Tuesday, January 15, 2019

TOS: Adventure Comics #370

Adventure Comics #370 (July 1968)
title: "The Devil's Jury!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
artist: Curt Swan
inker: Jack Abel
letterers: Joe Letterese (splash page only) and Ben Oda
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan and George Roussos
letterer: Gaspar Saladino
reviewers: Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knol

Mission Monitor Board: 
Duo Damsel, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, and Superboy

Dream Girl, Insect Queen, Invisible Kid, Princes Projectra, 
Ultra Boy, The White Witch

Mordru the Merciless!

After the fantastic cliffhanger of Adventure #369 we continue the tale of Mordru with a sinister cover featuring The Devil's Jury-- and Insect Queen!? Mordru and the four criminal jurors stare down at the bound Legionnaires as the sorcerer sentences them to the Devil's Island of Space.

The splash page features Pete Ross and Lana Lang, as her Legion Reservist alter-ego Insect Queen, desperately trying to convince Clark Kent that he is Superboy. But Clark won't believe them and thinks they "belong in a loony-ward!" Does he have amnesia? Is this a spell of Mordru's doing?
The story snaps back to where the cliffhanger left off last issue, with Mordru the Merciless towering over Shadow Lass, Mon-El, Superboy, and Duo Damsel. He has searched time and space for the Legionnaires that locked him up and now he's ready for his vengeance! But in a panel that doesn't really express the intended action it seems that the Legionnaires are fighting back against Mordru's sorcery.

The sorcerer forces the Legionnaires to the ground and informs them that he's already disposed of their teammates in the future. In desperation Superboy comes up with a simple plan: dig! He and Mon-El immediately begin burrowing, each with a female Legionnaire hanging on. The dirt whips back at super-speed and blinds Mordru so he cannot follow, and the teens resurface nearer to the Kent home.

Superboy leads them back to his place for fear that Mordru may cast a spell to trace their thoughts, which must now be stopped. In the basement of Superboy's home he uses his super-speed to build a hypnosis machine that will wipe their minds of the fact that they are Legionnaires. Ma and Pa Kent are brought down as well, since their knowledge of Superboy's secret identity could jeopardize the plan. Superboy switches on the machine and erases their memories of super-heroic identities, but only for one hour.

Soon Betsy Norcross (Shadow Lass) returns to the Lang's home where Lana is dizzy after being released from Mordru's spell. Marie Elkins (Duo Damsel) returns to Police Chief Parker's home but can't recall running out of the house in her Legion outfit talking about the 30th Century. And at the Kent home Clark is helping brush salesman Bob Cobb with his heavy bags, as the hypnosis machine has robbed the youths of their powers by removing the knowledge of them.

Mordru looks down over Smallville, unable to find the Legionnaires on Earth or through space and time, and is thus convinced they remain in Smallville. He reaches out to all the residents' minds, all their secrets laid bare before the mighty sorcerer. He sees those who encountered irregularities with the disguised Legionnaires, including Pete Ross, who knows that Superboy is really Clark Kent!

Yet Mordru cannot account for the fact that the teens in question have no knowledge of their own powers in their minds. Instead, he suspects the real heroes planted those thoughts in the residents to mislead him. However---- when he invaded the minds of Smallville's residents that erased the post-hypnotic suggestion to restore the Legionnaires' memories!

And so, flustered by his inability to locate the lost Legionnaires, Mordru summons his armies from the 30th Century to a cavern on the outskirts of town, then seals off the time period so no one can enter or leave. Next, the sorcerer calls down lightning from the sky to carve Smallville from the Earth and raise it into space, an impenetrable shield maintaining its gravity and air.

At once Mordru's armies appear and tear the town apart, smashing through homes and businesses to seek out the Legionnaires. The teen girls of Smallville are rounded up to find which are secretly Shadow Lass and Duo Damsel. As Mordru's forces start to get aggressive,  Lana Lang jumps on a soldier's back and attacks him. As none of the girls, including Betsy and Marie, use super-powers to rescue Lana, the army determines that none of the girls are Shadow Lass and Duo Damsel.

In the Kent General Store the soldiers note Clark's appearance is similar to Superboy, but when they attack Jonathan Kent his son only cries out for the attackers to stop. He claims to be Superboy to stop the soldiers, but they don't believe him because he didn't act to save his father.

Nearby, Pete Ross has overheard the situation and doesn't understand why Superboy failed to spring into action. Pete calls Lana and meets her in a deserted house to discuss how to help the Legion. But in order to do that Pete has to share the ultimate secret: Superboy is really Clark Kent!

Later that night Legion Reservist Lana Lang, with her bio-ring and Insect Queen outfit, kidnaps Clark Kent and brings him back to the abandoned hideout. When Pete Ross attempts to snip Clark's hair with scissors, the scissor blades snap at the point of contact! This undeniable display jogs Clark's memory and he's struck with the realization that he really is Superboy.

Superboy returns to the hypnosis ray and successfully reverses its effects on the sleeping sleeper agents. The Legionnaires meet Clark, Pete, and Lana at the hideout to make introductions and devise a plan to stop Mordru.

Next morning the team meets in the Kent basement and prepare their plan, which seems to involve making doubles of themselves. As Mordru's armies advance down the street in tanks the ground suddenly breaks open with the might of four Legionnaires flying out! Alas, they are quickly stopped by the magic blasts from the soldiers' guns.

The Legionnaires are bound and brought to Mordru-- but in actuality it was Duo Damsel acting as both  herself and Shadow Lass, and Pete Ross acting as Superboy, though Mon-El was truly captured. Superboy, Shadow Lass, and Insect Queen follow them back to Mordru's cave where they spring a surprise attack! Shadow Lass blacks out the cave and Mordru is struck by Superboy's super fist.

But it was not enough to stop the sorcerer, and he quickly binds them with magic and transports them to the courtroom from the issue's cover. Mordru notes that it's a shame the Fatal Five couldn't make it,  an awesome reference to show that he's aware of the Legion's other foes. With Pete Ross acting as the Legion's defense attorney, the wizard Wraithor acts as prosecution and condemns the Legionnaires for their numerous acts of anti-crime.

Pete is clever enough to confirm the Legion's acts and point out that, without them, "everyone would be a stooge of that big-shot magician...just like every one of you is!" Classic turn-the-villains-against-each-other strategy, Pete! Unfortunately they're so mind-controlled by Mordru that his words left them unfazed.

As expected the jury finds the Legionnaires guilty and Mordru sentences them to life imprisonment on the Devil's Island in Space. However, Wraithor interrupts and requests that he may prepare a special doom for the extraordinary prisoners. The request is granted, and Wraithor soon prepares a vault for the Legionnaires similar to the one Mordru was prepared in, except with specific crippling layers for each prisoner.

But as the vault containing the Legionnaires is lowered into a pit Superboy and Mon-El realize that there isn't actually Kryptonite and lead within the walls. At the base of the pit Superboy attempts to break through the alleged intertron walls to find they're as weak as tinfoil to him. The team exits the vault to find that Wraithor has betrayed Mordru!

Wraithor had been in the Council of Wizards on planet Zerox, but the Council was betrayed by Mordru when he found a way to steal their power. Wraithor, the former head of the Council, was made Mordru's chief lackey. He had been under Mordru's control until Pete's speech somehow broke the spell. Wraithor leads the teens up a ladder and out of the pit, but as soon as they reach the top Mordru blasts his former lackey into nothingness.

Before the Legionnaires can respond Mordru the Merciless saps the powers from the heroes and traps them within a force-field. With his enemies rendered helpless Mordru grows to great size and forms a massive fireball between his hands. His arms raised, poised to strike down, the walls of the great cave quickly collapsed upon the sorcerer, entombing him. The heat of the massive fireball fuses the rubble around him, trapping Mordru once more.

Thankfully Mordru's force field that bound the Legionnaires protected them from the cave-in, and his entombment allowed the heroes to get their powers back and escape. Superboy returns Smallville to Earth and uses the hypnosis ray to erase his secret identity from Lana's memory. Just as he prepares to wipe Pete's memory, Mon-El grabs the hypnosis machine from Superboy and turns it on him instead. Mon-El uses it to erase Superboy's memory of the fact that Pete Ross knows his secret identity, because Mon-El knows Pete will one day save Superboy's life because of this knowledge.

Back in the future the heroes return to find that the rest of the Legionnaires are safe and sound. Though Mordru believed he had disposed of them, Dream Girl had a prophecy that he would attack so she contacted her sister, the White Witch, to help them. When Mordru arrived the White Witch used a counter-spell to prevent Mordru's attack while Princess Projectra cast an illusion that made him think the attack was successful. I'll let Mon-El sum it up with one of the greatest last panels of the Silver Age.

As with the previous issue this one featured lots of sharp-angled panels and irregular borders that made for a much more interesting reading experience than a standard layout. Some choices were quite unusual, as in the way Pete's reveal to Lana and Clark's own Superboy realization were mirrored in vertical strips of talking heads (as pictured above). And for every severely awkward Pete Ross face there was something fantastic, like the entire town of Smallville plucked from the planet and lifted into space. Or Lana Lang jumping on a soldier's back to attack him. Or a former henchman disintegrated by an all-powerful sorcerer!

While this issue had brief snippets of the battle we all wanted to see, it now seems clear that a drawn-out battle couldn't occur because Mordru would simply annihilate the Legion. Once again Jim Shooter gives us a villain so powerful that the Legion was lucky to come out alive and it's unclear how they could ever win in a rematch. Mordru the Merciless took a solid Superboy sucker-punch to the face and came right back. His magic, as we saw, is strong enough to rob the Legionnaires of their powers on a whim and imprison them without effort. In the end, as it should be, it was Mordru's hubris that defeated him. Well, that and three girls.

This issue has been reprinted in Limited Collectors' Edition C-49 Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes, Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 8, and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.


  1. You hit the high points on this story. I was particularly impressed with the roles played by Pete Ross and Lana Lang. Shooter knew how to handle the "Honorary/Reservists" even if no one else did. Not quite sure why Pete had to confide in Lana though. He could have just told Clark and did the haircut thing himself. If they needed Lana to face Mordru (yeah, right), they could have picked up Insect Queen, er, on the fly. Also liked that last second grab by Mon'El of the hypnosis ray. His thought comment about Pete saving Superman's life someday was NEVER followed up on in a story. In fact, given certain later events (DC Presents 12+14) one could say just the opposite.

    1. Pete had no super powers, natural or artificial, so to waylay Clark (who still had his powers despite the amnesia), he needed a super-powered ally. The only one available was Lana.

      I also liked Mon-El's last-minute grab, as it allowed Pete's character trope to continue. I'm sure the writer of the "DC Comics Presents" was unaware of this factoid, and so followed his own storyline.