Thursday, August 13, 2015

Superboy AND The Legion #231

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #231 (Sept, 1977)
title: "A Day In The  Death Of A World"
writer: Paul Levitz
pencillers: Jim Sherman and Mike Nasser
inker: Jack Abel
colorist: Liz Berube
editor: Denny O'Neil
cover: Mike Grell (signed)
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Superboy, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Brainiac 5, Element Lad, Sun Boy

The Fatal Five (Tharok, the Emerald Empress, Validus, the Persuader, and Mano)

On their way to Earth, the ship carrying Karate Kid and Princess Projectra is grabbed by a tractor beam. Tharok and Validus wanted to kidnap the Legionnaires for some additional insurance as they are heading towards a planet called Mordan.

On Mordan, the Legion has been asked to help evacuate the planet. The High Seer of Naltor had a premonition that the planet's sun was going to explode, so the Legion is on hand. They are doing their best to build space arks, to communicate the situation to everyone, and to gather up all the inhabitants. In orbit above the planet, Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, and Element Lad are investigating the sun, trying to figure out why it will explode in order to try to stop it. Suddenly, their efforts are interrupted by the Emerald Empress.

On the Fatal Five's space ship, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra have escaped from their cells and are trying to escape from the space ship when they are re-captured.
Tharok tells the Legionnaires on Mordan to give up their rescue efforts or he will kill his two captive Legionnaires. He tells them that he is blowing up the sun so that the planet will be converted in the nova blast into Energite, the universe's most valuable metal. The Legion, of course, refuses to surrender.
Superboy tries to attack Tharok's ship, but a force-field keyed to the Legionnaires and to the Legion cruisers stops him cold. The Fatal Five then appears planet-side to fight the Legion in order to keep them busy so that they can not stop the sun from exploding. The Legion holds their own against the villains, but are unable to capture the Fatal Five, who escape. The Legion then turn their attention back to the more pressing issue of the solar explosion.
Ultra Boy and Colossal Boy build an artificial asteroid to save the two captive Legionnaires. Brainiac 5 guesses correctly that Tharok's force-field is not keyed to anything except the Legionnaires. So their asteroid breaks through, and the two Legionnaires pop out. Suddenly, the sun appears to go nova. In the confusion the rest of the Legion appears and captures the Fatal Five. However, the Five have an escape plan. As they disappear, they destroy their own ship in an attempt to destroy the Legion. Thanks to Brainy's force-field, however, none of the Legionnaires are harmed.
Sun Boy and Shadow Lass caused the illusion of the sun going nova to confuse the bad guys. Brainiac 5 had found a device planted in the sun that was speeding up the sun's rate of combustion, but he could not stop it. He needed access to Tharok's computer to deactivate it, so the Legion had to maneuver themselves onto the Fatal Five's space ship. With the bomb deactivated, the sun goes nova on its original timeline, so the Legion has time to save all of the Mordanites. Superboy is angry at the Fatal Five for risking so many lives. He is sure that they somehow got away, and he vows to track them down.

First the good news: with this issue, the title of this series changes from Superboy to Superboy And The Legion of Super-Heroes. As the unnamed letter columnist writes, "After 19 years of floating around the DC world, (the Legion) finally have a suitable home of their own." This was huge news in 1977, as my two favorite DC books (this and JLA) were now super-sized Giants. More pages of goodness!

....At least, that was the plan. However, Paul Levitz was still writing like he was trying to be Cary Bates, the art was still being inked by Jack Abel, and the editor didn't know the difference between Star Boy and Saturn Girl. And behind the scenes, the Legion was battling the Dread Deadline Doom. Things would get worse before they got better.

Still, this was a step in the right direction. Paul Levitz is moving slowly but surely in the direction of Jim Shooter. In fact, he does a good job of balancing all the story threads until the story ends with a rather silly conclusion. Paul was beginning to juggle more than one group at a time: he has Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl, and Shadow Lass conversing naturally, explaining to the reader the severity of the situation; he has Sun Boy, Element Lad, and Brainiac 5 cornered by the Emerald Empress; he has one group of Legionnaires battling the Fatal Five as Karate Kid and Princess Projectra attempt to escape. And all under the deadline of a sun about to explode! The suspense is the best part of the story, no question.
 On the other hand, there is a big chunk of story that seems to go untold: Karate Kid and Princess Projectra are captured and escape in scenes not shown, and then the Legion mops up the Fatal Five in less than one page?! Worst of all, Princess Projectra does nothing in this entire story except flirt with her boyfriend! Not a very good showing for one of the Legionnaires who actually helped the Fatal Five form in the first place.

There is a major gaffe in this issue, too. On page 12 the omniscient narrator tells us that Validus may kill his first Legionnaire during the battle on Mordan. Of course, all long-time Legion fans know that Validus killed Invisible Kid in S/LSH #203. When I read this, I knew that we were dealing with a group of people who didn't "know" the Legion as well as I did!
James Sherman is an awesome penciller. Just check out some of the close-ups he does, such as Colossal Boy on page 4, the Emerald Empress on page 7, or Superboy on page 15. However, the inking art by Jack Abel is so heavy-handed that when James Sherman's pencils are replaced by Mike Nasser's after Chapter Two, you basically can't even tell the difference! Only the close-ups and some specific body poses can help you identify who pencilled what. I wonder if Abel was inker because the two younger pencillers were late?
Science Police Notes:  
  • Mike Nasser is not credited, although it is obvious that he penciled some (most? all?) of Chapter Two. 
  • Although Lightning Lad is shown on the cover, he does not appear in the story. 
  • Colossal Boy is shown in a uniform combining his Dave Cockrum design and his most recent Mike Grell design. 
  • This story occurs after the events of Karate Kid #10, as referenced on page two. 
Reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives vol. 13 

With this issue, the official title of the book becomes Superboy AND the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion's conquest of Superboy's book is one step closer to completion.
Also with this issue, Superboy/Legion becomes a GIANT book of 34 pages for sixty cents.

1 comment:

  1. This summary is slightly off, and perhaps undersells #231, though it's true the pencils are uneven in Part II--and that victory occurs far too quickly at conclusion.
    Memorable Fatal Five mini-epic:
    LIVE Mordanites -appear- to be the intended source of the superova-generated 'priceless energite' the Five wants. Thus their struggle to prevent evacuation.
    Undersold moment:
    Superboy's dramatic superhuman missile attack on Tharok's ship, commenced upon hearing Tharok's revelation of plan for planetary genocide. Scan necessary.

    Memorable ensemble fight on Mordan.