John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane

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Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #231

Time for another Legion of Super-Heroes classic re-read. A classic tangle with the Fatal Five. Better late in the day than not at all in the day, right?

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #231
September, 1977
“A Day In the Death of A World!”
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: James Sherman and Mike Nasser (Chapter 2 on)
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: Uncredited
Colourist: Liz Berube
Cover: Mike Grell (signed)
Editor: Dennis O’Neil

Mission Monitor Board:
Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Superboy, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Brainiac 5, Element Lad, Sun Boy

The Fatal Five (Tharok, Emerald Empress, Validus, the Persuader and Mano)

In the self-titled Part 1, on their way to Earth from Orando, the two-man ship carrying Karate Kid and Princess Projectra is grabbed by a tractor beam. Once inside the ship, the two find themselves in a vast cargo hold. Confronted by Tharok and Validus, two members of the Fatal Five, they are told that indeed they face the entire fivesome. Karate Kid lunges for Tharok but is slammed aside by the hand of Validus and rendered unconscious. Tharok fires a ray gun at Princess Projectra, and renders her unconscious as well. He wanted to kidnap the Legionnaires for some additional insurance while they head towards a planet called Mordan.

Meanwhile, on the planet Mordan, the Legion of Super-Heroes has been asked by the United Planets to evacuate the planet’s one million inhabitants. The High Seer of Naltor had a premonition that the planet's sun was going to explode, so the Legion is on hand. Colossal Boy is helping to load people onto the arks that Superboy, Ultra Boy and Mon-El are building as fast as they can, while Saturn Girl broadcasts a message to as many of the Mordanites as possible to get to the city so as to escape on the arks, with Shadow Lass doing what she can. She goes to help Saturn Girl, who collapses from the strain on her powers. In orbit above the planet, Brainiac 5 and Element Lad are on a space platform investigating the sun and attempting an analysis to find out why it will go nova, while Sun Boy is protecting them from the power of the star. A protection that ends when he is blasted from behind by the Emerald Empress. The Empress orders the Eye to destroy them, but Brainiac 5’s force shield protects him from its attack and Element Lad avoids the beams altogether. Element Lad encases the Empress in solid inertron, but as they go to check on Sun Boy (who is still alive), cracks start to appear in the inertron prison around the Empress. Apparently, she holds a residual amount of power from the eye that was sufficient to break from from the inside.

Back on Mordan, Shadow Lass and Saturn Girl go to investigate a small, deserted village where the latter sensed feelings of helplessness. They discover a large group of abandoned children, who don’t know about the evacuation and are just afraid. As the two start to move the children out, the building is shaken by violent attacks as Validus attempts to flush the two Legionnaires out. The Persuader is also on the scene, and he attacks the two female Legionnaires. Shadow Lass’s powers are ineffective as his atomic axe cuts her darkness, and Shadow Lass cries out for help. Suddenly, Mon-El is there knocking the axe out of the Persuader’s hands as he arrives in answer to his beloved’s plea. And then the fight is on: Colossal Boy takes on Validus, but is no match for the giant’s strength and endurance; Shadow Lass darkens Mano’s world, but he continues to strike at random at targets, causing them to disintegrate; Ultra Boy takes on the Persuader, but can’t stop him with Mon-El’s help. Mon-El changes tactics, digging a trench around him, isolating the Persuader on a hillock. When the Persuader uses his axe to cut off gravity, thus flying over the trench, Mon-El and Ultra Boy punch him back to the hillock, minus the atomic axe.

Back on Tharok’s ship, the leader of the Fatal Five is annoyed and frustrated at his fellow villains’ attempts to defeat the Legionnaires, and takes matters into his own hands. Using twin holographic beams, one into space and the other down to the planet Mordan, he tells the Legionnaire to abandon their efforts or pay the ultimate price; showing them the flight rings of his two captive Legionnaires, he tells them if they do not do so, his prisoners will die. Tharok says that Mordan’s sun must die as the world and its people have a unique elemental composition, that when bathed in the nova heat of Mordan’s dying sun will convert to pure energite, the universe’s most valuable mineral. The Fatal Five can then buy a place in the galaxy. Superboy launches himself into space and tries to attack Tharok’s ship at blinding speed, but a force-field keyed to the Legionnaires and their cruisers stops him cold. The Teen of Steel plunges back to Mordan in a state of unconsciousness. Needless to say, the Legionnaires do not surrender, and start to fight again, knowing that it may mean the death knell of two of their own.

In Part 2, “3 Hours to Holocaust!”, the fight between the Legionnaires and the Fatal Five in space and on Mordan does not go well. The recovered Sun Boy strikes the Emerald Empress a nasty blow of fire, but she targets the three Legionnaires present and the Eye hurts them somewhat. The ground based Legionnaires fare no better than their comrades in space, but manage to inflict some damage to the three villains there. This is all a ploy as Tharok has activated the device in the sun to cause the nova three hours hence. Tharok notes that Karate Kid and Princess Projectra have escaped their cell, but having disabled their ship and taken their flight rings, doesn’t consider them a threat. Karate Kid goes up to the massive guardian robot, telling Projectra that they’ll have to deal with it eventually, and starts to whittle it down to size and then not leaving it with any legs to stand on (he’s picked up expressions from the 20th Century). Once the robot is defeated, the two travels down some hallways, exchanging banter as they go, and then arrive at a set of double doors. Since Tharok favours his robot side, his right side, Karate Kid decides to start there and begins to super-kick the doors.

Back on Mordan, the Legion continues to hold their own against the villains, but the three members of the Fatal Five eventually triumph and escape into space. However, Mon-El races into space, where he manages to drive off the Emerald Empress, the villain teleporting away.
Karate Kid and Princes Projectra enter the rooms where Tharok is, and while Karate Kid attacks him, he and Jeckie are out of luck as the rest of the Fatal Five arrive. The two Legionnaires are captured again, this time imprisoned in inertron bindings.

Back on Mordan, the Legionnaires turn their attention back to the pressing issue of the solar explosion, all except for Ultra Boy and Colossal Boy. The latter is not happy that they can’t help the others out with the evacuation, but Ultra Boy says that Brainiac 5’s solar analysis gave him an idea that may buy them more time. He and Colossal Boy enter the artificial hollowed out asteroid that Ultra Boy has fashioned, and and the two launch into space. Karate Kid comes around on Tharok’s ship but before he can learn anything, they are interrupted by the arrival of the asteroid with Ultra Boy and Colossal Boy contained within. Since there are no asteroids in this part of space, Tharok didn’t program the ship shields to repel them, just the Legionnaires and their ships. Colossal Boy demands that Tharok free their prisoners, but Karate Kid finally manages to break his inertron shackles. Before the fighting can start, however, the sun of Mordan goes nova. In the resulting confusion, the other Legionnaires arrive and Tharok attempts to activate his controls to harness the energite being released.

Superboy, Ultra Boy and Mon-El make a three-way attack that topples the mighty Validus. Karate Kid manages to take down Tharok. Shadow Lass and Brainiac 5 team up and defeat Mano. Colossal Boy takes down the Persuader in a single blow. Sun Boy and Saturn Girl take down the Emerald Empress. With the Fatal Five imprisoned, the Legionnaires turn their attention to other matters. Brainiac 5 uses Tharok’s controls and takes an educated guess. However, during the distraction, Tharok activates his spaceship’s self-destruct mechanism, and the ship starts to tear itself apart. The Legionnaires escape into space, avoiding death, as the ship explodes possibly killing the Five with it. The Legionnaires in space are protected by Brainiac 5’s force field, Element Lad providing them with air inside the bubble.

Some time later, the Legionnaires finish evacuating the last of the Mordanites off-world, and then depart via their Legion cruiser into space. Superboy explains to Karate Kid and Princes Projectra, who weren’t in on the plan, that Shadow Lass eclipsed the planet Mordan while the rest of them created a fake nova with their powers. This confused the villains. Brainiac 5’s solar analysis had found a device planted in the sun that was speeding up the sun's rate of combustion, but he could not stop it. He needed access to Tharok's computer to deactivate it, so the Legion had to maneuver themselves onto the Fatal Five's spaceship. With the bomb deactivated, the sun went nova on its original timeline, so the Legion has time to save all of the Mordanites. Speaking of illusions, Superboy is furious at the Fatal Five for risking so many lives, and he believes that they also have escaped Mordan’s destruction. The Teen of Steel vows to track them down and exact a heavy price.

This story marks the return of the Fatal Five to the pages of the comics in a tale that is epic and heroic in style and feel, though it’s not perfect. However, first off, the great news is that with this issue, the title of the comic becomes “Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes” in the legalese. As the unnamed letter columnist writes, “After some nineteen years of floating around the DC world, (the Legion) finally have a suitable home of their own." This was terrific news. And the comic was also a super-sized Giant with 48 pages contained between the covers. At least, that was the plan... Paul Levitz was still writing like he was trying to be Cary Bates, the art was still being inked by Jack Abel and the editor didn't know the difference between Star Boy and Saturn Girl. And behind the scenes, the Legion was battling the Dread Deadline Doom. Unfortunately, things would only get worse before they got better.

However, this was a story that was a step in the right direction. Paul Levitz was slowly but surely moving towards a characterization emphasis in the story, and does a good job of balancing all the story threads until the story ends with a rather rushed, silly conclusion. Paul was beginning to juggle more than one group at a time: he has Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl and Shadow Lass conversing naturally, explaining to the reader the severity of the situation; he has Sun Boy, Element Lad and Brainiac 5 cornered by the Emerald Empress; he has one group of Legionnaires battling the Fatal Five as Karate Kid and Princess Projectra attempt to escape. And all with the deadline of a sun about to explode! The suspense in this tale is the best part of the story, no doubt about it. The plot of the story, a more complex version of the tale told in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #318, with the added bonus of actual villains to face (the original tale cast Sun Boy as the mutinous villain), is well told, well paced, and has a good feel and style to it. But there is a a large chunk of story that seems to go untold: Karate Kid and Princess Projectra are captured and escape in scenes not shown, and then the Legion mops up the Fatal Five in less than one page. Ugh! Worst of all, Princess Projectra does nothing in this entire story except to flirt with her boyfriend! I didn’t think it was a very good showing for one of the Legionnaires who actually helped the Fatal Five form in the first place. One thing that annoyed me was the gaffe on page 12 of the story. The narrator tells us that Validus may kill his first Legionnaire during the battle on Mordan. But as long-time Legion fans know (and it’s not really that long ago), Validus killed Invisible Kid in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #203. I remember thinking at the time that the folks writing and editing the Legion stories at this time didn’t know the Legion as well as I did. Sad, that.

James Sherman is an awesome penciller, as I’ve already noted several times in these reviews. Some of his close-ups in this story are stunning, from Colossal Boy on page 4, the Emerald Empress on page 7, or Superboy on page 15. However, this story obviously required two pencillers, as Sherman’s work was replaced by those of Mike Nasser starting with Chapter 2. (I remember reading that Nasser replaced Sherman in the story, but can’t recall where.) It doesn’t really matter, however, as Jack Abel’s inks are again so heavy-handed that you basically can’t really tell the difference. Only the close-ups and some specific body poses can help you identify who pencilled what. Makes me wonder why this was done.

Final Notes:
Although Lightning Lad is shown on the cover, he does not appear in the story... Mike Nasser is not credited, although it is obvious that he penciled some (most? all?) of Chapter Two...
Colossal Boy is shown in a uniform combining his Dave Cockrum design and his most recent Mike Grell design... This story occurs after the events of Karate Kid Vol 1 #10, since that is referenced on page 2 of the story... The Legion was asked by the United Planet to evacuate the planet Mordan in this story. A similar request was made of the Legion way back in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #318. However, the process has since gotten a bit more...dangerous... When Colossal Boy and Validus are fighting on page 12, it is stated erroneously that Validus may kill his first Legionnaire. This is incorrect, as he already has killed a Legionnaire, Invisible Kid/Lyle Norg, in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #203... The final page of the issue, “The Legion Outpost Extra,” featured a listing of the Legionnaires from Brainiac 5 to Phantom Girl (some 12 in all) with their full names, powers, and a bit of information on each of them. The rest of the LSH membership would be covered in the next issue.

Finally, with this issue, the official, legal title of the book became Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion's conquest of Superboy's book is one step closer to completion. Also with this issue, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes becomes a GIANT book of 48 pages for sixty cents.

Next Issue: Karate Kid Vol 1 #10
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion reread, lll, long live the legion!, lsh

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