Thursday, July 23, 2015

Superboy starring The Legion #228

Superboy starring The Legion of Super-Heroes #228 (June, 1977)
title: "That A World Might Live...A Legionnaire Must Die!"
writer: Paul Levitz
artist: Jim Sherman
inker: Jack Abel
colorist: Liz Berube
editor: Denny O'Neil
cover: Mike Grell (signed)
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Wildfire, Chameleon Boy, Superboy, Light Lass, Shadow Lass, Saturn Girl, Colossal Boy, Timber Wolf, Chemical King

Deregon, The Dark Circle

In Metropolis, President of Earth Kandru invites Legion leader Wildfire and Legion Espionage Squad leader Chameleon Boy to see him. He tells them about Governor Deregon of Western Australia, who appears hell-bent on starting a war. He asks them unofficially to try to stop him.

The next day, in Perth, Western Australia, the Legion kidnaps two secretaries who work for Deregon. After Saturn Girl is able to telepathically "share" the women's memories, Light Lass and Shadow Lass take their place. Similarly, Colossal Boy and Timber Wolf infiltrate the Australian Army. In a routine Army exercise, the two men have to fight two Army instructors. Deregon notices them, but does not recognize them as Legionnaires.

Light Lass and Shadow Lass have a machine that records the hyper-beam communication signal that Deregon uses to communicate with someone off-Earth. The Legion hopes that this will allow them to prove that he is doing something illegal or unethical. While he is busy communicating, Chameleon Boy smuggles the detector with the signal to Chemical King and Superboy. Chemical King uses his powers to strengthen the hyper-beam signal so that they can trace it to the world of the Dark Circle. Now armed with proof that Deregon is up to no-good, the two rush back to Earth.

Back in Perth, Deregon notices when the signal is jostled (when Superboy takes a moment to destroy a passing meteor). He calls out to Light Lass and Shadow Lass; Chameleon Boy panics, and they reveal their identities. In the enclosed area of Deregon's office and unable to escape, the Legionnaires are captured by the Australian Army.

At a rally, Deregon puts the three hostage Legionnaires up for display. Timber Wolf can't hold back when his girl-friend Light Lass is threatened, so they attack the whole Australian Army. Deregon gladly uses the incident as an excuse to set off his cosmic energy sphere. He boasts that the explosion will destroy nearly half the world, causing World War VII among the survivors, then allowing the Dark Circle to swoop in and take over whatever is left.

Superboy and Chemical King arrive, but there is Kryptonite radiation emitting from the sphere, which weakens Superboy. Chemical King rushes forward to control the chemical reaction of the sphere, causing the sphere to implode inward instead of explode outward. As he does this, however, he absorbs a lethal amount of radiation, sacrificing himself so that Earth will live.

Look closely in that first panel or you won't even see Chemical King! 
This is a great, flawed classic. Every time I re-read it I am reminded that it gets a lot of things right, but a few things wrong. And that is besides the fact that I love the character of Chemical King and didn't want him to die.

First, what works. The Espionage Squad seems to have a clear plan and they stick to it in good Mission: Impossible style until the train jumps the tracks. I especially like the idea that Chemical King is "behind the scenes" tracking the hyper-beam. With a non-visual power like King has, it makes sense that he would be at HQ analyzing or supporting, instead of actually being out "in the field."

Art-wise, James Sherman does a good job moving the action along. And the scene shifts are smooth and exciting. I especially liked how the word balloons linked the scene changes, such as when the first word of Chemical King's conversation is the last word of Timber Wolf's speech from the scene before. I also really like the splash page for this issue, telling us all we need to know for what is about to happen. When splash pages are just another image of the cover or add nothing to the story I'm not a fan, but when they tease you like this one does, I love them. I also really like the sequence where Saturn Girl exchanges the secretaries' memories. I think that is awesome.

Now let's talk about what doesn't work. My first complaint is the choice of members. I do like that Wildfire is asked to assign the Legion Espionage Squad to the job, and then is never seen again. This should be Chameleon Boy's show, and he does a great job under the circumstances. And I like how Saturn Girl shows up, does her job, and then moves off the stage. That, too, makes sense. But where are Chameleon Boy's go-to girls, Shrinking Violet and Phantom Girl? If they had been the secretary spies instead of Light Lass and Shadow Lass, this story might have ended differently. Did these two Legionnaires chosen actually resemble the two secretaries? If that was the case, then why isn't Princess Projectra involved in this mission? She could have hung around and never been seen! Likewise, I know that Paul Levitz likes Timber Wolf, but he's not really an "undercover agent" type. Someone like Element Lad, Ultra Boy, or Karate Kid would have made more sense as the other army recruits. Or Chemical King, for that matter. He could have waved his hand and made half a dozen army men faint from lack of oxygen in their blood.

Besides that, I like how the tension keeps getting ratcheted up until the inevitable climax, Man vs. Machine. However, Chemical King's characterization before that leaves a bit to be desired, and then his big moment lasts less than one whole page. Come on! Any long-term Legion fan who sees this cover knows how this is going to end. (If DC really wanted to build suspense, the cover should have featured Shadow Lass and Dawnstar or other newer non-"Adult Legion" fated members.) Then do we really need a self-conscious and insecure Chemical King before he stands up and saves the entire Earth? I would have liked to have seen the insecurity of King toned down some, maybe a comment or two with less bitterness, and then at least one whole page of him fighting against Deregon and the radiation. Then I really would have liked to have a death scene; one of those "Did I save everyone?" type of tear-jerkers instead of the unceremonious THUMP drop-dead we do get. (For another, somewhat better re-telling of his death, see Secret Origins #47).

Still, the shocked expression on the Legionnaires' faces and Superboy's sad expression as he picks up his friend's dead body does get the point across. Although Chemical King doesn't recognize it, he is the most important member in this adventure. If he hadn't tracked Deregon's hyperbeam, the Legion would not have known that he was working for the Dark Circle. Likewise, Chemical King burns a hole in Deregon's force field,  allowing Superboy to save their friends' lives and for him to save Earth. Chemical King didn't get any respect while he was alive, but now he will get respected for the rest of history. Rest in Peace, Condo Arlik.

Science Police Notes:  
  • To anyone with any Legion knowledge at all, the cover tells you specifically who is fated to die. 
  • This story obviously occurs before the events shown in DC Special #28, which actually went on sale after this issue. 
Reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives vol. 13 

Chemical King is the third Legionnaire to die in action.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't Chemical King the fourth Legionnaire to die? Ferro Lad, Invisible Kid and one of Triplicate Girl's bodies have died in action. Or, do we not count Triplicate Girl?