Tuesday, January 29, 2019

TOS: Adventure Comics #372

Adventure Comics #372 (Sept 1968)
title: "The School For Super-Villains"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: Jack Abel
letterer: Milt Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Neal Adams
reviewers: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knol

Mission Monitor Board: 
Colossal Boy, Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Superboy, Ultra Boy; Timber Wolf and Chemical King; cameos by Cosmic Boy, Star Boy, Duo Damsel, and Phantom Girl

Tarik the Mute and his School For Super-Villains including such students as Nemesis Kid, Spider Girl, Radiation Roy, Lightning Lord, Ronn Kar

 Colossal Boy has been expelled, which means that he is also under arrest for conspiring against the Legion. Colossal Boy refuses to be arrested by over-eager Science Police officers; he escapes using his Legion Flight Ring. 
Russell: I have to say that I'm not a big fan of how this story starts. Colossal Boy is expelled from the Legion, and suddenly he's going to be arrested? How soon did the Legion call the SP and tell him to pick him up? That's ludicrous. Also....they let him keep his Flight Ring!?!
J: Corporate offices have security staff escort employees out, so why not have the SP at-the-ready for his treason? And who knew that Legion treason was such a serious crime? As for the Flight-Ring, maybe it was just an oversight. Or maybe the SP jumped-the-gun on arresting him. Or-- or!-- maybe Brainy has a remote-disable function, some kind of amazing paranoid Batman-style failsafe, that he didn't get around to using just yet. Awesome cover, too!

A few minutes later several Legionnaires arrive and they find his mother's Life Jewel. Meanwhile, the extortionists manage to find Colossal Boy and teleport him away with a new offer that he cannot refuse. 
Russell: And the very next scene after Colossal Boy hears that there are organized man-hunts trying to find him....he is found by the same two bad guys who transformed his parents!? So the bad guys are able to track him down, where the SPs and the Legion couldn't? (Hint: maybe the Legion could have homed in on his Flight Ring!!) Come on!
J: Those baddies really know the score! They're so good they were waiting for Colossal Boy!

Ultra Boy and Bouncing Boy arrive at the Allons' apartment and thanks to their neighbor, Mrs. Kravitz's great-great grand-daughter, they learn that the Allons have been gone for more than a week. 
Russell: Shouldn't all this investigation have been done BEFORE Colossal Boy was expelled?
Side comment: Interesting that the full-page panel of the six Legionnaires meeting  is SO small, and the very next panel with the Life Jewel in Ultra Boy's hand is SO big.
J: Agreed the panel-sizing is awkward here, but I love the idea of the Life Jewel. Not shown: Brainiac 5 explaining how the Life Jewel is red but turns green when the owner dies, and Sun Boy chimes in that "Sounds real Christmassy..."
And Abner! Abner! Come, quick! That Gladys Kravitz joke made my month!

Brainiac 5 knows that the Life Jewel is linked to a specific person via minute infra-energy. He suggests that Shrinking Violet does a photon ride, following the energy to their source. Perhaps if they can find the Allons, they can find out what is going on with Colossal Boy. Shrinking Violet suits up and takes another Fantastic Voyage. 
Russell: I'm a big fan of this whole sequence. The payoff for the Life Jewel being mentioned over and over again is finally, pardon my term, huge for Shrinking Violet. I like this type of sci-fi when it's done well and in my opinion, this is done well.
J: Yes! I'm a big fan of the Atom, so as soon as they're talking about a Legionnaire taking a photon ride I'm 100% onboard.

Shrinking Violet manages to follow the infra-energy to a distant planet, where she sneaks into a large building resembling their Legion Academy. she recognizes several wanted men, and then sees Tarik the Mute and Colossal Boy! Tarik was a pedestrian who was injured in a skirmish between thieves and police; he lost his vocal chords and now communicates via a telepathic robot. He vowed revenge against all law-enforcement agencies. Shrinking Violet eventually learns that Colossal Boy's parents are being held hostage as glass statues. 
Russell: I was hoping that with this big role for Shrinking Violet that the Legion Espionage Squad would be called up for another mission, but, of course, the story goes in a different direction. Also....a telepathic android!?!? Uh....!?!?!
My least favorite bit of the story is in this section, when Violet tells the others that Gim's parents are being held hostage, and Sun Boy I think, says, "Oh, we should have known our pal wouldn't have turned traitor like that without a good reason." No shit, Sherlock.
J: Yeah, I was very uncomfortable with the flip-flopping of how members of the Legion viewed Colossal Boy. As for the telepathic android, that's quality stuff. Right now programs are being developed to turn thoughts to text, and slapping a speaker in a computerized clump isn't a huge leap in the 30th Century.

Brainiac 5 comes up with a plan to break into this "school for super-villains." He asks Legion Academy cadets Chemical King and Timber Wolf (formerly Lone Wolf) to join Chameleon Boy and Superboy in an attempt to infiltrate Tarik's academy. Brainiac 5 has intel regarding Tarik's recruiting methods, so the Legion team arranges to be seen by the recruiters so they can get "picked up." 
Russell: Okay, this is not a bad idea but the Legionnaires chosen for this mission are a bit odd. Shouldn't Shrinking Violet have flown back to the planet and met the team there? Shouldn't Invisible Kid have gone along as a "stowaway"? Shouldn't Princess Projectra have gone along and hidden the fact that she was there? Bringing along one of the most famous teen-agers in the universe just doesn't seem to be a good idea, ya know?
J: They're called 'disguises' for a reason! ...because you look at Superboy and think "dis guy's not familiar." Chemical King is awesome and this mission team is great. You couldn't possibly understand the plan of a 12th-level intellect.

The Legion team is challenged by a group of Science Police officers per the plan. Putting on a show against the SP, the four heroes-in-disguise convince Tarik's recruiter that they are Legion Rejects gone bad, and are escorted to Tarik. 
Russell: I would have liked a little bit more action showing us what Chemical King and Timber Wolf can do, especially given that they are going to be new Legionnaires. I'm also not really clear as to what Brainiac 5's plan is, because the Legion already knows where the LSV Academy is. Why doesn't the Espionage Squad go and free the Allons so that the Legion can plan a raid en masse? Or have the Legion Espionage Squad go in at the same time as these four, to cover both sides of the case?
J: I love this roundabout plan of infiltrating the LSV Academy by being brought there as guests by an unwitting recruiter. It makes a much better story than the ol' storm-the-gates scenario that usually plays out in superhero comics.

The Legionnaires are given a tour of the Super-Villain Academy, where they see Legion Rejects such as Spider Girl and Radiation Roy, and where they also see Lightning Lad and Light Lass' older brother, now calling himself Lightning Lord. 

Russell: Fifty years later, these scenes are what have held the most traction: after this Spider Girl, Radiation Roy, and Lightning Lord were all semi-permanent members of the Legion of Super-Villains. It's great that we finally see Lightning Lord, as Lightning Lad leaving home to search for him was one of the factors that caused the Legion to be formed in the first place. Unfortunately, we don't get any reunion with his brother and sister. That's a huge detriment to this story.
J: It's so cool how they put in Editor's Notes for Spider Girl and Radiation Roy, because it'd be easy to read a random issue back then and think they probably made up these throwaway Legion rejects for the purpose of this story. Alas, they were real tryouts that didn't make the cut! And I have to disagree about the lack of a family reunion, I think it would've taken away from Colossal Boy's story and the impact of the Legion of Super-Villains.

The Legion team is spotted by Colossal Boy when Superboy in disguise is still effected by Green Kryptonite. He calls them out and they are easily defeated by the throng of would-be Super Villains.
Russell: I think we were supposed to sympathize with Colossal Boy in this story, but for him to actually rat-out his friends like this.....after reading this story for the first time in the mid-Eighties, I never cared for Colossal Boy as much as I had before. His actions just don't seem right to me.
J: Agreed! Earlier we had the flip-flopping Legionnaires who were quick to condemn Colossal Boy, then just as quick to excuse him. But here, holy crap! He just ratted out his friends without hesitation! If Superman can trust Batman to save Martha in that-which-must-not-be-named, Colossal Boy should be able to trust the Boy of Steel (and friends) to save his folks.

 Superboy is defeated by Nemesis Kid, who is able to adapt his physiology to defeat the boy of steel. It takes a rough battle, but in the end Nemesis Kid is victorious. 
Russell: This is a great moment in Legion history: Nemesis Kid, with a black-eye, still manages to knock Superboy down and out. WOW!
J: That's nuts. If only anyone else at all could've helped him out, but yikes, Nemesis Kid! He should take up a side-gig hustling people in one-on-one fights, support the LSV income.

In a fit of pique, Tarik changes the henchman who brought the Legionnaires to him to glass and cold-bloodedly shatters him. He promises to do the same to the Legionnaires first thing in the morning. 
The next day Tarik tries to make Colossal Boy kill his friends; when he refuses, Tarik changes Superboy to glass and an executioner shatters him into a million pieces. Colossal Boy loses it, no longer willing to go along with Tarik even for his parents' sake. Taken by surprise, the would-be Super Villains are easy pickings for the Legionnaires and their re-inforcements. Superboy suddenly re-appears and stops Tarik from killing Colossal Boy's parents. 
Russell: Oooookay, the least said about these last few pages and rushed conclusion the better. Superboy just happens to have make-up and a Chameleon Boy uniform so they can switch places.....while they are not being guarded by closed-circuit security cameras? In a cell that has no air, so....they all died of asphyxiation anyway? Moving on...
J: The airtight cell was obviously not, ya know, literally airtight. And if there were cameras spying on the room then that would be an obvious escape for Cham. I like to believe that Superboy has an extra Chameleon Boy uniform in his make-up kit, shrunk down and compressed much like The Flash's costume, for missions like this. It's the practical thing to do.

Superboy and Chameleon Boy explain that they switched places overnight, so when Tarik changed "Superboy" to glass it was really Chameleon Boy, who only appeared to change. Colossal Boy apologizes for all the trouble, and Ultra Boy re-admits him to the Legion. He also admits Chemical King and Timber Wolf as full-fledged Legionnaires. 
Russell: I really wish there had been a bit more battle between the two Legions than that one (count it, ONE) panel. And the explanation for Superboy and Chameleon Boy being OK....yeah, I'm going to go back to my suggestion of having Princess Projectra along and that would have made this more easy to accept.
And is it just me, or does that last comment by Chemical King strike anybody else as grammatically odd? "I" is the subject, and "me" is the object, so....shouldn't he say "me" as in "the diploma is for me?" It may be right grammatically but it sounds wrong conversationally.
J: There definitely should've been a bigger end-battle here instead of minor skirmishes along the way.  The conclusion was rushed the whole way through, but the smiles on the Allons' faces are all I need to wrap up this tale.

Russell: So like I said last issue, this is a great idea but the execution is just not how I would have liked it. I think we could have gotten more of the angst and drama with Colossal Boy last issue, giving us more space in this story for some more serious butt-kicking between the two Legions. Specifically, I would have liked to have seen either Lightning Lad or Light Lass confront their older brother, Lighting Lord. And a confrontation between Karate Kid or Princess Projectra and Nemesis Kid would have made this story that much more memorable. Lastly, the characterization of Colossal Boy seems way too cowardly and dis-trustworthy for me. As one of the most senior Legionnaires, you would think that he would have had the self-confidence to confide in his friends after his parents were kidnapped.
On a separate topic, this is the last issue of the Legion series to be drawn by long-term "permanent" artist Curt Swan. I'm not sure why he moved on at this time, but he left this series and became the permanent artist on Action Comics, replacing Ross Andru. He then drew both Superman and Action Comics for the next 26 years.
J: Yes, for a story that spread over two issues the conclusion should not have been so hurried. Some of the Legionnaires are quick to turn on someone they trusted, and Colossal Boy openly betrays the team-mates that came to save him, but all is forgiven in the end. That's pretty messed up. There should've been much bigger fallout from the events of this story. But I can't complain about seeing the teen version of the Legion of Super-Villains, and knowing that former Legion of Super-Heroes rejects turned to villainy echoes the themes of betrayal. And every issue that grants membership to a new Legionnaire (or two!) is a great issue.

Science Police Notes:
  • Previously seen characters featured in this story include Spider Girl (rejected in Adventure Comics #323), Radiation Roy (rejected in Adventure #320), Ron Karr (rejected in Adventure #314), Nemesis Kid (expelled from the Legion in Adventure #346), and Timber Wolf (previously seen in Adventure #327 and now said to be attending the Legion Academy.) 
  • This issue features the first "real-time" appearance of Mekt Ranzz, aka Lighting Lord. Before this story, he had only ever appeared in the Adult Legion time-line. 
  • One of the Super Villain academy students recognizes Timber Wolf as having gone by the name "Lone Wolf," although it is surprising that a would-be criminal would know this bit of trivia. 
  • Although the Legionnaires from the previous story continue their roles at the beginning of this adventure, mid-way through the story the Legionnaires involved swap-out nearly 100%. 
This issue has been reprinted in The Best of DC Digest #24, Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 8, and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.

Chemical King and Timber Wolf join the Legion in this story. Colossal Boy is re-admitted to the Legion at the end of this story.
This is the last Legion adventure to be illustrated by Curt Swan. He will not return to these characters until he drew a Superman/Legion team-up for DC Comics Presents in 1982.


  1. Random thoughts aplenty here:

    * If Colossal Boy was so concerned about being recognized t the beginning, why didn't he just ditch his brightly colored, easily recognized costume?

    * Why wasn't Shrinking Violet's A.T.O.M. suit seen more often? But then, there's been a lot of "One-and-done" elements in Legion stories, so I shouldn't be surprised.

    * I've always considered the central concept of Tarik the Mute ridiculous. Having an entire full-bodied android following you around simply so you can communicate verbally? Seems to me that the necessary circuitry could be installed in that neck brace. Yeah, Tarik was about to use it to hold off Gim so he could shatter the Allons, until Superboy comes to save the day. But, if he was that physically vulnerable, why wasn't he in hiding more?

    * I will say this: Tarik is a genuine super-villain, and I can prove it. After he kills the henchman, he doesn't kill the others right then and there, but waits until morning because... well, for no real reason. Classic!

    * You guys did a great job within your review about how there's yet again too much story and a rushed conclusion in the second part of yet another Shooter two-part Legion story, so I'll not beat that dead horse again.

    * Ultra Boy's "Well, I don't know it!" is straight out of the Lee/Thomas playbook. More mighty Marvel mastery here.

    * So sad about Curt Swan leaving the Legion feature, but its loss is "Superman" and "Action Comics" readers' gain.

    1. One thing I meant to add: Chemical King's sentence is grammatically correct. He was probably wanting to say something like "You mean Timber Wolf and I are in the Legion now?" C.K. just got choked up and didn't finished the sentence, but it was correct.

  2. Agreed that this is a great story, but for some reason I hate the follow-up to it, where this entire story is retold with a "framing" narrative around it. Kind of like the Star Trek episode "The Menagerie". I too could never read the bit about the neighbor without thinking about Mrs. Kravitz.

    But seeing the origin of the LSV makes up for a lot of shortcomings and, of course, Tarok whacking the henchman is a classic villain trope.

    Historian's note: The heroes switching identities was done in June '62 Justice League (#12) when Superman and Batman changed costumes to fool Doctor Light.

    1. And when they did it again to fool Abenazar, Rath, and Ghast the 3 demons of the magician Faust. That was only within a few months of that issue.

    2. That ploy works SO well that Superman and Cosmic Man of the Adult Legion use it to outmaneuver Douglas Nolan in Adventure Comics #354.

  3. Here goes my objectivity, since, as I mentioned in last issue's post, this was my first Legion story.
    I get how things don't pass the 21st century read (no surveillance in the cells, the full sized telepathic robot, and so on), but boy, this is full of story, action, characterization (even if questionable, such as Gim's), many, many characters (remember: every issue is someone's first and this was my first one!).
    Highlights, even almost half a century after: all the size changing action, both from CB and Vi (and boy, was my mind blown by her riding the photon trail!), Nemesis Kid first with the robot and then beating Superboy, Spider Girl, the whole legion cavalry... in one panel, yes, but one panel with a dozen more characters to assimilate.
    Little bits of Swan greatness (even under an inker who did him no favors): Ultra Boy and Bouncing Boy flying into the Allons', the legionaries in civies when they join the LSV.

    1. Loved Duo Damsel whomping Nemesis Kid after the beat-down he put on Superboy.