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).
U

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!

22 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

So Ultra Boy's mom's name is Mytra? Too bad his dad's name isn't, say, Krom instead of Crav ;)

Thanks for the review, by the way. My first issue or two of Superboy & the Legion were purchased about a year later. I recall the art by Grell, but that's about it. You're certainly correct that it is quite visually compelling - I'm sure it raised the level of the stories.

William Preston said...

I was struck by how young the Kents looked, so I did some research on your site, the Cover Browser database and the DC database—and am I right that, with issue 145, the Kents were permanently made to look younger (even though they were still in their, what, 60s)? I hadn't noticed before how they went from being white-hairs to brown-hairs, even though I own one issue featuring the Kents from either side of the metamorphosis. I became an all-Marvel guy in the late '70s, so I didn't see the Kents again until John Byrne's revised narrative.

Garett said...

Fun review, and nice to see the Grell art. I've always been a Grell fan, but haven't seen much of his Legion work.

Anonymous said...

The stories being put out by DC during this time were why I was pretty much Marvel only. I think Doug said it best, that DC seemed to assume comic readers were all 10 years old (although when this story came out, I was 10). But also agree that the art is visually compelling. This seems like something I might have halfheartedly enjoyed just because of the Grell artwork. As for the subs you commented on Karen, I fail to see how turning to stone but being unable to move is helpful in any way. Same goes for changing an objects color...

David from Wisconsin

Doug said...

Thanks to you four for the comments -- I would have thought more Legion fans might make themselves known.

Anyway, I agree with what's been said about Mike Grell. I never had a problem with him back in the Bronze Age, and even today looking at some of the commission art he's done he's just a really nice artist. I know there are detractors, but I always enjoyed his work.

WP, the Ma and Pa Kent anti-aging thing was strange. Obviously Byrne chose not to go that route. I thought they were played very well in the Man of Steel film -- right in their mid-50's, which feels about right.

David from WI -- right on, brother! For the most part it was Marvel for me, too. I did buy 3-4 DC titles, but never left a mag with the same degree of satisfaction I got from an Avengers, Spidey, or FF that I'd bought on the same trip. I so wanted to love the Legion, Teen Titans, and Batman. But while I stuck with them for several years and enjoyed them, I just never enjoyed them as much.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Nice review. I think I had this comic. And I'll echo a lot of others' thoughts - I liked Superboy and the Legion more than Superman. And I was pretty strictly a Marvelite at this point. I think it was silliness like the Subs that kept me from buying more of these.

Tom

Karen said...

The Mike Grell art is really what kept me coming back at this point in the book. As someone who had been reading Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and more recently (at this stage) Steve Englehart, the stories appearing in the Legion at this point seemed extremely light fare. Even though there were at times dozens of characters present, they all seemed relatively the same. It was only when Paul Levitz came on board a few years later that the book really became interesting to me. He invested some of the characters with actual personalities and we had sub-plots and on-going stories. So you could say it became more Marvel-like!

And hey, don't diss the Subs! I mean, if Dream Girl and Matter Eater Lad could be Legionnaires, I see no reason why Polar Boy or Fire Lad couldn't have been! Besides, it was always fun to see them struggle to get involved with whatever the Legionnaires were facing.

david_b said...

My first exposure to Grell art was the return of GL/GA in ish 90. I liked him on that title initally, but I didn't care for the limited way his heroes were shown running or flying (always seemed repetitive with the same poses and perspectives..).

Agreed with my 'brother' and Doug on DC.. I **wanted** to like them more, especially characters like the Titans and GL... but my inner Marvel Zumvembie just ran too deep, I'm supposing.

Also the art typically disappointed ~ What's worse than 'later Don Heck' drawing Marvel heroes..? Having him draw DC heroes like 'Batman Family' stories. Grell was alright, just not as nice as Dillin on JLA.

Doug said...

David --

I actually (with a slight reservation simply because I don't have any Dick Dillin work right in front of me) would say I prefer Grell over Dillin.

One of these days we need to run a post on personal artistic hierarchies. That could prove interesting.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Groovy sideburns by Grell! Yes I loved his work on the Legionnaires, although looking back most of his costume designs (and those sideburns!) scream '1970s fashions'! Great art, though.

DC at this point was not known for churning out any thought provoking stories, as Doug & David from WI pointed out; you simply had your juvenile action story and that was it. It's funny how the super villains here all have powers similar to their legion counterparts. Is it ever explained how Chameleon Chief can alter the form of other objects?


- Mike 'I shoulda been Matter Eater lad' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Teresa said...

Great review!
Grell was my gateway artist into the LSH. Few ever captured his energy.
Reading this review I realized something that is a funny, but not in a ha-ha way. Maybe a little.
Mon-EL of the 20th century is trapped in the Phantom Zone, watching himself eat pancakes. His 30th century self remembers watching himself eat pancakes.
No wonder he went a little scooters in the head.

Karen said...

"scooters in the head" - my new favorite phrase!

Graham said...

Somehow I missed this issue, but at the time, Superboy & the LSH and Justice League were the main comics that I collected. Dave Cockrum just blew me away when I saw his art and Grell just continued it for me. If I flipped through a comic and saw Grell's name on it, I usually bought it...ditto Cockrum.

The main reason that I read DC over Marvel for the most part was a simple one, at least to me....I had a hard time keeping up with the Marvel story lines since most of them were multi-part sagas. I was only 10 or 12 at the time and that was the way my mind worked. Plus, distribution of Marvel comics wasn't as consistent as DC where I lived, but did improve as time passed and I did get into Marvel more in the mid to late 70's, but the LSH always were a favorite. Thanks for the review.



Edo Bosnar said...

I second Karen re: "scooters in the head." In fact, Scooter-head Lad would be a great name for a (Substitute?) Legionnaire. Just can't figure out what his powers would be.
I also have to agree with Karen about Polar Boy and Fire Lad: most of the time they would have been much more useful than Dream Girl, and probably also Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy as well. Personally, I always thought there wasn't much of a reason for keeping Night Girl out of the Legion, either. They could have just made sure she was always around Shadow Lass on missions - problem solved.

Rip Jagger said...

It took me a while to warm to Mike Grell's style. His awkward anatomy which seemed to work despite itself reminded me of Herb Trimpe at the time. Not that their stuff looked alike, but that both had a very idiosyncratic approach to how people looked, which despite a breakdown in the specific details added up in the whole. Weird.

Rip Off

Teresa said...

"I second Karen re: "scooters in the head." In fact, Scooter-head Lad would be a great name for a (Substitute?) Legionnaire. Just can't figure out what his powers would be."

I will take it from here.

"Scooters in the Head Harriet." SITHH
Possibly the most powerful applicant ever. She had a random but large array of powers.
But that was her undoing. She was rejected on the basis of the "no super power duplication clause."
(Superboy, Supergirl, Ultra Boy and Mon-El avoided eye contact.)
This enraged SITHH and then her weakness was exposed. Every power had a different personality. Her rejection was swift.
They nearly lost Saturn Girl.
SITHH naturally assumed membership in the Subs. They rejected her on the grounds that "She scared the Bejeezus out of us."
SITHH is the founding body of the Substitute Villains. There are 15 members and only one body. She has fought the Subs many times. They managed to escape every time.

Edo Bosnar said...

Teresa, absolutely and utterly brilliant. Now if you could only talk Keith Giffen into drawing that story for you...

Karen said...

I like the use of a name ('Harriet') instead of the typical lass or girl. it feels so Silver Agey.

It's like Sybil gone super-bad!

Teresa said...

Ed, thanks for the inspiration!

"I like the use of a name ('Harriet') instead of the typical lass or girl. it feels so Silver Agey.

It's like Sybil gone super-bad!"

Karen, you reminded me by bringing up "Radiation Roy." You are a bad influence. (-;

johnlindwall said...

I truly love this issue. Mike Grell is a favorite dating back to these LOSH issues as well as GA/GL and Warlord. I would buy any Grell book that I could find.

Yeah, it is a flimsy story and goofy but dang I Love it. I have such a soft spot in my heart for the LOSH tales of this age.

And that Cockrum-designed Lightning Lad costume ... THE BEST COSTUME EVER!

Unknown said...

Scooter-Head Lad: a limited metamorph. When he closes his eyes and summons forth his Tibetan training, his head shapeshifts into a scooter (wheels up). He then stands on his head, and uses his hands to push off. He was rejected as a Legion applicant, due to the fact that at least 7 members were faster than him. However, he has found great success as the fastest member of the Substitute Heroes. So far he has won 4 out of 5 races with Stone Boy. He has an on-again off-again relationship with Motorcycle Mama from the Legion of Substitute Villains. She wears the pants in relationship.

I was a faithful Legion reader in the 70's, thanks to Cockrum and Grell's art. I gradually lost interest after Grell moved on.

We're on the last night of our London vacation. Our hotel just happens to be around the corner from Forbidden Planet. My son and I have hung out quite a bit there.

James Chatterton

Craig said...

Spider-Girl came before Medusa; Medusa was the copy of Spider-Girl

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