Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #234
“Wanted — Dead or Alive: The Composite Legionnaire”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Ric Estrada
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Anthony Tollin
Cover: Mike Grell
Editor: Allen Milgrom
Mission Monitor Board:
Superboy, Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Shrinking Violet, Wildfire, Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl, Princess Projectra
Duplicate Boy (of the Heroes of Lallor)
The Composite Legionnaire (composed of Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Shrinking Violet); Imskian dragons; Bounty
In Part One, two light-years from the star Irulan, home star of the planet Imsk, Shrinking Violet has asked Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Colossal Boy and Superboy to join her in a space dragon hunt. Saturn Girl thinks it will be relatively easy, despite the creature being the size of a mountain, planning to take it down with a neutro-blast, but the creature breathes lightning at her, and only Lightning Lad’s quick action saves her. His lightning attacks don’t harm the dragon at all. This is why Salu (Digby), aka Shrinking Violet, told them that only the tractor-rays can control the space dragons. Within seconds, five golden beams form an energy net around the space lizard, and then contract. Saturn Girl apologizes to Violet, saying that she must be picking up bad habits from Timber Wolf. Superboy says he understands why they don’t want the dragons harmed, but Salu still has yet to explain why. She starts to tell the Legionnaires Imsk’s greatest secret...
Elsewhere, on a planet some 100 light-years from the Imsk space sector, on a planet that has been home to an escaped fugitive for over thirty years, a bounty hunter comes to call. The bounty hunter, who is a regulator who hunts criminals for the reward money, enjoys a bit of a chase as the old, out of shape man, runs. He tells the man before he dies that his name is Bounty. Because that is what Bounty does.
Back in the Imsk sector, Violet explains to the four Legionnaires that her home planet of Imsk is asking for increased space zones around their planet in order to hunt the space dragons. Violet explains that her people were not native to Imsk but are descended from Krill colonists. In their eleventh year on the planet, Imsk (and all the native fauna and flora) started to shrink and the people would have starved and died out if their greatest scientist hadn’t acted on a hunch and used a bizarre radiation in the rocks to shrink the population down to size. It became a hereditary ability of the Imskians to shrink down, but requires a yearly exposure to the radiation to maintain their shrinking abilities. They never dared reveal the secret, for though the shrinking of the planet lasts a mere ninety days, it would be enough time for the world to be invaded and conquered. They head for the Legion cruiser to gather the special scaling equipment they need, and Violet explains about the dragons.
Back on Earth, at Legion Headquarters, Wildfire is angry and bitching away at the President of Earth because he recently supported a bill before the Earth Council to have United Planets “oversight” of the Legion. Phantom Girl explains it’s just politics; the President needs to curry favour with the Council, so he supported their oversight bill. Wildfire sees her point, but he’s still pissed off about it. Duplicate Boy, one of the Heroes of Lallor who is visiting Earth, explains to Phantom Girl and Chameleon Boy that Wildfire is a hot-head because he is composed of anti-energy, and unable to touch or truly interact with people, but be very unsure of himself around them when he interacts with them. Chameleon Boy and Phantom Girl then talk politics, and whether it is necessary to follow an elected leader even if you don't agree with his policies. This gives Phantom Girl some food for thought.
Back near Imsk, Shrinking Violet explains that thousands of years ago, the space dragons attacked Imsk and ate all the radioactive rocks. These are now lodged inside the dragons, and the radiation seeps into the dragon scales which regrow when harvested. The Imskians are forced to capture and take the scales from the dragons in order to gather the energy needed for the yearly ritual. Because the dragons are migratory, Imsk needs the space where the dragons fly. Now that the Legionnaires understand what’s going on, they gladly help Salu and start scaling the dragon they’ve captured. Growing to full size, the exuberant Colossal Boy tries to take off too many dragon scales at once. This results in the dragon seeming to explode - and the four non-Kryptonian Legionnaires merging into one giant being! He/she/it then blasts Superboy with a massive dose of lightning, possibly infused with red sun radiation that the dragon has absorbed, and knocks the Teen of Steel unconscious. Leaving Superboy in space, the Composite Legionnaire then shrinks down, enters the Legion cruiser, and departs for home (Earth).
Back on Earth, Chameleon Boy and Phantom Girl continue their discussion, notably about the choice of Wildfire as a leader, but they are interrupted by the arrival of the Legion cruiser from Imsk. Surprised at its return, since Violet and the others were supposed to be away for a week, Chameleon Boy changes to a bird to check things out, but as it lands, he is struck by the massive fist of Colossal Boy and knocked down and almost unconscious. Going to see if he’s okay, Phantom Girl is struck by a blast of lightning, and knocked unconscious. The Composite Legionnaire emerges from the ship and and stalks off towards the city. Wildfire broods in his quarters, examining a cube that holds images of his life as Drake Burroughs, when he is alerted by Duplicate Boy to the big problem that they have. Duplicate Boy flies with Wildfire, Chameleon Boy and Phantom Girl to the edges of the city where the Composite Legionnaire is in the act of wanton destruction. Duplicate Boy is struck by a lightning blast, but is unharmed thanks to his powers, and returns the lightning bolts blast for blast to no effect. Wildfire tells Chameleon Boy to change form into a Jovian claw-beast to distract the creature, but Cham realizes he’s made a mistake as the creature does retain the tactical abilities of the four merged Legionnaires. As Wildfire blasts it, the Composite Legionnaire shrinks down, and Chameleon Boy takes the blast instead. As Duplicate Boy and the others go down to Chameleon Boy, the Composite Legionnaire shrinks down and observes the carnage it has wreaked in the city so far...and smiles. As Chameleon Boy falls unconscious, Wildfire vents his frustration and screams!
In Part Two, “The Final Hunt!”, some eighteen hours later, Wildfire, Phantom Girl, Duplicate Boy and the recently returned from a mission Princess Projectra are in the privy chambers of the President of Earth, giving the President hell once more. He has put a reward out for the Composite Legionnaire and Bounty has answered the call. Wildfire accuses the President - and the Council — of using the Composite Legionnaire’s rampage as a political cause to get re-elected. Projectra tells Wildfire to hold his emotions in check, and the Legion leader does. The Legionnaires storm out and go after the Composite Legionnaires themselves. The President tells Bounty that they want the Composite Legionnaire captured, not killed, but Bounty counters that the reward states dead or alive, so whichever is easier...
Elsewhere, at the Tidal Flux Turbines (which have been constructed since the recent events involving the fusion powersphere (see below)), the Composite Legionnaire continues his/her/its rampage there, destroying vessels that have been sent against it. The Legionnaires and Duplicate Boy arrive on the scene, and while Projectra creates an illusion of an undersea tentacled beast, Phantom Girl attempts to enter the creature’s skull and try to shock it back to its senses. However, she encounters telepathic images of Saturn Girl that attack her, knocking her out of the Composite Legionnaire’s body and sending her falling to the sea below in a comatose state of shock. Duplicate Boy takes Tinya to safety, while Wildfire and Princess Projectra go after the Composite Legionnaire. At that moment, Superboy shows up on the scene. He tells them the fighting is over, and that they need to come with him and then tells the two Legionnaires why. Bounty observes them departing, but can’t hear why. The bounty hunter takes aim at the Composite Legionnaire with a shock-shell designed by an alien race to wipe out entire infantry companies. It has no effect on the Composite Legionnaire, which bats Bounty aside.
The Legionnaires head for Imskian space, taking the unconscious Chameleon Boy and Phantom Girl with them. Superboy explains that the Composite Legionnaire can’t be killed, but there has to be a way to reverse the merging. Superboy tells the others about the space dragon blast causing the Legionnaires to merge, and he figures the same radiation might be able to split them apart.
Bounty goes after the Composite Legionnaire once more, this time cutting a trench in the ground and causing the creature to trip into it, slamming its head ito the ground. While it’s stunned, Bounty uses his fancy tech to snare the behemoth in a steel net.
Back near Imsk, Superboy and the others use their powers to lure some space dragons to them. Wildfire has his doubts about his leadership, telling Superboy that if the plan works perhaps he should resign as leader, but Superboy tells him that as far as he’s concerned, the Legionnaires made a good choice. They use the tractor rays to snare a group of the space lizards and Wildfire drains their energy into himself, which renders him unconscious.
Meanwhile, the Composite Legionnaire puts out so much lightning, causing itself pain in the process, that it melts the steel net it's enmeshed in. It goes after Bounty, batting him aside again, and the bounty hunter is so furious that he resorts to using a sub-nuclear air-to-air sensor controlled proximity missile - a nuke. He fires the missile, but it is intercepted by Superboy before it can strike his merged teammates, and explodes harmlessly. Since nuclear weapons have been banned on Earth for centuries, Superboy puts Bounty under arrest, knocking him off his flying platform and into the unwelcoming arms of Princess Projectra. Back above, the Legionnaires make a tactical strike of their own, dropping the radiating Wildfire on the Composite Legionnaire like a bomb. The energy he absorbed from the space dragons splits the trapped Legionnaires back into their individual bodies, but Superboy thinks that Wildfire is dying from the shock and energy absorbed. This story continues in the next issue.
This is one of those Legion stories that one either loves or hates, to be honest. I can’t say that I loved this story, but it was certainly entertaining and readable and had a good amount of action. The story continues developing the plot about Imsk seceding from the United Planets that was introduced several months prior in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #232, revealing the greatest secret of the Imskian people at long last to the other Legionnaires. To be honest, I’m leery of the science here, but won’t question that any further. I will say that I don’t remember the issue ever being addressed again, so perhaps it’s been ignored since then or perhaps retconned. Combined with the sub-plot of the United Planets wanting to have “oversight” of the Legion, a concession that Wildfire is clearly not happy about, there are some interesting times ahead for the Legion in both the political and social arenas.
The most interesting character in the story, however, is the Composite Legionnaire. Composed of Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet, the creature comes across as wild, savage and violent (and perhaps a bit mad due to the merging?), but various scenes in the story belie that interpretation and suggest that it has not only all the abilities of the Legionnaires, but also their mentality, their cunning, and their tactical knowledge. I assume the idea for the Composite Legionnaire came from the original Composite Superman (see back in World’s Finest Comics Vol 1 #142 and #168), so this is a fitting homage on the part of Gerry Conway. Needless to say, the Composite Legionnaire comes across very differently from the Composite Superman, of course, but how could it not? The look of the Composite Legionnaire was excellent, with a transgender appearance and elements of each of the composed Legionnaires’ costumes.
Speaking of Gerry Conway, the writing on this story is pretty decent and there some definite highlights. Wildfire’s childish, impetuous confrontations with the Earth President, the information load presented by Shrinking Violet about the nature of Imsk and the Imskians. The discussion of politics between Phantom Girl and Wildfire, and later with Chameleon Boy. My problem with the story stems from the other villain of the piece, Bounty. Bounty comes across as a stereotypical bounty hunter and foe, though he’s a bit more imaginative than others of his ilk. I was glad to see him get his comeuppance, but to be honest, I didn’t think Bounty should have stood as much of a chance as he did against the Composite Legionnaire.
My most puzzling element of this story is the presence of Duplicate Boy, of the Heroes of Lallor. While he and Shrinking Violet are dating/lovers/whatever, the fact that she’s off-world with four of her fellow Legionnaires on the trip to Imsk means it makes no sense that he’s remained at Legion HQ, assuming that he had come to Earth to be with Salu for a while. Haven’t seen anything anywhere that explains this, so...
This is the first issue that Al(len) Milgrom takes over as editor of the Legion title from Denny O’Neil. He also takes over the same role on the Karate Kid title as well... While Princess Projectra appears in the second half of this story, she has nearly nothing to do. This has been an ongoing trend with her for a bit now, interrupted by tales of her being overcome by her own illusions. Not satisfying for one of the Legion’s potentially most powerful members... Duplicate Boy acts as if he had been admitted into the Legion, perhaps in an untold story. In fact, writer Gerry Conway and editor Al Milgrom probably had no idea who was in the Legion and who wasn’t, given their relatively newcomer status to the title... When Shrinking Violet and the other four Legionnaires go hunting the dragons, I would have thought that it would have made more sense to have professional dragon scalers doing the delicate work rather than a bunch of inexperienced, newbie Legionnaires... Even in the Composite Legionnaire form, there is no way that Superboy should be affected or stopped by Lightning Lad’s electrical bolts. They sure didn’t when he unleashed his “death bolt” at Superboy in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #210. Unless there’s some red sun radiation involved, as Superboy surmised late in the story... The EarthGov puts a bounty out on the Composite Legionnaire (dead or alive). However, we never see any Science Police or para-military types attempt to capture him/her/it, only Bounty... When Wildfire is in his quarters, looking at the holo-cube of Drake Burroughs and his family, Drake’s face has a strong resemblance to teen hearth-throb David Cassidy.
Next Issue: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #235