Tuesday, January 8, 2019

TOS: Adventure Comics #369

Adventure Comics #369 (June 1968)
title: "Mordru the Merciless!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inkers: Curt Swan (page 1) and Jack Abel
letterers: Gaspar Saldino (page 1) and Charlotte Jetter
cover: Neal Adams
reviewer: Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knol

Mission Monitor Board: 
Duo Damsel, Mon-El, Shadow Lass and Superboy, plus a few flashback cameos.

Mordru the Merciless!

This Neal Adams cover kicks everything off with his trademark sense of action. The powerful hands of the mysterious, magical Mordru burst out through a massive vault door. How often do we see Superboy taken aback with such shock? Mon-El definitively cries "We're dead!" in response to the wizard's hands appearing so suddenly. This immediately feels like it's going to be an action-packed adventure of an issue!

....And the opening splash page! Oh! In all of the non-horror Silver Age comics, this must be one of the most creepy, terrifying splash pages there is. I suppose this is why Curt Swan wanted to ink his own splash. Or perhaps this was originally intended as the cover? Mordru's immense, terrifying face, glowing a sinister green, seems to engulf the four Legionnaires within. Again it seems we're being set up for a truly epic battle.

As the story begins, Mon-El is carrying a limp Superboy over his shoulder and informs Duo Damsel and Shadow Lass that they must quickly get to the Time Chamber. A page-wide panel shows the bottom half of Mordru's shadow looming massively over a vault door. But before he can catch the Legionnaires they escape into the Time Chamber and back to Superboy's hometown and time.

Superboy scolds Duo Damsel for choosing this destination as "It's the first place Mordru will look!" But Shadow Lass steps up to take the blame for the whole situation and recounts the events that led to Mordru's escape. As this new Legionnaire familiarized herself with the entire HQ she found a vault in the lowest sub-basement and attempted to open it. Mon-El arrived in time to stop her and warn her of its contents: Mordru, the master sorcerer and ruler of planet Zerox

Long ago Mordru mastered the mystic arts to the point where he not only ruled his world but also most of the worlds on the outer rim of that galaxy, but then stopped and was content with what he had. But in recent years he began to conquer select planets throughout galaxies, sometimes by his army's doing and other times by himself, for no one dared oppose his will.

Finally Mordru's army tried to conquer Earth, but the Legionnaires were able to fight them off. In anticipation of Mordru's personal arrival the Legion's leader, Saturn Girl, devised a plan to trap him. The Legion fought the wizard's 100' tall warrior form when he arrived, but they were swiftly defeated. That is, all except Superboy and Mon-El, who had been secretly lying in wait. The victorious Mordru shrunk back to his standard form and gloated in victory only to be sandwiched between two airless steel blocks, flown at super speed by the hidden Legionnaires.

Mon-El explained to Shadow Lass that Mordru is immortal, as far as they know, but the airless trap caused him to fall into a deep coma. Mon-El slid open a steel shutter to let Shadow Lass peer through the thick quartz window into the vault room, and to their horror they found that Mordru's hands had bust through the vault. "Somehow a little air must have got to him!"

Mordru escaped and instantly overwhelmed Superboy and Mon-El, leading to their escape back in time and catching us up on Shadow Lass's guilt. As Mordru can control the minds of others, the Legionnaires must be wary of spies everywhere, so they work with Ma and Pa Kent to come up with secret identities so they can blend in with the locals.

Duo Damsel pretends to be a distant relative of Chief Parker so she can stay there and Shadow Lass, covered in light-skinned makeup to cover her blue flesh, claims to be an exchange student to stay with the Langs. Mon-El, who previously visited Smallville, resumes his previous identity of Bob Cobb, the brush salesman. Seriously.

As the Legionnaires live their independent lives, the dark shadow of Mordru blankets the town, examining every inch it covers in search of the hidden Legionnaires. Shadow Lass, from the home of the Langs, is able to envelope herself and her fellow Legionnaires in her own shadowy fields to avoid detection. However, the shadow turns some Smallville citizens, including Lana Lang, into minions of Mordru!

That night the team meets up at Clark's house to discuss their strategy: "...we just fade into Smallville life and forget we were ever Legionnaires, until someone comes up with a plan to battle Mordru." Yes, it's really that sad and boring. The main threat now is Shadow Lass saying something foolishly unEarthly, like "Where do you keep your school-a-trons?" Which she says at breakfast the next morning. Can part two be even more dull?!

As the seemingly normal Smallville youths walk to school the next morning the town is suddenly ravaged by a tidal wave, a giant monster stampede, and a fire all at once. Mon-El quickly assures his teammates that disasters are actually illusions cast by Mordru to trick the Legionnaires into revealing themselves to save the day.

At school a spot of Shadow Lass's blue skin is revealed, but Clark is quickly there to make it seem like his blue fountain pen is malfunctioning and squirted ink on her. On the way home that day two trucks nearly collide as the teens resist using their powers, but Duo Damsel is able to throw a sign under one truck wheel to make them avoid each other. And suddenly Clark notices how pretty Duo Damsel is.

A few days later a crook using suction-cups to scale a building, and thus completely unable to be shot by police (?), escapes from a heist at a jewelry exchange because Superboy wasn't around to foil him. After a week without Superboy in Smallville the heretofore unknown crime lord King Carter rolls into town with his his men and announces his intent to take over the town. Such audacity would be unheard of a mere 10 days prior, but now the Crime King is free to take over this podunk town!

The first order of business is to cut the telephone lines so no one can call for help. Then his men go around demanding a "tribute" from all the local shops, including the Kent General Store! Even the father of Superboy is forced to pay tribute to King Carter's men, for fear of reprisal without the town's hero around. That night the Legionnaires meet with the Kents and agree that they must convince the townspeople to fight back. The teens go around to different shops and get enough of them to agree to stand up against the criminals that now run Smallville.

The next morning their elegant plan plays out in the streets. Numerous residents of Smallville fill the streets in front of King Carter and his gun-wielding thugs and demand that they leave town. As Carter reaffirms their intention to stay the criminals are pelted by vegetables thrown from citizens up on the rooftops!

The guns of the mobsters are "jammed" by secret heat vision from Clark Kent and Bob Cobb, and the whole lot of criminals are taken down and sent to jail. The Legionnaires reflect on the day and realize that their situation (in the broadest of strokes) mirrors that of the people of Smallville, and that they should heed their own advice by standing up to Mordru instead of hiding from him.

And so the group decides to say their farewells to the Smallville homes that housed them and return to the 30th Century to face Mordru. As they huddle together, fully costumed in an alley behind the Kent house, they're spotted by one of Mordru's mind-controlled minions! As he sees what the neighbor sees, Mordru instantly knows their location. In a flash the Legionnaires turn to see a cloud of green smoke rise up and a giant Mordru towering over them.

...and that ends the issue. What a massive letdown! After the intense cover and ominous splash page opener this issue really fizzled out. The most exciting sequence was the flashback that told us who Mordru was. The most intense action scene was regular people throwing vegetables at criminals! Most of the story turned out to be four Legionnaires in disguise, hiding out in (then) modern-day Smallville, unwilling to use their powers. Yes, they're on the lam from an immortal, all-powerful sorcerer, but he's barely present in the story. Chapter two mostly drops Mordru and turns into a tale about gangsters who take over the town after Superboy is briefly absent.

Of course, as with anything there are positive aspects to take from this issue. Firstly, it's the first appearance of Mordru, an all-time classic Legion villain who had a real stinker of an introduction. And Curt Swan, as ever, did a fantastic job with the art. I'm not sure if the credit goes to Shooter or Swan, but the actual panel shapes and borders throughout the issue were interesting and unusual. I don't want to spoil too much of the next review, but Mordru will interact with the Legion!

Science Police Notes:  
  • This issue is the first Legion story to feature Jack Abel as inker for Curt Swan. He replaced long-time Swan inker George Klein. 
This issue has been reprinted in Limited Collector's Edition C-49 Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 8, and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.

This issue features the debut of fan-favorite Legion villain Mordru. 


  1. That splash page is prime evidence in my case that Curt Swan was rarely inked properly. Just look at that! Gorgeous and genuinely unsettling!


  2. I'm gonna file a dissent here. the Mordru story has always been one of my favorites. First of all, a villian who can SCARE Mon-El and Superboy, the two most powerful Legionnaires, gets your attention right away. Although the flashback sequence probably had many fans back then, including me, wondering if they'd missed an issue along the way.

    The "fish-out-of-water" bits as the Legionnaires tried to fit into 20th century Smallville were amusing. Imagine being dropped into 10th century England and trying to blend in. And "Brush salesmen" WERE an actual thing. (https://www.quirkyscience.com/fuller-brush-salesman/)

    Pairing the two strongest Legionnaires with two of the weakest did make for some good story-telling and that last panel sure did its job, which was to make you want to come back for the next issue.

  3. Here is yet another example of the young, still-inexperienced Jim Shooter trying to be Roy Thomas AND Rod Serling. There's just too much story here, even for a two-parter. Shooter was forced to rely on WAY too much exposition and twenty-two pages of setup. As a result, we are being TOLD that Mordru is a major threat, rather than being shown. So I agree, this was a weak intro to what could/should have been a great villain.

  4. While I don't think this issue "fizzled out" I do agree that the story bogged down. The 4 characters seemed perfectly content to just hide out in the 20th century doing absolutely nothing. It would have been better to write scenes for them to get together and discuss strategy (even if useless). Talk about finding some mystical artifacts, locate some magical allies, or anyhow do SOMETHING other than stay there and wait to die of old age.

  5. 1. I join your dissent, E.W.; I believe this was the second Legion story I ever read, sometime in the late '60s, and it's remained a favorite ever since. The image of Mordru as a 100-footer armed with the world's baddest brass-knuckles certainly sold me on his status as a threat to the Legion.
    2. I think the reason that Mort allowed Curt to ink the splash was that Weisinger valued the opening panel as the first page a reader would turn to at the newsstand while deciding whether or not to buy the comic, and, having just lost George Klein to Marvel, no one remained who could adequately do justice to Swan's pencils--Jack Abel certainly couldn't, nor could Weisinger's other Superman-Family "experiment" of the time, George Roussos.
    3. The person seeing the Legionnaires in the alley and reporting back to Mordru was Lana Lang.
    4. As result of reading this story, I briefly had a crush on Duo Damsel and dreamt up scenarios where I saved her from danger, Superman-style. I was about nine.