Thursday, November 20, 2014

Superboy starring The Legion #197

Superboy starring The Legion of Super-Heroes #197 (September 1973)
A review by Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage
title: "Timber Wolf: Dead Hero, Live Executioner!"
writer: Cary Bates
artist: Dave Cockrum
letterer: Ben Oda
editor: Murray Boltinoff
cover: Nick Cardy and Dave Cockrum

Mission Monitor Board:  
Superboy, Timber Wolf, Mon-El, Lightning Lad, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl; cameos by Ultra Boy, Duo Damsel, Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Chameleon Boy, Chemical King, Matter-Eater Lad, Cosmic Boy, Phantom Girl, Sun Boy, and Karate Kid


Clark is sitting under the apple tree with Lana Lang when he gets an urgent call from the Legion. He contrives to get an apple to hit Lana on the head to knock her out, then breaks the time barrier to join his pals. He is surprised to find Timber Wolf alive (I didn't even know he was sick). It turns out that six months ago he and Timber Wolf were on Asteroid X52 tracking a fierce Astral Vulture when the asteroid suddenly exploded, killing the vulture AND Timber Wolf. However, now he is back! Timber Wolf's memory of the last six months is blank, but someone who *does* know what happened during that time is racing towards Earth!

That night, Mon-El watches Timber Wolf sleep. He is afraid that some drastic event must have occurred to Wolf to cause such a terrible memory loss. Too bad the Legion doesn't have a telepath on duty who could maybe help out.
The next day The President of Earth arrives to give Timber Wolf the Valor Star to commend him for actually being alive, but Wolf suddenly has an irresistible urge to kill the President! While Superboy uses his super cape to catch the President when Timber Wolf flings him into space, Mon-El grabs Timber Wolf, who is now a snarling madman!
The next day Brainiac 5 subjects Timber Wolf to the Mento-Rehabilitator, curing him of his brain-washing. Timber Wolf remembers being transported to another dimension before the blast on the asteroid. He also remembers an alien that towered over him, but that is all. Too bad the Legion doesn't have a telepath on duty who could maybe help him remember what actually happened.
That night Mon-El doesn't perv on Timber Wolf sleeping, but it turns out maybe he should have.  Saturn Girl senses that he is up to something, and follows him into the main hall. It turns out that he has deactivated the head-quarters' defenses; the alien behind the whole thing lands and walks right in. Timber Wolf next goes to the control complex and sets off the super-secret self-destruct detonation timer. The alien warrior named Tyr attacks, shooting both Saturn Girl and Timber Wolf. Tyr admits that he is the one who destroyed the asteroid to kill the, to kidnap Timber Wolf in order to brainwash him into destroying Legion head-quarters.  And he hid *that* brain-washing behind a brainwash plot to kill the President. (How easy to brain-wash IS Timber Wolf?!?) Saturn Girl, who supposedly has super-telepathic powers, can't even manage a mental cry for help to a head-quarters full of sleeping super-heroes as Tyr looms over her. Luckily Timber Wolf attacks, knocking Tyr out (Wolf may be stupid, but he is durable). He then cuts off the detonator, because Saturn Girl can't even be bothered to do that. Tyr has been captured, but on closer inspection they notice that his gun has...escaped?

It is a good thing that this story looks so damn beautiful, because there are plot holes here you could steer a Legion Cruiser through! First of all and obviously, Saturn Girl should have been front and center in this story! A hero goes missing for six months and then returns, but can't remember where he has been...and you don't ask your telepath for help? Likewise, writer Cary Bates features quite a handful of Legionnaires in this story (his most so far) but yet somehow manages to forget to include the lead character's girl friend. Yes, Timber Wolf's main squeeze, Light Lass, is nowhere to be found. You would think that after six months of missing him, she wouldn't let him out of her sight.  (No comment on what Mon-El would have seen had Light Lass been in the story, either. We know he is used to watching from his years in the Phantom Zone.)
Besides those two glowering omissions, the story as is does not really stand the test of time, either. If Timber Wolf was supposed to have been dead for the past six months, why wasn't this ever mentioned in an earlier Legion story? Timber Wolf hadn't appeared since Sun Boy's birthday adventure in Superboy #191, published more than a year ago. Wouldn't it have been more dramatic if Cary had mentioned that Wolf had "died"? Maybe that was why the Legion was looking for his replacement when they interviewed Wildfire (Superboy #195)?  Plus there was no statue in the Hall of Heroes for Timber Wolf, either.
I get the impression that the decision to make this the "lead" story in this issue was last-minute. There is a whole scene in Smallville that was not necessary to the story, perhaps added to explain why Superboy is included in the action? Also, why was he the member who went with Timber Wolf to Asteroid X52? Superboy as a Reservist wouldn't have picked that mission to go on, would he? A note about why he was around at that time would have been nice. Perhaps it was originally written using Ultra Boy or Mon-El, and was switched to Superboy when it was decided to change the book's title? And lastly, the first night Timber Wolf is back the whole Legion appears to be on high alert, but the next night after he tried to assassinate the President, there isn't even a member on duty at the Mission Monitor Board!? Come on!!

Science Police Notes:  
  • Element Lad is shown on the cover, but does not appear in the story. 
  • Although Timber Wolf's new look and costume are spotlighted here, his look actually became more feral back in Superboy #191.
  • Karate Kid is back in his orange-beige jump-suit, discarding his high-collared yellow, white and black uniform that he wore in Superboy #193. Dave Cockrum changed his mind about using that costume and discarded it.  
  • Lighting Lad's classic Bronze Age costume quietly makes its debut in this issue.  
  • This issue features the debut of Tyr, the super-villain who would return numerous times to battle the Legion
  • Superboy stays in the future for two days, then flies back to Smallville "in time for Lana to wake up. "When he knocks you out, he *really* knocks you out.
Reprinted in Legion of Super-Heroes Archive Vol. 10

MILESTONE: This is the first issue of Superboy that features the Legion of Super-Heroes in the main title on the cover of the book. The Legion had come a long way from their first back-up in Superboy #172 in March 1971 to this point, and it's not too much to say that artist Dave Cockrum had a lot to do with it. Although the title of the book was still officially Superboy, and would remain that for several more years, from this month onward the Legion as a series would be published continuously for 40 years. As a group they were published every month from this issue until the seventh volume of their own title was cancelled in 2013.

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