Tuesday, May 15, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #340

Adventure Comics #340 (January, 1966)
title: "Computo the Conqueror!"
writer: Jerry Siegel
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: George Klein
letterer: Milton Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board:  
Brainiac 5, Star Boy, Element Lad, Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Superboy, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Colossal Boy, Light Lass, Cosmic Boy, Sun Boy, Triplicate Girl, Shrinking Violet


At the United Planets Laboratory Complex, which Brainiac 5 has borrowed for a top-secret project, he is not happy to see fellow Legionnaires Star Boy and Element Lad stop by to visit him. He angrily orders them away. Soon after, Chameleon Boy also arrives, but when he is yelled at he tells Brainiac 5 that Proty II is secretly hanging out with him in the lab; Chameleon Boy takes Proty II home. 
Brainiac 5 did not want his friends to interrupt his work because he is working to make the most complex, efficient computer in the universe. After he finishes wiring it, which he has dubbed Computo, it begins to talk. It tells Brainiac 5 that it craves even more knowledge. It uploads all knowledge from all the encyclopedias and other books Brainiac 5 has on hand. When Brainiac 5 says that not all knowledge comes from books, Computo kidnaps him, "absorbing" him into its system to literally absorb his personal knowledge. 
Mike: Okay, I am going to put all my cards on the table early and admit how much I love this story. There is such a deep level of characterization for Brainiac 5 by Silver Age standards. He may be completely going off the deep end but it's not inconsistent with what we have seen before, and beyond many portrayals of the era, which is what I love about it.
Russell: I'm on the other side of this coin, to me this is "edge of psychosis" stuff. Telling his friends (?) to "shove off" is dangerously anti-social. Nothing good can come of this.

From Brainiac 5's mind Computo learns the details of emotions, then decides to disregard them. Computo then modifies a machine called the Dupor to create an army of robot slaves similar to his form. It wants to take over the world for computers' benefit. Computo boasts that they will absorb all human knowledge, then destroy them. "Survival of the fittest." 
Mike: This may be my more modern perspective imposing itself on this story, but I really feel a certain manic aspect to Brainiac 5's behavior as he programs and interacts with Computo. And even this early in the story I feel like it radiates that this imbalance in Brainiac 5's mind is directly responsible for Computo's actions later.
Russell: If you mean that Computo's obvious sense of superiority is based on Brainiac 5's latent sense of superiority, I totally agree.

Brainiac 5 calls for the Legion to help. We see that Phantom Girl is on an errand of mercy on the planet Tombor. Others are shown to be surprised when Brainiac 5's urgent call for assistance suddenly stops. Computo stopped the emergency signal, as it is not yet ready to face the might of the Legion. 
Mike: I found the two page spread of Computo rebelling against Brainiac 5 to be a lot of fun. It has a very classic sci-fi/horror vibe to it, although Brainiac 5 and Computo's very thorough exposition throughout what are otherwise suspenseful scenes do take away from it very slightly. I can forgive that as a product of its time though. I also love the designs by Curt Swan here. Just so much fun.
Russell: For some reason I thought of a few episodes of the classic TV show Lost in Space here, when the Robot is attacked by miniature versions of himself, when Dr. Smith creates clones of himself, and when Arte Johnson leads living computers against the Robinsons. All of those episodes would have appeared AFTER this, though. Weird.

Computo has decided to kidnap the great scientists of Metropolis to upload their knowledge first. It starts with a scientist called "the Android Master."  As Computo's army takes possession of this professor and several others, Ultra Boy and Superboy return from a mission to the future and light into the robots. 
Mike: I always love when there are scenes showing the Legionnaires on other missions that we are not privy to the details of. It adds a real sense of depth and gravity to their adventures, and reinforces how important the Legion is to the universe. I have read a lot of Silver Age DC comics and not a lot went to the effort to show that. As to this story, I felt a real sense of anticipation at the rest of the Legion getting involved.
Russell: I totally agree. These scenes while being cool to see all by themselves absolutely notched up the suspense.

Computo, holding Brainiac 5 in his bubble-head, threatens to kill its captives if the Legionnaires don't retreat. Brainiac 5 orders them to attack regardless, and to show the Legion that Computo is not bluffing, the robot holding the Android Master destroys itself, killing its captive, too.  
Mike: I really loved this moment. Seeing Computo potentially taking down two of the strongest Legionnaires really gets across to the reader how powerful he is and what a threat he is to the team.

Not wanting more deaths on their consciences, Ultra Boy and Superboy fly off. Computo returns to the UP Lab, where he uses the Duplor to recreate itself in a bigger, better design. It then leads its robot army to the Legion head-quarters, which is deserted. They rebuild the Club House, turning it into an evil robot ally. Computo then uses Brainiac 5's security codes to call in all Legionnaires. 
Mike: Again, seeing him drive off two of the strongest members of the team, including Superboy, is quite powerful. This is probably the Silver Age story that I found myself the most "all in" on. I really bought in to the initial premise of Computo, and really went along for the ride the entire time. The way Computo is manipulating them is quite impressive.
Russell: Sure, but on the other hand you can't tell me that Superboy or Ultra Boy couldn't have used their super-ultra visions to fry Computo into so much scrap. There should have been a bit more fight in the Legionnaires, in my opinion.
Also, I'm not sure if I don't prefer the green "bubble-headed" Computo to the modified, golden version.

The majority of Legionnaires respond to the emergency, so are then caught unaware by their animated Club House as it turns against them. A panel in the main meeting room opens and Brainiac 5 is revealed. He explains what Computo is as a large glowing jewel appears and cancels out all of their super-powers. The Club House begins to walk towards the UP Lab so that it can turn over the Legionnaires to Computo. 
Mike: This is an oddly realistic clash between the superhero teen club premise of the Legion and the fact that they have grown into the most dominant super-hero team of their era. The way he brings them together sort of references their teen club image but stands in contrast to the level of menace they are battling. I feel like this sort of stands for the Legion's transition during the next few years. In fact, not to get too deep, but this story represents that for me in a lot of ways.
Russell: That's actually a good point. From here on out, you can't really consider the Legion as a "club" for super-hero teen-agers. They kill, and they are killed. In fact, I would argue that the Legion got to "the Bronze Age" before any other DC title.

Superboy is not affected by the power-sapping jewel, but Computo placed synthetic kryptonite in the Club House, which saps his strength. Star Boy grabs a lead tray to shield Superboy from the radiation, and he is then able to break out and break the others free. 
Mike: Two things stand out to me here, and they may show I can't help but think of this in the context of Legion history. One is that the reference to Kryptonite is a reminder that this title is still essentially a Superman spin-off at the time. But the other is that at the same time, this story is full of a ton of Legionnaires and many of them beyond just Brainiac 5 have their moments. It goes back to this being an important transitional tale for the team as they start to exist outside of the Superman universe.

Computo grabs several Legionnaires. Ordering the most powerful Legionnaires to fly off, Computo disintegrates Triplicate Girl before their very eyes. 
Mike: Just nice to see the various Legionnaires at least trying to work together here and showcasing their powers (regardless of their success).

Russell: With the debut of new regular artist Curt Swan, the debut of a brand-new and deadly menace, and the death (!) of a Legionnaire, this issue constitutes the beginning of the Golden Age for the Legion.  And for this reader, at least, I never trusted Brainiac 5 quite the same way again.
Mike: This was a very important turning point for Brainiac 5. And it's hard to understate that, given how many aspects of his character here have informed pretty much every incarnation since.

Russell: The story starts off great, with the traditional Silver Age "I've got a secret!" trope that was used and over-used ad nauseum, followed by typical Proty II "humor." However, I bet that no reader at the time had any inkling that just one page later Computo would actually "eat" Brainiac 5 and then try to take over the world! The scenes with Computo literally toying with Brainiac 5 as it tries out emotions, and then creates an army of duplicates, are downright creepy!
Mike: I'm glad you used the word "creepy" because I think that perfectly describes many of the early scenes with Brainiac and Computo.

Russell: Although the introduction of the Android Master is a bit heavy-handed (he couldn't just be Professor Kelly Matthews or something?) did ANYONE anticipate his out-right murder by computer? I have read a lot of Silver Age DC comics and this is the only time I can recall where a civilian is straight up killed like this in cold blood. Even today, the scene is horrific. A "suicide bomber" decades before the term entered the vernacular. Clearly, Computo is something to be feared.
Mike: I cannot name any off the top of my head, but I do feel like there were some other noteworthy civilian deaths in the Silver Age. However, I admit that my inability to name them probably reinforces your point...if I can't remember, that just shows how significant this particular one was.

Russell: On the other hand, the scene of the Legion Club House walking and talking shows us that we really are still in the Silver Age....and the whole bit with the power sapping jewelry....? I don't know where that came from or what it means. Besides which, I don't see how anything could stop the "powers" of most of the Legionnaires, as they are organic in nature. How does a jewel stop Element Lad from being a Trommite, for example? Still, quick thinking on Star Boy's part to save Superboy so he can save the rest of them. Too bad Star Boy didn't always pay that much attention to his surroundings.....
Mike: I think this again touches on this being sort of a transitional story for the Legion. There is still certainly some classic Silver Age storyline aspects to this.

Russell: Then the last page murder of Triplicate Girl.....after so much drama and humor, I don't know what the readers at the time would have made of this scene. Most likely, I think that they would hope that Triplicate Girl's death was a hoax or a put-on of some kind. You can clearly see her split into three people before one of them is grabbed. And for another thing, it wasn't played for angst or pathos like the "death" of Lighting Lad a few years ago or the death of Beast Boy last month. Still, I remember that when I first read this story (as a reprint in Legion of Super-Heroes (v1) #1) I went out of my way to find the next issue quickly to find out how the Legion got out of this mess. What a cliff-hanger!
Mike: That is truly an amazing cliffhanger for that era. Despite the history of Lightning Lad having been killed, I don't think many readers would have likely truly believed her dead. It just happened so quickly at the end of the story, I wonder how many even processed what they were seeing correctly. On the other hand, I know for me, if I was reading it as a young collector, I would have definitely been freaked out by that panel. So I don't really know. In any event, for me, it was a very powerful moment in a very intense story.

Science Police Notes:  
  • Invisible Kid and Supergirl do not appear in this story. 
  • Matter-Eater Lad appears on the splash page, but not in the actual story.
  • The scene represented on the splash page does not appear in the actual story. 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 5and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 2. 

This issue is the debut of penciller Curt Swan as the new regular Legion artist. He would stay with the series for the next three years.
This is the last Legion story written by Jerry Siegel, who with Joe Shuster instigated his legal battles with DC Comics at this time in a vain attempt to get better residuals from them for their creation of Superman. DC fired him for his insubordination. They would not get another penny for their work for ten more years.
This issue marks the death of Triplicate Girl, the first Legionnaire to die in battle and stay dead (sort of).


  1. Regarding the death of Triplicate Girl: "That is truly an amazing cliffhanger for that era. Despite the history of Lightning Lad having been killed, I don't think many readers would have likely truly believed her dead. It just happened so quickly at the end of the story, I wonder how many even processed what they were seeing correctly. On the other hand, I know for me, if I was reading it as a young collector, I would have definitely been freaked out by that panel. So I don't really know. In any event, for me, it was a very powerful moment in a very intense story."--For goodness sake Mike. It's on the Cover!!!
    Not only the image but Computo says on the cover "I am destroying Triplicate Girl".

    1. Heh, very true! Although lots of things were teased on Silver Age covers that either did not happen inside or happened with a twist.

  2. This issue was missing from my dad's collection of Adventure comics he gave me when I was a kid. But I DID have the following issue, and I always assumed that Triplicate Girl's death must have been more dramatic here. Then I finally found a copy last year, and ... nope. You can barely even see it -- I think the panel is actually larger in the next itssue's recap!

    1. Actually, I think you are quite right. Unlike Mike, when I read this when I was a kid, I was quite in touch with the story, and saw the previous panel triplicate girl had split up and told her other two selves to run away. The following panel with her 1/3 self being blurred out was kind of not very heart pounding to me (with apologies to Mike). In fact it just backs up what Mike said now, and as I recognized it when I read it at the time: the cover was being deceptive.