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John Kahane
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Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #274

Here's the start of the week's classic re-read of a Legion of Super-Heroes tale. This time out: the start of a saga that will take a good six or seven months to resolve... Enjoy! :)






Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #274
April, 1981
"The Exaggerated Death of Ultra Boy"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Steve Ditko
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer: John Costanza
Colourist: Gene D'Angelo
Cover: Rich Buckler (pencils) & Bo Smith (inks) (signed)
Editor: Jack C. Harris


Mission Monitor Board:
Ultra Boy, Lightning Lad, Phantom Girl, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Karate Kid, Cosmic Boy, Princess Projectra; Brainiac 5, Wildfire, Sun Boy, Star Boy, Mon-El, Colossal Boy, Timber Wolf, Shadow Lass, Chameleon Boy, Dream Girl (cameos)

Opposition:
Amnesia; Captain Frake and her space pirates


Synopsis:
The story continues from the previous issue, sort of. Out in space, Ultra Boy's body is drifting and soaring through the universe, riding on pure acceleration from the force of Pulsar Stargrave's attack (in the previous issue). He is either deeply unconscious or half-conscious, thinking he's dreaming or possibly dead. The impact of small asteroids mean nothing to him, nor does the gravitational forces that push and pull at him or his passage through solar flares. He eventually drifts back into empty space.

On Earth, the Legionnaires believe Ultra Boy to be dead, and at a gravesite, conclude a ceremony to mark his passing. Returning to Legion of Super-Heroes Headquarters, they unveil a statue of Ultra Boy in the Hall of Heroes. Phantom Girl gives the dedication at the statue.

Out in space, Ultra Boy is found by a ship and taken aboard as it uses its tractor beam to bring the unconscious, perhaps dead, Legionnaire in.

Back on Earth, after the dedication ceremony of Ultra Boy's statue, the other Legionnaires have gone home, leaving Saturn Girl and Phantom Girl alone at the HQ. Imra talks to Tinya, saying they need to have a chat. Imra says she understand that Tinya loves/loved Jo, but Tinya laughs, saying that Imra can't understand love given that she's a Titanian telepath. She says she used to called Imra "the Ice Maiden" because she never showed any emotion, and wonders why Imra married Garth. Tinya tells Imra that even though she was unconscious when Pulsar Stargrave attacked Jo (Nah) on Rimbor, she can see how it happened and says she would have given her life for him. Now, all she has is just a memory of him. Saturn Girl persists, and using her telepathic abilities, is able to console her friend by reminding her of all the good times she shared with Jo Nah/Ultra Boy. Tinya is grateful for what she has done, and the two share a tearful hug.

Aboard the spaceship that took him in, Ultra Boy is woken by a bucket of water to the face and learns that he's aboard the "free ship" (pirate vessel) Antares, commanded by one Captain Frake. It is clear that he has amnesia. Ultra Boy takes offense at the First Mate's treatment, and uses his super-speed and super-strength to fight first him, and then a bunch of crewmen off, but the arrival of Captain Frake puts a damper on things, although she takes a shine to him.

Back on Earth, the next morning, Phantom Girl is greeted gingerly by the Legionnaires on duty, but tells them she's all right. Lightning Lad tells her that if she needs time to deal with things to take whatever time she needs. They are interrupted by the Deep Space Alarm from Pluto orbit, and race for the hangar bay.

Back on the Antares, Ultra Boy arrives at the Captain's quarters. Captain Frake, calling him "Driftwood," appreciates the new pirate finery that he's been provided, and interviews him. He tells her that he doesn't remember who he is, that everything up until he woke on the Antares is a blur, but he does remember a battle, being blasted with terrible energies, and being blown into space so fast that it must have seemed like he disappeared. The flight ring on his hand is melted and he doesn't know what it was, but has the feeling it was important to him. Captain Frake tests his invulnerability (by shooting him with a ray-gun) and strength (by having him destroy a statue bare-handed), and then saying that he'll be useful on the raid she's planning, comes on to him.

In Earth orbit, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl man the bridge of the Legion cruiser. Karate Kid, Cosmic Boy, and Princess Projectra man various stations aboard. The Legion cruiser heads out and arrives shortly near Pluto, to find a space freighter under attack by space pirates. Since the Legion has agreed to help the Science Police with deep space patrol, the pirate attack comes under their jurisdiction. At Saturn Girl's orders, Cosmic Boy lines up the cruiser's guns and opens fire on the pirate vessel...

...the Antares, where Captain Frake tells Ultra Boy that he can repay their hospitality by going outside and taking the space patrol vessel apart.

Even though he feels it's wrong to do so, but feeling that he has to pay Captain Frake back for saving his life, Ultra Boy goes out into space, breaking into the weapons section of the Legion cruiser, red lining the pod's life support systems, and knocks out Cosmic Boy. With Phantom Girl taking over Karate Kid's station, he goes to the weapons section but is forced to break in as the air is leaking there. Before he can act, Karate Kid is taken down by Ultra Boy. Phantom Girl goes to check the situation out. She manages to hurt the intruder (Ultra Boy) by phasing through him, but he still manages to knock her out. He is about to try and kill her, but is unable to do so as everything aboard the Legion ship seems familiar to him, especially Phantom Girl. Ultra Boy breaks out of the Legion ship and races back to the pirate vessel. The space pirates finish looting the freighter and then depart for the depths of space.

Shortly thereafter, Lightning Lad tells Princess Projectra that Karate Kid and Cosmic Boy were fortunate, as the life support system kept pumping oxygen into the leaking pod, so they will recover, and Phantom Girl was merely stunned. However, he can't figure out why Saturn Girl is so broken up about the situation. Saturn Girl decides to keep what she has learned secret for now, until she figures out if what she learned is true, as it would break Phantom Girl's heart.

Meanwhile, on board the pirate vessel, Ultra Boy continues to struggle with emotions that he can't understand, the meaning of a dim, elusive memory, and suffers through his amnesia, and the attentions of Captain Frake.


Commentary:
The basic premise of this story, which continues (sort of) from the previous issue, is that Pulsar Stargrave struck Ultra Boy so hard that he was blasted into the depths of space, lost his memory, his flight ring melted, and now finds himself with amnesia aboard a pirate ship. All this time, though we are told in the story that it's only been some twenty-four hours or so to this point, the Legionnaires believe that Jo Nah is dead, it hits Phantom Girl pretty hard, and finally the pirates' path crosses that of the Legionnaires. This is a pretty good idea for a story.

While the scenes of the Legionnaires' grief over Ultra Boy's seeming death are very brief and to be honest, not all that poignant (where's Mon-El in all this?, as I've always felt he and Ultra Boy were good friends), the story focuses primarily on Phantom Girl's grief, her ability to move forward, and how Saturn Girl helps her grieve by showing her all the good memories that she has of her relationship with Jo Nah.

However, what makes this story work so well is the parallel structure that is used in its telling. The reader gets small scenes of Ultra Boy, the story then cuts back to a small scene of the Legion. This back-and-forth storytelling continues throughout the issue until the two plots converge at the edge of the Solar system near Pluto. A couple of good examples of what I'm talking about here are the pages where Ultra Boy is floating in space at the same time as the Legion concludes their ceremony for him (page 2) and Ultra Boy about to awaken just as Phantom Girl really does recover with Saturn Girl's help (page 9). That said, the story could have benefited from a bit better editing as well in this regard, as the Legion gets the alarm from the Science Police of the pirate attack (page 13) well before the pirates attack (page 18)!

Saturn Girl comes across in a very interesting manner this issue, almost as if writer Gerry Conway and editor Jack C. Harris are trying to personify her. The scene of Imra and Tinya, where she tries to help Tinya deal with her grief over Ultra Boy's "death," is very well handled. Tinya tells her that she (and likely other Legionnaires as well) thought of Imra as "the Ice Maiden" because she doesn't show her emotions, but it is clear here that Imra is very much an emotional person and feels deeply, but has good reasons why she doesn't reveal them that often. And she does understand not only Tinya's grief, but also how best to help her under these circumstances. However, when Saturn Girl believes that Ultra Boy is alive and chooses not to tell the others, especially Tinya, strikes me as being the wrong way to handle that. It reminds me of too many Silver Age Legion stories where secrets and twist endings were the norm. If nothing else, it should be interesting to see how this shakes out next issue.

The artwork by Steve Ditko this issue doesn't really help the story at all. His simple, somewhat cartoonish style doesn't fit this story very well at all. Up until this issue, Steve Ditko was always used as a "fill-in" artist on single, one issue tales, such as Blok's origin a few issues ago (Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #272). This story, however, is a continuation from the last issue and it's jarring to go from Jimmy Janes (in the previous issue) to Steve Ditko this time. Unfortunately, the art by Ditko doesn't help me get into the story at all. Specifically, his character designs for the pirates are laughable. Captain Frake is supposedly a cut-throat leader of men (I use the term loosely) and yet she's wearing a bikini and strapless blouse!?? That has to be one of the silliest character designs I've seen in the Legion series in quite some time. And what about Saturn Girl? Can that bikini bottom get any-- ah, never mind. All I can say here is that it doesn't make it easy to take Saturn Girl seriously when most of her body is on view. That said, Frank Chiaramonte's inks do a good job of cleaning up some of Ditko's pencil work, and the space scenes of Ultra Boy floating and drifting in the void of stars is nicely effective and handled quite well. Ditko's sense of movement in the space scenes doesn't work for me, but at least Chiaramonte's inks do a decent job of not making that aspect of the story too noticeable.

Overall, this story is a decent issue due to the plotting and how the story is presented in a parallel structure manner. There are a few nits that I could have picked about the tale itself and some of the internal logic of Ultra Boy's situation, but I rather enjoyed the issue and am looking forward to seeing how everything shakes out.


Final Notes:
The story continues in the next issue...

Shadow Lass is drawn on the cover once more without her cape. This time out, it's Rich Buckler's doing, not Dick Giordano's...

Mon-El appears on the cover of the issue, but he only appears on page 4 in a shot from behind him...

The Roll Call on the splash page lists all the Legion members who appear in this story, even those with no lines, except for Dream Girl and Mon-El...

There is a statue of Tyroc in the Hall of Heroes on page 4...

Pulsar Stargrave attacked and seemingly killed Ultra Boy on Rimbor in the previous issue, Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #273.






Next Issue: Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #275
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion reread, lll, long live the legion!, lsh, review
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