Thursday, October 9, 2014

Superboy #184

Superboy #184 (March 1972)
A review by Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage
title: "One Legionnaire Must Go!"
writer: Cary Bates
penciller: Dave Cockrum
inker: Murphy Anderson
letterer: Joe Letterese
editor: Murray Boltinoff
cover: Nick Cardy

Mission Monitor Board:  
Saturn Girl, Matter-Eater Lad, Ultra Boy, Superboy (introduction only)

sibling rivalry, crazy plot-twists

After three Legionnaires come back to active duty after visiting their home planets on leave, Ultra Boy assigns them clean-up duties around the building. Suddenly, Saturn Girl picks up thoughts of treason from within the building, and she and Ultra Boy confront Matter-Eater Lad, who she accuses of having the mutinous thoughts. Instead of trying to reason out what is really going on, Saturn Girl offers to...validate her powers, on the Remco Encephalo-Detector (it also slices and dices!). Sure enough, her mental powers are working fine. Personally, I would have trusted eight years of experience, but, okay, whatever. Ultra Boy, who has all the powers of Superboy, remember, now pulls a gun on Matter-Eater Lad! Neither of them think to say, "Look, pal, we know you've been under a lot of stress as the Legionnaire with the stupidest power...." or "Maybe it was something you ate...?" This is the FIRST thing my wife says to me when I feel sick, but I guess it never occurs to Saturn Girl or Ultra Boy, former and current Legion leaders, to ask this question! So they toss Matter-Eater Lad in a cell made up of Magnozite, "the most poisonous metal alloy in the galaxy!" Because a. that's a thing and b. they happen to have that stuff lying around the Legion HQ. In case they catch a stray raccoon or something. Of course, in spite of Matter-Eater Lad's abilities being stupid (or perhaps because of that), he is not an idiot. He *knows* that the Legion doesn't keep a store of Magnozite around! Matter-Eater Lad realizes that Ultra Boy only managed to lay his hands on glowing purple paint (on sale this week at Home Depot for $100 credits/500 grams) to make the bars of the cell *look* like Magnozite! And as Matter-Eater Lad drinks pints of that stuff as a party trick, he promptly chows his way free.

Matter-Eater Lad heads back to his home planet to hide, thinking that it would be too obvious for the Legion to think of looking there! (Maybe he's not so intelligent after all.) As soon as he touches down, though, he is attacked by his younger brother, Renkil. It turns out that he is jealous of his big brother, Tenzil, and wants to take his place in the Legion. It was *his* traitorous thoughts that Saturn Girl had picked up. Little Bro had fed Big Bro a telepathic transmitter (literally) and then broadcast mutinous thoughts so that Big Bro's friends would think he was a traitor. See, I told you! It really was something he had eaten! Big Bro isn't about to allow his place to be usurped, but Little Bro hits him in the face so hard that he starts to die. Let me write that again: the kid brother hits the Legionnaire in the face so hard that the Legionnaire starts to die! Not wanting murder on his hands, Little Bro calls out for help, telepathically. Luckily for the Matter-Eater Kids, Saturn Girl and Ultra Boy *did* think the obvious and are close by. They put Big Bro in a healing pod and save his life. Little Bro is ready to go to the Detention Police for being a traitorous punk, but Big Bro forgives him and lets him hang out with the Legion while he undergoes surgery to get the telepathic transmitter removed. While Big Bro is in the clinic, Ultra Boy kicks Little Bro's ass for being such a jerk. 

Need I say more? The premises that three Legionnaires go to their home planets during their time off, and are then kept busy at the HQ cleaning are both good. However, if there was ever a story to show that Matter-Eater Lad did not belong in the Legion of Super-Heroes, this was it. The story is so stupid and so badly plotted....what if Saturn Girl hadn't been at the HQ? What if she had stayed behind while Ultra Boy had chased Matter-Eater Lad alone? Why in the world would a punch froma 15-year old be life threatening? Still, the worst part of this story is that it flies in the face of a much better story, "The Hapless Hero" from Action Comics #381, where Matter-Eater Lad's parents are poor and his father is an alcoholic. Wait, maybe that's why Little Bro wants to get the hell out, too?

The best part of this story is the art by a then-unknown new talent named Dave Cockrum. Inker Murphy Anderson carries a lot of the weight in this issue, but you can still see the seed of greatness in Dave's pencils, especially in the futuristic architecture and the fantastic Legion cruiser design. Both Cary and Dave get much better...and Matter-Eater Lad did, eventually, quit, although we never saw dangerously immature Little Bro again.

And in the end, no Legionnaire actually "goes."

Science Police Notes:  
  • Superboy is back as "the host," introducing the story but not taking any part in it. 
  • Matter-Eater Lad is mis-colored with brown hair instead of black throughout this story. 
  • Ultra Boy's tenure as Legion Leader began "only a few days ago."   
  • The rest of the Legion is off-Earth at the Galactic Law Enforcement Meeting on Beta-2.
Reprinted in Legion of Super-Heroes Archive Vol. 10

MILESTONE: This is the first Legion of Super-Heroes story with art by Dave Cockrum. Cockrum snuck into the assignment as an assistant to Murphy Anderson, begging for it after George Tuska begged off the job. Almost single-handedly he brought the Legion back, helping to propel them to lead feature again after four years as a back-up. His uniform designs as well as his futuristic architecture are unforgettable, even today but especially in the context of then-contemporary comic art. His love of the characters shines through in every story. Dave Cockrum only stayed on the book for two years, but his effect on the series is immeasurable.

Because the story is only eight pages long, here it is in its entirety. Don't tell us we didn't warn you.


  1. I'm going to say the best part of this story is that the Kem family's dinner table just has big platters of rocks on it. That's a nice, funny detail, and one of two remotely plausible things to show up in the script. The other, I would say, is the one the reviewer (Russell?) seemed to think was the least plausible thing: the kid brother hitting M-E Lad in the face and nearly killing him. Bear in mind that Renkil hits Tenzil with a gun, and while countless detective novels and TV shows have suggested otherwise, getting hit in the head with a gun is no small thing. If the blow is hard enough, getting pistol-whipped will definitely kill you. That one disagreement notwithstanding, though, I thought this was a great review of a lousy story.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. And yes, it was me. I've edited it to add my forgotten by-line, oops!
      As for the pistol-whipping, you're right, of course, it *can* be a serious threat. I guess the way it's presented here, though, was just too silly for me to *take* seriously.

  2. Another silly thing - Tenzil's 'you forget I can eat energy' line. Just two panels earlier said brother reminded him they have the same power!

  3. Really? Really, Tenzil? The Legion is going to need a replacement for you while you heal?
    Poor, poor, delusional Tenzil Kem.