Monday, July 16, 2012

Giant-Size July: Legion of Super-Heroes 231

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #231 (September 1977)
"A Day in the Death of a World!"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Artist: James Sherman
Inker: Jack Abel

Karen: We probably haven't reviewed near enough Legion of Super-Heroes here at BAB. Although Doug and I are both Marvel-centric, Legion is a DC title we both are quite fond of and have fairly decent collections of. So to start rectifying this gap, we'll review this cool issue from 1977. While people typically mention Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, or Keith Giffen when they talk about Legion artists, I want to sing the praises of this issue's artist, Jim Sherman. I think he does a really solid job, juggling a dozen costumed characters, depicting outer space, futuristic cities, and spaceships. Jack Abel's thin inks are not the greatest choice here (or anywhere, in my opinion), but the art is still very engaging and gets across the huge scale of the story. 

Doug: You are exactly right about having a nice Legion collection. In addition to a decent smattering of Silver- and Bronze Age "floppies", I also have the first 12 volumes of the Legion Archives. I am debating buying the recently-released 13th volume, as I have most of the books reprinted therein; however, if I can find a decent price at next month's Wizardworld Chicago I might be inclined to take the plunge.


Doug: I can't agree more about Jim Sherman's pencils in this book. Truthfully, when I realized that the book we'd chosen was just past Mike Grell's run, I was skeptical. After Grell departed there was an inconsistent run of artists, that in my opinion dampened my enjoyment of the title. 
But Sherman is just great here. I'd offer that, and I think many of you will know what I'm feeling, it still looks like a Bronze Age DC. But overall it's a great effort, with certain panels throughout done exceedingly well. As to Abel's inks, I felt he was hit-or-miss throughout the story. At times I found him "feathery" like Vinnie Colletta, but at other times I thought he added some mood to the piece with some nice blacks and zipatone. His portrayal of lighting in certain panels was really spectacular.

Doug: One more thing before we get to the plot synopsis -- I love face-off covers, and this one is cool.  Mon-el looks like he's about to dispense the hand of justice. Funny that Lightning Lad appears on the outside of the book, but is nowhere to be found inside.

Karen: I hadn't noticed that before but you're absolutely right! Guess it's hard to keep track of such a big group. We open with Karate Kid and Princess Projectra traveling to Earth in a star cruiser (definitely not the Legion cruiser we a
ll know and love). Projectra is getting rather frisky with KK while he's trying to pilot the ship. She's basically all over him. Let's face it, in the 70s at least, the Legion always had a very sexual edge to it. It was most obvious in the costume design, but it also appeared in more subtle ways -although this scene is anything but subtle! It sort of makes sense - a bunch of teen-agers hanging out together in their co-ed clubhouse, no adults around. In any case, before she can get anywhere, their ship is caught up in a tractor beam by a gigantic starship and pulled into its cargo hold. The two Legionnaires exit only to be quickly put down by two old enemies: Validus and Tharok of the Fatal Five.

Doug: As to Projectra's "friskiness", I just personally found the Legion in this era more than my budding adolescent hormones could handle. And Jim Sherman really added to my suffering. I think Validus is such a visually-interesting character. His head's just a big (empty) brain, but the wrinkles at the forefront mimic eyes. So I guess he's really blind? The toes/fingers thing he has going is a curiosity as well. Tharok on the other hand was always the least interesting of the Five.

Karen: We switch scenes to the planet Mo
rdan, where the Legion is assisting in a massive evacuation. It seems the planet's sun is going to go nova, and the Legion has about a million people they have to get to safety. Saturn Girl uses her telepathy to broadcast world-wide messages, while Ultra Boy, Mon-El, and Superboy put together space arks (they look a little like Lost in Space's Jupiter II), and Colossal Boy helps the Mordanites board the arks. In space, Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, and Element Lad try to slow down the sun's transformation into a supernova. Shadow Lass is also around, apparently to catch Saturn Girl when she collapses from straining her telepathy!

Doug: Everyone around here knows of my love of giant-sized characters, and Colossal Boy is no exception. There are some great panels at the beginning of this scene where the art team does a fantastic job with scale. Superboy floating on by to converse with Gim was a nice effect as well. Mon-el is my favorite Legionnaire -- can't beat that costume. Tell me -- you pick three characters and put 'em up against the Legion's Big Three. Tough call, huh?



Karen: Considering Superboy of this era had
almost limitless powers, and Mon-El was essentially the same deal, they're pretty hard to beat. Ultra Boy is like the icing on the cake.

Doug: Is Shadow Lass slightly more valuable than Duo Damsel? 

Karen: Slightly, but I've always been a sucker for blue characters! The solar crew is unexpectedly attacked by another member of the Fatal Five, the Emerald Empress. She kind of reminds me of the Enchantress over at Marvel -beautiful but completely heartless. There's one panel here that I would swear was copied from a photo, it looks so odd. It seems the sun going nova fits into the Fatal Five's plans, so the Empress does her best to kill the Legionnaires. But Brainiac Five imprison s the Emerald Eye in a force field, and Element Lad forms an intertron coating around the Empress (Inertron being the strongest substance in the universe). But the villainess still manages to break through that supposedly unbreakable substance and she's madder than ever.

Doug: All boys know that we shouldn't hit girls, but I always, always, wanted someone to just take out the Emerald Empress! Could. Not. Stand. Her. The Legion's Transuits are pretty nifty, but you'd think after 20 years in print they'd have somehow evolved the fishbowl space helmets...

Karen: Back on Mordan, Saturn Girl and Shadow Lass are searching through what appears to be a deserted village. Saturn Girl had received telepathic feelings of helplessness there, "But I don't understand why." The two women discover a group of abandoned children inside, and Shady chides Saturn Girl for being insensitive, and starts to have some girl talk with her about opening up when the entire hut comes crashing down around them. They get the kids out and find that Validus, Mano, and the Persuader are responsible. It doesn't look good for the two Legionnaires, but then the cavalry arrives in the form of Colossal Boy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. Colossal Boy lands a right cross to Validus and it's game on. Unfortunately for him, Validus is far stronger than he, and he starts taking a beating. Mon-El and Ultra Boy think they've eliminated the Persuader as a threat by tearing out the ground around him, leaving him trapped on a little island, but he quickly uses his atomic axe to negate gravity and cross the chasm. Really guys? That was your bright idea? 

Doug: I recall being very excited when the Legion's big-hitters arrived to rescue their girls. Mon-el's attack on the Persuader was topped only by seeing Big Gim taxing his flight ring to the max! You know, I'd think that through sheer numbers the Legion would easily overwhelm the Fatal Five, but the fact that many Legion members have powers only useful in a strategic, specific team-oriented mission evens the odds pretty quickly. In regard to Mon and Ultra Boy's strategy, Jo must not have been using his ultra-brain. By the way, Validus' kick to Colossal Boy's head seemed out-of-character. Finesse -- not from him.

Karen: As the fight goes down on Mordan, in space above, Tharok watches the battle on a view screen, as well as the fight between the Empress and the Legionnaires. Realizing this is taking too much time, Tharok beams a projection of himself to both battle grounds and tells the Legionnaires that if they do not surrender, he will kill two of their team-mates that he has captured (Karate Kid and the Princess, of course). Like a good villain, he explains that he is causing the super-nova, because Mordan will become a big chunk of priceless energite. Why? Who knows. But Tharok plans to use that wealth to buy whatever they need to make
their positions secure.

Doug: Aren't viewscreens incredible bits of technology? I mean, there are never any cameras, yet pictures always transmit to the super-baddie. How cool! Tharok's plan could have been torn from the 1966 Batman TV show. It's a wonder the book didn't end there and we had to come back on Thursday to see how it turned out.

Karen: The Legion is stunned by this terrible plan -all except one: Superboy. He's righteously angry. He zooms into space in a really nice set of panels by Sherman, heading straight for Tharok's ship. But he slams against it ineffectually, and goes falling back through the atmosphere towards Mordan, to land conveniently next to the Legionnaires. Tharok again repeats his threat to kill two of their group. The Legionnaires are defiant and continue to fight. Tharok then fires up his killer robot and sics it on Karate Kid and Princess Projectra. The Kid easily tears the thing apart. It really wasn't a very impressive robot to begin with -kind of spindly. Certainly no mandroid! Tharok is so sure of his robot's success, he turns back to his other viewscreens. This guy really needs to see some James Bond films. Of course, KK and Projectra soon make their way to Tharok. But Tharok contacts his partners on the planet, and the Empress, and all return to his ship just in time to keep Karate Kid from pounding the scientist into pulp. The duo are captured again.

Doug: I just love Superboy, and I could never stand Superman. I know that may be weird, but even to this day I can pick up a Legion book (or even Superboy's mag without a Legion appearance) but I won't touch a Silver- or Bronze Age Superman book. The splash page to Chapter 2 is really nice -- Validus looks like one bad dude! Hey -- who didn't want to be Karate Kid or Iron Fist back in these days?

Karen: They both had the high collars, which makes no sense when you're fighting. Nevermind, let's get back to the story. The Legionnaires on the planet return to the evacuation. Brainy has a plan, and he has Ultra Boy and Colossal Boy get inside a sphere that looks like a small asteroid. They use their flight rings to zip into space. Back on Tharok's ship, the Five gloat over their prisoners when suddenly the faux-asteroid comes crashing into the ship, breaching its hull. It seems Brainy gambled that Tharok's shield's would not be programmed against space debris, as this area of space was relatively devoid of such things. Colossal Boy and Ultra Boy hop out of the rock and start fighting again, and Karate Kid manages to break his bonds and join them. But suddenly, the viewscreen shows the sun go nova, earlier than expected. Tharok panics, and runs to his equipment, but the rest of the Legionnaires show up and the three man team of Superboy, Ultra Boy, and Mon-El manage to put Validus down, and the rest of the Five are also quickly dispatched. Brainy disarms Tharok's device, saying there's still time to save the Mordanites who haven't left yet. The Five realize that the explosion they saw was fake, and Tharok manages to trigger a self-destruct device. The Legionnaires flee into space, where Brainy's force bubble and Element Lad's oxygen-creating powers save them. The ship violently explodes seconds later.

Doug: So the asteroid Ultra Boy found came equipped with a sliding door? Hmmm... I thought Paul Levitz's script gave each Legionnaire a chance at the spotlight. I could tell from reading this that Levitz had some strong passion for these characters. The ending was pretty exciting; fast-paced for sure!

Karen: Back on Mordan, the evacuation is completed and the Legion board their own cruiser. Superboy explains to Karate Kid and Princess Projectra (and the reader) how the illusion of the sun going nova was created: using the powers of Shadow Lass, Sunboy, and Superboy. But Superboy isn't buying the death of the Fatal Five: he's certain they escaped, somehow. But he's determined to bring them to justice for what they did to Mordan. Makes sense, as the last survivor (give or take a few thousand) of Krypton.

Doug: DC's formula of a character explaining the plot twist to the reader was a hallmark of their magazines. It's somewhat quaint, although certainly not always necessary. But I can see myself back then on more than one occasion saying, "Ohhhh....".

Karen: I may have been a little hard on this story; it is formulaic and silly, but it was also a lot of fun to read. I don't think I noticed the flaws when I read it when I was 13. It was just exciting!




18 comments:

dbutler16 said...

Karen, you’re right, you haven’t reviewed near enough Legion of Super-Heroes! I can’t think of too many things in life better than a Bronze Age, Giant-Sized Legion of Super-Heroes. Anyway, I agree that Jim Sherman does a great job, and you rightly point out how difficult it must be to draw for the Legion of Super-Heroes. You’ve not only got a huge and colorful cast of characters, but a large number of worlds, aliens, spaceships, and other technology to try and draw!

I agree with Doug that Tharok is the least interesting of the Fatal Five. The Emerald Empress is my favorite member (sorry Doug) but Validus is indeed visually interesting, which counts for a lot! Good analogy by Karen between the Emerald Empress and the Enchantress, I think. Also, yes, Mon-El does indeed have a pretty cool costume. Favorite Legion costume is perhaps a subject for another day?

Shadow Lass is one of those characters where the writer has to work hard to make him/her useful, so I always give kudos to the writer when he pulls that off, though acting as spotter for Saturn Girl doesn’t quite qualify in my book. Also, with the Legion, as with any team, I love when the writer has them use their powers together in an intelligent way.
I suppose they kept fish bowl helmets to remind us that there is no air in outer space?

By the way, one of the panels you’ve shown states that Superboy saw Krypton destroyed when he was a baby. Huh? I would assume his rocket was safely away by the time Krypton blew.

This definitely is a fun story. Speaking of DC hallmarks, one Bronze Age DC hallmark I can’t stand (I don’t recall if this issue you’ve previewed does this or not though) is the way many of their Bronze Age issues would have page 1 be a preview of the story, rather than the actually beginning of the story. Uh, guys, that’s what the cover is for. We don’t need to waste a splash page on that, plus being used to Marvel comic where page 1 was actually part of the story, it is a bit confusing.

david_b said...

This looks like a great issue..!! Not a LSH fan, my sole issue is ish 197 with Timberwolf's return, which I got in a 3-some bag at a Kmart with the legendary Batman 251...

Doug, I see you're point about the DC style of main characters explaining away the story twists.. I remember seeing that in GL/GAs and JLAs, not to mention a few Silver Age Titans.. Great point.

I really like the art, kudos to Mr. Sherman. Like Aparo, I got tired of Grell very quickly (sorry, I know I'm in a minority here..), but this art seems very clean and moves the story well.

It's interesting to see the sexiness of the uniforms. I always thought outfits like Saturn Girl's paved a natural progression towards latter outfits like NTT's Starfire, although I understand just how Koriand'r filled her's out seem very over-the-top at the time. I'm sure what's portrayed as relaxed slinky 70s sexuality between teens is hinted at, without alarming the comics code much. Not so much what you're wearing (Hi, Red Sonja..), but what you're doing while you're wearing it.

I also like the depictions of Colossal Boy. I know it's a DC thing, but a few years back when I was recollecting parts for my Captain Action Aqualad at the Kane County toy fair (Doug, I know you've been there a few times..), my young niece and nephew would always giggle at the name 'aqualad'.., calling him names such as 'aqua-willie' or something. I know it's caused an abundant source of snickers over the last half-century, but I still look on it fondly. Still think Colossal Boy has one of the best DC outfits, as it would have made ol' Hank Pym proud.

Yes, I'll file this under my 'may have to pick it up soon..' category.

Garett said...

Another one to track down! Thanks! I'm not a Legion fan but I did like Sherman's art in an issue I had as a kid. I'd never seen this cover before.

I picked up the Byrne Hulk annual you reviewed recently--great one!

Edo Bosnar said...

I only started reading LoSH regularly a little before it split off from Superboy to become a 'solo' title, but I did have smattering of these older issues, some of which were drawn by Grell and Sherman - and yes, I agree that Sherman is a really underrated artist (and, like Karen, I'm not a big fan of Abel's inks).
Since the matter of friskiness and teen romance has come up, I have to say (and the same applies to the New Teen Titans), the way these relationships are often portrayed seems a bit off. I mean the way they talk and flirt with each other seems more suited to people in their 30s/40s (or at least late 20s) rather than teens - which seems only logical since most of the guys writing these stories were already pushing middle age...

humanbelly said...

So-- do those DC Legion of SH Archives indeed collect every appearance? This post does indeed make me want to take a look at them-- possibly dive into an untested (personally) collecting realm. . .

HB

Doug said...

HB --

DC's Archives series are a companion to Marvel's Masterworks --covers and complete feature stories, all sans ads, letters pages, Bullpen Bulletins, etc. Usually the material is re-mastered visually, which can be hit/miss depending on your tastes in modern coloring, paper quality, etc.

Doug

humanbelly said...

Excellent, thanks Doug--

HB

Doug said...

HB --

In-Stock Trades, a company I've dealt with a time or three, offers DC's Archives at 50% off (excluding new releases. You can check out their inventory here:

http://www.instocktrades.com/publishers/DC/Archive-Editions/8d

Doug

david_b said...

Wow, thanks Doug. I think most folks are looking for the best deals on these great compilations.

Alan T said...

Part II was drawn by Mike Nasser/Netzer. Howzabout some props for one of the most distinct Adams clones (initially at least) to come out of the seventies.

Gray said...

Karen and Doug...you definitely need to review more LOSH! I have long been a fan of the Legion, although I have to admit that my passion diminished when Giffen began to experiment with muddy pencils in the late Eighties. Levitz could script well and had an uncanny handle on just about every character. And Doug, much like you Mon El was my favorite character. Difficult to explain why because I was never really a Superman fan at all. Keep the Legion reviews coming!

Anonymous said...

Doug, I thought I was the only one who liked Superboy and didn't care much for Superman. I think that I would buy Superman at times just because I thought I should be buying it. I just never got into him.

Superboy and the Legion were one of my favorites back then, from the Bates/Cockrum to Shooter/Grell to Levitz/Sherman/Giffen, etc. I guess it was because I was a teenager too....plus I wanted one of those flying rings.

Is Jim Sherman still active as an artist? I've lost track of most of the artists from this era.

Darpy

Doug said...

Alan T -

Here is the link to the Comic Book Database, which Karen and I always use for our creator data:

http://www.comicbookdb.com/issue.php?ID=50976

However, the Grand Comics Database supports your posit on Mike Nasser:

http://www.comics.org/issue/31409/

Thanks for the head's up!

Doug

david_b said...

Totally agreed on the Superboy favoritism over Supes.. Hard to explain why as well.

I've always LOVED the Neal Adams Superboy covers of the later Silver Age. Arguably some of his most beautiful covers.

Karen said...

Looking at it again I do see some Nasser in there.

Also wanted to say sorry for the poor quality of the images -I know they seem a bit light, but they were taken directly from the comic.

Sounds like Doug and I need to plan a few more Legion reviews!

dbutler16 said...

Karen & Doug, it looks like you may have even converted a couple of people to the Legion. Good job!

DougK66 said...

LOSH was my favorite comic of the 1970s. All the spaceships, aliens and future cities - with superheroes - loved it! I guess one of my biggest draws to the comic was the LOSH were all supposed to be kids, not adults. I preferred reading about heroes nearer my own age like LOSH and Teen Titans (also why I too l liked Superboy over Superman).
I can even remember getting this issueoff the rack (stil have it) - the great cover with the Fatal Five on it! I was a huge fan of any appearance of the Fatal Five - I loved how Validus looked! Tharok was the least interesting - never much use in a fight, he usually just ordered Validus to attack. I also liked how Emerald Empress used to flirt with Superboy.
And for the best costume from the bronze age Legion? That's easy -Cosmic Boy's male bustier! Bwahahaha! (Sorry, Mon-El's costume was the best of course.)

Unknown said...

The Emerald Empress face looks like a copy of a Lindsay Wagner photo. I have no idea if that is correct.

I came on board the LSH bandwagon right around this time. Post Grell, but still loved it.

I too loathed Superman, but liked (in the LSH) Superboy. Becuase Superboy didn't have all the answers, he was a fish out of water and could be stopped.

This particular issue I read until it almost fell apart. The LSH was using their powers to save the population of the planet. Fighting off Super Foes was secondary.

I think its one of the reasons I always liked the LSH. They often used their powers to do something besides fight the villain of the week.

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