projectra

The Chronological Superman 1966:

Jim Shooter, all of fourteen years old, makes his debut as scripter for The Legion of Super-Heroes with Adventure Comics vol.1 No.346. In this story, the Legion accepts four new members – Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, the doomed Ferro Lad and Nemesis Kid – only to find out that one of them is a traitor and a turncoat. Just a thought, but I bet it’s the guy with nemesis actually in his name.

Shooter was famously the frequent target for ill-tempered editor Mort Weisinger’s excoriations, and yet he kept plugging away, all the way to EIC at Marvel Comics two decades later. He has sticktuitiveness.

Shooter’s name became synonymous with the Legion for a significant run on the series, and infamous in some quarters as well – he penned an alarmingly well-researched document on the Legionnaires’ sex lives published in a fandom magazine in 1976. Personally, I don’t see the problem with his somewhat obsessive chronicling of the (ahem) ins-and-outs of Legion tomfoolery. Shooter was, himself, a teenager during the years in which he first wrote the Legion, and I think it’s only natural for a teenager to assume that the many teenagers he’s writing – and who all live together in a big, unchaperoned rocketship – are banging like a screen door on shoddy hinges. That kind of underrepresented catalog probably helped him flesh out the interpersonal dynamics and, hell, probably helped him through adolescence.  

I didn’t purchase this Treasury Edition at one of my regular comic book haunts, but rather at a department store, likely the now-long-gone Two Guys store my family regularly frequented. And almost certainly, I got it because it was about the only comic book they had in the place, as I wasn’t a huge fan of SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES at this point. As I’ve mentioned before, as edited by Murray Boltinoff, S&LSH felt “wrong” to me, in the same way that Murray’s other titles did. They didn’t operate by the same unspoken rules as the super hero books I preferred (mainly the Julie Schwartz stable.) But as with the Adult Legion story I had read earlier, this Treasury’s reprints of Legion stories of the past was more to my liking.

What a great opening splash page by Curt Swan and the not-always-beloved Jack Abel. This Treasury reprinted one of the most seminal Legion stories of all–the two-parter that introduced Mordru, one of the Legion’s most recurring enemies. The still-young Jim Shooter wrote this tale, but at this point he’d been doing the Legion series for a while, and his skill and confidence had grown during that period. It’s a pretty great mash-up of Marvel-style soap opera dramatics with the colorfulness and semi-silliness of the Silver Age DC line. And if I’m not mistaken, it’s the  story Mark Waid points to as his own personal lodestone as a writer.

The story wastes no time in getting going, opening with four legionnaires–Superboy, Mon-El, Duo Damsel and Shadow Lass–on the run, hastening to make their escape in the Time Cube to Superboy’s native 20th century. In flashback, we learn about Mordru, how he was the most powerful and unstoppable foe the Legion ever tackled and how Superboy and Mon-El eventually trapped him inside an airless vault. But Shadow Lass winds up leaking some air into the vault which is now stored deep within Legion HQ, and Mordru bursts free and trashes the team and the headquarters both. So overmatched are the four remaining Legionnaires that their only hope is to flee into the past where they can hide and plan their next move.

The Legionnaires are forced to adopt Clark Kent-style secret identities among the citizens of Smallville. But Mordru follows them through time, and is magics seek them out–turning all of the people of Smallville into sentries, on guard for any sign of the Legion. Shooter takes time out amongst all this drama for moments of characterization, such as Duo Damsel’s jealousy of Shadow Lass here. This is maybe the first time that the intrinsic strangeness of heroes from the 30th Century teaming up with Superboy is at all played with. As Duo Damsel reflects, it’s already history to her who Superboy will eventually marry (and, for that matter, how he will eventually die–a creepy thought that doesn’t get looked at as much.) 

Anyway, the cat-and-mouse game continues as the Legion attempts to maintain its charade of being simple 20th Century folks and not give themselves away to Mordru. But with Superboy in hiding, it’s open season on Smallville among the underworld, and soon gangster “King” Carter moves in on the town. The Legion can’t take him on directly without revealing themselves, so instead they’re forced to fight a guerrilla war against Carter’s goons, eventually organizing and rallying the citizenry of Smallville to rise up and overthrow their oppressor.

In the aftermath, the Legionnaires realize that the lesson they taught to Smallville–that the people can’t run from their troubles, but must turn and confront them–applies to them as well. And so they make preparations to return to the 30th Century to face Mordru. But they’re too late! Lana Lang has already seen them in their Legion guises, and as she’s been enchanted as one of Mordru’s sentries, it’s only minutes before the massive sorcerer appears, ready to wipe out the Legion. And that’s the end of Part One.

After a few features, we dive right into Chapter Two. Battered by Mordru’s magic and demoralized by his statements that he’s already wiped out the rest of the Legion, the heroic foursome makes a desperate escape by tunneling through the Earth. They race back to the Kent home and Superboy’s hidden lab, where they go for one further longshot gambit–they hypnotize themselves into forgetting their true identities, hoping this will confuse Mordru and allow them to elude him once again.

Mordru is indeed mystified by the Legion’s deception, but he won’t give up so easily. First, he summons his armies from the future, then he seals Smallville off from the rest of the world, ripping it from the Earth and causing it to soar high into the sky. His shock troops conduct frightening door-to-door searches for the Legionnaires, terrorizing the people of Smallville but turning up nothing. The situation grows more dire by the second, and these sequences recall the occupation of France by the invading Nazi army. But the Legion can’t fight back even if it wanted to, as they have no memory of their true identities.

But one person who does know is Pete Ross, Superboy’s friend who discovered his secret and kept it safe ever since, unbeknownst to Clark. But now, the situation is too grave. He recruits Lana Lang and has her don the ring that gives her the powers of Insect Queen. Then, the two Legion reservists abduct Clark Kent and illustrate to him that he is really Superboy by attempting to cut his hair. With his memory restored and reinforcements in the way of Lana and Pete, Superboy returns his friends’ memories to them and prepares for a final push against Mordru.

But it’s a vain effort, as Mordru defeats the team handily. For his own amusement he puts them on trial before a jury of the deadliest criminals of the 30th Century. Pete Ross does his best as their defense attorney, but to no one’s surprise the Legion is found guilty of crimes against Mordru. The evil Wraithor proposes trapping them in a similar vault to the one that imprisoned Mordru for all those years and burying them alive–a plan the big guy goes for. But Wraithor is disgruntled–Mordru defeated him and stole his power previously, so he’s secretly looking to aid the heroes, and builds their jail to be easy for them to escape.

Learning of Wraithor’s treachery, Mordru incinerates him, and then with a gesture removes the Legion’s powers–they will be next. But Mordru becomes a little too excited, uses too much power, and succeeds in bringing the whole subterranean base down on him, entombing him once more and saving the Legion. In the wrap-up, Superboy removes Lana’s knowledge of his true identity, but Mon-El prevents him from doing the same to Pete Ross, instead making Superboy forget that Pete knows who he is, as history says that one day Pete will save Superman’s life because of that knowledge. And returning to the future, the team finds their comrades and their headquarters intact, its destruction at the hands of Mordru a clever ruse combining the powers of the White Witch and Princess Projectra. (Nobody asks what the other Legionnaires have been doing all these weeks while Mordru has been stalking them cross time and space. But I’m sure it was important!) This was a pretty intense tale, especially for the DC books of this era, as the Legion is on the ropes from the very start, and don’t really succeed in doing anything to even slow Mordru down through the course of the adventure, triumphing at the end due to the villain’s own hubris. But it’s this very sense of desperation and urgency that makes this such a potent story. And the Legion members have ample opportunity to show off their bravery in small ways, even if they are completely overmatched right up to the final page. All in all, a great two-part tale.

The Chronological Superman 1964-1966:

I’m going to tackle three years worth of Superman Family stories for this next installment of The Chronological Superman. This is hopefully a minor and acceptable format change for these specific stories (although I may do it again in the future, if the content calls for it).  The thing is that the Superman Family tales of 1964 and 1965 are fairly unremarkable ones. For the most part, these years are typified by events you might describe as oddities and trivia, and some tales which are continued from previous years. It’s not that these stories are bad, but they largely want for innovation.

For instance, the Legion of Super-Heroes – which has been adding members at a breakneck pace since their debut – adds only one permanent new member to the roster in Adventure Comics vol.1 No.327, introducing the hero eventually known as Timber Wolf. Meanwhile, Kid Psycho is introduced as the first resource in the Legion Reserve (Superboy vol.1 No.125), two villains – Command Kid and Dynamo Boy – join in Adventure Comics vol.1 No.328 and No.330/331 respectively, and the Heroes of Lallor are introduced in Adventure Comics vol.1 No.324. 

Super-offspring abound as always, but it’s worth mentioning that the Super-Sons of Superman and Batman debut in World’s Finest vol.1 No.154. In Superman vol.1 No.181, the Superman of 2965 – secretly Klar Ken-T5477 – is introduced, being the twentieth generation of direct descendants from the original Man of Steel. 

Beyond that, there are new love interests for Superman, more imaginary stories, plenty of Kryptonite (including Jewel Kryptonite, debuting in Action Comics vol.1 No.310), several more chapters of the Lexor-centric Luthor-Superman feud, and assorted adventures and minor inventions like Lana Lang becoming Insect Queen in Superboy vol.1 No.124 and the introduction of the Composite Superman in World’s Finest vol.1 No.142. There are also two alternate universe, evil Supermen – Ultraman of the Crime Syndicate of America in Justice League of America vol.1 No.29 and the Superman of Earth-A in Justice League of America vol.1 No.22. 

A lot happens in those two years, but very little of it changes the Superman landscape all that much. 1966, however, is an explosive year for Superman, even if you only consider what occurs outside of the comics. He stakes claims in two new media – on Broadway, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams present It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman (to mixed reviews, I’m sad to say, although I’m a fan), while Superman, Superboy, Krypto and assorted members of the Justice League of America become part of the relatively new Saturday morning cartoon phenomenon for the first time.

Mxyzptlk, Brainiac, Luthor and assorted Bizarros continue to populate the books, but they’re not alone. New villains abound, and the Toyman reappears in the comics for the first time in years (Superman vol.1 No.182). The rookies include some one-shots, like Eterno the Immortal in Action Comics vol.1 No.343 and the Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman in World’s Finest vol.1 No.159. New and recurring villains (some more than others) include the space pirate Amalak, the twentieth-level computer mind Grax (Action Comics vol.1 No.342) and The Parasite in  Action Comics vol.1 No.340. The Legion of Super-Heroes must also contend with one of their more fatal foes, Computo, in Adventure Comics vol.1  No.340.

Along those lines, it’s worth noting that veteran Superman newspaper strip artist Wayne Boring returns to the comic book pages in 1966, and young writer Jim Shooter – only fourteen years old – begins writing Legion of Super-Heroes (promptly introducing Karate Kid, Ferro Lad, Princess Projectra and another evil turncoat Legionnaire in the form of the rather tellingly-named Nemesis Kid in Adventure Comics vol.1 No.346).

pages 54 & 55 of Legion of Super-Heroes #300 by Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt

Legion Of Super-Heroes #300, June 1983,  

Pencils:Carmine Infantino (Supergirl); Paris Cullins (Invisible Kid); George Perez (Colossal Boy); Joe Kubert (Dawnstar); Kurt Schaffenberger (Superboy); Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (Sun Boy); Don Heck (White Witch); Jim Aparo (Karate Kid); Jan Duursema (Queen Projectra); Gene Colan (Timber Wolf); Dave Cockrum (Phantom Girl); Walter Simonson (Blok); George Tuska (Star Boy); Jim Sherman (Dream Girl); Howard Chaykin (Brainiac 5); Curt Swan (Ultra Boy); Howard Bender (Wildfire); Keith Giffen (Cosmic Boy, Proty II); Dick Giordano (Saturn Girl); Larry Mahlstedt (Lightning Lad); Gil Kane (Mon-El); Trevor von Eeden (Element Lad); Joe Orlando (Chameleon Boy); Ross Andru (Shadow Lass); Ernie Colon (Duo Damsel); Joe Staton (Bouncing Boy)

Inks:Bob Oksner (Supergirl); Paris Cullins (Invisible Kid); George Perez (Colossal Boy); Joe Kubert (Dawnstar); Kurt Schaffenberger (Superboy); Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (Sun Boy); Don Heck (White Witch); Jim Aparo (Karate Kid); Jan Duursema (Queen Projectra); Frank Giacoia (Timber Wolf); Dave Cockrum (Phantom Girl); Walter Simonson (Blok); Mike DeCarlo (Star Boy); Jim Sherman (Dream Girl); Howard Chaykin (Brainiac 5); Curt Swan (Ultra Boy); Dave Hunt (Wildfire); Larry Mahlstedt (Cosmic Boy); Dick Giordano (Saturn Girl); Keith Giffen (Lightning Lad); Gil Kane (Mon-El); Trevor von Eeden (Element Lad); Joe Orlando (Chameleon Boy); Dan Adkins (Proty II); Romeo Tanghal (Shadow Lass); Ernie Colon (Duo Damsel); Joe Staton (Bouncing Boy)