Tuesday, November 27, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #366

Adventure Comics #366 (February 1968)
title: "The Fight For The Championship of the Universe!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: George Klein
letterer: Gaspar Saladino and Morris Waldinger
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover art: Neal Adams
reviewers: Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane and Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board: Brainiac 5, Cosmic Boy, Karate Kid, Superboy, new member Shadow Lass

Opponents: the Fatal Five (Tharok, Emerald Empress, Validus, the Persuader, Mano)

On Talok VIII, four Legionnaires and the local heroine Shadow Lass are about to be killed by the Talokian army. However, when Superboy is slammed into a machine during the fight, the army stops advancing and begins to shake off some type of mental control. Brainiac 5 then reasons that this was part of the machinery that Tharok must have used to mentally enslave the people of Talok VIII. Brainy is pretty sure that the reason the peaceful planet suddenly became belligerent was because the Fatal Five was controlling them. And he further reasons that by the looks of the machinery around him, the Fatal Five have managed to escape from whatever dimensional prison they had been in before.
Russell: This is a nice way of bringing readers who might have missed the previous issue up to speed: use Brainiac 5's explanation to his partners as the plot summary. I have to hand it to Jim Shooter for doing a "what you missed" summary so smoothly.
Mike: Agreed. And the art serves the opening very well here, from Adam's enticing cover to Swan's art. I know he is still following Shooter's layouts but Swan's detailed style makes it work. In particular, look at the grimaces on the faces of Karate Kid and Superboy during the battle, showing their struggle, and the action involving Shadow Lass and Superboy.

Meanwhile, the Fatal Five are arguing amongst themselves regarding what they should do next. Tharok takes control and threatens the Persuader with Validus if he doesn't at least listen to his ideas.
Russell: I love this pose of Validus "relaxing" (?) on the ship while Tharok stares directly at the reader. A little less well done is the next panel, which I always have to stop and re-focus on because I don't realize that black mass on the right is the left side of Tharok's face.
Also...."Computo News"?!?! Is this somebody's idea of a joke?
Mike: Ha, I thought the same thing when I heard "Computo." I do wonder if Shooter did that on purpose or if he really did not remember and just used the term. Hard to imagine, but he was very young. Or maybe he subscribed to the theory than that the audience turned over every two or three years so stuff like that did not matter. Anyways, despite a wonky moment or two with the art here, I will never get tired of looking at images of Validus. His design is really fantastic, and yes, seeing him just lounging around is fun to look at.

A few days later Validus attacks downtown Metropolis. The Emerald Empress attacks several elevated highways. Mano destroys the Nine Worlds Monument.
Russell: If you didn't think Validus was an impressive force of nature slash villain before, I dare you to not think that after seeing THIS panel. Wow!
Mike: This page reminded me of a scene from a Godzilla film. In a good way!

The Science Police rush to respond, leaving the President and the Pentagon unguarded. Tharok kidnaps the President, and the Persuader takes over the Pentagon. The Fatal Five now have all of Metropolis under their control. Then, Tharok announces his real plan: to take over the United Planets by using the Universal Weapons Control Panel. However, they don't have all three keys to operate it.
Russell: This is a pretty good plot by Tharok: divide up the menaces so that the SP is busy all over town so that he and the Persuader can push in and steal the Earthgov right out from under itself. Nicely done, evil-doers.
Mike: At moments like this, I am really impressed with Shooter. For such a young writer, he was quite clever. I also got a kick out of that one guy calling for security. Yes, good luck with that.

The Fatal Five rushes to the Legion Club-House, assuming it to be vacant, but the Legionnaires have returned from Talok VIII and stop the villains from entering and acquiring the third key. The Fatal Five then barricades the Legion inside their head-quarters so that they cannot escape, and Validus continues to pummel at their defense systems.
Russell: I wanted to reprint this page not only for that first panel, which is awesome, but also for the one with Validus acting like a stone-throwing Cyclops, and also for the atomic barbed wire.
Mike: The atomic barbed wire jumped out to me as well.  Ridiculous, but sooooo of its era, that its actually pretty cool.

Brainiac 5 has connected his force-field belt with a force blaster, so the Legionnaires are relatively safe inside for now. However, Shadow Lass has sprained her arm when Validus attacked. Brainy nurses her, wondering why she chose to join them on Earth rather than staying on Talok VIII. She has no answer for him, but it's clear that she has a crush on him. Unknown to her, he reciprocates her feelings.
Russell: This is the first bit in this story where I think Shooter hits a sour note. I don't like the idea that Shadow Lass came along with the boy Legionnaires because she has a crush on Brainiac 5!?! I had never read or heard of this before, so seeing it here, now, was shocking. Was Jim Shooter so off on his female characterizations that he thought all of them were in love with some boy? Glad this went away, like, immediately. Now I'm curious as to when/how Shady hooks up with Mon-El.
Mike: Yes, this was a record scratch moment. Shady is fascinating in this story because the character is in many ways ahead of her time, from her appearance to her power set. But in both this story and the last, the limitations of the period, and the resulting mindset of the creators, really hamper her several times throughout these issues. The crush on Brainy was...startling almost.

Tired of waiting for the Legion to surrender, Tharok demands the third key or he and the Fatal Five will destroy Metropolis. As acting leader, Superboy proposes a "winner take all" battle with the Fatal Five instead. Sure that they will win, the Fatal Five accepts.
Russell: Here's the second sour note of this story: the Legionnaires arguing about whether or not to hand over the key. There is no possible argument for doing so; Cosmic Boy sounds immature and silly to suggest that his parents are more important than the rest of the galaxy. This rang way, way false. Not a big fan of Superboy telling the others to "shut up," either. That doesn't sound like Superboy.
Mike: It didn't bother me so much. The delivery may have been awkward but if we think that despite all they have accomplished, these are still teenagers, I am willing to go along with their struggle here. They are struggling over the sacrifice of 15 million lives after all.

Before they face down the Fatal Five, Shadow Lass really shows her gumption by asking to be sworn in as a Legionnaire. Even when told point-blank that they are facing death, she does not demure. 
Russell: This, on the other hand, is a Classic Silver Age moment. Shadow Lass is definitely not the typical "shrinking violet."
Mike: I like this Shadow Lass much more than "Crushing on Brainy" Shadow Lass.

The Legion heads out to face their adversaries. Almost immediately they are "on the ropes" against the Fatal Five. Superboy hopes to make some quick and powerful advances, but does not make any headway against Validus.
Russell: First let's talk about Superboy vs Validus. What a pairing! I just love how Validus is too large to fit into the panel....and then literally stomps Superboy into the ground! Ouch!
Mike: My already expressed love of Validus' design still applies. It always looks great in Legion battle scenes.

At the same time, Karate Kid faces Mano, who makes a clever comparison about both of their powers being in their hands. Karate Kid assumes he is faster than the villain, but the Fatal Fiver is faster than Val thinks he is. Mano gets in what could have been a fatal blow. 
Russell: This is where I call foul. If Mano is really as much as a bad-ass as he says he is (he murdered his whole planet for goodness' sake!) why in the world did he not hurt Karate Kid more when he had the chance? At the very least Karate Kid should have faced a terrible injury. Clearly, Jim Shooter was playing favorites. I think I said this when Mano made his debut, but if he's as strong as he's supposed to be, I find it hard to believe that he never managed to sneak up on a Legionnaire and touch them to death.
Mike: I cannot argue there is a bit of cheating but this was another section that I was impressed by the art. I have never been clear on how detailed Shooter's layouts were or how much Swan followed them, but I lean towards giving Shooter credit here because many of the poses and perspectives are not typical of Swan.

Brainiac 5 thinks he is smarter than Tharok, but the bad guy out-smarts him. And close by, the Persuader totally owns Cosmic Boy.
Russell: I love how Tharok calls Brainiac 5 a "moron" here. Can there be any worse thing for Brainiac 5 to be called? Haha! This is some clever abuse of Brainy's force-field by Tharok. And likewise, the Persuader calling Cosmic Boy a worm and making him crawl on the ground....wow! This is a very powerful scene. These guys are serious!
Mike: Yeah, the threat here is very real and it's great!

Lastly, we are a overjoyed when Shadow Lass is able to momentarily stop the Emerald Empress. Knowing that the Emerald Eye could not be an unlimited power source, Shadow Lass hopes that her shadow power can "blind" it long enough for her to knock out the Empress. She then uses her shadow powers to aid her team-mates, and suddenly the Legion stands a fighting chance. 
Russell: I can't put into words how much I love this sequence, from the "let's settle our disagreement, woman to woman" line to Cosmic Boy using the ground to knock out the Persuader. This is a stand-up and cheer battle scene, very well illustrated by Curt Swan and George Klein.
Mike: I loved Shadow Lass here. And the rest of the team, but her moment goes a long way towards making up for some of the awkward characterization earlier.

Just as the Emerald Empress and her eye get their second wind and the Legion looks like their time is done, the United Planets self-defense forces arrive. Knowing that they could not possible defeat an entire armada, Tharok orders the Fatal Five to retreat. A grateful Earthgov and UP council awards the Legionnaires with medals of honor, but the Legion is now faced with the necessity of rebuilding their head-quarters.

Russell: This is a nice ending to the story. And I like the idea that the club-house really did get clobbered. It strongly suggests that there ARE ramifications when huge fights flare up.
Mike: While I liked the ending, it did give me some pause. I mentioned in our coverage of last issue that I liked this smaller team, and its make-up, because it suggested a specialized squad designed for this mission. But in a scene like this, I am taken out of the story a bit wondering where the other Legionnaires have been.

Russell: I LOVE this story. My one complaint is that with all the action going on, don't you think there would have been some more Legionnaires around? When the Sun-Eater threatened the whole galaxy, didn't the Legion learn its lesson and create some A-1 Emergency Signal process? How much more cool would it have been if the "cavalry" of the UP forces would have been led by Legionnaires such as Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Lightning Lad, or, I don't know, the time travelling Supergirl?!?
Mike: I did really like this one too, as well as last issue. A great two-parter. I was only bothered by the absence of the other Legionnaires as we got close to the end of the story. Early on, I loved the idea of this group being the focus of this adventure, but it did feel like the rest of the team should have been brought in at the end. But still...a minor quibble about an otherwise fun Legion tale.

Science Police Notes:  
  • This is the last appearance of the original Legion Club-House as the Legion's head-quarters. It will return in Superboy/Legion #211 when it becomes the new head-quarters for the Legion of Substitute Heroes.  
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 7 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 3.

Shadow Lass joins the Legion in this story.
The Legion Club-House is all but destroyed in this story.


  1. What? No comment on Brainy channeling his inner Spock? Even as a kid reading this one that threw me. As for Shady's change of her romantic inclinations she still "cared" enough for Brainy to want to see him scrubbing floors in "Mutiny of the Super-Heroines". I think, though, that her interest in Mon-El probably began when the Legion was on the run from Mordru a few issues from now.

    1. Good spotting, Emsley; the "Spock" reference is pretty obvious to anyone with knowledge of sci-fi. Given the poverty Shooter's family was in at the time, I wonder how deliberate that was, if he was even able to watch the show.

  2. Some random thoughts...

    Oh GOD, that cover! Neal Adams loved putting Super-dudes in boxing rings, didn't he? Precursor to the "greatest" Superman boxing match of all time. :D

    I don't see Validus as lounging so much as the ship's just too small for him and he has to make best use of the space. And yeah, Swan crowded the next panel too much; I still sometimes have to recheck to see that that's Tharok.

    "Atomic barbed wire"? Seriously?

    I actually liked the little Legionnaire character bits while they were under siege, particularly the "Spock" homage. I don't have a problem with Superboy yelling at the others to shut up; it simply shows the stress he's under and the gravity of the situation.

    It was good to see Shadow Lass ask to be admitted to the Legion and being sworn in. But her request always seemed a bit forced to me. There's no real build-up for it; she simply says that it's always been her dream, and that's it. If it really was her dream, I would've like to have seen some prior indication of it, either earlier in this story or even in the last issue.

    WHAT kind of attack was Karate Kid trying to make when he went for Mano? It just looks like he was trying to tackle him, and Mano simply pivoted and counter-attacked. Val could've at least tried to break Mano's arm or pin his wrist (thus negating his opponent's advantage). And yes, I also believe that Mano not vaporizing KK immediately and going for the "This-is-no-sport" villainous cliché is a cheat.

    The Fatal Five nearly defeat five Legionnaires, yet immediately run away when a space armada shows up? Aren't they supposed to be supremely confident in their powers and their superiority over supposed inferiors? This looks like another case of "Uh oh, the page count's almost gone, we need to wrap things up NOW!" and the ending is rushed and only a half-page denouement.

    Still, these are minor quibbles. This two-part story is another hallmark Shooter/Swan tale and a classic Legion story. And another yet to come.

    ("Atomic barbed wire" ?!?!)

  3. I'd note that the original clubhouse makes at least one more appearance, in SLSH #211. The Subs retrieve it from the salvage yard in which its been lying abandoned all these years and claim it for their own HQ.

  4. I love that panel of Shady punching out the Emerald Empress. Such a rarity to see the heroines in this era actually kick butt.

    On the flip side, I hate how the artists seem to insist on giving hints of eyes and a nose on Validus. It's just a brain, people. A weird exposed brain. Don't make it anything else!