Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #235
“The Legion’s Super-Secret!”
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: Mike Grell
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Milton Snapinn
Colourist: Jerry Serpe
Cover: Mike Grell (signed)
Editor: Allen Milgrom
Mission Monitor Board:
Superboy, Cosmic Boy, Brainiac 5, Timber Wolf, Light Lass, Sun Boy, Shadow Lass
“The Legion’s Super Secret”
At Legion of Super-Heroes HQ, Superboy is undergoing a drastic brainwashing that seems almost akin to torture by Brainiac 5, although he has been told that it's a routine psycho-medical exam. Cosmic Boy questions the necessity of it, but the others argue for the need. Superboy's resistance to the brainwashing is getting better every year, and one of the circuit-breakers overloads and shunts to another circuit. He continues to struggle and resist it, and a second circuit-breaker overloads, just as the Mission Monitor Board alert goes off. There is an attack by the Sklarians at the Life Institute in progress. Superboy slowly recovers, and Brainiac scans the Teen of Steel to make sure there are no side effects from the "exam." Timber Wolf and Light Lass take flight for the Life Institute, and Superboy goes after them to help out. Brainiac 5's tests indicate that the brainwashing did not take effect. They have to be careful, since without the hypnotic protection, anything could trigger Superboy's suppressed memories. The two Legionnaires head for the Life Institute as well.
At the Life Institute, Sklarian raiders are attempting to steal advanced technology that is not yet available on their planet. Superboy and Cosmic Boy make sure they do not get away with any of the technology, while Timber Wolf and Light Lass deal with the Sklarian raiders themselves. The two Legionnaires work well together and make short work of the raiders, but their leader conceals herself and then breaks in to find the Directors that she's looking for. The Legionnaires will have to give in to the Sklarian demands while she holds them hostage. She fires her weapon at them, but they are protected by Brainiac 5's force field. The Sklarian escapes, knocking Light Lass down with one (super-strong) blow, and then she and her aerosled are picked up by her ship, which then escapes. Superboy does not pursue the ship, as the Science Police's Earthwatch is waiting for them. The Director thanks the Legionnaires for their aid, but before he can mention what the Sklarians were after, Brainiac 5 has Superboy go and help Cosmic Boy with some of the equipment. He does learn that the Life Institute is the centre of all biological research on Earth. The Teen of Steel hears Brainiac 5 tell the Director to be quiet about stuff, and Superboy is suspicious about his earlier "exam" and starts to put two-and-two together.
On board the Legion cruiser that goes to join the Science Police patrol ships, Cosmic Boy, Sun Boy and Brainiac 5 discuss "the life serum" and how they must make sure Superboy is kept in the dark about it. However, Superboy is listening in with his super-hearing from thousands of miles away, and he is distracted from a game of ball that he, Timber Wolf, Light Lass and Shadow Lass are playing. Before the game ends, Superboy takes off, his super-hearing detecting the new alert, and the other three Legionnaires are left to follow by ship as best they can. The Skarians are attacking Technos, an orbiting "Silicon Valley" type asteroid that is the spearhead for mankind's quest for knowledge and full of the advanced technology the Sklarians are seeking. Superboy arrives and prevents the Sklarian weapons from striking the first Legion cruiser, then he hurls the Sklarian ship down to the asteroid where it crashes. However, the Sklarians launch themselves from its devastated hull on their aerosleds. The Legion starts operations to protect the equipment, but Brainiac 5 also tries to keep Superboy away from any specific secrets. In the Life Sciences section of the facility, even though Sun Boy faces overwhelming Sklarian raiders, he forces Superboy to leave the area due to the secrets held there, and slams the door in his face!
The fighting is long and hard, but the Legionnaires prevail and capture all of the Sklarian raiders. The Sklarians make their case for receiving technology that the United Planets is not ready to give them. They claim that the United Planets came to their world and uplifted them with technology, just enough to destroy their society and put their world on the brink of chaos. Brainiac 5 says she's wrong, that the Sklarians need to wait until they are ready to handle any more technology that the U.P. would give them. After the Sklarians are handed over to the Science Police, despite their sympathizing with the Sklarians, Cosmic Boy points out that Braal was in the same situation. Before Cos can give any of the secrets away, Brainiac 5 stops him, saying that the Legion is not a debating society. The Legionnaires prepare to head back to HQ so that Brainy can finish the "exam" on Superboy, but the Teen of Steel is having none of it. Superboy admits that he eavesdropped on his friends and knows about the brainwashing. He tells them that he's figured out what the secret is they are guarding: artificial life. He agrees that he should not know about 30th Century medical miracles, and agrees to be brainwashed the next time he visits. After Superboy returns to the 20th Century, Dr. B’relden congratulates them on their masterful performance, to which Cosmic Boy replies that is high praise from the serum's inventor. The secret they are actually protecting is an immortality serum. B’relden says they can restore the hypno-block on Superboy before he starts to wonder why those Legionnaires in their twenties are still called "Boy" or "Kid", and that some people live to be hundreds of years old with a youth that lasts for decades...
Oh, dear... What to say about this story? First of all, I will say that I rather liked this story for all its problems and faults, but not because of the plot revolving around Superboy but because of the story involving the Sklarian raiders. (More on them in a bit.) Yes, there are two plots going on in this story, one being the attempts on the Legionnaires' part to brainwash Superboy and the other dealing with the Sklarians. First things first.
The real flaw with this story is at the heart of a lot of folks' dislike for the story here. Thanks to Saturn Girl's post-hypnotic suggestion, *everything* that Superboy learns in the future that might have an impact on his life or future is forgotten the moment he returns to the 20th Century. Now, assuming Saturn Girl's abilities are beyond reproach, why is it necessary to subject him to this form of tortuous brainwashing every year to not remember about the immortality serum or anything connected to it, especially since the "treatment" is being resisted more and more each year that he's subjected to it? Furthermore, there's the idea here that the Legionnaires don’t trust Superboy enough with the fact that they are (unless I’ve misconstrued the whole point here) immortal themselves? What makes this whole plot worse, however, is the fact that after spending the entire story being intent on brainwashing Superboy so that he wouldn't go back in time with the knowledge of the super secret, at the end of the story he does exactly that. Even if he comes to the wrong conclusion about what that secret is. I would have thought it would have been a lot easier just to have Saturn Girl give him another post-hypnotic suggestion to forget the secret stuff as well, but that's just me. That said, writer Paul Levitz has commented in several places that this story is the worst Legion tale that he every wrote, and from the point of view of the immortality secret and brainwashing Superboy plot, I’m inclined to agree.
I do have to wonder about the immortality serum itself. When it comes down to it, comics are plagued by heroes who don't age for years at a time, if they actually do age. While the immortality serum explains the Legionnaires looking so youthful, I don't honestly think that it was necessary to even go into that, let alone explain it.
Now, on to bright stuff... The Sklarian raiders first showed up in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #233, and were intriguing antagonists in that story, and are no less in this one. The reader gets a bit more insight into why the raiders are attacking Earth and trying to steal advanced technology. Between the Imskian plot that we've been seeing in the last few issues and this stuff, it's good to see lots of cultural elements in the Legion universe. Adding to the situation was Cosmic Boy's sympathy for the Sklarians plight, as his homeworld of Braal had gone through something similar. And it was clear by the end of the story that the Legionnaries as a whole sympathized with the Sklarians, but still did their duty and handed them over to the Science Police. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the Sklarians and how this storyline develops.
One of the highlights of the story for me was the return of Mike Grell to the pencilling duties on this story. There are some stunning visuals from Grell in the story, notably the expression of sheer pain on Superboy's face on the splash page, the panels with the evil, shadowy face of Brainiac 5 when he gets angry at Cosmic Boy, the magnificent piece on page 5 showing the Life Institute, the full spread on page 14 of the Legionnaires fighting the Sklarians in the laboratories of Technos, and some of Cosmic Boy's expressions in various panels throughout the story. Vince Colletta's inks over Grell's pencils are very nice, not too heavy and not too light, and the two manage to convey action and movement throughout the story very nicely.
Then there’s the second story...
"Trial of the Legion Five"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: George Tuska
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Jerry Serpe
Editor: Allen Milgrom
Mission Monitor Board:
Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Timber Wolf, Shadow Lass, Brainiac 5, Wildfire; Brainiac 5, Wildfire, Princess Projectra (brief court appearances)
UP Councilman Marko Chang, Titanian psycho-beast
Continued from the previous issue. On Earth, in Metropolis, at the Earth Council Supreme Court, Legionnaires Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Timber Wolf and Shadow Lass arrive to face trial. Councilman Marko Chang has accused the five Legionnaires of certain unspecified crimes. The Science Police are forced to push back the crowd with their electro-batons as the pro-Chang anti extra—legal standing Legion supporters try to get at them. In the courtroom, Chang accuses the four legionnaires and the absent Brainiac 5 of murdering his son. Sitting in the courtroom, Chameleon Boy asks Superboy and Princess Projectra why they don't help their friends, but Superboy says that they can’t do anything; they don't even know the facts of the case.
Chang makes an opening statement, then states that his son lies dead in the stasis cylinder before them, as required by custom, dead of the Synapse Syndrome, a rare nervous disorder. Chang says that he had searched high and low for a cure for his son, and finally found one: the legendary Titanian psycho-beast, of which one one exists. The radiation emitted when a Titanian psycho-beast dies could cure his son. So Chang headed to Titan to find one of these animals and harness its energy. When he arrived, he found the Legionnaires already there, looking for the same creature. Brainiac 5 denied Chang's request, seemingly in order to save their teammate Wildfire, and he was knocked unconscious when the Legionnaires, specifically Timber Wolf, attacked him. When he woke up, Brainiac 5 was gone, along with the psycho-beast. He summoned the Science Police to arrest the Legionnaires and to find Brainiac 5's whereabouts, but when he returned to Earth, his son was already dead. Ipso facto, he accuses them of murder. The truth tube that he occupies glows yellow, signifying he is telling the truth as he knows it.
Saturn Girl takes the stand and testifies. Brainiac 5 and the Legionnaires returned with Wildfire to the Legion lab where he tried to find a way to cure Wildfire, whose whole energy form was breaking apart, in a manner similar to the synapse syndrome, due to absorbing the energy from the Imskian space dragons. Saturn Girl remembered an ancient legend from her own people about the psycho-beast, and the Legionnaires headed for Titan after Brainiac 5's computers gave them the slim hope about it. Shadow Lass then testifies. Meanwhile, two mysterious shadowed figures try to make their way into the court building, but have to face a pair of guards. Shadow Lass testifies as to the reasons that Brainiac 5 chose the team that he did to go to Titan. Once the Legionnaires arrived, Shadow Lass acted as the scout to guide the Legionnaires through the dimly lit, shadowy terrain to the lair of the psycho-beast. She was struck by the creature's psychic attack and rendered unconscious. Meanwhile, the two shadowy intruders easily disable the two guards, one of the figures being protected by a force shield perhaps. Lightning Lad testifies next, that the Legionnaires were outmatched by the psycho-beast, and took shelter beneath Brainiac 5's force shield. Timber Wolf, outside the shield, fought the creature valiantly, and barely brought the creature down. It was while they were recovering from the shock of the fight that Marko Chang arrived. As for them attacking Chang, Lightning Lad denies the charges.
Before Timber Wolf can be called to the stand, Brainiac 5 and Wildfire burst into the courtroom, disrupting proceedings. Before anyone can react, Wildfire channels the energy of the psycho-beast into the body of Chang's son, saving his life. Brainiac 5 explains to the judge and the court that the psycho-beast could save Marko's son, but only if Wildfire was saved first. Wildfire could mimic the psycho-beast's energy absorption, but his son could not save Wildfire. Brainiac 5 knew that Chang's hatred of the Legion would prevent him from doing the work in the lab that was required for this. As his son is not dead, all charges against the Legionnaires are dropped and the case is dismissed. Marko Chang leaves the courtroom with his son, perhaps a changed man.
This story is not a good story, but it is interesting in its themes and in its tale of perspective. Five Legionnaires are tried for committing murder by a man who hates the Legion and whose son is now dead, supposedly because of them. The story shows the testimony of Councillor Marko Chang and three of the five Legionnaires, and allows the reader to see the truths and the (told to self) lies in their testimony. There is a good deal of angst in the story, notably on Superboy's and Lightning Lad's parts about whether the Legionnaires really were murderers.
This story is about perception and truth and lies. The Legionnaires and Marko Chang all believe they are telling the truth, and sometimes a man's truth is coloured by his prejudice. This was nowhere more true than with Marko Chang and his dislike/hatred of the Legion colouring his judgement that they killed or were responsible for killing his son. By the same token, Brainiac 5's truth was coloured by his logic, and the knowledge that he could save Chang's son but only if he saved Wildfire first, a move that made the Legionnaires look guilty as sin. Some fine plotting and writing by Gerry Conway.
One question that I had is: How does an energy being absorb too much energy? It was shown way back in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #201 that Wildfire could absorb the power of a nuclear blast. Are the Imskian dragons really all that powerful, or did it have to do with the type of radiation that Wildfire absorbed? Speaking of the Imskian dragons, this is supposed to be a continuation of last issue's adventure. So where are Shrinking Violet and Colossal Boy, not to mention the others? And where did Shadow Lass and Timber Wolf come from, when they were nowhere to be found when their friends were fighting the Composite Legionnaire last issue?
And here’s the thing: If Marko Chang's son isn’t really dead, then murder did not occur. If the boy was dead, how could what the Legion did be construed as 'murder" in this case? Murder is the premeditated taking of someone's life; the Legion absolutely did not do such a thing...well, at least not of the boy. It was stated that they did wantonly kill the psycho-beast, which was quite cruel given that it was thought to be the last of its kind. And I would have thought that killing the creature violated the Legion’s code against doing that sort of thing. Or does it not count against animals and creatures? Hmm...
The artwork in this story is...pretty bad. George Tuska's pencils are so generic and blocky that some of the characters in the story looked the same to me. Vince Colletta's inks helped with this somewhat, but there were problems with Jerry Serpe's colouring. (See below.) Not a great job, and it marred the story for me somewhat.
In the lead story, the Sklarians first appeared in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #233. This won't be the last time they're seen in these pages... Although Shadow Lass appears at Legion HQ during the first story, she does not participate in either of the missions against the Sklarian raiders... Brainiac 5 has an interesting way with words in the lead story. He angrily shouts down Cosmic Boy at the end of their mission on Technos with "This is not a debating society!"...
In the second story, there are a lot of colouring mistakes. In one panel, Projectra's hair in the courtroom is mis-coloured blonde instead of white. In several panels, Saturn Girl's blonde hair is mis-coloured orange. And there are several other colour glitches that I won’t even bother with here... Shadow Lass appears in the back-up story without her cape... Saturn Girl changes her hairstyle three times in the course of the back-up adventure...
The letter column for the issue announces that the voting is complete, and the new Legion leader is Lightning Lad with 14% of the vote. Element Lad and Mon-El were tied with 10% of the vote, so they will be his Deputy leaders. They won’t begin their tenure until after the current round of stories is complete. (And we all know how this actually turns out.)... The Legion Outpost Extra this issue gives us a one-page Legionnaire Profile on Karate Kid, written by Jay Zilber.
Next Issue: Karate Kid Vol 1 #12