... Chemical King's death was foreshadowed by the Adult Legion story in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #354... This story obviously occurs before the events shown in DC Special Vol 1 #28, which actually went on sale after this issue... Referred to as President Kandru throughout the story, the President of Earth is actually Kandro Boltax, and thus should be addressed as President Boltax... This is the first appearance of the Legion Espionage Squad since Action Comics Vol 1 #390-391. The sad thing is that two of the founding members of the squad, Phantom Girl and Shrinking Violet, play no role in the story... Chemical King becomes the fourth Legionnaire to die in action, following in the footsteps (so to speak) of Ferro Lad, Invisible Kid, and one of Triplicate Girl’s bodies. If one doesn’t count Triplicate Girl’s body, than he’s the third.
Next Issue: DC Special Vol 1 #28