Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #261
"Space Circus Of Death!"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Ric Estrada
Inker: John Calnan
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colourist: Gene D'Angelo
Cover: Dick Giordano (signed)
Editor: Jack C. Harris
Mission Monitor Board:
Phantom Girl, Star Boy, Mon-El, Brainiac 5, Princess Projectra, Timber Wolf, Star Boy
Aton Gissark revealed as the unnamed killer
The story continues on from the previous issue. At the Bacaro Barley Interstellar Travelling Carnival and Sideshow, the six Legionnaires are using a brain scanner to prove that Imik the Juggler is the murderer they have been looking for. Suddenly, the device electrocutes the circus performer. The Legionnaires realize they are back to square one in their investigation. While Mon-El microscopic vision determines that whatever turned the scanner into an electrocution device also melted it to slag, leaving no clues, Brainiac 5 points out they now know that whoever the killer is had a technical education. He says they should re-examine the dossiers on the other two suspects.
The killer, clad in green and yellow circus garb, but carefully staying in shadow, overhears the Legionnaires in their trailer, and realizes that his/her plan has gone up in smoke, leaving them only one option and that's to kill the Legionnaires. As the killer moves off, the assistant manager Clovis is heading towards the Legionnaires' trailer when she sees someone lurking around suspiciously, and carrying a disruptor pistol. She can make out the murderer's face, and seeing no choice the murderer kills her with the disruptor. Inside the trailer, the Legionnaires hear Clovis's dying cry coming from the direction of cargo containers, and Brainiac 5 recognizes the light coming from the area as radiation spillage from molecular field disruptor. Timber Wolf has had enough and leaps into action.
Timber Wolf uses his incredible speed and agility to catch up to the murderer, and tackles him, plunging the two of them into the cage of one of the exhibits, the Venusian night shark. Seeing their chance, the murderer uses the creature as a distraction before the other Legionnaires can get there, and releases the night shark from its cage and escapes. Star Boy is struck and knocked out by the creature and Timber Wolf is already stunned. Princess Projectra casts an illusion to distract it, so Phantom Girl takes action. She tries a trick she's been meaning to attempt, phasing through its brain pan and the solidifying ever so slightly as she emerges, shocking its nervous system and taking it down. Brainiac 5 appreciates her tactic. There's no sign of the murderer. With the Space Circus about to leave orbit shortly, the Legionnaires fear they may have lost their last chance to track down the killer.
Approximately an hour later, Star Boy's thoughts are confirmed as Ringmaster Aton Gissark tells the Legionnaires that he has no choice but to close down the tents so to speak and return with the rest of the circus to their native planet, Cygnus IV. Gissark reiterates the reasons for the Barley Carnival coming to Earth in the first place, and the murders that have taken place, and says that even though he's of Human stock, not a native Cygnian like Imik and some of the others, he refuses to endanger the circus a moment longer, though he understands this might mean war between the United Planets and the Cygnus Confederation. He even tells the Legionnaires that he checked the probabilities on a computer that he designed, and it warned him that the circus faces imminent destruction if they stay even an hour longer. Brainiac 5 is intrigued by this, but says that since he cannot convince the Ringmaster to remain in Earth orbit for more performances, perhaps the Legionnaires will go with the circus when it leaves.
Later, as the mismatched collection of ships and personal trailers moves out beyond the orbit of Pluto, the Legionnaires are in the main ship in the chamber that serves as both mess hall and rec room. Tyrus the composite Clown is the only one of the three original suspects still alive, and while Mon-El and Star Boy decide to follow him and keep an eye on him, Brainiac 5 says there are now other suspects and remains in the mess with Princess Projectra and Phantom Girl. Cyrus leaves the main ship and with a portable forcefield to temporarily protect him from the vacuum of space, heads for his own ship, followed by Mon-El and Star Boy. As Tyrus touches the airlock, the vessel explodes and he is killed in an explosion.
Brainiac 5, Princess Projectra, Phantom Girl and Timber Wolf head into space, and find the two forms of Star Boy and Mon-El. They aren't dead, as they were far enough from the explosion to only be rendered unconscious from the shockwave. Brainiac 5 says he's been a fool, since he's been expecting the murderer to try and kill the Legionnaires, but he wasn't expecting it to happen until they reached Cygnus IV. The Legionnaires' deaths would be the last thing needed to start a war between the United Planets and the Cygnus Confederation - for war is what the murderer wants! Before Brainiac 5 can tell them who the killer is, Princess Projectra sees the familiar glow around the circus ships - they're about to go into hyperspace. Acting quickly, Timber Wolf grabs the end of the energy chain, and as the other Legionnaires link hands, they are dragged along with the ships and personal trailers into hyperspace themselves.
As the Legionnaires begin to suffer the effects of exposure to hyperspace without the benefit of a ship, suffering vertigo, visual disorientation or worse, Brainiac 5 has Princess Projectra create a pleasant illusion (of a pleasant trail) as they fly through hyperspace. Projectra tells Brainiac 5 that he must lead them to the murderer quickly, as she doesn't know how long she can hold the illusion. He tells her there's no need, since the murderer has come to them. They see that it is the Ringmaster, Aton Gissark. He attempts to attack Phantom Girl with his disruptor pistol, but she phases and avoids the blast, then strikes Gissark and takes him down. Gissark admits that as an Earthman who immigrated to Cygnus with his family but were never accepted by the Cygnians, his racist hatred for the Cygnians has made him want a war between his two "native" planets. After Gissark confesses, he escapes by "running" off the trail, but in so doing jumps into hyperspace and is lost forever. Brainiac 5 tells the other Legionnaires that it's time to go home.
This second part of the "Space Circus of Death" story that continues from the previous issue is one that doesn't so much disappoint as it has a pretty lame ending and several plot holes in it that are quite troublesome. Gerry Conway's writing is pretty solid in this tale, aside from the problems I'll mention later, and the story moves along at a good pace. I was glad to see that the murderer was not one of the three suspects that Brainiac 5 and the Legionnaires decided on in the first part of the story, but wasn't thrilled about the fact that Brainiac 5 and company only came to that conclusion after two of the three suspects were killed. That doesn't seem like 12th Level intelligence on Brainy's part to me. There are some problems with some of the writing here, as some of the dialogue seemed stunted to me in ways, and to be perfectly honest, I realized that Gissark was the killer on page 3, in the bottom left-most panel, as the murderer's point-tipped cloak is exactly like the cloak that the Ringmaster himself is wearing all the time in the story! Still, Gissark's being the murderer was well-handled and his motivation for doing so was very clear and straightforward.
But here are the problems... First of all, why was Tyrus murdered? I would have thought the Ringmaster would have left him alive, if only to keep him as the prime suspect and deflect suspicion away from himself. Since Gissark was already concerned that the Legionnaires were on to him (see page 3 for Gissark's thoughts on this), perhaps that's what motivated killing Cyrus, since he intended perhaps to kill the Legionnaires while they were outside the ships. My second problem here is a bigger one... When the Legionnaires are out in space and see the circus ships beginning to enter hyperspace, Timber Wolf somehow grabs the energy chain emitted from the last ship, allowing the Legionnaires to fly into hyperspace with the ships. This is a bit of a stretch. It is clear that Mon-El is conscious at this time, so I would have thought it would make more sense to use his super-speed (you know, like Superboy's?) to grab the Legionnaires and fly the straight into the last spaceship or trailer vessel. A lot more sense, to be honest, and a better use of the science behind the Legion to do so. And then there's the scene in hyperspace, after Projectra has created the illusion to allow the Legionnaires to keep their sanity. How exactly does Aton Gissark fly out to meet them in hyperspace so as to kill them? How does Phantom Girl phase out, then move and punch Gissark without her losing her grip on her other teammates and being flung into hyperspace herself? I would have thought that Tinya would have suffered the same fate that Gissark did when he "ran" away from the Legionnaires...but I'm glad that our Tinya is still alive. :)
The artwork this issue is by Ric Estrada and John Calnan on pencils and inks, respectively. I really liked Estrada's work for the most part on the short-lived Karate Kid series, but here, Calnan's inks are pretty heavy making Estrada's pencil work almost vanish into the woodwork, so to speak. In some ways, the artwork this issue looks a lot like Joe Staton's work from the first part of the story last issue, but oddly enough the circus characters have a more cartoonish look to them this issue. The image of Tyrus on page 12 reminds me of a Looney Tunes frog or some such. However, I will say that Estrada's layouts are pretty good here. When the Legionnaires chase after the hyperspace ships that are jumping, the angles and close-ups are highly effective on page 15 and the top of page 16.
The wrap-up to the two-part murder mystery was an entertaining read in its own right, but was somewhat mundane as Legion stories of late have been. That said, I would have liked to have seen this story be just a murder story without the whole "possible war between the U.P. and Cygnus Confederation" stakes involved.
This story continues from the previous issue...
This is the first issue where a Roll Call section listing the Legionnaires in the story in a scroll-like format is provided. Previous issues of late have offered "Roll Call" panels within a panel, with the image of the focus Legionnaires for the story with their names...
Princess Projectra's hair is mis-coloured throughout the story as blonde, when it should be white...
Clovis the assistant manager, is totally annihilated by the disruptor, but no one witnessed her death. So why does everyone assume that she is dead, and not just missing?...
On page 15, Phantom Girl exclaims, "Gods of Imsk!" Why does she do so? Tinya is from Bgztl. Shrinking Violet, who's not in this story, is from Imsk...
On page 16, in the third panel, the wrong contraction is used. The text that reads, "...settled into it's new form..." should correctly read "...settle into its new form...".
Next Issue: The Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #262