Tuesday, September 18, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #357

Adventure Comics #357 (June 1967)
title: "The Ghost of Ferro Lad!"
writer & layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inkerGeorge Klein
letterer: Milton Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage, Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane, and Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knol

Mission Monitor Board:  
Cosmic Boy, Princess Projectra, Sun Boy, Superboy, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl....and Ferro Lad?!?
Cameos by Mon-El, Duo Damsel, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Lightning Lad, and Light Lass

revenge-seeking ghost or......?!?

On Shanghalla, four Legionnaires arrive to pay their respects to their lost companion, Ferro Lad. While they are off-Earth, a "strange object" flies to Earth and plants itself in the Master Control Panel in the Legion Club-House. 
Russell: This is one of my favorite Legion stories, because as rare as "real deaths" are in comics, even more rare are any situations where the characters FACE the consequences of death. Is this the first time comic characters are facing survivor's guilt? I think so.
Mike: Very true, and another example of Shooter taking a more Marvel-like approach to the Legion. And its especially unusual for Superman/Superboy at this time. The scene of them going to lay the wreath at his grave was also a nice touch...very moving.
J: My brain loves playing with time travel and the vast breadth of the DC Universe, so I wonder if Superman ever brought up this survivor's guilt during a visit to Sanctuary.* (see: Heroes in Crisis, in stores 9/26! -AK).

When the four Legionnaires return they break up to go their own way. Superboy enters the Ferro Lad Memorial hall. He remembers that Ferro Lad stopped Superboy from delivering the absorbatron bomb into the heart of the Sun-Eater. 
Russell: This one panel of Superboy feeling survivor's guilt is worth the price of admission. Even if we agree that part of what he is feeling is being manipulated, it still feels "true." Also, check out adorable little Pol, future Legionnaire.
Mike: Lately, I've felt like several times when the story focused on Superboy or elements of his universe, it has represented a step backwards for the Legion. It sometimes means the story is going to lean more towards the silly, Silver Age oriented tales of the past. But not here. Here it's very powerful to see him experiencing so much guilt and regret, and it's very in keeping with the growth in Legion stories that we have seen over the last year.
J: I'm curious to know long after Ferro Lad's death these events take place. Has Superboy already gone home and had to live his "normal" teenage life, day-in, day-out, with this burden? Anyway, it's very reassuring to know they'll still have music tapes in the future.

At Cosmic Boy's home he hangs out with his younger brother Pol playing Magno Ball but his mind is elsewhere. That night, he dreams that Ferro Lad blames them for his death. He wakes up at 3 AM with an urgent summons from Sun Boy. 
Russell: This scene, on the other hand, seems a bit more "comic-booky." And...why is Ferro Lad's ghost green? I thought bronze turned green, not iron. And....don't Cosmic Boy's parents know that the Sun-Eater just killed Ferro Lad after threatening the whole universe? They seem totally clueless.
Mike: When I first read it I kind of assumed maybe he did not tell them, but given how famous the Legion is, it's hard to imagine they would not have heard. So that does make them seem a bit callous in their attitude.
J: Parents just don't understand. But again, how long after Ferro Lad's death does this occur? Teenage boys have countless reasons for their minds to wander. Not shown here: Rokk's dad tells his wife that when he was a young boy staring off like that he was thinking of her. Aww!

They rush to the Club-House to find that the nuclear generators have been drained and Superboy fighting off flying objects. Three of four Legionnaires are knocked out, then the two main generators collide with each other. Cosmic Boy's magnetic shield saves their lives, but the hall is destroyed. Etched on the wall is a ghostly message. 
Russell: I like the bit where various random items are knocking the Legionnaires around. They are four of the most powerful heroes in the galaxy, but don't know what to do when faced with the Unknown.
Mike: It felt to me that they went down a bit too easy. But I did like seeing Projectra use that gun...she was blasting away in almost every panel.
J: Seriously, is gun training part of the Legion protocol, or is she just a natural crack-shot? Seems like Cosmic Boy could've just shielded them all in the first place, but oh well. That pained expression on his face as he crawls away is fantastic.

Millions of miles away, Saturn Girl picks up an urgent summons from Superboy, so she and Brainiac 5 urgently return to Earth. When they arrive, Brainiac 5 at first thinks that the others are kidding, but Saturn Girl telepathically tells him that they are serious about their fears. Brainiac 5 starts to analyze the problem, and Superboy takes offense at the word "murder" that he uses. 
Russell: Jim Shooter really put this story together well. He has the four "victims" having to explain themselves to the most logical members, Saturn Girl and Brainiac 5. A few issues ago Saturn Girl argued against the superstitions of the Luck Lords, and here she is being sympathetic to the grieving members. It's Brainiac 5 who is being callous.
And wow, do I love that last panel when Superboy over-reacts to Brainiac's choice of words.
Mike: While there is certainly a lot of Silver Age melodrama in their dialogue, I thought the characterization was very well done. Saturn Girl's sympathy, as you alluded to, felt right.  Also, Brainiac 5's reaction is pretty in keeping with his attitude of late, and Superboy's defensiveness was consistent with the guilt he has demonstrated throughout this story. I felt really sympathetic to him when he was shouting at Brainy.
J: It's really interesting to see Superboy emotionally on-the-ropes. He's defensive, he's hurt, and he's still trying to convince himself that he couldn't have stopped Ferro Lad's sacrifice. And I totally feel for Brainiac 5 here-- when I leave for work and I forget something and have to turn around at the first stoplight I'm annoyed. Add another 19.999 billion miles and that's a real inconvenience.

When Princess Projectra tells Brainiac 5 that she doesn't want to "trap" him, and that she wants to communicate with him instead, Brainiac 5 thinks she might be behind the whole thing. He thinks she might be casting illusions, so he plants a Psychic Image Disruptor on her cape. 

When she later comes to relieve him on monitor duty, she and the others see the ghost of Ferro Lad, but Brainiac 5 and Saturn Girl can't see anything. Saturn Girl tries to "sense" the ghost but passes out due to the powerful and angry thoughts of Ferro Lad present in the room.  Ferro Lad's possessions have been destroyed, though, apparently by his ghost. 
Russell: I like the idea that four Legionnaires can "see" the "ghost" but the other two can't. We'll come back to that bit later. And I like how Saturn Girl, who is clearly the one Legionnaire most likely to be able to validate whether Ferro Lad's ghost is really there or not, is taken off the board.
Mike: Another nice touch by Shooter. This whole scene was a great action moment, which is harder to do in a ghost story. And that final moment with Saturn Girl really added a level of suspense. On a side note, I also like that this is a story that basically includes what are arguably the core members of this period, plus Princess Projectra. That make-up of incorporating a newer member with the ones the readers have grown used to just adds a sense of legacy.  Not to get too deep...
J: I's very interesting that Brainiac 5 doesn't trust Princess Projectra, to the point where he secretly plants a power disrupter on her. I love all the tension in this scene between the mistrust, the Legionnaires attacked by an invisible force, Brainy totally at a loss, and Saturn Girl being knocked out after saying she felt Ferro Lad's thoughts.

After Saturn Girl is admitted to the hospital, Princess Projectra suggests that it is time to look at the supernatural. As an Oricall (Oracle) on the planet Orando she wants to hold a seance. 

That night as they begin, Brainiac 5 thinks it is preposterous until Princess Projectra begins to speak with Ferro Lad's voice telling him to sit down. Ferro Lad's ghost appears, and this time Brainiac 5 can see him, too.   
Russell: This is Swan at his most spookiest. Dig how Brainiac 5 is totally taken aback when he hears Ferro Lad's voice coming from Projectra. And I love the shadowing on Superboy in that last panel as the "ghost" begins to coalesce.
Mike:  I love when any of you all give credit to Swan. He is so underrated.

The ghost of Ferro Lad speaks through Projectra. He tells them he blames these four Legionnaires for his death and he insists that they leave the galaxy. He further insists that the Legion disbands. The four Legionnaires agree. Seeing no other alternate, Brainiac 5 as acting leader officially disbands the group. 
Russell: Now if you have been paying attention at all you will know that no Legionnaire would ever make such outlandish claims. So right here is where you should start to think that something is not quite right in the state of Denmark, if you haven't started thinking that already.
I do like how Brainiac 5 calls these four Legionnaires "four of our top members." It really pushes Princess Projectra to the top of the importance matrix. Too bad she doesn't really stay there. On the other hand....who in the world would Brainiac 5 consider "lower" members, Bouncing Boy!?! Haha!
Mike: I guess Shooter had high hopes for Projectra?? In fairness, she probably does qualify as a top member in terms of power level if you imagine all she could do. Admittedly, she is not given that level of importance later on. Anyways, it does make sense for Brainiac 5 to be someone who would rank fellow members like that. I am sure much of the team would not want to hear his opinion, but I am certain he keeps a list.
J: The story kind of goes off the rails for me at this point. It went from a powerful, ghostly tale of revenge, rife with suspense, to a "no-reader-is-taking-this-seriously" pseudo-dramatic scene where the Legion is disbanding. The consequences here are too fantastic to be real, so it kills all the buildup of the previous physical attacks on the Legionnaires.

The next day Superboy flies around the universe, intending to take one last look around before returning to his own time forever. Suddenly he is grabbed by a tractor and teleportation beam by the mysterious Controller....! 
Russell: Guess what: the whole thing was a plot to destroy the Legion. Who guessed that?
Mike:  Shocking!
J: Few things are more satisfying than a shadowed villain announcing triumph.

Superboy suddenly appears before a Controller, who explains that he from a race which, having experienced intergalactic wars themselves, decided to prevent wars from happening elsewhere. Each Controller was assigned a sector to "police," armed with various weapons and mental powers to keep the locals in line. As the universe matured and became the United Planets, the need for the Controllers diminished.
Russell: Is it just me, or do the Controllers sound a lot like the Guardians of the Universe?
J: Yes! First thought: ooh, i wonder how many sectors they divided the universe into and is there any overlap between them and the Manhunters or Green Lanterns? And also, from behind, the color schemes are eerily similar to the Guardians.

The Controllers as a group eventually left our universe, returning to their own universe. However, this one Controller stayed. With delusions of grandeur, he decided to destroy Earth and show the United Planets his power in order to take control of everything. With the Sun-Eater destroyed, though, he needed a new task force. So he decided to take mental control of the Legionnaires themselves. In order to do that, he had to demoralize them. He was responsible for their visions, their doubts, and the attack on Saturn Girl.  
Russell: This is a great juxta positioning of the typical Super Villain Revealing His Plot While The Hero Is Incapable Of Escaping with...something else. Somehow, inexplicably, Superboy's emergency signal IS sent. Very atmospheric writing!
Mike: This is also one of the longest scenes of a villain revealing his plot! He spent several pages doing so. Although I guess he did have to explain the entire history of his race to so I can see why that would take a while. Not boring at all though, I did enjoy it.
J: This bit really takes away from the whole story because now we learn that those feelings of guilt and doubt were implanted in the Legionnaires by the Controller. All the emotional weight of the story was essentially fabricated.

Suddenly, the four other Legionnaires appear to rescue Superboy. Seeing that his plan to demoralize the Legion has failed, he decides to murder them instead.   
Russell: I kinda wish that other Legionnaires had been the members to answer Superboy's summons. I think that would have added to the "what the hell....?" atmosphere of the whole story.
Also, it would have helped if Brainiac 5 would remember that he owns a force-field belt.
Mike: I have to differ here because I liked that this entire story was focused on a smaller group of Legionnaires. After some of the grand stories we have gotten lately with most of the team involved, it's kind of refreshing to step back and follow just a few members.
J: As much as I'm totally fine with a gratuitously long villain monologue I absolutely hate the "now all I have to do... to finalize my plan... and defeat the heroes... is press... this... button" scenes or panels.

As he is about to vaporize all five Legionnaires, the Controller sees and hears something that gives him such a shock that he dies of a heart attack. 
As they leave, they commend Superboy for finding a way to signal them with his Flight Ring. When he tells them that he didn't call them, everyone is confused. 
After they leave, footfalls clanging with the sound of iron are heard echoing down the empty hall.... 
Russell: Depending on my mood, these last few panels can actually choke me up. I do like the idea that our dear, departed friends and family are "watching over" us from afar. I know it's silly, but this sequence was certainly written well.

Russell: Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is one of my favorite Legion stories. Even though most of the feelings of guilt were manipulated by the Controller, I don't doubt that these four Legionnaires (and some of the others, maybe, such as Phantom Girl or Mon-El?) do feel guilt about not being on-site to save Ferro Lad. This is a nice story about that. And even though we are told pretty clearly on the second page that everything is not as it seems, it is still nice to see that Ferro Lad's ghost really is out there.
On the other hand, if we assume that the four Legionnaires can see the early "ghost" of Ferro Lad due to the device that the Controller planted in the Master Control Panel at the Legion Club-House, how do we explain that Brainiac 5 is able to see the ghost, later? Are we to assume that the Controller was SO specific in his devices' settings that he could change them from afar? That's some awesome controlling.
Mike: While I would not rank this among my favorites, I did think this was a very well-written, entertaining, and often touching story. Shooter kept everyone acting consistently with how they have developed over the past year. As you mentioned, watching heroes deal with loss is a rarity during this era, and Superboy's guilt was powerful and effective. I was less engaged with the Controller's actual plan than I was at watching the Legionnaires deal with each other and what was happening. And the end had a sort of Twilight Zone sensibility about it that I appreciated.
J: Ditto the cool Twilight Zone ending. Despite the emotional weight of the story being nullified with the Controller's big reveal we're still left with the undeniable mystery of how Superboy's ring turned to alert the other Legionnaires. And the introduction of an entire race of near-omnipotent beings from another space-time continuum is so nuts!
One of the most fantastic, undeniable elements of so many of these Shooter scripts is how he can not only write an interesting story with emotional weight, but also off-handedly introduce villains with massive potential. So many of his stories end in a totally satisfactory manner but leave enough unspoken backstory for virtually limitless future stories to be told. It's unlikely that was his intention most of the time, but all the stories that followed really speak to this ability.

Science Police Notes:  
  • This issue features the introduction of the Controllers, a race that would interact with the Legion for many years to come. 
  • Princess Projectra admits to her team-mates that she is an Oracle on her home planet of Orando, a plot point that would be brought up several more times during the life of the character. 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 6, Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 3, and The Life and Death of Ferro Lad.


  1. The Controllers/Guardians thing has been addressed by DC on several occasions, all the way to today with the Darkstars being kind of their own current Corp.

    1. I *thought* I remembered reading somewhere somewhen that the two races were linked but I didn't want to commit to something I only remembered tangentially. Thanks for the back-up support!

  2. Great story and GREAT review, guys. I think that shooter might have had the Controllers in mind as yet another "big bad", along with the Khunds, the Dark Circle, the Fatal Five, the LSV, etc, etc.

  3. I agree with Emsley -- GREAT review.

    The way you describe Shooter's talent is well and truly accurate, Jason (such a pity he ventured into being an editor :P). He's been quoted as wanting to bring Marvel-style storytelling to DC, and it shows in stories like this. Too bad no one else at DC picked up on it, or at least didn't do as well.

    Question: The Controller says he zapped Saturn Girl with a "psych-ray" to prevent her from detecting his shenanigans. But, right before, she says she senses the thoughts of Ferro Lad, which she may well have been familiar with if she ever mind-read him before his death. How was THAT possible?? (Cue the "Twilight Zone" theme here.)

    Why, oh why, didn't you show that Cosmic Boy was listening to hits from the 1966 "Superman" Broadway musical?

    Perhaps Brainy suspected Projectra's vast potential early on, which is why he puts her among the "top members". Her later use of her powers during the Baxter Legion under Levitz bears that out.

  4. Jason, the surviving Legionnaires' guilt and sorrow was not manufactured by the Controller. They were already experiencing those emotions at the beginning of the story and must have been feeling them for some time before. But, they were exacerbated by the Controllers machinations, and they've even managed to find some closure, or at least some peace of mind, due to this conflict. According to LSH #300, this is something that they will still carry inside them to one degree or another (even if that was displayed in an alternate timeline), so I don't believe the emotional weight of the story was diminished at all.

  5. I enjoyed this story too. The only problem I had was that after the multipage origin explained about his ultra powerful race, I found it a big letdown for him to DIE OF A HEART ATTACK!! He saw a ghost and died of a heart attack??? I hope Darkseid doesn't see the ghost of any of his victims or he might die of a heart attack too>