Tuesday, May 29, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #342

Adventure Comics #342 (March 1966)
title: "The Legionnaire Who Killed!"
writer: Edmond Hamilton
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: Sheldon Moldoff (pp 1-8) and George Klein (pp 9-17)
letterer: Vivian Berg (pp 2-8) and Milton Snapinn (pp 9-17)
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewers: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Michael "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board:  
Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Superboy, Saturn Girl, and the rest of the Legion of Super-Heroes

Guests: 
Dream Girl, Night Girl, and Polar Boy of the Legion of Substitute Heroes

Opponents: 
Kenz Nuhor, lack of imagination

Star Boy is itching to visit his parents at their stellar observatory on Karak, but before he can depart he participates in a review of Legion applicants. He ignores an opportunity to pass the time kissing other Legionnaires, as he still only has eyes for Dream Girl. 
Russell: The day began like any other. But by the end of it, two men would be dead, and another's life would change forever.
Also, totally not on-topic, but I wonder if the Kissing Computer teamed Light Lass & Shrinking Violet, and Element Lad and Invisible Kid? Or was that just a coincidence?
Mike: A kissing game? That's interesting. If you step back and think about how hormonal teenagers are in the real world, you can imagine this scene taking some interesting turns. But anyways, I know you probably want to keep this site at least PG-13 so I will move on! Fingers crossed for Element Lad and Invisible Kid though...

Among the Legion applicants we meet Color Kid and Calamity King. After all of the applicants fail, Star Boy heads off to help his parents move back to Xanthu. By the time he arrives on Karak, however, they have already left. Star Boy meets up with a surveyor named Jan Barth, who is using the Kallor villa on Karak as an air bnb. 
Russell:  I'm a sucker for "Legionnaires hang out and/or review new applicants" bits, so I love this. It also adds to the tragedy later when we see that Star Boy's day go so SO badly.
Mike: I love it too, but I think they are far too dismissive of Calamity Kid. His powers are very useful. Just get him to infiltrate a villain's secret headquarters and do his stuff. Problem solved!

Another personal cruiser lands near the site, and the occupant pulls a gun on Star Boy and Barth. He tells them his name is Kenz Nuhor and that he has come to kill Star Boy. He loves Nura Nal (Dream Girl) but she won't marry him because she loves Star Boy. Barth pulls out his gun to settle the matter but Nuhor shoots him in cold blood. Star Boy blasts Nuhor, but it hits his shield and bounces the excessive gravity wave back at Star Boy, incapacitating him. 
Another personal cruiser arrives on the scene. This time, it's Dream Girl who has come to talk to Nuhor to try to convince him not to shoot Star Boy. Star Boy grabs Barth's fallen blaster and shoots Nuhor with it, killing him.
Russell: I can't think of another scene in Silver Age comics that is more horrific....the HERO shoots and kills the bad guy. Wow. We are light ages away from Jimmy Olsen and his Superman Signal Watch shenanigans.
Mike: I do find it amusing that such a powerful moment arises out of such a petty grievance. But I totally support Star Boy here, Legion charter be damned.

Dream Girl has seen it all; she gives testimony as a witness that Star Boy shot Nuhor in self-defense. The Science Police clear him on all charges. When he returns to Legion head-quarters, though, he finds that they saw on the Mission Monitor Board that he killed Nuhor. Brainiac 5 as Legion Leader insists on a court-martial and expulsion. He assigns Saturn Girl as Judge. Superboy volunteers to serve as the Defense Attorney because he believes Legionnaires should have the right of self-defense. 
Russell: I can't begin to say how great I think this is. The hero has been exonerated by the police, but then the Legion feels morally bound to judge him against a HIGHER STANDARD.
Mike: I do appreciate the drama of the scene certainly, but I also cannot shake the feeling that the Legion is being far too strict here. Obviously, they do not want their heroes to take a life, hence the charter. But did they really not envision a self-defense exception? Or what if the only way to save another life was to kill? Imagine a situation in which only split-second thinking was allowed, and that was the choice.
Russell: Sounds like you would have made a better lawyer for Star Boy than Superboy was....!

The trial begins with Dream Girl's testimony. Then Brainiac 5 interrogates Star Boy. He confronts Star Boy with emotional stories of how other Legionnaires had faced death but had not killed. Then he shows that Star Boy could have caused an overlying tree branch to fall down on Nuhor instead of shooting him. Star Boy didn't have to shoot Nuhor. 
Russell: If the killing of Nuhor is a dramatic scene, then this one where Brainiac 5 forces Star Boy to face the reality that the killing was NOT justified is right up there with it. The lighting and expression on Star Boy's face in that last panel....here we have, after 30 plus years of comic traditions, a hero who did NOT do the right thing.
Mike: This seems very unfair to me. These heroes have to act in the spur of the moment, and throwing out examples of heroes saving themselves in other situations disregards the context of the moment Star Boy found himself. Certainly someone could sit back and analyze his situation when they had plenty of time and come up with alternatives. But that is not the same as Star Boy having to go through this at the time and having only seconds to act.

Star Boy is thrown in a detention cell. Dream Girl visits him, but refuses his request to look into the future to see the outcome of the court martial. 

Meanwhile Superboy stays up all night doing research on Legionnaires who faced life-or-death situations, including one video-log of Brainiac 5 shooting a would-be assassin to death. However, after this scene is shown to the court, Brainiac 5 reveals that the assassin was not a man but a robot. Superboy, dejected, asks for more time. 
Russell: How about Superboy bring up Computo, who did in fact kill atleast two people. The argument could be made that Brainiac 5 was directly responsible for those deaths? I would have liked to have seen the Legion argue that type of moral dilemma. Or how about Lightning Lad offering to take the witness stand and talking about how he came very close to killing the Moby Dick of Space? That would have been interesting, too.
Mike: I really appreciated Superboy's advocacy for Star Boy here. He is passionate in fighting for Star Boy, and his disappointment when his arguments do not work is touching. There is also something almost disturbing in Brainiac's "prosecution" here, especially in seeing it right after the Computo storyline occurred. That recent storyline added a certain level of darkness to his character, and the way he acts here adds to that, even if you view his position here as being on the more heroic side.

Superboy asks Proty II to pretend to be a deadly Saturnian Scorpion Beast, hoping that when he burst into the court-room one of the Legionnaires will attempt to kill him. Brainiac 5 realizes that the animal is not sweating acid, so he knows that the creature is really Proty. Superboy's plan fails. 
Russell: I object! (I've been dying to say that!) THIS is Superboy's defense, some half-ass "he did it too" argument and a "he would have shot a dangerous animal if he wasn't smarter than me!"?!? If I was the defense lawyer I would have argued about bad guys playing dirty and so the Legion has to atleast be able to consider lethal methods in dire situations. And how about some cases where Star Boy did NOT use lethal force? How about apologizing for a mistake and promising to get training to better understand his abilities, or something like that? This kid might be the greatest super-hero of all time, but Perry Mason he ain't.
Mike: True, Perry Mason, he ain't, but given some of Brainiac 5's recent behavior I can see why he might have thought this might work. I do wish we had seen a more cogent, practical argument put forth in Star Boy's defense because there are certainly ones to be made. We will get some acknowledgement of that shortly, but I wish it had been spelled out more.

Brainiac 5 sums up the Prosecution case by agreeing that the Legionnaires should rewrite the Constitution to allow members to use lethal force, but that request does not mitigate the fact that Star Boy broke the charter as it was currently written. Superboy, in his summation, asks for leniency. 
Russell:  How about all the times that Superboy, Mon-El, or Ultra Boy had shielded a Legionnaire from some ray blast? If one of them hadn't been there at those times, what would have happened?  These last few pages could have been a HUGE drama; instead we get Proty pretending to be a Saturnian Scorpion. Lost opportunity...sigh.
Mike: I do appreciate Brainiac 5's acknowledgement that Superboy was right that there needed to be a change in the code to allow the taking of a life in a case of self defense (and potentially other situations as well?), but some more depth or discussion would have been welcome. Once again, I think a story with much potential falls prey a bit to the standards of the time. I wonder how much of that had to do with the creators wanting to tackle a more mature topic but still feeling worried about the comics code and what was acceptable then? Perhaps that's why they wrapped things up so quickly and moved on to showing Star Boy still having to face the consequences of his actions.

When the voting ends, Star Boy is expelled 10-9. He walks off dejectedly into the arms of Dream Girl and the Legion of Substitute Heroes. 

Russell: I have to say, the appearance of Dream Girl and the Subs on the last page brings this tragic story to a somewhat acceptable conclusion. So Star Boy's career is "ruined" when he is expelled from the Legion; but wait, he gets the girl and some new friends in the Legion of Substitute Heroes. So he isn't disappearing from the Legion Universe completely. That's good.
And I *love* that comment about the next issue. Clearly, writer Edmond Hamilton was running on all cylinders here, inter-connecting all three stories into one long epic. Like I said before, this Legion series was something else!
Mike: Yes, having the Subs show up and welcome Star Boy was a nice ending that I found very touching. Especially since it leaves open so much potential for future storytelling, even without the small tease by Hamilton at the end.

Russell: Lastly, let's talk about how the Legionnaires voted. Right off the bat, I ask the Court to consider that the writer and editor didn't know WHO were in the Legion. As Exhibit A, I give you the Mission Monitor Board on page 2. It doesn't feature EVERY Legionnaire! Why in the world include it if it isn't going to show ALL the current members?  (In case you hadn't noticed, Supergirl and  Cosmic Boy are not listed.)
Mike: And don't forget Pete Ross!  Or have we started to move on from mentioning him already? It does not seem that long ago since Pete competed for Chairmanship of the Legion.
Russell: Star Boy is expelled at a vote of 10-9, so assuming Star Boy couldn't vote (would have been nice to see the question about that) there are 20 members. However, Jimmy Olsen is NOT a full-time member. He is a Reserve Member. If HE is allowed to vote, then why isn't Pete Ross asked to vote? Or Bouncing Boy, for that matter? Surely they would have made him a Reserve member after he lost his powers?
Mike: Duh, Bouncing Boy! I cannot believe I did not notice his absence. He was in the very last issue so I do not understand how he could be forgotten so quickly.

Russell: Anyway, here's how the voting played out.
Russell: Clearly this story was written by a man. Superboy mentions that the girl Legionnaires are on Star Boy's side because of his romance with Dream Girl, but if you recall, when Dream Girl was an actual Legionnaire most of the girls couldn't stand her.
I do like that Element Lad and Chameleon Boy both vote GUILTY. That goes with their overall characterizations as they were developed over the years. 
Russell: The interesting thing here is that best-buds Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy don't agree. Methinks Garth was in the minority when he, Rokk, and Imra wrote the initial Constitution. I would have liked a few scenes of friends discussing how they were going to vote. We *kinda* got something like that when Brainiac 5 went on trial for the death of the Infinity Man but it would have been great to see some of that here.
Russell: So we get powerless Jimmy Olsen, Matter-Eater Lad (who was made a fool of by Dream Girl in her debut, but had been friends with Star Boy before this), and Invisible Kid (a character I can imagine judging Star Boy badly for not having thought of another way to save himself) voting GUILTY. However, what if Jimmy Olsen wasn't eligible to vote? That would have made it a tie. Perhaps Star Boy would have been called upon to judge himself? That would have been interesting. (And yes, I know the writer/editor would have just switched some vote, or maybe forgotten Supergirl, but it's interesting to think about as if they were real people...!)
Mike: I was annoyed at Jimmy voting guilty of all people. Since he is a part-time superhero at best, it seems he of all people should not be so quick to judge. I thought it was nice that both Superboy and Supergirl voted not guilty, which emphasized their more compassionate sides.

Russell: I wonder if there was ever any back-stage repercussions for these votes? Did Sun Boy and Lighting Lad get into an argument about the way they voted, for example? When Star Boy returned, did he carry a grudge against Brainiac 5 or any of the other GUILTY voters? That would have made a good character bit.
Mike:  If this story had been published twenty years later, we would have gotten at least one issue of the characters thoughts and conversations leading up to the vote. And it probably would have been spectacular. That was the sort of thing the Legion did very well in the 70s and 80s.

And we leave you with this last bit of Legion Lore. On the letter page in this issue there was THIS bit of information:
So not only was Color Kid created by a fan (Jeff Greenberg of Los Angeles) but so was Porcupine Pete! I thought HE was created by Dave Cockrum, not David Krels of Milwaukee. How cool is that!? Are either of these two gentlemen still out there somewhere?

Science Police Notes:  
  • Star Boy becomes the first "real" Legionnaire expelled from the organization.
  • Color Kid makes his debut as an applicant for Legion membership. He would later join the Legion of Substitute Heroes. 
  • The Legion Constitution is amended sometime after this story to allow members to use extreme force in the line of self-defense. 
Status: 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 5 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 2.

Milestone: 
Star Boy is expelled from the Legion in this story and joins the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

7 comments:

  1. Most of what I'd say about this story has been covered by you guys, but I'd like to say that this story marks a definite maturation of the series. Even the Computo story, grim as it was in parts, had it's silly aspects like Bizarro-Computo and the Weirdo Legionnaire. None of that here. (Well, the Scorpion beast, OK.)

    As a modeler, I got a kick out of the use of a model as a plot point. But you hear all the time about people being killed by falling tree branches. And those tree branches aren't even made super heavy by Star Boy. I'm not convinced that Star Boy had an "out". I like Dream Girl's cape, worn in a few scenes here. Wish it had been part of her regular costume.

    The closing scene offers another of the Legion's Life Lessons. That when you're down and out, the possibility of redemption is right around the corner. The "teaser" blurb for the next issue was pretty intriguing as well.

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  2. Interesting that Superboy volunteered to act as Star Boy's defense counsel. One thing Superman has long been known for is his absolute refusal to kill under any circumstances; instances when he has killed (Doomsday, for example, or the Phantom Zone criminals in Byrne's run) are treated as a Big Deal. (Even Zach Snyder tried to create a "no choice" scenario for Superman killing!) Yet Superboy thought that Legionnaires should be allowed to kill in self-defense? Not that he doesn't have a valid argument, but it really seems like an "un-Superman" position to take. (I can imagine Hamilton's reasoning being that Superboy is just about the only Legionnaire that could convince some of the others just by nature of him being Superboy, but it makes an interesting comparison to how Clark is normally portrayed otherwise.)

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  3. Point of clarification, your honor. Bouncing Boy is not an honorary member, he is a RESERVIST. Maybe honorary members can vote, but reservists can't. Aren't the Subs ALL reservists by now? And, of course, our pal Kid Psycho? Pete Ross not voting could be explained by him being too busy back in the 20th century to watch the trial, maybe it was finals week or something.

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  4. The story was recapped in two pages in 1983 by Curt Swan with inks by Larry Mahlstadt. You can see it in my CAF. http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=885375

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  5. http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=885375

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  6. Yeah, I blame Jimmy Olsen. That seems fair.

    Excellent review, guys. This issue really does give a bit of a darker, more serious feel, even if the goofiness is still there in places. But I appreciate that it wasn't all wrapped up in a bow with the status quo reverted to normal at the end. That's one of the things I think the Legion books were able to do that you wouldn't see in the main Superman titles or whatnot. There are enough characters that bad things can happen to them "permanently" and it certainly makes for more story possibilities!

    Chameleon Boy kissing Light Lass at the beginning... did they ever have any other signs of potential interest? Just curious if the Chameleon/Spark romance in the Reboot series stemmed from anything here.

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