Tuesday, September 12, 2017

TOS: Adventures Comics #310 Point-Counterpoint

The Legion of Super Bloggers Point-Counterpoint Review of
Adventure Comics #310 (July 1963)
title: The Doom of the Super-Heroes
writer: Edmond Hamilton
penciller: John Forte
letterer: Milton Shapinn
cover: Curt Swan and George Klein
editor: Mort Weisinger

Mission Monitor Board: Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, Invisible Kid, Lightning Lass, Shrinking Violet, Star Boy, Superboy, Star Boy, Sun Boy, Triplicate Girl, Ultra Boy 

Opponents: Mask Man

Synposis: After the Legion undergo their annual re-dedication ceremony, they are attacked by a new villain, Mask Man. He can duplicate all of their powers and quickly decimates the team, killing several members. The Legionnaires track the villain to Doll World, but only lose more members. The team flees to a planet nearby to build a defensive citadel, but Mask Man continues to strike down more Legionnaires. Finally, the last surviving Legionnaire, Superboy, realizes his amazing powers must be due to magic and learns the secret of defeating the villain and restoring the Legion to life.

Chameleon Boy and Sun Boy are hard at work checking and cleaning the "rocket tubes" while Braniac 5 and Saturn Girl are inspecting their "flying belts." Cosmic Boy completes his overhaul of their weapons just in time for the rest of the Legion to arrive for their annual re-dedication ceremony.

Mike: That is a great splash page. The idea of using a spinning wheel was creative, although designing it to resemble a ship's wheel seems an odd choice. And hey, is that Star Boy? That is all we are going to see of him in this story.
I enjoyed seeing the Legionnaires hard at work. In comics of this era, it was rare to see heroes handling the less glamorous aspects of their job. Marvel had started that a bit but it still was not common. Also, I wonder if they were trying to relay a bit of a message to young readers like "see kids, everyone has to do their chores!"
Russell: I agree, this is a great start to this story. The splash page especially I would study for hours, trying to memorize all of the Legion members. The only problem is, these aren't all the members. Yeah, it's great that Star Boy is finally remembered, but where's Mon-El, Matter-Eater Lad, Supergirl, and Phantom Girl? Hello!?! Nobody at DC had a master list of Legionnaires? Or is this supposed to be symbolic? But...Mon-El is IN the story, and Star Boy isn't??? 

Superboy arrives just in time for the ceremony. Afterwards, the team receives an emergency call of a masked raider using super-magnetic powers to loot Metropolis. Superboy and Mon-El are the first to arrive, but the heroes find more resistance than they expected. The villain, Mask Man, quickly demonstrates that he possesses all of the powers of the Legion. Superboy uses his x-ray vision to see that Mask Man is secretly wearing stilts to conceal his identity. The hero uses his heat vision to burn away the stilts, and the team realizes he is only a midget in size. Mask Man is angry at being made a laughing stock and swears vengeance.

Mike: The story moves fast here and the moment when Ultra Boy loses his life is very sudden. Considering Legion was one of the few superhero comics of this era to have members die, I have to think this was very shocking to young readers. 
Really torn on Mask Man's design...in concept, a black costume and metal mask sounds like it would be great, and certainly unique for the time period. But the final product...meh
The way they emphasized his midget size also has not aged well, particularly how he seemed humiliated over their discovery. It is mitigated a bit though when it is later revealed that this was meant as a clue to his identity.
Russell: I thought the first "meeting" between the Legion and Mask Man was weak. This is the Legion of Super-Heroes, and they barrel out like a bunch of amateurs. I know it's the point of the story, but seems like there should have been a bit more of a battle here. 
I *was* shocked when Ultra Boy died. I mean, clearly, I had read stories featuring him that occurred after this, but I was still taken aback. 

The team lays Ultra Boy to rest and then holds a tense meeting. Brainiac 5 surmises that Mask Man must be from the one world where people are as small as him, the so-called Doll World. The team selects three members to search for Mask Man because they will not stand out, Chameleon Boy and Shrinking Violet because they can mimic the smaller stature of the natives, and Invisible Kid because, well, it's obvious why he was chosen. 

Mike: So Doll World is the only world where people are the size of a little person?  Oooookay. I did like seeing them lay Ultra Boy to rest, it lent to the feeling that this was a real death and not something that would be reversed shortly. The sense of urgency in their meeting added to the suspense.  But that moment when Superboy stands up and shout's "to the Doll World!" just took me right out of the story and made me chuckle.
Russell: The lightning and thunderstorm make me think of a old-fashioned horror movie...which I guess is the intent, as this story does seem to turn into a "Ten Little Indians" type scenario.
Funny how Shrinking Violet's planet of "little people" wasn't even mentioned.
Chameleon Boy and Shrinking Violet enter a city and began asking questions. No one has heard of a "Doll-Man" with strange powers but they are referred to Ak Aru, a scientist who is known as the wisest of their people. Shrinking Violet goes to meet the famed scientist and discovers that he has been tied up and replaced by Mask Man.

Mike: Doll World just did not work for me in this story. It is otherwise such a dark tail that the concept stands in too much contrast to everything else that happens.
This page did contain one of my favorite Silver Age tropes though of someone wearing their mask underneath another disguise. Batman did it all the time back then, so why not Mask Man?
Russell: That's the point I was going to make, too! Here is this Ferro Lad type bad guy and ON TOP of his lead face plate he wears a mask that looks realistic enough to fool a Legionnaire. Hmmmph.
As for the tonal shift, it's almost like this story should have been called "Murder on Doll World!" Very odd juxta-positioning of mayhem and candyland houses.

Mask Man uses his super-lightning to strike and kill Shrinking Violet. Chameleon Boy finds her body and goes to reunite with the other Legionnaires. The team thinks they see the pair approaching but Bouncing Boy realizes it is not Chameleon Boy holding her body, but Mask Man. The villain reveals that he used his element-changing power to turn the air around Chameleon Boy to poison, choking him to death.

Mike: On the one hand, these moments are fairly startling, having two more Legionnaires dispatched so quickly. On the other hand...its almost too much. It is one thing for a single member to get killed. But once you have three die in such a short time I imagine it became obvious to even young readers at the time that there had to be some sort of reversal coming.
Something that did impress me though was the brutal nature of these deaths. Violet gets electrocuted and Cham essentially suffocates. For a 1963 comic about teenage superheroes that is pretty dark.
Russell: This is where the story started to break down for me, too. It's one thing to try to pretend to be Chameleon Boy (clever, that) but really, how would Mask Man *know* where the other Legionnaires are? Because Silver Age Comics.
As for the deaths, I half-wondered if the writer was picking the characters that he considered expendable to kill off. After all, Ultra Boy still hadn't shown any other of his ultra powers besides Flash Vision. Maybe the editor was trying to get rid of the less interesting members? Then I remembered that Vi, Cham, et al didn't stay dead. Oops!
Mask Man attempts to project a telepathic command to Saturn Girl to kill herself, but Superboy orders Brainiac 5 to knock her unconscious so she is not able to receive it. None of their powers appear to harm Mask Man and he flies away, laughing as Superboy throws rocks at him. Superboy reveals that those rocks were radioactive and they can use Brainiac 5's radioactive compass to track the villain. The team pursues in two ships but an asteroid suddenly appears and one of the ships crashes into it, killing Triplicate Girl, Element Lad, and Phantom Girl among others. The team lands on a nearby planet and builds a fortress from which to defend themselves.

Mike: Mask Man's attempt on Saturn Girl's life was one of the more interesting methods he used. Superboy's solution was clever but seeing Brainiac 5 punch Saturn Girl in the face was a bit startling. Although the fact that he did not hesitate for even a second is pretty consistent with his character. The three deaths due to the asteroid were certainly the least interesting, being too quick and easy a way to take three more Legionnaires off the table.
The team built that fortress amazingly fast. I could almost hear the MacGyver or A-Team montage music in my head as they were putting it together.
Russell: That scene with Saturn Girl is down-right chilling. The idea that Mask Man would telepathically order her to kill herself....brrrr. Then the idea that Brainiac 5 would do exactly as Superboy suggests without questioning it, that was awesome. 
And the crashing space ship kills more than those three, Mike. The caption says "...and the others." So that's where Star Boy went. Weird how Superboy and Mon-El were both in the same cruiser, though. You think they would have been on separate teams. "I pick Superboy." "Okay, fine, then I'll pick Mon-El." Bouncing Boy is always chosen last? 
Their new base is near the Mount Rushmore of Space, a group of asteroids on which the faces of various famous people were carved. While Brainiac 5 tries to find a scientific way to neutralize Mask Man's abilities, the villain uses his reverse magnetic power to push the metallic asteroid monuments toward the planet. The citadel is bombarded and the team tries to use their abilities to either destroy or turn away the giant rocks. One of the rocks strikes and kills Colossal Boy. Elsewhere, Brainiac 5 discovers the body of Cosmic Boy, and the team realizes that Mask Man is inside the citadel.

 Mike: Although I already had mixed feelings by this point, this was a favorite moment. It had a very "the calls are coming from inside the house" horror film vibe to it when they found Cosmic Boy's body and realized Mask Man was inside. 
Russell: At this point I realized that something was definitely up. Up until this point in every story I had read the Legion took care of every menace they faced with very little problem. Now they are bleeding members left and right. Mon-El and Superboy couldn't stop a simple asteroid attack? Come on! Someone is clearly playing with us. Hey, wait....

Mon-El notes that Mask Man bragged that he had all of their powers, which means one of them could be the villain in disguise. Superboy suggests they stay in pairs or groups so no one will be taken by surprise. Brainiac 5 returns to his lab to work out a defense and Saturn Girl accompanies him. Someone enters off panel and Brainiac 5 shouts that one of the Legionnaires really was Mask Man. Before we can see who it was, the villain causes the chemicals in the lab to explode, killing both heroes. Mon-El and Superboy find their friends' bodies and also discover that Lightning Lass and Invisible Kid have been killed. Mon-El soon follows.

Mike: They are just dropping like flies now! If I was a young reader at the time I think I would be expecting that this would all turn out to be either a nightmare someone was having or some sort of simulation the team is watching.
Russell: For sure. The writers aren't even trying any more. "Here's some other dimensional metal that is fatal to you, haha!" Really?! 
Superboy notes that Mask Man used an element from another dimension to kill Mon-El, which suggests that his powers must be magical. He hopes that a reversing instrument built by Brainiac 5 will stop him. He tracks Mask Man to a planet surrounded by eight moons that are each covered by a giant letter. The letters spell out M-X-Y-Z-P-T-L-K and Superboy learns that Mask Man is a descendant of that imp from the 5th dimension. Mask Man scoffs at the machine the hero brought, and says his name backwards thinking it has been programmed to reverse what he says. But Superboy burned the wiring so it turns out that Mask Man doomed himself after all. He vanishes back into the 5th dimension. This reverses everything he has done and restores the Legionnaires to life.

Mike: Huh. Despite being a big Superman fan, Mxyzptlk was never one of my favorite villains. Having his descendant be Mask Man made some sense within the story and certainly explained a great deal, but I was still disappointed. Like many Mxyzptlk stories, the resolution of how Superboy defeated him was a bit too clever.
This story is a reminder that the Legion at this time were still firmly part of the Superman family and were a ways off from branching off to become their own thing.
Russell: By this point I was just happy for this story to end. My biggest gripe with this story, besides the fact that it ends up having absolutely no point whatsoever, is that we never learn why Mxyzptlk showed up in the first place. Hiding his face behind a mask is not really his style; spelling his name out in moons is. So why was he Mask Man? Why not just show up as Mxyzptlk? Anyway, I guess I'm asking too many questions. This is a forgettable story (literally) so let's move on to something better...

Science Police Notes:  
  • Although shown on the splash page, Star Boy is not featured in this story. Mon-El is in the story, but is not featured on the splash page. And Matter-Eater Lad, Phantom Girl, and Supergirl are neither featured on the splash page OR shown in the story. 
This story has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol. 2 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol 1.


  1. Well, the "Mask Man" persona was a nice bit of misdirection, not just for the readers, but for the Legionnaires themselves. But what I always found wrong with the story was that no one except Superboy remembered, not even Mon-El who is just as mighty. Also, I feel that the story is more than a bit of a "cheat" because Mr.M's magic doesn't work that way in the main Superman line. The effects of his magic go away but people remember that he was there. It would have give the story a real dark twist if they'd all remembered their own deaths.

    1. Of course it was only Superboy who reasoned it out. He had the most experience with Master Myxysptlk. Mon-el? He was in the material world for a few days in the 20th century and certainly never met the imp.
      As for the effect of the magic and people forgetting, nobody could keep it straight. Some stories had it one way and other stories another way.
      As for his motives: Why steal stuff from Metropolis when he could have used his magic to conjure it? The whole thing was a game for him. He was cosplaying as a super villain. That was why he claimed his powers were the combined powers of the legion (though he kept adding new ones). Why do it a all? He was BORED. It was a new way to relieve boredom, just like in the very last Superman story when he decided to be evil and killed all of Superman's friends.

  2. Chameleon Boy, Shrinking Violet and Invisible Kid heading off together on s mission, chosen because they wouldn't stand out? Is this the initial inspiration for the Espionage Squad?

    1. It might have been, but they all forgot it! ;-)
      Don't worry, they team up again here pretty soon!

  3. I never read this one, but I did read the Adult Legion story from previously that had descendants of Lex and Mxy join the Legion after helping to defeat the Legion of Super-Villains (actually one of my first stories, I believe... the local comic shop we had at the time had a box of free comics and there were a LOT of old Legion stories in there, so that's how I became acquainted). Back to the story here, as soon as I saw the "Oh, he's shorter than he appears!", my first thought was Mxy

  4. As a child, my first introduction to the Legion was a series of digest-sized reprint collections that included this tale. Interestingly, having only seen this story in color in those reprints (I also have it in the b&w Showcase collection), I am only now discovering that the reprints contained a number of...miscolorings? Recolorings? To wit, in the reprint editions, Mask Man's mask was bright yellow as opposed to gunmetal grey, and the Legion spacecraft were candy-apple red!

    That said, this was easily my favorite of the stories in those digest Legion reprints. Five-year-old me wasn't yet familiar with the super-hero death reversal trope, and found genuine tension in the conga line of death the Legion danced to Mask Man's grim tune. As compared to the goofy Superboy tales I'd been reading at the time (had some digest-sized reprints of that stuff, too, reprinted separately from the Legion material they originally shared space with) this seemed like serious stuff with actual consequences, and the way Superboy managed to get all the deaths reversed at the end seemed less a cliche restoration of the status quo and more the Legion managing to escape their total obliteration by the slimmest of margins. The stuff ripping funnybook yarns are made of! Ah, though years of increasing enfranchisement with the genre washed away my naivete, I've never really shaken my more favorable interpretation of this story.

    By the way, what happened to Bouncing Boy? We know he wasn't on the Legion Cruiser that got asteroided, because we see him helping to build the citadel (also, this story was where I first learned the word "citadel," comics are great for literacy!), but we never find out the nature of his gruesome demise. In my headcanon, Mask Man secretly killed and replaced BB before the team left Doll World, and maintained that form until killing and replacing Invisible Kid after the Citadel was done. That, at least, is more satisfactory to me than the notion that Hamilton either forgot BB was there in the first place, or decided that the character wasn't worth devising a gruesome super-death-scene for.

    Long live the Legion!