John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane

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Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #272

Here's today's re-read of another classic Legion of Super-Heroes comic. This time out: Blok's secret origin. Enjoy! :)

Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #272
February, 1981
"The Secret Origin of Blok!"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Steve Ditko
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colourist: Bob Le Rose
Cover: Jimmy Janes (pencils) & Dick Giordano (inks) (signed)
Editor: Jack C. Harris

Mission Monitor Board:
Wildfire, Sun Boy, Dawnstar, Lightning Lad; Mon-El, Light Lass, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy; Chameleon Boy (all cameos); Shadow Lass, Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, Light Lass, Colossal Boy (mentioned, not seen) (all in flashback)

Guest Stars:
Blok (joins the LSH); Superboy (flashback)

Supporting Cast:
Legion applicants Lamprey, Nightwind, Crystal Kid

The Starburst Bandits

At Legion Headquarters on Earth, Wildfire is working with Blok to understand his set of powers and their limitations. Blok is shrugging off the getting angry Wildfire's energy blasts and not reacting to them at all. He finally admits to Wildfire that they feel like tickles. Sun Boy and Dawnstar arrive and join them, accompanied by three other applicants for membership: Tayla Skott, aka Lamprey; Berta Harris, aka Nightwind; and Bobb Kohan, aka Crystal Kid.

At Wildfire's suggestion, Dawnstar shows the four Legion applicants the Legion obstacle course, a series of massive pistols that also move, shooting out from the walls, ceiling and floor. The goal of the obstacle course test is not to be crushed. Going first, Blok simply walks through the obstacle course, destroying the piston bars as they strike his nigh invulnerable body. When the Legionnaires protest, Blok states that Dawnstar did not say he had to evade the pistons, merely that he should not let himself be harmed by them, and he has more than met the requirement. Sun Boy laughs, and tells Wildfire that the obstacle course was due to be phased out anyway. Wildfire decides to take a break and then get a a repair crew to clean off the rubble, leaving Blok and the other three recruits along with Sun Boy to talk. They encourage him to tell his story.

Blok tells them that he is not just hard as a rock, but that he's a living rock. His story begins on a world now forgotten at the fringe of the galaxy that its people did not name that had no animal life. All that changed when a spaceship arrived bearing humans, whose leader, Dr. Hosono, named the world Dryad for a place "where only trees grow but no birds sing." Since there was no other human life on the planet, according to United Planets law, they were free to settle there, and did so. As settlers continued to arrive, the indigenous rock people continued to hide in plain sight, watching and waiting, eventually learning the humans' language. Eventually, they revealed themselves to the human settlers, and a new era of peace, cooperation and harmony existed on Dryad for several years. Wildfire interrupts the koffeeklatsch, and says it's time to get back to the initiation tests.

At the United Planets Prison, located high in the Himalayan mountains, a regular day proceeds almost unnoticed, but in their cells, the Starburst Bandits are plotting their escape. Coincidentally, a scientist named Vulkoz is reporting to the warden that the "weapons" the Bandits used in their raids are not weapons at all, but merely conduits for the Bandits' own starburst energies. Meanwhile, the Starburst Bandits have stored enough (stellar) energy in their bodies to make their escape. Tricking one of the guards to opening and then entering one of their cells, the bandits kill the guard, then make their escape in the special prison vehicles. They head for Metropolis.

Speaking of Metropolis, back at Legion Headquarters, Wildfire is complaining to Lightning Lad about Blok's abilities and qualifications. Lightning Lad tells Wildfire that if he is concerned about Blok's courage and skills, rather than his powers and the like, he should set up a test for those qualities and not for brute strength. Wildfire agrees, and heads back to the applicants.

Elsewhere in the complex, Blok continues his story about his origins and how he became attached to the five fellow would-be assassins who attempted to kill six Legionnaires. Blok was but a youth when the first humans arrived on the planet. One day, while playing with his friends, Blok and the others witnessed the events of the Dryad sun starting to go nova. Six Legionnaires showed up to help in the rescue of the inhabitants. However, Blok and his friends were too young to understand what was going on, and they incorrectly thought that the Legion was somehow responsible for their planet exploding. With that hatred of the Legion forefront in their minds, the Dark Man gave his friends super-powers and turned them into the "League of Super-Assassins." It appears that Blok, not receiving any additional "gifts" from the Dark Man, was able to shrug off his mind control when faced with evidence that the Legion was innocent. Wildfire hears the end of Blok's story, and apologizes to him for being such a jerk.

Before Wildfire can proceed with the applicants to the next test, Lightning Lad suddenly arrives and informs everyone that the Starburst Bandits have escaped from prison, and are at the Metropolis Space Zoo, presumably to retrieve their flaming space horses. With only four Legionnaires (Sun Boy, Dawnstar, Wildfire and himself) present, Lightning Lad decides to send the four applicants along with them on the mission, but he remains at Legion HQ. He provides the applicants with a flight ring each; unfortunately, one flight ring at normal parameters cannot lift Blok, so Sun Boy and Dawnstar have to help carry him away, much to Blok's chagrin.

The Legionnaires and the applicants arrive at the Metropolis Zoo to find that the Starburst Bandits have already freed their flaming flying steeds. The Bandits attack Sun Boy and Wildfire first, and Wildfire's suit is destroyed leaving him helpless to aid in the fight and Sun Boy is knocked out, leaving Dawnstar and the applicants on their own. She has no choice but to drop Blok, as her flight ring and his aren't enough to keep them in the air, but he tells her that he's sure he will survive the fall. Blok plunges down, crashing into the area where creatures are stored at the Metropolis Zoo, landing among some of the less than pleasant denizens.

Lamprey, Nightwind and Crystal Kid, believing this to be nothing more than another Legion test, don't take the Starburst Bandits seriously, and are easily shot down by the bad guys. This leaves Dawnstar on her own. She manages to take down two of the Bandits by surprise more than anything else, but is soon forced to call Lightning Lad for assistance. However, Blok finally arrives on the scene after having to deal with a Thanagarian devil-beast. Approaching the Starburst Bandits, who feel fear at dealing with his alien form, Blok stands up to the full force of their energy blasts, and reflects the energy back at them, taking them down and putting them out for the count.

Some time later, back at Legion Headquarters, Blok is officially inducted into the Legion of Super-Heroes.

This issue of Legion of Super-Heroes gives us the story that the series has been leading up to since Blok's first appearance in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #253-254. The story itself is a decent tale, providing us with another appearance of the Starburst Bandits, four Legion applicants trying for membership and facing a true baptism of fire (literally?), and the backstory of the former Legion villain about to become a Legionnaire, Blok.

The writing this issue is pretty decent, Gerry Conway seemingly finally having a grasp of the Legionnaire personalities. Given that he's only working with four Legionnaires here (Wildfire, Dawnstar, Sun Boy and Lightning Lad) there's a limited amount of interaction that can happen here, but there are some good moments, notably the interaction between Blok and Wildfire (the latter actually apologizes to the former!) and between Lightning Lad and Wildfire. I'm not sure why Lightning Lad doesn't go with the three Legionnaires and the recruits to face the Starburst Bandits, but it just seemed weird that he didn't. Speaking of the Starburst Bandits, I liked the revelation that they are the source of their weapons' power, and not the other way around, but can't remember if I'd thought this might be the case in the original story that introduced them. For some reason, despite their limited feel and abilities, the Starburst Bandits give the Legion fits when they face them, and it's sad that this was their final appearance in Legion continuity. The story pacing here is pretty good for the most part, though I would have liked to have heard more about the other three Legion applicants. However, this is/was Blok's story of course, so Nightwind, Lamprey and Crystal Kid are more window dressing than anything else.

The story does have some problems that need to be mentioned. First off, while Wildfire, the Legion Trainee honcho, is seriously reviewing Legion applicants, the reader never learns what any of the applicants' powers are, including Blok! Blok is the only one to demonstrate his abilities, and this happens more in the actual sequence with the Starburst Bandits than during the training sessions. The fact that we never learn what powers Nightwind, Lamprey and Crystal Kid have, though we can guess at the latter's, is a shame. Secondly, it is said the Starburst Bandits are being held at the United Planets prison in the Himalayas. However, in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #270, the prison where the "League of Super-Assassins" is being held was on Mount Everest. It doesn't seem that this is the same prison, but if it is, why not mention it? And if it's not, that deserves mention, too. Thirdly, the warden of the United Planets prison mentions the Science Police and something called "the Metro Police." I don't remember them ever being mentioned before or since, but have to wonder if this was a real group.

Finally, the whole situation on Dryad was...strange. Let me preface this by saying that I had always wished that Dryad had been Mordan, the world that exploded due to the Fatal Five's manipulations in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #231. The plots were so similar, and it would have made sense to do it that way, especially given Tharok's involvement in the Mordan story; it would have made a nice loop of sorts. It was curious that the native rock people weren't moving around before the human settlers arrived, and it's odd that there were no readings of life. That would imply that the Dryad(ian) physiology is something that is not normally checked for. The fact that women settlers were supposed to stay in the kitchen rankled me when I originally read this story, but with this re-read I was seriously annoyed and somewhat disappointed that this kind of sexism had entered the Legion writing. Not good. You would have thought that when the children of Dryad thought the Legion blew up their planet and came to hate them for it, the adults of Dryad would have told them the truth. Why did this not happen. On the same subject, the children who grew up to become the "League of Super-Assassins" appear to be quite young when the sun explodes, but the Legionnaires are all wearing their current uniforms. And on the topic of that flashback, the original story featured Phantom Girl, not Shadow Lass - and it was written by the same folks who wrote and edited *this* story! How can they not remember their own continuity? Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Dick Giordano accidentally drew Shadow Lass on the cover of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #254, and now Shady has been retroed into the story instead of Phantom Girl. Sheesh! Also, since the Dryad(ians) were obviously moved from their homeworld, where is it and what is it called? That should have been covered somewhat in the story, but more importantly, how did Blok and his five friends encounter the Dark Man? *That* was the story I hoped would be revealed here, even if only partially.

I can forgive those issues here to some degree, but there was something else that bothered me in the issue. As in their first appearance in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #252, the Starburst Bandits don't speak Interlac in this story, either. There is a waste in the panel space with their dialogue that could have been solved easily by just saying in the first dialogue panel with them that the editor has translated their word into Interlac (English) for the ease of the readers. And how exactly does Blok understand the Starburst Bandits when he confronts them?

The issue is marred somewhat by Steve Ditko's pencils in the story, that come across as cartoonish and rather simple. Frank Chiaramonte's inks do a passable attempt to save the pencils, but only succeed marginally and don't keep the artwork from looking cartoonish. Furthermore, I really don't like Ditko's tendency to drawing the Legionnaires looking well over thirty years old. I've come to conclude that a lot of my dislike for Ditko's art on the Legion title is due to the fact that in Ditko's long career in comics, he's developed his own design for the future, one that is uniquely his own. However, his future fashions, spaceships and city panoramas are not those of the Legion and the 30th Century universe and Metropolis, and his work on the Legion suffers because of it. This is somewhat mitgated somewhat by Frank Chiaramonte's inks. The splash page panel of Wildfire unleashing a blast of energy is pretty good, as is the panel of the little girl sitting on the Dryad's lap on page 8. I also liked the sequence of panels on page 23 with Blok plodding towards the Starburst Bandits as they fire energy blasts at him in order to bring him down. Otherwise, the artwork is something of a let-down this issue.

Finally, there's Blok. I have to admit that I wasn't overly thrilled with the addition of Blok to the Legion of Super-Heroes. Part of this stemmed from the fact that I didn't really understand what he could do. At the time of his induction, he seemingly has super-strength, increased mass, invulnerability, and energy absorption and reflection powers. According to the Legion Constitution, each member must have at least one unique, natural ability. So why has Blok been inducted into the Legion? The second reason I was not initially a fan of Blok is because I felt that he was somewhat shoe-horned into the Legion by Gerry Conway so that he could have a home-made, own character in there. There were already twenty-one active members and several recurring characters, and yet writer Conway and editor Harris chose to add another somewhat poorly defined (at the time) character to the Legion mix. Sure, he was alien enough, but came across as a Thing/Hulk visual type, instead of an actual *alien*. To be honest, with Tyroc's departure in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #265, I had hoped that another Black character or perhaps an Asian character would be introduced to the Legion. Blok didn't, and still doesn't, come across as being representative of diversity to me. That said, I gradually began to appreciate Blok's personality, and his relationships with various Legionnaires has always been a fascinating mix and sometimes clash of personalities.

Final Notes:
The so called League of Super-Assassins, of which Blok was formerly a member, first appeared in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #253...

Nightwind (nee Nightwing), Lamprey, and Crystal Kid were all created by Legion fans. They first appeared in Amazing World of DC Comics under the "Legion Outpost" banner...

Nightwind, whose original name was Nightwing, was created by Robert Harris of Allentown, PA. Berta Harris is able to project mental "stun" bolts as well as teleport, but only when in darkness or shadow. She appeared in Amazing World of DC Comics Vol 1 #12...

Lamprey was created by Scott Taylor of Portland TX. Tayla Skott is able to breathe underwater and can drain the life force from any living thing. She appeared in Amazing World of DC Comics Vol 1 #14...

Crystal Kid was created by Robert Cohen of Calgary, Alberta. Bobb Kohan has the power to turn anything or anyone into crystal. He also appeared in Amazing World of DC Comics Vol 1 #14...

It should be noted that in The Legion Outpost letter column in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #276, editor Jack C. Harris states that because of the inclusion of the Dial "H" for Hero insert in that issue, it seemed appropriate that the story include some Legion applicants who were created by Legion fans...

When the group of settlers arrive on Blok's homeworld, they say it's logical to name the planet "Dryad." That is the Greek word for "tree nymph," and the artwork by Steve Ditko doesn't show an abundance of trees on the planet. Just saying...

On page 6, the text reference to the United Planets' rule on settling saying that no planet with indigenous human life can be settled surely can't be right. I think the word should have been "sentient" rather than "human."...

On the Dryad colony world, it's interesting to note tht there are no non-Caucasian settlers. Mind you, Dr. Hosono (on page 6) is surely meant to be Japanese...

The Starburst Bandits first appeared in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #252. This is their last and final appearance...

On page 16, in Blok's tale of the planet Dryad's sun going nova and the six Legionnaires arriving to aid rescue efforts, Shadow Lass is shown as one of the six Legionnaires (though Colossal Boy is not shown in any of the panels). However, in the story with the "League of Super-Assassins" in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #253-254, it is actually Phantom Girl, not Shadow Lass, who is present. Poor continuity work on the part of both writer and editor, yet again...

Lightning Lad hands out flight rings to the four applicants and asks them to battle the Starburst Bandits. However, he refuses to accompany Sun Boy, Wildfire, Dawnstar and the Legion applicants on the mission. Guess he felt someone had to mind the store...

The Legion flight ring at its default settings is unable to lift Blok. Eventually, his flight ring will be re-programmed to match his mass, but it's also noted in later issues that it takes three flight rings to enable Blok to fly...

At the end of the story, Blok joins the Legion. Not counting members who were dishonourably discharged, Blok is Legionnaire #31. He is active member #22.

Next Issue: Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #3
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion reread, lll, long live the legion!, lsh, review

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