John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane

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Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #239

Time to get back into the re-reads of the classic Legion of Super-Heroes stories, this time with Ultra Boy being set up for murder by...well, that would be telling! :)

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #239
May, 1978
"Murder Most Foul"
Plot/Layouts: Jim Starlin
Dialogue/Plot Assist: Paul Levitz
Penciller: Josef Rubinstein
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Cory Adams
Cover: Mike Grell (pencils) and Josef Rubinstein (inks) (signed)
Editor: Allen Milgrom

Mission Monitor Board:
Ultra Boy, Superboy, Colossal Boy, Timber Wolf, Sun Boy, Wildfire, Dawnstar, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, Star Boy, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy

Marla Latham (former Legion advisor and Jo Nah's mentor)

Unnamed murderer and plotter

The story starts with Ultra Boy back on his home planet of Rimbor. He heads into a seedy hotel, the Orion, to find an ex-girlfriend named An Ryd. She called him for help, sounding desperate, so he came to help her out since she meant a lot to him back in the old days. He does wonder, however, how she got a message through LSH communications. Ultra Boy finds An in a room upstairs, and learns that she came upon tough times and that she did whatever she had to do, including selling her ideals... and now she has to sell him out. She distracts Jo Nah long enough that someone in a hood blasts him. However, the hooded figure repays An Ryd by incinerating her with his blaster in cold blood.

Ultra Boy wakes on an unfamiliar starship, and finds his Legion flight ring is missing. He doesn’t know where he is, other than he's not on Rimbor any longer. Before he can figure out what the hell's going on, he's confronted by a large group of Legionnaires and Marla Latham, his old mentor and the former Legion Advisor. Marla tell him he's on the fourth moon of Rimbor and that he's wanted for the murder of An Ryd. Her body was found in the room Ultra Boy was seen entering, that her death resulted from exposure to an intense heat beam, like one that his flash vision generates, and his flight ring was found on her corpse. Ultra Boy can’t explain what happened, since he blacked out, and agrees to let his Legionnaire friends take him in. He allows Wildfire to bind his arms. The Legionnaires allow Phantom Girl to talk to him, who says she believes he's innocent, and he replies that he can't prove his innocence if he's locked up on Takron-Galtos. She says it's almost like the time he pretended to be a criminal, but Jo says that it's no pretense and that he's being framed. Ultra Boy breaks free, attacking the other Legionnaires, and making sure to use a nerve block on Dawnstar so that she cannot track him down. His escape is almost stopped by Star Boy, who renders him super-heavy, but with a super-human effort Ultra Boy takes him out with a rock thrown at a distance, and then escapes towards space...only to find Superboy and Mon-El waiting for him. He leads the two on a merry chase, and causes them to collide with one another, and then he quickly returns to the moon. He takes the Legion cruiser, leaving the Legionnaires with the crappy little ship he was found in on the moon. Watching Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl asks Shadow Lass why she didn't try to stop him, and she replies that her powers wouldn't have done so, and besides, she knows what it's like to have a whole world turn against you. She says that she feels he deserves a chance to clear his name. The other Legionnaires, except for Dawnstar, recover and aren't that thrilled with Shadow Lass's reasoning. Timber Wolf tells them that Dawnstar will be out for at least a day, long enough to lose the ability to track Ultra Boy. He should know, as he's the one who taught the move to Jo.

Ultra Boy heads back to Rimbor and disguises himself (as an undertaker), then wanders around trying to find clues as to who set him up. He strikes out, finding nothing, and goes to his friend, Si's, place to hole up. Si is off-world on business, and the place is inertron shielded, so even his friends won't be able to find him there that easily. However, Chameleon Boy is one step ahead of him, already at the hideout, disguised as a chair. Chameleon Boy says that he's the leader of the Espionage Squad, and that it was his job to keep track of things long before Dawnstar showed up. He knew about Si's place from the dossiers that he keeps. Chameleon Boy tells him that he's not there to take him in, he's not convinced Ultra Boy is guilty, but that he can't be certain that he's innocent either. Jo tells Cham that he doesn't understand why Marla's so vehement about throwing him to the law, to which Chameleon Boy says that Marla was off in a hospital getting youth treatments when he heard about the case and came rushing back to active duty. They can't figure out his motives. Chameleon Boy speculates that anyone connected with the team could be setting Ultra Boy up. He ultimately decides to let Ultra Boy go and leaves to pursue his own suspicions, telling Ultra Boy that he'll see him again when he's captured.

Out in space, the Legionnaires who went after Ultra Boy rendezvous with Cosmic Boy and discuss what to do. Marla Latham seems pretty eager and determined that Ultra Boy be caught, and Superboy questions his motives, saying they should be sure he's guilty before they go too crazy. Marla says he's only trying to protect the reputation of the Legion. Wildfire speculates that Ultra Boy must have returned to Rimbor to try and clear his name, so the Legionnaires head there. Inside the computer centre in the ship's inner recesses, Chameleon Boy speculates as he uses a computer and verified retina scans to assure himself all the Legionnaires are who they claim to be. He decides to forget the computer and follow his gut, which leads him to believe Ultra Boy is being set up by "the most dangerous Legionnaire of all".

In orbit of Rimbor, at Wildfire's suggestion, Mon-El and Superboy scan the planet for places where their vision is being blocked. It is Mon-El who finds an apartment building with a shielded spot - and a penetra-vision beam coming through the shielding! Realizing he's been spotted, Ultra Boy makes like a demolition express elevator down, goes through the underground sewers and emerges through a lake. Congratulating himself, he is attacked by Timber Wolf. Taking Timber Wolf down, he avoids an energy blast from Wildfire, and then flies into a heavy punch from Colossal Boy. Using a piece of a nearby building, Ultra Boy brings down the giant Legionnaire, only to then have to deal with Sun Boy's heat blasts. He knocks Sun Boy out, and takes his flight ring - and flies straight into Superboy and Mon-El. The fight with the two of the toughest Legionnaires goes against him, and Ultra Boy is taken down by their combined attack.

Later, back at Legion Headquarters, the bound and muzzled Ultra Boy is taken before his fellow legionnaires. Wildfire and Marla Latham are eager to put Ultra Boy away, but Chameleon Boy steps up with evidence that one of the Legionnaires is an imposter and that Ultra Boy is innocent of all crimes. He reveals that Wildfire is actually a robot. The Legionnaires fight the robot Wildfire, with little success, until Superboy uses his heat vision to melt it down to a puddle, except the head, which Chameleon Boy needs to prove Ultra Boy's innocence. Chameleon Boy explains that there had to be an impostor, but since all the Legionnaires checked out physically, the impostor had to be someone without a physical body. He says the real Wildfire was trapped in an energy field while the robotic one tried to get them to railroad Ultra Boy. Cham says the robot isn't the one that killed An Ryd, but he knows who did. He won't tell them until he gets absolute proof, though. Ultra Boy thanks Chameleon Boy for believing in him and for his help, and says he will never underestimate Cham again. Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl have a loving reunion.

Elsewhere, the hooded murderer of An Ryd watches the Legionnaires on a monitor. He vows to do a better job of setting the Legion up next time, when the stakes will be much higher. He walks off after removing his or her hood...

This is one of the better issues from the Giant-Sized Legion comics of this period, and presents a 34-page tale that is epic in its ramifications down the road. Jim Starlin, who makes his debut on the Legion as both a writer and an artist, produces a tale that is fast-paced, full of action and characterization, and provides a heck of a mystery as well. I'm not going to spoil the identity of the imposter in this story, but will say that the clues are there in a minor fashion, though I'm not sure they give the reader enough information to solve the problem as Chameleon Boy does. I will say that it seemed a bit unrealistic for Ultra Boy to go on the lam, instead of trusting justice to figure out who really killed An Ryd. However, as has been established in the past, Jo Nah comes from a planet where justice doesn't seem to have been served all that well at times, and the characterization of a hot-headed jock just trying to do his best and survive worked for me here. And, as Tinya reminded us, it's not the first time Jo has gone criminal on the Legion, so...

This story, at its core, is a mystery. The fact that it takes place mostly on the gritty planet of Rimbor, Jo Nah's homeworld, made it all the better. It felt down and dirty, and fit the tone of the tale being told perfectly. The strong focus on characterization here really helped too, epecially Ultra Boy (obviously) and Chameleon Boy. Chameleon Boy comes across as quite thoughtful and somewhat disconnected from Ultra Boy's plight, with his lines of "You're a fugitive, you'd better run" and "See you when they catch you,” almost as if the mystery of who the imposter is and what else is going on here were more important to him than Ultra Boy's plight. The mystery also had several layers, which was excellent work by Jim Starlin and Paul Levitz, and I actually thought that Marla Latham might have been behind it at one point, but that was too far-fetched even for me to believe, given Marla and Jo Nah's relationship. Marla's motivations and zeal for coming out of retirement in this story to get Ultra Boy in jail as quickly as possible isn't very clear to me, still, after re-reading the story, and my hope was that this would be explained at a future date.

Author Jim Starlin shows an obvious love for the Legion characters in his story and the artwork he's done here. Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy and Shadow Lass get the royal treatment here. Although Chameleon Boy looks a little bit too alien at times and Phantom Girl and Timber Wolf look somewhat different than they've been as we've seen them until now, the artwork in the story is top-notch and Josef Rubinstein's finishes just bring out the best in Starlin's pencils.

Final Notes:
This is the first Legion story by the terrific and talented Jim Starlin. It won’t be the last, but there will be problems. Just watch for further tales by “Steve Apollo”...

Marla Latham, the Legion Advisor, appears for the first time in the series since Action Comics Vol 1 #392...

Phantom Girl reminisces with Ultra Boy about the time when he pretended to be a criminal. This occurred way back in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #316. Unfortunately, this time it was no pretense as he really had been framed for the murder of An Ryd...

Shadow Lass mentions to Phantom Girl that she knows how Ultra Boy feels, as she once had her whole world turn against her. This was thanks to the Fatal Five in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #365...

The handy, dandy clothes caches that the Legionnaires now place on various worlds was instigated after the legionnaires were forced to go underground by Universo. These events happened in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #359-360, which was reprinted in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #238...

There's a lovely bit of continuity in this story, as Cosmic Boy shows up in the middle of the story in a new Legion Cruiser, Ultra Boy having absconded with the first one earlier...

Ultra Boy and Chameleon Boy discuss Marla Latham's involvement in this case. It was Marla who got Ultra Boy involved with the Legion way back in Superboy Vol 1 #98...

Wildfire thinks that Ultra Boy should trust in the courts, as they dealt fairly with them last time the Legion was in trouble. This occurred in the back-up tale in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #235...

Chameleon Boy realizes in this story who framed Ultra Boy, but he doesn't reveal the truth until Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #250...

The "Man Behind the Executioner's Hood" was revealed in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #273...

The last page of the issue is devoted to another article in the Legion Outpost Extra, this time a piece that analyzes Chameleon Boy’s power, written by Mike Flynn. (I also assume that it comes from one of the issues of the Legion Outpost.)

Next Issue: Karate Kid Vol 1 #14
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion reread, lll, long live the legion!, lsh, review

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