Tuesday, October 10, 2017

TOS: Adventure Comics #314 Point-Counterpoint

Adventure Comics #314 (November 1963)
title: "The Super Villains of All Ages!"
writer: Edmond Hamilton
artist: John Forte
letterer: Milton Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board:  
Lightning Lad, Sun Boy, Brainiac 5, Bouncing Boy, Saturn Girl, Superboy, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Invisible Kid, Chameleon Boy, Shrinking Violet

Opponents: 
Alaktor, Nero, Dillinger, and Hitler (I'm not kidding)



A group of Legionnaires are verifying their club-house's security using a test robot. The door, the floor, and the time-bubble security all seems to be in fine working order. The Legionnaires then hold another set of try-outs, rejecting Ronn Kar (of Neptune) and Alaktor, a scientist with a Marvel Belt. Both are rejected. 
Russell: I've seen Ronn Karr quite a few times, but I never knew he was a Legion reject. Is this the secret origin of Flat Stanley?
I do like how the Legionnaires are testing their security devices. We will see this quite a few times during their history. I'm not sure if the writers wanted to make it look like the club-house was super secure, or open and welcoming. They seemed to change depending on the needs of the story.
Mike: Some design work I really love in these opening pages and some I hate. The robot they used to test the security system was very bland and dull, which is a shame because the strange robot and alien designs are one of the things I love about this era. But that costume of Alaktor, it's sort of awful, but also so awful I kind of love it. That color scheme should not work, and there are a lot of bizarre elements like that collar and that belt...the whole thing just comes together into such a crazy, ugly, perfect thing.

Alaktor is not unhappy to have been rejected, as his Marvel Belt was actually taking photographs of the Legion's club-house in order for him to sneak back in. When the four Legionnaires on duty head off to "Lost World," Alaktor sees his chance to break in and steal the Time-Bubble. 
Russell: I like that this story looks like it's going to feature these four Legionnaires. And then they go off to some mysterious super-scientific world where the people have died out. That's never not a bad thing.
And in case you missed that this is the Silver Age, Superboy informs you by saying, "To pass the time, we'll build a replica of our club-house here." Because, yeah, that's something you would do if you were on guard duty on an empty planet full of terrible weapons.
Mike: This is a great selection of Legionnaires for a story. And I absolutely LOVE that they felt the need to built a replica of the club-house. Now I want to imagine they do that everywhere they go and the galaxy is littered with them.

Alaktor goes back to 64 AD to find Nero, the most evil ruler of the ancient world. He saves Nero from his own angry people and scoops him up into his stolen Time Bubble. 
Russell: I love this page, not only because of the absurdity of Alaktor going back to Ancient Rome but because the Legionnaires are stymied, so decide to build themselves another Time Bubble. "Somebody stole my car!" "Well, I guess we'll just have to build another one and go after him!"
And they don't even call in Brainiac 5 to help them!
Mike: It seems really odd to me that they would only have one time bubble, particularly at this point in the Silver Age. Time travel is such an integral part of the Legion, and Brainiac 5 loves to show off his abilities so much, I would think they would have a room full of them. Especially if they are easy enough to construct that these four can just throw one together! Was that explained somewhere that I cannot remember?
Points for having Alaktor note that he is speaking in Latin to Nero. That is the kind of detail often missing from this era of comics. Usually, no matter what culture or time period, the time traveler is shown communicating without explanation.

As the Legionnaires frantically build themselves another Time Bubble in order to follow Alaktor back into the time stream, Alaktor appears in 1934, where he rescues John Dillinger from being caputred by the FBI and the local police. The Legionnaires complete their second Time Bubble and go after Alaktor, counting on Saturn Girl's telepathic abilities to "sense" him. 
Russell: I don't know what's more incongruous to me, the scene of the Legionnaires racing against "time" to build a second Time Bubble, or Alaktor and Nero watching John Dillinger slam his jalopy into a grocery store's wall.
Mike: Everything you just described is what is awesome about this to me. It is basically an evil version of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. John Dillinger is remarkably accepting of the whole time travel thing. When they explain themselves, he immediately buys in and hops on board. I know the police are closing in, but these are two guys who just appeared in a floating bubble above him.

The Legionnaires find Alaktor in 1944 as he picks up Adolf Hitler from Berlin. However, the Legionnaires are caught in an attack by the Allies' fighter planes, allowing Alaktor and his new friends to get away. The Legionnaires have no choice but to return to the future. 
Russell: I don't care who you are, if you say that John Forte is not a good artist just take a look at this panorama of Berlin in April, 1945.
I do wonder if Der Fuehrer would have had more to say than "I'll join you!" when facing a man in yellow and purple pant-suit hanging out with a dandy from America and an old man in a toga.
Mike: Completely agree on the art. That image of Berlin is amazing. Like Dillinger, Hitler is very quick to buy into time travel and unusually calm under the circumstances. In real life, yeah, his reaction would be quite different. I do not think Alaktor would get within twenty feet before being gun downed by those soldiers.
Still though...Hitler...this story is crazy...

Alaktor pilots the Time Bubble back to his era and to "Lost World," where they challenge Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy to surrender or die. They hide their identities from the three Legionnaires, and even Saturn Girl, who arrives to check in with her team-mates, can't read their minds. 
Russell: When I read this scene my first thought was, "Why go to so much trouble to recreate the cover scene!?" And then I remembered that during the Silver Age many times the cover was commissioned first, and then the story written to match it. Then the 30th Century light-bulb went over my head, and I realized why the boys built a replica of the club-house, and why the bad guys put masks on their faces.
It is a bit odd that Saturn Girl doesn't recognize Hitler, Dillinger, and Nero, though. She just saw them escape Berlin a few thousand years ago!
Mike: I know I have read this story before because I have owned the DC Archive for a decade or so, despite forgetting it. But looking at these panels now, with the villains confronting the Legion, I cannot image how this one could have slipped my mind. As weird as this story is, having Hitler among the historical villains does add a certain...I am not sure the best way to describe it...but I guess I would say a certain "weight" to the story. I did find myself engrossed in what was happening.

Alaktor knows that the machines on "Lost World" were built by scientific geniuses, so his plan is to use these tools as weapons to take over the universe. But first, he uses his most evil device, the Psycho-Changer, which allows the three evil personalities of Nero, Dillinger, and Hitler to be swapped into the bodies of Mon-El, Ultra Boy, and Superboy. 
Russell: I don't think there is anything scarier than the idea of Hitler's brain in Superboy's body.
Mike: How did I forget this story?? Nothing shows the disconnect between Superman and Superboy's adventures more than Superman not ever referencing the time he was possessed by Hitler.
As for Alaktor being betrayed, how could he have ever guessed that Hitler, Dillinger, and Nero might not be trustworthy?

Saturn Girl calls in the other Legionnaires. When they go to "Lost World" expecting to find Alaktor and the three evil men from history they are shocked to realize that their friends' bodies have been taken over. Saturn Girl stalls for time as Sun Boy and Lighting Lad try to ambush their friends. 
Russell: I like this scene where Ultra Boy, Superboy, and Mon-El are blown away by the weather machine. I do wish that the Legionnaires had fought each other a bit more, though. That would have been high drama indeed!
Mike: You are right that not having a greater battle was a missed opportunity. But this story has already been quite long at this point with a great deal happening so I guess they needed to move it along.
And that panel of Mon-El declaring "Hitler's right!" A small moment, but just seeing those words together jumped out at me as something so very, very wrong.

Overwhelmed, the Legionnaires escape as Nero, Dillinger, and Hitler make Alaktor tell them how to use the weapons on the deserted world. Saturn Girl leads Invisible Kid, Shrinking Violet, and Chameleon Boy back to try to disable the terrible weapons, but the evildoers catch the pseudo-Espionage Squad before they can do any damage. 
Russell: This was the one bit that I can't decide if I like or not. On the one hand it's clever to try to sneak in and destroy these weapons. Saturn Girl is smart to think that muscle will never defeat the three boys. On the other hand, as soon as Hitler, Dillinger, and Nero catch the Espionage Squad why don't they simply kill them? I mean, these guys are Evil. It doesn't make sense for them to not "execute" Cham and Invisible Kid, especially, and possibly saving Violet for some worse fate.
Mike: Yeah, the real historical figures would not have hesitated to just execute them on the spot. I do not think they would even save Violet for anything. They would all be dead. But, you know, 1960s Silver Age! I did enjoy the "pseudo-Espionage Squad" lead up though.

Hitler and the others realize how to move the planet, and they head directly towards Earth. Saturn Girl then sends a mental suggestion to each of the men to use their weaknesses to try to become absolute rulers. Dillinger Ultra Boy grabs some lead to poison Nero Mon-El, who grabbed a kryptonite ray to kill Hitler Superboy, who was using a radioactive gun on Ultra Boy. Weakened, Saturn Girl forces Alaktor to switch the boys back into their own bodies. The Legion returns the historical figures to the past, and "Lost World" is left hidden in a cosmic cloud.  
Russell: In typical Silver Age fashion, the story is wrapped up in less than a page! Saturn Girl is some leader; she figures, again, that the Legion can't defeat Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy so she uses her telepathic powers to edge them on to defeat themselves. I do wonder what kind of punishment Saturn Girl set for Alaktor. He must have learned his lesson, because he never came back. Nor, luckily, did the silly "Lost World" concept!
Mike: She does have a point in that Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy is a formidable group. If someone did a modern take of those heroes being possessed by Hitler, Dillinger, and Nero? Well, its probably for the best that will never happen because it would be incredibly dark and disturbing.
The ending was wrapped up quickly, but I like whenever Saturn Girl gets the opportunity to take a leadership role and save the day.

Russell: One last thing before we go. I can't not re-print and comment on the best panel of the issue: See how shocked and hurt Alaktor is as soon as his would-be cronies receive their super powers and turn on him. Classic Silver Age villain!
Science Police Notes:  
  • John Forte signed his art on the main splash page.  
  • Nero fled Rome in late May 68 AD when he faced rebellion, and killed himself on June 9 68 AD. 
  • John Dillinger was killed by police on July 22, 1934 after watching the Clark Gable-William Powell-Myrna Loy movie Manhattan Melodrama
  • Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. 
Status: 
This story has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol. 2 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 1.

7 comments:

  1. I, too, always found the "duplicate club-house" thing kind of funny. And it always struck me that Dillinger didn't quite measure up in terms of sheer badiness to Hitler and Nero. Maybe Caligula would have been a better choice but then they would have had two ancient figures. Or they could have gone with the famous, famous, fictional trope and invented, say, a twenty-third century bad guy who would rival Hitler and Nero. Taking that concept a step further, it would have been cool if the Legion recruited not just from many worlds, but many eras as well, other than just the Kryptonian cousins, of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The "Legion of Other Eras" concept might work in today's market, since fans are savvier and more aware of past heroes. But I don't think it would have worked in 1963. Plus, many superheroes then were "mystery men", guys who put on costumes to fight crime but had no powers other than a good right hook, and the Legion requires super-powers.

      Delete
  2. Throughout Mort Weisinger's reign as editor of the "Superman Family" comics that I've seen, John Forte was 1 of 4 artists who got to sign his work, the other 3 being Jim Mooney, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Pete Costanza; the major Superman artists of the '50s and '60s--Curt Swan, Al Plastino, and Wayne Boring, never were allowed to.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yeah, Emsley, Dillinger was an odd choice--I think that Stalin, who has been rumored to kill 20 million Soviets, would have been a good one, too.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Did Chuck get to do anything in this issue?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bouncing Boy is shown helping to build the second Time Bubble, and he goes with the other three Legionnaires into the past, but then disappears when they return to their present.
      So NO, not really.

      Delete
  5. This was one of the first Legion stories I read as a child. (relative had piles of 60s comics which I freely availed myself of!) At the time I thought Hitler's response to Alaktor was somewhat out of character-a little too passive, but they only had a limited number of pages, the historical characterisation couldn't be too nuanced I suppose!

    And yes, Dillinger is rather out of place in that historical villain trio. He's pretty obscure nowadays, though he must have been famous at the time this was written. But a gangster is pretty small beer compared to two notorious dictators. Can't help but feel they might have come up with a better third villain though I don't know who.

    Interestingly Nero and Hitler's fates mirror each other, they both commited suicide as their enemies were closing in. "what an artist dies in me!" Some modern historians have tried to argue that Nero wasn't that bad and that most of what we have on him is written by his enemies which is true...but you're not going to get that kind of historical nuance in the early 60s.

    This is a very silly story. Even with Hitler in it.

    ReplyDelete