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Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #252

Time for another re-read of a classic Legion of Super-Heroes story. This time out: What do you do after facing Omega and putting Brainiac 5 and Tenzil Kem in a psych facility? Why, you face the Starburst Bandits! Enjoy! :)


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Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #252
June, 1979
"Postscript to Holocaust"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Joe Staton
Inker: David Hunt
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Gene D'Angelo
Cover: Dick Giordano (signed)
Editor: Jack C. Harris


Mission Monitor Board:
Superboy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Princess Projectra, Dream Girl, Sun Boy, Wildfire, Mon-El, Shadow Lass

Guest Stars:
Brainiac 5; Matter-Eater Lad; R.J. Brande

Opponents:
The Starburst Bandits


Synopsis:
At the United Planets Medi-Center on the island of St. Croix on Earth, several Legionnaires (Superboy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Princess Projectra, Dream Girl, Sun Boy and Wildfire) are visiting Tenzil Kem (aka Matter-Eater Lad), who was made into a "hopeless lunatic" when Brainiac 5 had him eat the Miracle Machine. The insane Brainiac 5 is also present at the facility. The Legionnaires wonder if anything can be done to cure Tenzil Kem, and at Brainiac 5's suggestion, Princess Projectra attempts to use her illusion powers to calm Matter-Eater Lad, and then have Dream Girl enter his thoughts and try to "bring him back" to sanity. Unfortunately, Dream Girl's riding in on a white horse in a calm, idyll, pastoral setting is not enough to bring Matter-Eater Lad back from the madness that controls him, and he almost pulls Dream Girl into his insanity (manifest as his falling into an exploding star). Brainiac 5 merely states "A pity...it didn't work" and an annoyed Superboy takes him to task over endangering Dream Girl's life. Thinking the Legionnaires came merely to mock him, not actually seek his advice, Brainiac 5 tells them to leave.

As the Legionnaires leave the facility and their two hospitalized friends, lamenting the way their luck has been going of late, a group of alien raiders on flaming horses attack the area in an attempted robbery. Princess Projectra tells the others she knows of these raiders; they're the Starburst Bandits, and they've also attacked Orando in the past. The frustrated and angry Legionnaires attack the Starburst Bandits in a wild, uncoordinated manner. Lightning Lad strikes first, taking down one of the bandits, but is struck down himself from behind by another, despite the late warning from his wife, Saturn Girl. In an uncharacteristic display, Saturn Girl physically attacks the bandit in question. Princess Projectra tries to give the Legionnaires some time to focus and coordinate by casting several illusions, but capricious fate takes a hand, and one of the flaming horses' feet strike her, knocking her out, and the illusions fade. It does give Superboy time to grab the net the raiders are using and he sees what the raiders attempted to steal. He is proceeding to take it back to the stockpile when he is struck by the raiders weapon (obviously with a red sun component) and plunges into the sea. Wildfire makes some headway attacking the bandits, but is distracted when he sees one of the bandits has snatched up Dream Girl. She manages to slip free, but the distraction is enough; a bandit's energy weapons tears a whole in Wildfire's suit, and he is dispersed for the moment. Sun Boy is able to counter the weapons of the raiders somewhat, but they gang up on him and take him down. The Legionnaires are soundly defeated by the Starburst Bandits, but their leader says they have lost the element of surprise, but knows of other sources of what they seek, and has them fall back. The recovered Superboy surfaces from the water, and think that if the Bandits have gone where he thinks they have, the whole solar system is in danger.

Elsewhere, at the penthouse headquarters of Legion financier R.J. Brande, United Planets Revenue agents barge in on him and deliver a message cube and a notice. After they leave, the still annoyed Brande is shocked and outraged to receive a notice of bankruptcy from the United Planets. He vows that whoever is responsible for this outrage will pay for it!

Back at the destroyed Legion Headquarters, Mon-El is cleaning up rubble and debris, having grim and depressing thoughts, while Shadow Lass watches. The Legionnaires who faces the Starburst Bandits return, and when she hears what happened, Shadow Lass says that she knows of them as well; they attacked a star system neighbouring Talok VIII in the past. Superboy says he knows what the Starburst Bandits are after, and Wildfire goes to get another containment suit. Lightning Lad and the others survey the wreckage, and Garth says it's a good thing they can count on R.J. Brande's financial backing to help with repairs and reconstruction. When Wildfire returns, he asks Garth if the Legion leadership routine is getting him down, saying now he knows how Wildfire felt all those months. Garth tells Drake "Maybe I do know how you felt, Drake...better than you do yourself."

Shortly thereafter, the Legion cruiser takes to the heavens as Superboy tells the others that the Bandits were trying to steal synthetic neutronium, the densest, most fantastic material known to science. And the only natural source of neutronium is the Sun, so that's where the Legion cruiser is headed. As the Legion cruiser draws closer, Saturn Girl senses the thoughts of the raiders, and with Princess Projectra creating the image of what Saturn Girl senses and sees, they realize that the Bandits are trying to harvest neutronium at the source - and must stop them at any cost. Superboy tells Lightning Lad that he can't go ahead and stop them, as the Starburst Bandits' weapons must contain red star energy, as he was vulnerable and taken down to it earlier.

Lightning Lad tells the others that since they can't face the weapons of the Starburst Bandits again after what happened the first time, the only way to do so is to ram the ship. He sets the Legion cruiser to strike the Bandits' ship, and it does so with devastating results. As the Legionnaires gather up the stunned Starburst Bandits, Sun Boy works to heal the Sun's core, stopping the possible chain reaction that the Bandits' neutronium drilling was causing. Successfully doing so, the Legionnaires are relieved to have accomplished their goal...but now have to figure out a way back to Earth...


Commentary:
This story is a single issue tale that is set in the aftermath of the Omega crisis and both Brainiac 5 and Tenzil Kem/Matter-Eater Lad having gone insane. The basic idea for the story, the attack by the Starburst Bandits (whom I'll come back to), is preceeded by an introductory sequence at the U.P. Medi-Centre on the island of St. Croix where a group of Legionnaires are visiting Tenzil Kem (the former Matter-Eater Lad, now resigned) and Brainiac 5. However, why on Earth would the Legionnaires take the advice of the lunatic Brainiac 5 here about a possible "treatment" for Tenzil Kem, given recent events?; this is just a bad, dangerous choice. Not a good move at all, given that it almost takes Dream Girl's sanity and life with it. Brainiac 5's reaction of, "A pity...it didn't work" pretty much sums things up to me here - I get the impression that Brainy was just playing another game with the Legionnaires here, though there's no proof of that. That said, the idea of Princess Projectra and Dream Girl using their powers to visit Tenzil Kem's nightmare plagued, insane mind and try to help out is an interesting idea, but unfortunately, that *isn't* how their powers work! The fact that Saturn Girl is right there and this is right up her alley makes this sequence all the worse, though perhaps the assumption is that she's somehow helping the attempt telepathically. Either way, it's a badly written sequence, to be honest, and shows writer Conway and editor Harris's lack of understanding about how the powers of these three Legionnaires work.

As mentioned above, the Starburst Bandits are the main antagonists in this story. They have a very unique, alien look to them with a bit of a fantasy image going on as well, and I presume they are so-called because of the "energy rings" or bursts that their weapons fire. Nothing is really learned about the Bandits in the story, other than what Projectra and Shadow Lass know of their attacks on others near their home systems, nor do we learn why they are seeking out neutronium. The energy bursts that they use seem to emanate from their weapons, though this is found not to be true in their second appearance (see Final Notes, below). It seems likely that the Starburst Bandits are truly alien in nature and mind, as they do not speak Interlac at all. They are certainly an interesting set of antagonists to throw at the down and out, thoroughly demoralized Legion of Super-Heroes, but seven Legionnaires are taken out by the Bandits in their first fight? While they're upset about Brainiac 5 and Tenzil Kem and disillusioned about the state of Earth after the war, writer Conway portrays them as being rank amateurs. Once the group of Legionnaires gains the assets of Shadow Lass and Mon-El and then head to the Sun to stop the Bandits, they're afraid to fight them? I don't get this... While Superboy may have a fear of red sun radiation as he loses his powers under it, he is by no means a coward and would not shirk from the responsbility of stopping the Bandits. Mon-El doesn't have the red sun problem, due to the serum that protects him against lead, and let's face it Shadow Lass could have used her powers to blind the Bandits, thus allowing the other Legionnaires to deal with them. Again, somewhat sloppy plotting and writing.

One intriguing bit in the story was the sequence when Wildfire and Lightning Lad discuss Legion leadership and the burdens of it. I thought this was intriguing because both Garth and Drake have shown periods of indecision during the times we've seen the characters over the last couple of years of the comic, but there seems to be more to Garth's saying, "Maybe I do know how you felt, Drake...better than you do yourself."

One thing that annoyed me this issue was the business with R.J. Brande. We already know from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #247-248 about Brande's bankruptcy but the sequence here makes it clear that Brande is officially bankrupt in the eyes of the United Planets. But why repeat the same sort of sequence we saw in the earlier issue? Of course, coupled with Lightning Lad's statement here that he's glad that Brande can bankroll the Legion's new HQ and equipment, there's some interesting times ahead for the Legion in terms of getting funding to rebuild. Hopefully, that will start to shake out in the next few issues.

This story doesn't augur that well for writer Gerry Conway's tenure as a regular Legion writer, though the Starburst Bandits are intriguing in and of themselves. Sadly, they will (as noted above) only get one more appearance in the Legion comics. Joe Staton and Dave Hunt do a decent job of the artwork in this issue, but the lack of backgrounds in a lot of panels (notably the action scenes) is one that mars the issue for me somewhat. Most of the characters are lacking in expressions this issue, other than Tenzil Kem in the mind sequence at the start of the issue, though Superboy's expression of pain on page 6 is one of the better ones. The best sequence of panels this issue is the death of the Legion cruiser panels on pages 15 and 16, all of which convey movement well and come across quite emotional as well.

Overall, this issue presents a story with an interesting premise, that is let down by a bit of shoddy writing and plotting in places, with some potentially good opponents, and adequate artwork all around.


Final Notes:
The scene depicted on the cover of the issue does not actually occur in the story at all...

Tenzil Kem/Matter-Eater Lad's hair is consistently mis-coloured as brown throughout this issue's story arc. His hair should be black...

This issue marks the first appearance of the Starburst Bandits. They return for their only other appearance in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #272...

Princess Projectra's ability to cast an illusion into Tenzil Kem's mind/subconscious and Dream Girl's ability to enter into Tenzil's mind are both interesting - but these are not powers or abilities possessed by either of these Legionnaires.






Next Issue: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #253
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion reread, lll, long live the legion!, lsh, review
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