Monday, July 15, 2013
Giant-Size July: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes 208
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #208 (April 1975)
"Vengeance of the Super-Villains!"
Writer: Cary Bates
Pencils: Mike Grell
Karen: Who's ready for some more Legion stories? Although my blog partner and I might have been Marvel-centric growing up, there was one DC series we followed regularly, and that was those teens from the future, the Legion. This issue came out shortly before I began following the book regularly. It was one of the giant size issues they put out sporadically, featuring a new story and a couple of reprints. We'll just be looking at the new material, which features some terrific Mike Grell art.
Doug: At some point I acquired Superboy #201, but #210 was my first in what I'd call my "regular Legion buying". Later, I was able to get hold of several Silver Age Superboys. As I've said, I always loved Superboy, but could never abide Superman. Go figure.
Karen: You gotta love the splash page; purely symbolic (I think it is anyway), it features the evilly grinning members of the Legion of Super-Villains gathered around a scale model of the Super-Heroes HQ (we know this because they say so) as they detonate some small explosive that results in a tiny mushroom cloud! Incredibly goofy!
Doug: That "gigantic gloating threat looming" motif is as old as comics, and yes -- it's a hoot, all the time. Funny though -- DC regularly used their splash page as almost a second cover. Karen mentioned we'd be covering the new material in this issue, which is a 20-page story. Standard, until you figure it's really only 19 pages due to the splash page being just a teaser of what is to come.
Karen: The actual story begins on page two, in Smallville of the 20th century. Legionnaire Mon-El is spending some vacation time with Superboy and the Kents. Poor Ma Kent is making dozens of pancakes to feed the two super-teens. Mon-El is enjoying the cakes and everything else. Back in the 30th century, fellow Legionnaire Ultra Boy is also enjoying some down time, with his folks on his homeworld of Rimbor. But he's eating rather unappealing-looking vege-steaks. I can't go any further without commenting on the groovy 70s sideburns on the guys here. So a few of our Legionnaires are taking it easy. But back on Earth, at Legion HQ, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, and Timber Wolf are about to accept the delivery of the Universal Trophy, a sculpture they are going to guard
that symbolizes the signing of the Federated Planets Treaty. It's an important event, with automated cameras broadcasting the event live. The trophy is to be presented the next day to Dr. Larx Kenrik, who has worked tirelessly to bring the 12 planets together. Kenrik bears a strong resemblance to Henry Kissinger. This is the second comic we've reviewed with Kissinger in it! (The first was Captain America #193.) The teen trio scans the trophy and then takes it into Legion HQ. Sun Boy, who is acting as Legion leader in Mon-El's absence, is a bit nervous about things, wanting to make sure that their security is flawless. He thinks to himself that he doesn't know how Mon-El handles all the pressure -- and he hopes he gets back soon.
Doug: You beat me to the sideburns, because it was on my agenda! I agree -- even though set 1000 years in the future, both Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell (maybe Grell moreso) gave contemporary teens something to relate to. And how about Clark's and Jo's parents? Man, what swingers they must have been -- pretty good-looking 40-somethings! Personally, I always loved the fantasy of the future,
whether here, in various TV shows or movies -- heck, even the Jetsons! But it's funny after the passage of time, isn't it? A lot of what Silver- and Bronze Age creators saw as "Whoa, wouldn't that be cooo-ooool?" has come to pass and we now take a lot of those ideas for granted! Sun Boy comes off as a whiner, doesn't he? Not exactly the sort of guy I'd want in charge -- shoot, Timber Wolf wouldn't take any crap from anyone.
Karen: Back in Smallville, Mon-El and Superboy are about ready to make the trip to the 30th century (departing from the basement) when Ma and Pa Kent appear, Pa brandishing a bizarre pistol. He fires it and a ray flashes in the boys' eyes. Moments later, the two super-teens feel compelled to fight each other. Grell's style works well with the characters, as they look lean but muscular, sort of what you'd expect from these young heroes. The two go at it until they wind up simultaneously knocking each other out (how convenient.) The obviously-brainwashed Kents seem completely undisturbed. Back
on Rimbor, a similar scene unwinds as Ultra Boy's parents stand by as he collapses -it turns out they slipped a paralyzing drug in his food. He should have stayed away from those vege steaks!
Doug: Time travel's just weird, isn't it? My first thought, when Superboy said he and Mon were about to depart, and got some pushback from the Kents, was "what's the big deal? Just come back one second after you left, and who would know any different?" Couple of thoughts on the going's on: first, the Superboy-Mon-el fight started like Taylor vs. Brent and ended like Rocky vs. Apollo! On Rimbor, "don't trust anyone over 30" was never more apt.
Karen: In the 30th century we get our first glimpse of the bad guys, the Legion of Super-Villains. Being that they are the evil counter-parts of the good guys, some of them bear a resemblance in powers, names, and looks to Legion members. There's Sun Emperor, who is the counter to Sun Boy; Lightning Lord, who is the brother of Lightning Lad and Light Lass. Then there're the odd balls -- Nemesis Kid, who was once an applicant to the Legion (briefly- he applied in Adventure Comics #346, along with Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, and Ferro Lad); Spider Girl, who's pretty much a copy of Medusa; and Radiation Roy, who has energy powers. Apparently Spider Girl and Radiation Roy were also Legion rejects (the Comic Book Database says they appeared in Adventure #323 and 320 respectively). So there's our cast of baddies...well, almost our full cast. One is missing: Chameleon Chief -- you can probably guess his powers. The baddies are gloating over their plan, saying that with Mon-El, Superboy, and Ultra-Boy out of the picture, nothing can stop them from succeeding. But Lightning Lord says that it all depends on Chameleon Chief now.
Doug: Sometimes the names of not only the Legionnaires but really the entire cast require a groan. "Chameleon Chief"? Yeah... I love the way Grell depicted Nemesis Kid in the "roll call" panel. What a cocky gent! He just looks smug and like he knows you're already beat! Good legwork on that research -- I've read most of those stories, but it's been so long ago that I could not have come up with any of that data.
Karen: At Legion HQ, Chameleon Boy relieves Chemical King from guard duty outside the room where the trophy is being held. CK wonders if Sun Boy is being overly-cautious, but Chameleon Boy says he just isn't taking any chances since Mon-El isn't there. Sun Boy is fretting over the absence of their big guns, but Saturn Girl tries to reassure him that everything will be fine, they'll be there in time. Unfortunately she's wrong. All three have been stuck inside impenetrable energy bubbles. Mon-El recognizes it as the work of Radiation Roy. They realize that the Super-Villains must be planning something involving the trophy. They're right. Back in the Legion's HQ, a strange transformation occurs, as the base of the trophy changes into Chameleon Chief. We get a rather weak explanation as to how CC avoided detection -he states that the Legionnaires never thought to examine the base the statue was standing on! Uh, yeah, right. Once he assumes his normal form, he coats the statue with nitro-glyc, which will explode when anyone touches it. He then changes a box into a duplicate base -yes, he has more powers than Chameleon Boy - and gloats over how the Legion will be doomed when the trophy explodes.
Doug: I have to confess that when I read the LoSV roster my mind saw "Radiation Boy", not "-Roy". Now I can't get the Jim Croce song "Rapid Roy" out of my head! The stealth attack by Chameleon Chief (man, that's just a bad name) was good -- nice bit of sabotage, dopey as it was. Wasn't the base some sort of energy construct that gave the appearance that the trophy was floating? OK... It's never explained how CC, as a Durlan, has more or different powers than Chameleon Boy so I guess we just have to roll with it.
Karen: At dawn the next day, boxes of garbage are shot out of the Legion HQ, but one is intercepted by a flying Lightning Lord. He takes the box to a rooftop nearby, where it turns into Chameleon Chief. He tells LL the plan is a go, and they head off to the villains' lair. Meanwhile, on Rimbor, Ultra Boy's parents release him from the energy bubble and snap out of their trance. Ultra Boy realizes there's no way he can get to Earth in time for the ceremony and knows something bad is about to go down. Back on Earth in the 20th century, Ma Kent releases the boys from the bubble while Pa Kent activates some strange device. There's no obvious effect from the instrument, and the boys need to get going, so they fly through the time barrier. This was depicted as a sort of rainbow tube with tiny labels bearing the years placed throughout. In retrospect, it's sort of silly, but it gets the idea across effectively. As the two heroes speed through, they suddenly strike a barrier. Now they understand what Pa's device was for. They struggle with the barrier, as it turns into rubbery strands that imprison them.
Doug: I enjoyed the consistency of the depiction of time travel via the rainbow tube. You're right, it is silly/weird, but effective at the same time. And hey -- didn't Mon-el address the issue I'd raised above about charting their arrival time in the 30th Century? Just arrive at a specific moment, and no one would be worse for the wear! I liked the way the barrier seemed impenetrable, even to two super boys. Sometimes, for as strong as Clark Kent was/is, it's nice to see him fail. Granted, plot devices to create such a situation were sometimes a stretch for the reader, but drama has to be created somehow. Good lord, the Henry Cavill Superman can do anything!
Karen: In front of the Legion HQ, the ceremony is about to begin. As the cameras record the details, Dr. Kenrik disembarks his space cruiser and walks across the red carpet towards the Legionnaires and the waiting trophy (which they have moved without touching, I guess). Sun Boy, Saturn Girl, and Brainiac 5 are there to greet the esteemed diplomat. All four gather around the trophy for photos. The villains watch from their base, just itching to see the trophy explode and in one fell swoop, kill the galaxy's greatest peace ambassador, wipe out a good chunk of the Legion, and discredit and shame the rest of them. The moment comes and...nothing. No explosion. The baddies are furious. They turn on Chameleon Chief, blaming him for the failure. Suddenly, he begins to transform -into what? Why, into Chameleon Boy! That's right, he caught his counter-part and took his place. Seconds later, the rest of the Legion comes crashing through the wall. Grell gives us a full page with an inset -the inset shows Colossal Boy tearing the wall apart, from the villains' view point, while the splash page gives us the Legionnaires' point of view. It's a cool trick. We see a few Legionnaires we hadn't seen earlier: besides Colossal Boy (in his groovy Cockrum harness suit), there's Projectra (in her Cockrum uniform), Karate Kid (still in his orange outfit), Lighting Lad (Cockrum-ified), and Star Boy (pre-beard, but in his starry outfit). They make rather quick work of the bad guys -- too quick honestly; I would have liked to see a couple of pages of this fight. With their enemies down, we get an explanation of how Chameleon Boy got to the villains HQ -- well, of course he posed as the trash box. Not sure why they felt the need to explain that. The villains are hauled off by the police and Sun Boy says he realizes that the reason Mon-El, Superboy, and Utra Boy were detained was because they all have x-ray vision -- they would have been able to detect that the trophy was booby trapped. And who should show up right then but the three missing members?
Doug: You're a stickler for details! Ten-year old Doug wouldn't have questioned how that trophy got moved. Man, I'm dense. Good catch! The entrance splash page was indeed grand, and the individual panels that followed showcasing each Legionnaire were fun but also as you said too short. But hey -- a 20-pager has to be a 20-pager. But here's a question for you -- how did Chameleon Boy know that Chameleon Chief's plan was to escape as a box of garbage? I'm sure he didn't just give it up. Did the Legion coerce a confession out of him? Was he tortured or blackmailed in some way? I'd sure be curious to know what went on behind the scenes there. We've commented in past DC reviews that the writers seem to always feel the need for explanations of the way the stories played out. Wouldn't it be better sometimes just to show how it's turning out? I'll be honest -- when I read a comic I really just want to be entertained; I'm not much of a mystery fan. Just give me my 20 minutes of mindless enjoyment. But maybe that's just me (I'd be curious to know how much "thinking" others do when reading their funnybooks).
Karen: This story was OK -the Grell art is what made it enjoyable. The story fell flat for me. I would really have liked to see the two teams go head to head but we didn't get that here. We did get to see a variety of Legionnaires, even if only in panel or two, so that was fun. But reading a story like this, in the early 70s, when I was also reading Avengers and Fantastic Four, there was really no comparison. There's no depth here. It looks cool and the sheer number of characters is fun, but the storytelling is still set at a much lower level. I probably had more fun coming up with Legion adventures in my own imagination.
Doug: I couldn't agree more. I think Marvel really embraced its new talent, and Stan Lee and Roy Thomas tried hard to keep their fingers on the pulse of their teenaged and young adult readers. DC, on the other hand, seemed to squelch some of the literary creativity of their new blood, keeping that 1950's-era thumb on the creative process and mistakenly assuming that all comic book readers were still 10-year old boys. So as you say, while we get some great visuals, they're just a peel on the outside of some less-than-tasty scripting. I think this was generally the case for DC in the Bronze Age, with a few exceptions here and there -- but with no consistency across the board at all.
Karen: I will add one more thing: this giant has a fun one-page feature (that appears to be reprinted from the sixties) that shows the members of the Legion Subs and gives their vital statistics. I used to memorize all of these characters names and home worlds!