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)" !!)
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!
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?
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.
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.