Tuesday, February 27, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #332

Adventure Comics #332 (May 1965)
title: The Super-Moby Dick of Space 
writer: Edmond Hamilton
artist: John Forte
letterer: Milton Snapinn 
editor: Mort Weisinger 
cover: Curt Swan and George Klein 
cover letterer: Ira Schnapp 
reviewer: Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board:
Brainiac 5, Colossal Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Sun Boy, Superboy, Ultra Boy

Dr. Lanphier

The Super-Moby Dick of Space

A giant creature disables a cargo ship and consumes the metal ore it was carrying. Lightning Lad hears the distress call but is skeptical that a creature as large as the one described can exist.

Garth quickly learns how wrong he is. He tries to stop it, but his bolts are reflected back at him. The beast projects a green poison that leaves his hand and arm in agonizing pain. The pain is so severe that he loses consciousness but he is just able to activate the automatic pilot to return to Legion headquaters first. Unfortunately, the doctor has no choice but to amputate his left arm.
Lightning Lad awakens and is pretty ticked off to discover that the creature cost him his arm. Saturn Girl tries to calm him, but he is too busy swearing revenge to hear her. Meanwhile, Superboy attempts to stop the animal but is unable to go near it, apparently because the creature has eaten some green Kryptonite. He visits Dr. Lanphier for advise as to the possible origins of the beast. 
The physician suspiciously declines to speculate as to its origins, but he does warn Superboy that the creatures potential for devastation is similar to that of Moby Dick of centuries ago. The government has offered a reward for its capture and a number of mercenaries accept the challenge. However, after their one lame attempt at capture failed, the mercenaries are never seen again. 
Dr. Lanphier asks the Legion to let him help because he feels responsible, which Brainiac 5 finds strange, but before he can finish his thought they are interrupted. Sun Boy has found a note left by Ultra Boy, who has gone to capture Moby Dick himself. Ultra Boy's strength proves no match for the beast and he ends up embarrasingly getting swallowed. Fortunately, his dignity gets salvaged when he notices a cavity in its teeth and strikes a nerve, which causes the animal to spit him out. 
Back at Legion headquarters, the team is about to launch a mission to stop Moby Dick, when Lightning Lad invokes Clause 14, sub-clause 8, which provides that in an emergency, whichever Legionnaire understands the danger will command. It is unclear how having lost an arm gives him any greater understanding of the creature, but the team seems to accept his logic, despite his clearly unbalanced behavior. Great move Legionnaires.
And way to tempt fate there Clark. Later, Saturn Girl and Superboy finally come to the realization that Lightning Lad has become so warped by his anger that he may break the Legion code against killing, and Brainiac 5 speculates that there was a concussive effect to his injuries that affected his mind. Meanwhile, Dr. Lanphier sulks alone in his room, feeling guilty that all of this is his fault. And he should feel guilty because we will soon learn that this is indeed all his fault.
Superboy and Colossal Boy sneak away from the team and track Moby to the asteroid Thanar. Seeing that its people are under attack, Colossal Boy tries to lead it into a trap set-up by Superboy. Sadly, their plan is foiled when Lightning Lad arrives in the Legion shuttle and distracts the creature before it enters the trap. Rather than seeing his mistake, Lightning Lad rips into Superboy and Colossal Boy for almost robbing him of his vengeance.
Later, Saturn Girl spies Dr. Lanphier making adjustments to Lightning Lad's robotic arm to give him more power. The team tracks Moby Dick to the World of a Hundred Moons, and they learn that Lightning Lad's new power amplifier in his arm will increase his power 100 times. Attempting to keep his teammate from becoming a killer, Superboy blocks the blast aimed at the creature.
Superboy is overcome by the Green Kryptonite influence of the creature and collapses.  The team distracts Moby and Saturn Girl discovers that Dr. Lanphier was stunned during the battle and is unconscious. The team refuses to follow Lightning Lad any further in his quest for revenge so he departs in a small space boat.
He finds Moby on the phenomenally awesome World of Dead Robots.  Shockingly, Lightning Lad does not kill the beast but instead uses his lightning to shrink it to a small size.  The Legion arrive and are surprised to find that Lightning Lad is much calmer. He explains that his rage had vanished when they left Thanar around the same time that Dr. Lanphier had made a confession.
The doctor had admitted that one of his experiments had changed the normally small creature into the giant Moby Dick they had encountered. He fixed Lightning Lad's arm to restore Moby but begged him not to share his secret until after they were successful. For reasons I do not understand, Lightning Lad agreed to keep the secret and also thought it would be helpful to continue acting like a bloodthirsty maniac. All is forgiven and the team visit Dr. Lanphier, where Lightning Lad learns that there are new medical techniques being developed that may someday restore his arm. Hooray!
First off, I should mention that this is one of the first Legion stories I ever read, thanks to a batch of cheap DC Archives that I stumbled on at a convention a long time ago. Having otherwise read a lot of DC Silver books by then, this story blew my mind. I could not imagine that a DC superhero had been allowed to lose a limb in a story in 1965 that wasn't an "imaginary tale."

Of course, I would soon discover that by this time the Legion had already shown a tendency towards character development and tragedy otherwise missing from most DC Comics of this era. In addition to Lightning Lad's injury and his disturbing descent into madness, we get to see a lot of action as various Legionnaires make their own attempt at stopping Moby Dick. Ultra Boy's was particularly fun not just because he was swallowed but also his creative use of dentistry to escape.

There is still certainly some Silver Age goofiness here. I still do not understand why Lightning Lad would agree to keep Lanphier's secret or why he felt the need to keep pretending to be mad. It seems much simpler and smarter to just tell the team he is back to normal and let them in on the plan. I also cannot buy into everyone forgiving Lanphier so quickly in the end. His experiment led to a great deal of destruction and chaos, and cost Garth his arm! If he had spoken up immediately, instead of hiding his secret and pouting, much of that could have been prevented.

Despite those flaws though, this was still a fun and interesting story, and not just because we get a cool glimpse at the World of Dead Robots.

This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 4 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 2.

Lightning Lad loses his arm in this story, the first time any Legionnaire was ever permanently (?) disfigured.


  1. The Legion Consitution seems to entirely consist of subclauses that only enable the least desirable action at any given point in time.

    For reasons I do not understand, Lightning Lad agreed to keep the secret and also thought it would be helpful to continue acting like a bloodthirsty maniac.

    I feel like every story in this era involves a Legionnaire pretending to be crazy and/or evil for poorly explained reasons.

    1. I think you just described 75% of Silver Age stories in that last statement.


  2. So, like... what happens if multiple Legionnaires think they're the one who best understands the situation? (How often do you think Brainiac 5 would say "yep, you know more about this than I do, you go right ahead and take command"?)

    There are super-heroes with some odd vulnerabilities. Superman and kryptonite, Green Lantern and yellow, things like that. Is Ultra Boy's being eaten by giant whale-like space creatures?

    1. "what happens if multiple Legionnaires think they're the one who best understands the situation?"

      Break out the Planetary Chance Machine!

  3. I love how the creature looks like the sea beasties from old woodcut maps. "There be dragons here!"

  4. That was one cool thing about Hamilton. He could create stuff like "Dead robot World" twelve times before breakfast.

    The "robot arm" was kind of a bummer. Surprised not to see it restored by the end of the story. Still he does get it back later. Hey, I wonder if George Lucas ever read this story.

  5. "Unfortunately, the doctor has no choice but to amputate his left arm."

    Um, kinda looks like his right arm to me...

    But yeah, one of the key defining elements of Silver Age DC stories was "one character, for absolutely no discernible reason, keeps a key fact secret for the entire story." So most stories rely on a variant of the Deus Ex Machina thingie.

    1. Oops. Lesson to self...next time be less specific in description to decrease the chances of screwing up.

  6. So the Legionnaires aren’t even allowed to kill animals(?)