Thursday, April 23, 2015

Superboy starring The Legion #216

Superboy starring The Legion of Super-Heroes #216 (April, 1976)
title: "The Hero Who Hated The Legion!"
writer: Cary Bates
artist: Mike Grell
editor: Murray Boltinoff
cover: Mike Grell
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Cosmic Boy, Superboy, Brainiac 5, Shadow Lass, Karate Kid, Tyroc

The Beta Gang, prejudice

On Earth, Cosmic Boy explains to a group of Legionnaires about satellite C-117. It had been launched into space in 2918 in order to take photon readings and solar measurements. In reality, it was the storage capsule of stolen and then missing "Zigel Jewels." According to a death-bed confession, the crooks had hidden the jewels in the satellite a day before it was launched, expecting to crash it within a week. Instead, they were apprehended, and the jewels stayed in orbit nearly sixty years. However, the satellite had crashed earlier in the week on the remote island of Marzal, so the Legionnaires are assigned to retrieve them.

The next day four Legionnaires land their cruiser on Marzal, a self-sufficient un-integrated island city of Africans located in the Mediterranean Sea. As the Legionnaires arrive, the Beta Gang also arrives. They rush towards the Legionnaires but are stopped when their jet-packs burst into flame. Then as they start to fall to their deaths, they are surrounded by floating force-field bubbles. This is Tyroc's doing! As the Legionnaires watch, Tyroc battles the Betas' ship by creating a force-field around himself and then by sending it careening away. However, as the Legionnaires try to talk to him, Tyroc teleports away.

In a pre-recorded message to the people of Marzal, Tyroc then explains why no one should befriend the Legionnaires. When Karate Kid and Superboy save some citizens from falling debris, they are not grateful.

One lone Beta is watching the Legionnaires as his buddy finds him and brings him along. Although Brainiac 5 is working to track the fallen satellite, the Betas have managed to find it. The last two gang members fly up just as the others open the satellite to retrieve the jewels. Unfortunately, this bathes them all in deadly radiation. The Beta farthest away from the radiation is actually Tyroc, who now tries to get the Legionnaires' attention. Superboy hears his ultra-sonic cry for help, and when Shadow Lass bathes the area in darkness Superboy is able to grab the radioactive jewels and tosses them to an uninhabited planet. As Tyroc faces the indisputable fact of the goodness of the Legion, he agrees to join.

This is probably one of the most famous Legion of Super-Heroes stories because it is so, SO bad. Where to start with this travesty? How can we ignore the fact that we have never seen any Black people in any Legion story before....and now here we are faced with an island of them? Sure, it's off the Northern coast of Africa, but....aren't there Black people IN Africa? Why did this have to be a segregated island? Why not, say, an integrated SOUTH Africa? That would have been futuristic, especially in 1976! Or even, say, a futuristic version of Liberia, which is an actual country in actual Africa that was founded by former American slaves? I guess we should be happy Marzal wasn't a whole *planet* inhabited by Black people, eh? And that last page, where the blue, yellow (?), and green Legionnaires claim to be brothers and sisters in the cause of justice!? Oy, vey. On the next page they all join hands and sing "It's A Small World."

Anybody out there ever read Green Lantern #76? That's the story where an elderly Black man challenges Green Lantern about helping the blue folks and the green folks but never the Black folks. Well, this issue features the same type of confrontation, when Tyroc confronts the Legion for never helping Marzal during one crisis or another. However, the omniscient narrator very clearly told us that Marzal has walked away from society and didn't want anything to do with the rest of 30th Century Earth. So which is it? You can't have it both ways, Tyroc....I mean, Cary Bates!

As for the character of Tyroc himself....I dunno, I never dis-liked him. He reminded me of Black Canary or Zatanna, another character who had to vocalize his super-power. I didn't think that was so bad. And the costume? Let's face it, the Legion had a lot of bad costumes in the Seventies. Tyroc's uniform isn't any better or worse than Saturn Girl's or Cosmic Boy's, is it?

Mike Grell seems to not have his heart in this story, but of course, who can blame him?
looks sufficiently heroic, especially in the full-page fly-in scene. In fact, he looks much better than the rest of the Legionnaires in this story.

Besides the inherent racism of the idea of Tyroc, this is just a stupid story. The crooks hid their jewels in the satellite (novel idea, that) but then the satellite that didn't work was never brought down or destroyed? And then, *coincidentally* it falls to Earth the day after the crook gives his dying confession about it. Uh-huh. When the Legionnaires are briefed on their mission, they head out to Marzal....THE NEXT DAY. What, they had something better to do?!? And once they get to Marzal, they can't find a lost satellite? Brainiac 5 should have been busy calculating the arc of its descent and guesstimating its location. Or, I don't know, Superboy could have scanned the whole island with his super-vision to find it? Then after all this trouble to find the jewels, Superboy simply throws them away?!

Come on, Cary, you can do WAAAAY better than this.

title: "1 + 1 = 3"
writer: Cary Bates
penciller: Mike Grell
editor: Murray Boltinoff

Mission Monitor Board:  
Duo Damsel, Bouncing Boy

The Rampagers, a gang of toughs  

On an afternoon walk in the park Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy are attacked by members of the Rampagers. Duo Damsel stops them, but not before one spikes her wrist with a poison ring. Bouncing Boy thinks they will attack again as Duo Damsel goes off for a drink of water. She collapses, and sure enough four more gang members menace them. Herded into a Ricochet Ball court, Bouncing Boy uses his knowledge of trajectories and ricochets to knock out two of the gang. Another Duo Damsel arrives, taking out another gang member. Taking advantage of their surprise,  Bouncing Boy knocks out the last one. Duo Damsel had split when she started to feel dizzy and "stayed back" in case she was needed.

This is the type of story that Cary Bates is very good at: relatively straight-forward drama featuring just a handful of characters. Bouncing Boy's feeling of inadequacy when compared to his super-wife is clear here, but then so is his boost in self-confidence when he is actually able to out-maneuver the bad guys. Duo Damsel, too, was sometimes shown to be lacking in self-confidence, but she is terrific here. They make a cute couple.

Science Police Notes:  
  • Although the satellite hid the stolen Zigel Jewels instead of its intended machinery, it was never brought down or repaired. 
  • The term "probe" is used throughout the story for something that was obviously a satellite. 
  • The satellite C-117 was originally in orbit along with Sputnik and the space station from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. 
  • In Tyroc's pre-recorded message to his people, he somehow knows that there will be four Legionnaires in their cruiser. 
  • The outfit Duo Damsel wears is very clearly an homage to the uniform worn by Sherry Jackson in the STAR TREK episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of."   
  • The Ricochet Ball court is mis-spelled as "Ricochete Ball."  
  • Neither Duo Damsel nor Bouncing Boy are wearing wedding rings OR Legion flight rings in this adventure. 
Reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives vol. 11 

This is the classic story that introduced Tyroc, aka Token Lad. He would eventually join the Legion in his next appearance.


  1. I've heard about this one for

    It makes you wonder just who thought all of this was a good idea. Yes, the Legion needed a black hero. But, did they have to go this route? I'm sure it was well-intentioned, but...sheesh.


    1. As a kid I thought it was nifty when Tyroc joined. But then a few years later when I went back and re-read this in my mid-teens I realized how stupid it was. Well-intentioned, yes, but stupid. OYUUUUU!!!