Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #233 (November 1977)
"The Infinite Man Who Conquered the Legion"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciler: James Sherman
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Karen: We get a hefty dose of time travel in this Legion story. Also don't be fooled: despite appearing on the cover, neither Saturn Girl nor Mon-El appear in this story. That always annoys me when characters are on a cover but don't appear in the actual book. It's almost as bad as getting a George Perez cover with Don Heck art inside! Speaking of art, the chores are handled by James Sherman and Bob Wiacek. Sherman was on the title for quite some time in the 70s, and I thought he had a sort of unconventional style, but I liked it. I'm not sure it would work with every title, but it seemed to work for the Legion. Although I didn't care for it when he was inked by Jack Abel, but I never cared for Abel's thin, Colletta-like inks on anyone.
Doug: Actually, we can part company on one of your art comments here, but I'm going solely on the review of Superboy #231 that ran a year ago. I thought the overall art job in that book, with Abel on the inks, was far better than today's art. That being said, I'll offer that the coloring in my comic that is my resource for today is pretty muddy -- however, and now I'm going round-and-round, there are a lot of blacks in the backgrounds. So is that Bob Wiacek, or the colorist? I couldn't say for sure. I will say this, though -- the back-up story with the art team of Mike Nasser and Bob Layton blows away the lead feature. We may have to revisit this issue at some future date to pick up on that tale.
Karen: I'm just not an Abel fan, so you're right, it's a rare disagreement on the art!
Doug: And in regard to the covers not matching the interiors, two thoughts: First, I think we could get a chorus of affirmations on the bait-and-switch concerning artists. Secondly, it runs in my mind that Captain America was often on Avengers covers when he would not be on the inside (G-S Avengers #2, right?).
Karen: The story opens with a bunch of Sklarian raiders (all women -what was the deal with that?) making a sneak attack on a group of Legionnaires who are driving a vehicle loaded with some equipment back to Legion HQ. They're transporting a time machine apparently. Superboy grabs a bunch of the raiders and gets them away from the transport, while Star Boy makes another group super heavy, and Lightning Lad imprisons others within an electricity cage. Unfortunately still more raiders appear, determined to get the machine, and they zap Star Boy and Lightning Lad from behind. But they weren't aware of Brainiac 5, who calmly holds his ground, protected by his force field belt. Superboy returns and he and a recovered Lightning Lad handle the remaining attackers.
Doug: Not only were the Sklarians all women, but they apparently had Dave Cockrum design their fightin' togs! Love the panel with Superboy apologizing for the "rough ride", as he flies away with one of the ladies slung over his shoulder, her costume no-doubt evoking Daisy Duke at that point. Hey, pet peeve: DC always, always, felt the need to have a narration box from the editor whenever a Legionnaire's real name was used by a teammate. Drove me nuts.
Karen: Isn't that weird? I never understood the need for those boxes! Back at Legion HQ, Dream Girl, Colossal Boy, and current Legion leader Wildfire meet the group on their return. Dream Girl rushes out to hug Star Boy. She tells him she had foreseen the Sklarian attack but couldn't foresee the result. Wildfire comments about the typical lack of accuracy in her powers -he was never the most tactful guy! But I have to admit, I sometimes wondered how she made the team and someone like Polar Boy was relegated to the Subs. Brainy greets Rond Vidar and shows him the hyper-time drive. Rond had been a supporting character in a number of Legion stories. He was a teen-ager and a genius, and had invented the Legion's time cube. He was also revealed at some point to be the son of Universo. Wildfire breaks up the lovey-dovey stuff between Star Boy and Dream Girl, telling them they need to help get the Hyper-Time Drive into the lab for Rond to work on. It seems like he's just enjoying hassling them. Superboy tells him to let them be, they've earned some time together, he'll handle it, and handle it he does, as he effortlessly lifts the contraption over his head and flies off with it. Colossal Boy and Wildfire follow him, with Wildfire saying that Brainy thinks Rond's new invention might be the key to harnessing time itself.
Doug: Somebody should have poked a hole in Wildfire's containment suit. What a jerk. However, his faceplate (in a manner similarly to Iron Man's) always provided an artist the chance to cut loose with a nice reflective image of other characters in the scene. I like the panel that showed Colossal Boy using his flight ring while giant-sized. Oh, and speaking of the young lovers, do you recall the notorious panel of Dream Girl sleeping, and you can see ol' Thom's head under the covers? It was in Superboy #201, and that sneaky Dave Cockrum was the culprit!
Karen: Well that's a new one on me! I never heard about this little bit of naughtiness before. But I guess once I reached my teens I sort of assumed that there was a lot of messing around going on inside Legion HQ. After all, all those teens cooped up together hormones raging. Besides, I don't think there was any mention of an adult chaperone at this point (like there was in some Silver Age tales).
Karen: Inside the lab Rond toils for hours setting up his device. As he attaches the last cables of the fail-safe device, he tells Superboy that this is the most powerful time machine ever built. He says it should be able to test their theory that time has a circular flow. Right then, Phantom Girl enters with a strangely-garbed man: professor Jaxon Rugarth, who has volunteered to participate in the experiment. I'll admit, I'm not sure exactly what Rugarth is supposed to be doing in this experiment. They say they believe the machine will be "powerful enough to send me full circle through time - traveling into the future far enough to return to today!" Yeah, OK. Rugarth enters the capsule and Rond activates the machine. It begins to glow, and then disappears, only to reappear again almost immediately. He and Brainy are both puzzled by this. Suddenly the craft explodes and out comes a menacing figure, who says that they were right -- time is circular, but that circle is infinite! And so he witnessed the Earth's birth and death a million million times -- and also went through his own death and rebirth from Jaxon Rugarth to the Infinite Man. There's a nice splash page of said villain surrounded by images from the past and future. Is it just me, or did his headgear and facial appearance remind you at all of the old X-Men foe, the Living Monolith? I think it's the energy lines in the eyes and mouth.
Doug: Well, as if the sexy techno raiders weren't odd enough to open the story, I'll admit to counting pages until we were done shortly after we hit Jaxon Rugarth. With all of the super-powered teens available, why send a civilian on such a dangerous mission (and an ill-defined one at that) -- Stone Boy would have been perfect! Why in the world would time be circular? It flies in the face of evolution -- and I mean the evolution of everything. Technology doesn't go backwards, does it? What's this idea that time will eventually meet its own past? I have no physics for that... I do think the Infinite Man is indeed reminiscent of the Living Monolith, appearance-wise. I don't mind the look of this guy -- in fact, his first appearance is very cool (I love art like this where simple outlines and muted colors are used to add effect). Did you think the exchange between Brainiac-5 and Rugarth was odd? Brainy calls the much older professor by his last name, while Rugarth counters by addressing Brainy as "sir".
Karen: I'll admit I never quite understood the purpose of the experiment, but I think I cut this story some
leeway, since it was a vast improvement over the previous issue we reviewed. But, I hear ya, it's far from perfect. The transformed Rugarth is now of gigantic stature, and immensely angry with Rond Vidar. He grabs the young scientist and tells him he wishes he could make him suffer as he has suffered. Then he uses his time powers to conjure up some dinosaurs to keep the Legion busy. There's a sweet shot of Superboy punching a T-Rex right on the kisser. I have a harder time believing Colossal Boy could wrestle one, but I guess people do wrestle crocodiles! The super-teens manage to free Rond from the Infinite Man's grasp, but he seems immune to their attacks. He uses his powers to send Superboy to a realm outside of normal time, and places Star Boy inside some sort of stasis field, with no flow of time.
Doug: I had to wonder when reading this story if Marv Wolfman didn't appropriate some of the details for his own Sphinx character that appeared in the pages of Nova. I just felt over and over that I'd seen this schtick before; however, it was Wolfman's character that debuted months ahead of this Levitz creation. That being said, and if memory serves, we readers didn't learn the Sphinx's origin until Wolfman tied up his loose ends in 1979's Galactus story that ran in Fantastic Four.
Doug: I thought the tussle with the dinosaurs was OK, although I did think the one Superboy punched was a trifle cartoony. Did you think Superboy got back from his banishment a bit too quickly?
Karen: Nowadays it would take Superboy three issues to get back! The Infinite Man has not counted on Superboy's experience, even at this age, exploring the universe, and all the different levels of it. So he's caught completely off guard when the Teen of Steel comes blasting back through into the here and now to slam into him, knocking him off his feet! He seems more stunned by the act than actually hurt though, and he concedes the first round of the battle to the Legionnaires, and fades out. Shortly after their enemy disappears, Star Boy's stasis field also is extinguished, and he snaps back to normal. The Legionnaires regroup, realizing how dangerous a foe they face. Wildfire tells Superboy to stick to Rond like glue, and then sends three other team-mates (Dream Girl, Phantom Girl, Brainiac 5) out to seek out clues to find a way to beat the Infinite Man. The rest -- Lightning Lad, Star Boy and Wildfire, will work on defense and stay around, waiting for the next attack. They're wagering that the Infinite Man won't attack in the past, that he'll want to attack 'now', to keep Rond suffering.
Doug: One of our readers has attested to a dislike for time travel stories. As I was reading through today's story the first time, I was just overcome with a sense of invincibility for the Infinite Man (and Kang for that matter). How can a guy (or gal I suppose) who has mastered time, who knows the future -- even in its infinite possibilities, and can blink in and out at will, be beaten? And even though it's true that DG, PG, and B-5 aren't all that fisticuffy, I thought it was a bit of a blow to their self esteem when they were sent away.
Probably tactically smart, but just seemed a bit cold for Wildfire to say it out loud.
Karen: While the Legionnaires prepare for the next attack, the Infinite Man is also preparing -- he's gone to a place/time beyond time, where he has learned to harness his powers to their maximum. IM rants a bit about how he wants Rond Vidar to have had enough time to feel fear over his return. He blames Vidar for making a miscalculation that caused him to suffer for eternity. Again, I'm not too clear on what the experiment was supposed to do in the first place, but obviously, it went way past what IM expected.
Doug: By this point in the story, the whole vengeance angle was wearing on me. Just off Vidar and be done with it!
Karen: Cut now to the planet Naltor, homeworld of Dream Girl. She's been in consultation with the High Seer of her planet (all her people can see the future) -- although he still appears to be deep asleep as she speaks to him! It turns out he's been of no help to her -- so she heads off to return to Earth. Meanwhile, Brainiac 5 has also been trying to get some help from his people, on the planet Colu. Only instead of consulting dreams, they're using computers. However, the great brains of his world say they've been debating the nature of time for six centuries, how can they give Brainiac an answer? In an unexpected display of emotion, Brainy smacks a pile of papers from his colleagues' hands and says maybe they should try doing things rather than constantly debating them, and he stomps off.
Doug: Naltor -- now there's a party for you. How about that Brainiac-5? He was especially abrasive in this issue. Makes you wonder what Supergirl saw in him.
Karen: Back at Legion HQ, the super-teens are gathered around Rond Vidar. Lightning Lad makes an inane comment about Infinite Man must have destroyed himself, when (of course) he immediately shows up and blasts them all! Colossal Boy shoots up to giant size and smashes IM in the face, shattering part of his ornate head-dress, which just seems to tick him off, as he calls forth a pterodactyl to harass the huge teen. Wildfire and Lightning Lad exchange tremendous energy blasts with IM (some nice artwork here) as IM tells them if they just hand Vidar over, he'll let them live. But of course the Legionnaires are not having it. Star Boy uses his mass-increasing power to bring the roof down on top of IM's head, but this only slows him down for a moment.
Doug: I was sort of unclear as to what the Infinite Man is composed of -- he seems to be drawn as an energy creature, but that smack from Gim was pretty awesome. I think, in all of my Legion reading, that this story was Star Boy's biggest moment. He really dominates some of these action scenes. Oh, and some nice Kirby Krackle in the energy attack!
Karen: The third and last of our Legionnaire scouts, Phantom Girl, has reached her destination: the strange planet Gendyx, where dwell entities of pure psychic energy beyond the bounds of time. She tries to get their help against the Infinite Man, but the creatures are too far gone to care about humanity. Phantom Girl leaves forlorn.
Karen: Back at HQ, the Infinite Man confronts Rond Vidar. Vidar tells him that what happened was an accident, and reminds him that the dangers of the experiment were explained to him. The Infinite Man scoffs. How could he have understood what would have happened to him? How could anyone explain what would become of him? While they talk, the Legionnaires rally to attack, but the IM causes them to experience a fraction of what he felt, during his eons of existence in a timeless realm. The Legionnaires collapse, leaving Vidar and IM alone. IM tells Vidar he will condemn him to a timeless place, but suddenly Brainiac Five appears and tosses Rond his force field belt. The device is able to block IM's time blast, much to his consternation. Brainy knows it can't hold up long, but he says that he now knows how to defeat him; he has to cause an overload. Of course, he's then zapped, but not before Superboy and Wildfire regain consciousness (how does Wildfire lose consciousness? Isn't he pure energy?). Superboy figures out what Brainy was alluding to and destroys the fail-safe mechanism that Rond had put in at the beginning of the story. IM calls forth a bunch of funky looking cavemen types and dinosaurs to molest the Legionnaires, but Wildfire and Lightning Lad focus on overloading the hyper-time drive. IM seems awfully sure of himself, but Rond Vidar tells him that even though they miscalculated what would happen, the hyper-drive did have a circular effect, and he can reroute it back to send the Infinite Man back through a never-ending loop in time. With that the Infinite Man is struck by a beam from the machine and sent hurtling through time, a horror-struck look on his face. In the aftermath, Rond and Brainy discuss the possibility of working out a cure for Rugarth, and someday bringing him back. Brainy says they should make it a top priority -- because the Infinite Man could come back, stronger than before!
Doug: Gotta love that Rond Vidar, bringing up the signed disclaimer! I thought the ending of this tale was just weird. They basically consign the Infinite Man to the very life he's lived forever, and was willing to kill for. How about a Phantom Zone projector here? At least he would have been in stasis -- this treatment almost seemed cruel, even... vengeful. And that last bit about saving him because he could come back more dangerous than before? That doesn't sound all that altruistic...
Karen: I thought this was an exciting, well-drawn story, even if elements of it didn't hold up. I think time travel is inherently difficult to make sense of, and there were times reading this that I thought of some of the Kang stories from Avengers and Fantastic Four. A time-traveling enemy is so powerful, and unpredictable. I also liked the look of the Infinite Man -- he had a very Neal Adams/psychedelic feel!
Doug: Isn't that funny? I thought this story was pretty middling. I felt like Levitz just kept throwing action scenes after action scenes, with little characterization. We don't know anything about this Rugarth fellow, other than he got a bad shake and he's really ticked off about it. I will offer that since the story basically runs on spontaneity, the Legionnaires do craft several plans in response to the threat. But the notion that Brainy's belt could repel a blast from this incredibly powerful engine of hatred? Wasn't buying it.
Karen: I would agree that it's short on characterization -it's very plot-driven, and unfortunately parts of that plot (the whole time travel experiment) don't make a lot of sense! But as a slam-bang action story, I thought it was pretty fun.
Karen: There's a second story in this issue, featuring Princess Projectra, written by Levitz and drawn by Mike Nasser, and I have to say the splash page is rather, uh, well, it would have been right at home in Heavy Metal! It's not a particularly compelling tale either, so we'll leave it to you all to find for yourselves. How many people really wanted a Princess Projectra back-up? I mean really!
Doug: Ha! Again, I did not read ahead when I made my comments about Nasser above! No, I didn't read the second story, but as I -ahem- stated above, the art is way better in the second story. Heavy Metal indeed! And in answer to your question about those desiring a Princess back-up -- pre-Cockrum, no one. But in this suit, apparently there was a market.