Tuesday, May 8, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #339

Adventure Comics #339 (December, 1965)
title: "Hunters of the Super-Beasts!"
writer: Edmond Hamilton
penciller: John Forte
inker: Sheldon Moldoff
letterer: Vivian Berg?
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Lightning Lad, Superboy, Mon-El, Invisible Kid, Chameleon Boy, Saturn Girl, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Phantom Girl

The Heroes of Lallor (Evolvo Lad, Life Lass, Gas Girl, Duplicate Boy)

Beast Boy and his revolutionary animals: Dralgo, Vran, Flasher-Beast, Tork, Slith, Maw

At LSH head-quarters a group of Legionnaires respond to the Prowler Alarm. Each member rushes to their assigned posts. Brainiac 5 and Saturn Girl review the results, saying that everyone did a good job. Then the Science Police call, asking for all available members to go immediately to the jungle planet Vorn. Vorn is where many zoo animals are captured, so the Legionnaires are curious as to why they are being asked to go.

Once there, the people of Vorn's only city tell Saturn Girl and the other Legionnaires that the local animals are attacking them with, seemingly with intelligence. So the Legionnaires go to the hunting compound deeper in the jungle and the hunters there tell the same story. The Legionnaires decide to set up camp there. Saturn Girl assigns teams to go out and capture various animals so that Brainiac 5 can run experiments to see if they have enhanced intelligence.

Invisible Kid and Chameleon Boy team-up to capture a large fly-like creature called a Dralgo.

Star Boy and Colossal Boy work together to capture an alligator-shellfish amalgamation called a Vran.

Phantom Girl and Lightning Lad capture a Flasher-Beast but before they can return to the compound with it they are attacked by a horde of other Flasher-Beasts. Lightning Lad lets off wild lightning, calling for help. Superboy hears the lightning blasts and comes to the rescue. The three Legionnaires see for themselves that the animals are acting smarter.

Later, Brainiac 5 tells everyone that nothing he has seen suggests that the animals they captured had heightened intelligence. It's a mystery. That night, animals charge the compound to break their captured friends free. When the Legion tracks the animals they notice that one of the Flasher-Beast's tracks suddenly turn into those of a man. This reminds the Legion of Beast Boy, the Hero of Lallor who could turn into any animal he wanted to. Superboy flies out to Lallor to check up on Beast Boy and see if he can help them.

On Lallor, Superboy is distressed to hear that Beast Boy himself is probably the cause of the problems on Vorn. Evolvo Lad and Life Lass (or is it Gas Girl?) tell him how the average Lallorian treated Beast Boy with fear, making him turn against humans entirely. The last time Evolvo Lad and Gas Girl (or is it Life Lass?) saw him he was taking a rocket to live out his life with animals.

Superboy returns to Vorn with the bad news. Meanwhile, Chameleon Boy and Lightning Lad come across Beast Boy in the jungle. He vows to kill all the humans on Vorn.

The Legion commits to capturing Beast Boy before any other Vornians can be harmed. Saturn Girl tries to "feel" his mind but only gets a vague idea that he is in the northwest region. The Legion heads out on patrol, but Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5, and Chameleon Boy don't come back. Superboy refuses to let the others go with him as he heads out in the same direction as his missing friends. He trusts in his invulnerability.  

Superboy is caught by a Dralgo, but allows himself to be taken to its cave so that he can find his friends. He frees his three team-mates and then as they fly off Saturn Girl senses that Beast Boy is in the ruined city they are flying near. They see him, but he turns into a Vornian Mole to escape.

The Legion continues their search for Beast Boy. A few days later Saturn Girl senses Beast Boy's thoughts at the compound. She thinks that he has turned himself into one of the animals that hunters are shipping back to Earth. The Legion decides to escort the animals back to Earth.

During the trip from Vorn to Earth the hunters explain the animals to the Legionnaires. Suddenly, a meteor hits the ship and breaks the wall lining the containment area of the Volcano Beast. This animal needs methane to breathe, so the Legionnaires quickly convert one of their space-suits into a life-support apparatus for the Volcano Beast until Superboy can fix the hole in the space-ship.

On Earth, the animals are sold to the Metropolis Zoo, where a Flasher-Beast creates a hypnotic illusion of Superboy fighting Mon-El. Brainiac 5 realizes that it is an illusion before Beast Boy can escape. Beast Boy changes from a Tork into a Lightning Monster. Using its natural lightning powers, he frees four or five other animals. In the ensuing frenzy, Beast Boy is able to escape.

Later, posing as an average Earth dog, Beast Boy is treated nicely by an Earth girl, who gives him something to eat. He begins to soften in his hatred of humans when a Maw, one of the animals he helped to escape, attacks her. He fights off the Maw until the Legion arrives, but when they do they realize that he gave up his life to save hers. He dies a hero.

This to me is the line in the sand with the Legion in the Silver Age. This story still reads very much like a Silver Age story, what with Superboy doing most of the heavy lifting by saving his friends and being front and center. But at the same time, the plot and conclusion has a weight to it that would be more at home in a Marvel story in 1966.

First of all, the cover is a huge mistake. I wonder if editor Mort Weisinger decreed that it was time for another Legionnaire vs Legionnaire cover (there were several over the years) and when writer Edmont Hamilton got this be told Curt Swan to insert Beast Boy into the background. Speaking of Beast Boy, I wonder if Doom Patrol editor Murray Boltinoff asked Weisinger to kill off the Heroes of Lallor Beast Boy in order not to "infringe" on Gar Logan? Either way, not having an illustration of the Legion fighting various space monsters is a missed opportunity.

Once you get into the story, you immediately wonder who the Legion Leader is. Brainiac 5 was elected as Saturn Girl's replacement two issues ago (Adventure #337) but here Saturn Girl is still taking the lead. I wonder if these stories were not printed in the order that they were written?

And now we come to my biggest complaint about the story. Making Beast Boy "go bad" because people are afraid of him is a great idea, and DC should be commended for "muddying the waters" of what makes a true hero. On the other hand, when Superboy goes to Lallor to find out about Beast Boy, why in the world didn't any of Beast Boy's friends come back with Superboy to keep trying to reach him? I think after I read this story I began to think less of the Heroes of Lallor. Did they really just write off their friend so casually? Similarly, Star Boy and Invisible Kid were on the adventure where the Legion first met Beast Boy; they should have stepped up and tried to talk to the guy. Sure, DC didn't have that level of continuity at the time but it would have been nice if they had.

Speaking of Beast Boy "going bad," what exactly was his plan? It sounded like he just wanted to chase the few people remaining on Vorn OFF. Did he actually kill anybody? I don't think he did. Was he just bluffing? It seems like if the human inhabitants had left Vorn this whole issue would have been resolved. Of course,  THAT would not have been a Silver Age story.

Besides those few points that I think would have made the story even more emotionally strong, I really liked this story. Sure, the Legion was a bit incompetent (Phantom Girl couldn't turn intangible with her eyes closed? Chameleon Boy couldn't have escaped from the Dralgo? Brainiac 5 forgot he had a force-field?) but those are just plot contrivances. The underlying message that heroes are not always recognized for what they are is a great one.

I do like that the Legion works hard to save the life of the Volcano Beast, which does not breathe oxygen. I thought it would have been easier just to fix the hole in the ship than to create a unique space suit, though. The whole sequence reminds me somewhat of one of my favorite Legionnaires, Tellus, who also does not breathe oxygen.

This story was the last Legion adventure to be illustrated by John Forte. He had been fighting cancer for the last year of so of his tenure; he went into the hospital again shortly after completing this story and died less than six months later. If you compare this story to any earlier Forte work it looks more heavily inked than others. For example, the Superboy standing between Saturn Girl and the native Vornian hunter on page 8 (reprinted above) looks like it was not drawn by Forte at all.

Science Police Notes:  
  • The Heroes of Lallor originally appeared in Adventure Comics #324, whose cover is re-created on page 7 when the Legion talks about having met them.
  • There are two moons orbiting the planet Vorn.
  • Beast Boy Garfield Logan made his debut in Doom Patrol #99 (Nov 1965). He became a supporting character in that series immediately after that.  
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 4 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 2.

This issue features the death of Beast Boy in one of the first irreversible casualties of the series.
This issue is the last Legion story to be drawn by John Forte, who died on May 2, 1966.

1 comment:

  1. I hear you about the cover. Wasn't that a saying back then: "Covers always lie". I did find the conclusion touching and, like you, wondered if Beast Boy was killed off to "make room" for the other Beast Boy from Doom Patrol. By the way, "Beast Boy and his Revolutionary Animals" would be a great band name. The "Maw" always freaked me out. He's like the SNL "land shark" just an appetite on legs. And how does he stay so thin? What's his secret? And as you point out, this story marks the end of the Hamilton/Forte partnership. With Forte gone, Hamilton would not be far behind.