Monday, October 10, 2016

Iron Mike's Legion: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes 219

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #219 (September 1976)
"The Plunder Ploy of the Fatal Five"
Ken Klaczak/Jim Shooter-Mike Grell

Karen: If you've been reading the BAB for a while you might be aware that although both Doug and I grew up primarily Marvel readers, there was one DC book we both followed fervently, and that was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. There was just something special about that combination of teenage super-heroes and futuristic space action. Plus, there were just about a million characters each issue! It was absolutely irresistible.

Doug: Yep, as it was available, I managed to amass a spotty run of around 40 issues. As we all know about distribution woes, I might have five or six issues in a row and then miss three. No idea how or why. But when I saw an issue on the stands or racks, I snatched it up. I was also able, through flea markets, to put together a collection of quite a few earlier Superboy books.

Karen: For many of us who began reading Legion in the 70s, any thought of the book instantly brings to mind the art of Mike Grell. Grell came onto the title with issue #202 in 1974, inking outgoing artist Dave Cockrum's final story, and then became the regular penciler with the next issue. Grell brought a very sleek, sinewy look to the title, continuing the modernization that Cockrum had begun. These Legionnaires had updated costumes and hairdos, and the spaceships, planets, and aliens they visited were all updated as well, creating a much more visually appealing book than before.

Doug: I love Curt Swan, but there's no comparison to his Silver Age work and the revolution in this book wrought by Cockrum and Grell. Night and day.

Karen: You're not kidding. It's still stunning to look at those Silver Age Legion tales and then compare them to the 70s era resurgence. But although there were many changes, DC didn't ditch the things that kept the book great -- and that includes some of the Legion's great foes. Case in point: in this issue, the Legion squares off against one of their greatest set of adversaries, the Fatal Five.  Let's get to the 100 (or so) word review:

100 Word Review:

The Fatal Five commit a string of robberies throughout the galaxy. While stealing a factory from Imsk, Shrinking Violet’s homeworld, the Five critically injure Violet’s boyfriend, Duplicate Boy. The Legionnaires head off in pursuit, but are puzzled by the seemingly unrelated thefts: a miniaturized microcircuits factory, android parts, poisons, and half of a planet! Back at Legion HQ, Saturn Girl uses her telepathy to try to get the comatose Duplicate Boy to copy Superboy’s recuperative powers. Brainiac 5 discovers the Five’s hiding place -the chunk of planet was hidden behind a moon. Turns out, they used the stolen goods to make a home for themselves. They capture all except Tharok and Validus, who escape. Back on Earth, Duplicate Boy has recovered. (Doug: This is 121 words. Karen cheats.) (Karen: Hey, I said "100 (or so)" !!)

The Good:

Karen: First off, this was a full-issue story, so that was a real plus. Let me explain: it was very common, if not usual, for the Legion to feature two short stories per issue back in those days, so getting a complete issue-length story was a thrill. Also, seeing the Legion go up against a name group like the Fatal Five was truly exciting. I also liked the mix of Legionnaires in this issue: Superboy, Brainiac-5, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Mon-El, Shrinking Violet, Colossal Boy, Light Lass, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy. It should seem crowded, but it didn't.

Karen: Certainly some of the Legionnaires seemed to be more important or 'special' than others -at least to my mind. I knew Superboy was important, his name was in the title! After him, you knew his copy-cat 'cousin,' Mon-El, was on that same level as a powerhouse. But Brainiac 5 and Saturn Girl always seemed to occupy important space as leaders and thinkers. Although not appearing in this issue, Wildfire was quickly elevated to A-List status.

Doug: That's a classic line-up, isn't it? Ten heroes, and you're right -- it should be crowded, particularly because this story isn't 20-21 pages, but only 17. Every team member had something to do, with of course a star turn for some -- no way for all because of limited space. You know, among that group you can see how the Legion might have had a A-list and then the rest: Brainiac-5, Superboy, Mon-El, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl would seem to me to get more screen time in general; the other five, while important, usually seemed to be a bit more in the background.

Karen: We also briefly got to see Duplicate Boy, from the Heroes of Lallor, who is probably the most powerful hero in the universe, since he can copy any super-power.

Doug: Duplicate Boy vs. Ultra Boy. That would be a rasslin' match for the ages.

Karen: There was some nice character bits with Brainy trying to figure things out, Violet distraught over Duplicate Boy, and Colossal Boy dealing with his unrequited love for Vi. Oh, and how about that sweet full page diagram of the Legion cruiser? I think that owed a huge debt to the Star Trek USS Enterprise blueprints which had come out in 1975. According to that diagram, the Legion cruiser has warp drive, impulse engines, and even a transporter room!

Doug: The cruiser really didn't seem all that big, if the characters were drawn to scale. I thought that was disappointing, as the basic design and diagram were cool. Execution was not. I tend to like the blueprints and diagrams of buildings and vehicles. But overall Grell's art was comfortable for me. Maybe now, in my advanced age, I am more cognizant of the so-called stock poses. It felt like a Legion story to me, though. I do have an additional comment about the presentation, but that will be in our next section.

Karen: I think you're right about the size of the cruiser -they must have been using Imskian micro-circuitry to fit all that technology in there! The design is fun though -  they basically slapped the Enterprise's saucer section on the front of a Klingon battlecruiser.

Doug: I always enjoy the consistency of Brainiac-5's personality. Maybe it's not difficult to write a

callous jerk, but the various writers always seem to pull it off. I also felt that the story's conclusion initially made me look on the Legionnaires as the bad guys, or over-reacting. Yet in the end the Fatal Five did steal much of what they needed... even if it was for leisure purposes. So that I had cause to think and rethink about the story was a good thing. 

Karen: 'Callous jerk'? Aw, come on, Doug, Brainy isn't that bad, is he? At least not at this point. He's certainly no Reed Richards when it comes to being cold and clueless. Later, when he goes insane and tries to murder everyone, well, OK. He was a little harsh with Vi, I'll admit. Maybe he didn't come off in the best light here? 

The Bad: 

Karen: It's not terrible, but I was a little disappointed that we got one-on-one battles...again. It seems like every time a DC super-team battles another DC bad guy team, they break into pairs and it's small units fighting. You never get a big battle. Here Superboy faces the Emerald Empress by himself and winds up fighting a bunch of androids. That was a little underwhelming. The Mon-El and Lightning Lad vs. Validus battle was more interesting, and actually fun at the end. I can understand why writers do this, I'm sure it's easier to break it down into these small fights. But it would have been a blast to see all the big guns slam into Validus.

Doug: Colossal Boy seriously went to the same tailor as Galactus. What's up with the bare legs, bro?

I also didn't care for the split up of the team members, but at the end of the story I was satisfied with why it happened. There was no way for the Legion to fight as a team simply due to the proximity of the Fatal Five to each other. Speaking of Gim, he was a little outward with his feeling toward Vi. Sort of uncool with her boyfriend clinging to life. 

Karen: Yes, you almost wondered if Colossal Boy was hoping Duplicate Boy wouldn't make it. But that wouldn't be very nice of him, would it? If they wrote this book today, that's exactly what he'd be doing!

Doug: I used the Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, volume 12 for this review. I found the inks to be a bit on the heavy side at times -- lots of cross-hatching. In many of the panels, backgrounds were completely void. While I don't know if this is due to the reprinting process -- I wouldn't think it would be affected by the paper upgrade (quite the opposite) -- it was noticeable.

Karen: I used the original comic, and it is in probably VG-G shape. I didn't notice the blank backgrounds until you mentioned it. It looks like there were more of them towards the end, so I'm guessing that either Grell or the inker got rushed and just left them out as the deadline approached. I just consulted Comic Book Database, and they credit the inks to Grell, but I don't know that we can consider that 100% accurate.

Doug: Did you think it was odd that Validus spoke? That threw me, as my recollections had him as mute. The scene with the baby rattle struck me as odd, and I couldn't decide if Lightning Lad's suggestion that he and Mon-El play with the creature was sarcasm, or if he was serious! By the way, wasn't it revealed later on that Validus was the offspring of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl? Did it happen in a Legion Annual in the 1980s?

Karen: I did a double take when Validus spoke. At first I thought it was Tharok, using some sort of voice projection device. So yes, it threw me too. I'm still on the fence over it. Towering silent menace, or dangerous childlike giant? I don't know which I prefer. I do believe you are correct about that Validus origin, because I have the same memory. I didn't care for that at the time, and I still don't. It was a parting gift of Darkseid after the Great Darkness.

The Ugly:
Doug: The Emerald Empress aside, who's the ugliest member of the Fatal Five? Now that's a tough one!

Karen: I gotta go with Tharok. Creepy metal half-body. That's just weird.


Anonymous said...

That artwork is great (sort of like Adams inked by Byrne, though not as good as either). I always thought DC skimped on the backgrounds compared to Marvel. I often wondered as a child if the reason that DC took place nowhere real (Metropolis, Gotham, Central City) was because you’d have to draw some real landmarks once in a while if you were in NY or LA.

My loyalty to Marvel (at least Silver & Bronze) remains unshakeable, but I have to acknowledge that I have read a lot of bad Marvel comics and missed a lot of good DC ones. Especially when I see stuff like this. I also kind of enjoy the DC movies in a different way to Marvel because I have no idea of the backstory and nothing invested in it. Directors can trample all over the comics and I have no idea.

Retirement project: read some DC.


Edo Bosnar said...

My first ever issue of Superboy and the Legion. Doug, you're right about that spotty distribution - in my parts the Legion was often pretty hard to come by for some reason, and I recall that the first largely unbroken run of issues I had were when Joe Staton was doing most of the art (and a lot of those were from those bagged 3-packs with the Whitman logo on them).
Anyway, I don't recall many of the details from the story, but I do remember loving the art, and some of those panels you posted really pluck at my nostalgia strings. So thanks for the great review of this one (even if Karen cheated :P).

As for the Starship Legionprise, erm, the Legion Cruiser, yeah, the scale is really odd as depicted; can't believe all that stuff listed can fit into that little corridor section. However, I like the "human needs" label for what I am assuming is the space-loo.

Anonymous said...

I'll be reading this one soon since I just bought it at Annapolis Comic Con a couple of weeks ago. I've been building a collection of the Cockrum/Grell runs on Superboy and Legion for about a year. For some reason I never bought a lot of these when they were new.

I always had mixed feelings about Legion. Great concept, cool costumes, even in the 1960s. But the stories were often so WHITEBREAD, as if they were written for the Comics Code Authority (or our parents). None of the drama you'd find in X-Men, FF, Avengers, or any other Marvel title. Everyone was a clean-cut, bland, nice-guy/nice girl. Probably drank milk with their cookies and thought they were partying hard.

Then Cockrum and Grell come along. Wow. Grell was still pretty new, and his proportions were often distorted, sort of like a poor imitation of Gil Kane. But he definitely showed potential and soon became one of the best artists at DC in the mid 1970s.

When Jim Shooter took over the writing from Cary Bates (starting with #209), things definitely improved. (For the record, Cary Bates is one of my least favorite comic book writers of all time). But so far (I've read #197 through 213), it's still the artwork that is the main appeal here. So I take my Legion as a light entertainment, enjoying the art but not taking the storytelling too seriously. There were better plots and characterizations over at Marvel in the mid-1970s. But yeah, I just can't resist that Mike Grell art.

As for Jim Shooter, even some of his mid-1960s Legion tales were pretty decent (by DC standards, anyway).

Terry in Virginia

Edo Bosnar said...

By the way, Karen & Doug, since you've both read this recently, tell me if I'm remembering something correctly: was there a scene right at the beginning of the story in which Shrinking Violet and Duplicate Boy are staying in a tiny hotel that's actually on a table inside a normal-sized building?

Redartz said...

Nice review, Karen and Doug! Always enjoy a visit with the Legion. Even in the Silver Age, their stories seemed more engaging (more Marvel-like?) than many other DC titles. Perhaps much of the reason for that lies with Jim Shooter's writing...

Have never read this issue, but it looks quite enjoyable. Great artwork, as you noted (most of my Legion reading involved Staton and Giffen, coming later)- plus a Fatal Five appearance! I'll join Richard in planning some more DC reading in the future...

Martinex1 said...

As I've said before I've never read LOSH but this looks really good. The Fatal Five look and sound challenging. I was definitely a Marvel guy, but the fact is I never saw this title on any of the spinner racks I shopped. I didn't know it even existed until much later in life. Which raises a question - did store proprietors actually pick what went on their comic racks, or was it just a random grab bag? How did that work? I cannot picture the elderly gentleman who ran the local drugstore picking off of a checklist. Just curious, because like I said some titles just never appeared.

Great review though. It looks very good.

Anonymous said...

I love these Legion stories; Grell is a great artist (and a pretty good writer would've been interesting to see him write some Legion tales).

Mike Wilson

Doug said...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone.

Edo, I've put the book away, but I am 99% certain that the scene you brought up indeed happens in this issue.

Osvaldo left a funny comment on Twitter about the scene where Superboy lay in repose. If you've seen the Burt Reynolds photos from that skin magazine for ladies, you know where his comment went.

We'll have more Legion coming your way in two weeks. Karen and I are going to review a story with James Sherman on the art chores -- the debut of Dawnstar. Stay tuned.


Karen said...

Thanks for jumping in on this somewhat rare DC duo-review today. It was a lot of fun to get back in the saddle for a partner review, especially on the Legion. I have to offer a mea culpa here -while battling with Blogger to get the art in, I somehow dropped Doug's first comment in the 'Good' section after my first two remarks -it should have been in-between them. I think it still read OK but -dang it, Blogger!

Edo, yes, there is a rather hilarious panel with Shrinking Violet and Duplicate Boy flying away at speck-size from a tabletop hotel INSIDE a regular sized building with a sign that reads 'hotel.' I can only think that Grell intended this to be funny.

Terry, I would agree that the Cockrum and Grell era issues are attractive primarily for the art and not the stories. being primarily a Marvel reader I was expecting much more in terms of characterization, and of course plot, and these just didn't deliver. When Paul Levitz came on the scene, that all changed -wow, did it change! But the early 70s were more about style over substance. I think the stories I made up in my head about the Legion were more entertaining. As Doug said, only a few characters really seemed to have defined traits, and there were just so dang many of them, I suppose you'd need a score card or something as a writer to figure it out. That's one reason Wildfire was refreshing -he might have been a jerk, but he was different!

Osvaldo's observation certainly is astute -besides being action-packed, Grell also brought sex appeal to the Legion, which was something that certainly had been bubbling under the surface for years. All those teenagers, hanging out together in their clubhouse -it doesn't take much of an imagination to understand at least part of the Legion's appeal. When Grell (and Cockrum before him) showed up, that appeal became more obvious, and we started seeing much more skin -even on the guys! Annnnd -queue the Cosmic Boy outfit!

Anonymous said...

Wowee! A review of a comicbook I actually own! Yeah, this was a fun one all around - you had a great supervillain team, the Fatal Five, a love triangle between Duplicate Boy, Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet, a dramatic element (the near death of Duplicate Boy),a cool fight to climax the story and a plot twist (the Five stealing all that stuff for leisure purposes).

The Legion cruiser was cool, although it was obviously ripped off from the design of Star Trek's Enterprise ship. Wasn't Cockrum a Trekkie? As for who was (is?) the ugliest member of the Fatal Five, wasn't it Mano? :)

I definitely second Karen's opinion that Grell brought a sense of sex appeal to the legion, something that Silver Age artists glossed over. Cosmic Boy outfit? Hey, as my fuzzy memory recalls, Shadow Lass and Princess Projectra certainly wore some risque outfits at that time!

- Mike 'looks like Bouncing Boy' from Trinidad & Tobago.

johnlindwall said...

I am a huge LOSH/Grell fan! I had this issue and must have worn it out from re-re-re-reading constantly!

Mike Grell's artwork is fantastic, and a great fit for this mag. Grell's Validus is large, imposing, and not goofy-looking at all (sadly, he was often drawn pretty silly in the silver age). Mike also has a sense of humor, for example the micro-hotel that was mentioned above or in other instances when Mr Spock would be seen in crowd scenes. I loved that cutaway diagram of the legion cruiser!!! Still do, even if we question the dimensions, though I do not have as big an issue with it as you guys.

The legion's costumes during this era were terrific (thank you Mr's Cockrum and Grell). I remain an unabashed fan of Cosmic Boy's Man-Corset! Also a fan of Colossal Boy's bare legs. Hey, in the 30th century we have total control over the weather so futuristic Metropolis is a balmy 76 degrees all of the time! Plus, it's only fair play: the girls costumes were skimpy so why not the boys? But I digress...

Doug: Mentioning that Burt Reyolds pose sadly reminds me of Stan Lee's recreation of that same photo! Brr....

Thanks for the trip down memory lane with one of my favorite comics of all time! I really enjoyed reliving it with you all.

Anonymous said...

The Legion and Teen Titans were some of my favorite 70s DC. They were favorites but looking back they didnt run the whole decade. I remember being a fan of Mike Grell and when Superboy left, which i never understood. I agree it might have been style over substance, the Legion kinda combined sci fi and super heroes. A favorite Cockrum story was when the Xmen battled the imitation legion.

drivingovercanaan said...

Glad to see this review and the sampled pages. I'm a Curt Swan-Dave Cockrum- Jim Sherman fan
...Grell never appealed to me...his stuff looked crude and shaky next to Cockrum's. It IS early work, and he did get much better. Thanks for getting me to take a second look. Jim Shooter, when he's good, is one of the best writers in superhero comics, and the Grell art may grow on me.

dbutler16 said...

I do love the Mike Grell artwork on the Legion (though there’s the occasional odd panel maybe due to being rushed) though it’s a slight step down from Dave Cockrum, but still fantastic art.
Yeah, I like Colossal Boy putting the moves on Vi as soon as Duplicate Boy is incapacitated. By the way, I was glad to see that Duplicate Boy couldn’t absorb Validus’s power, as it was too much for him. I hate the power to absorb or mimic others’ powers, so it’s nice to at least see a limit there.
And the ending is really good. Sort of bittersweet. Love that there’s some ambiguity there. The Legionnaires might have cause to feel a little guilty, and yet, as Doug points out, the Fatal Five were stealing!

I agree that it’s disappointing when you’ve got big teams battling and it’s all one on one battles. I suspect it’s just easier to write it that way like Karen says, and heck, maybe easier to draw it that way too.

As far as Validus speaking, while it may have seemed odd, he did actually speak in his first appearance. Somehow that power of speech went away, but here he is speaking again, and it’s worth noting that the writer was Jim Shooter, the same guy who created him. I do like Validus as a childlike being who is only evil when controlled by Tharok (or some other evil person). And yes, Validus was some time in the 80’s retconned to have been Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s son, which I hate, so I tend to pretend it didn’t exist. Just like I tend to pretend Steve Englehart’s retconning of the Falcons origin to make him a pimp didn’t really happen. I can’t believe nobody ever retconned that terrible retcon!

Of course, Tharok must be the uglies Fatal Fiver, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mano with his helmet off.

By the way, Light Lass hits Mano with her handbag? That is sexist and embarrassing! And where did she get a handbag??

And yeah, I don’t think Brainy is all that bad, generally speaking.

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