Thursday, October 29, 2015

Superboy & The Legion #239

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #239 (May, 1978)
title: "Murder Most Foul"
plot/layouts: Jim Starlin
dialogue/plot assist: Paul Levitz
finished art: Josef Rubinstein
letterer: Ben Oda
colorist: Cory Adams
editor: Al Milgrom
cover: Mike Grell & Josef Rubinstein (signed)
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Ultra Boy, Superboy, Sun Boy, Timber Wolf, Wildfire, Colossal Boy, Mon-El, Dawnstar, Shadow Lass, Star Boy, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy

Legion advisor Marla

unnamed murderer and plotter

On Rimbor, Ultra Boy has returned in response to a call from an old friend, An Ryd. He meets her at the seedy hotel she requested, but immediately after he arrives he is shot in the back by a mysterious stranger. He then murders her in cold blood.
Ultra Boy awakens on one of Rimbor's moons, confronted by some of his Legion friends and Marla, his old sponsor and former Legion advisor. They tell him that An Ryd was killed by heat vision and wearing Ultra Boy's Legion flight ring. He wants to prove his innocence, so breaks free. He makes sure he uses a nerve block on Dawnstar so that she cannot track him, then manages to evade the others.
Ultra Boy returns to Rimbor to search for clues, but cannot find any. He hides at one of his old friend's apartment, only to be surprised by Chameleon Boy. Cham listens to Ultra Boy's story, and believes in his innocence (although he won't admit it). He promises Ultra Boy that he will investigate.
Meanwhile, Superboy confronts Marla about his motives. Marla says he is only trying to protect the reputation of the Legion. They decide to head back to Rimbor, as Chameleon Boy verifies the retina scans of each of the Legionnaires on this mission, but still believes that one of them is an impostor.
The Legion searches for lead-encased rooms on Rimbor, finally finding Ultra Boy's hiding place. Ultra Boy tries to escape, but although he was successful in escaping from them earlier, he is finally captured by Mon-El and Superboy. 
As the Legion returns to Earth with their captive, Chameleon Boy steps up with evidence that one of the Legionnaires is an impostor. The Legionnaires take care of the robot impostor, freeing Ultra Boy. Chameleon Boy thinks he knows who is behind the frame and the murder, but will keep quiet until he has proof. Ultra Boy thanks him for his support.
Somewhere else, the murderer promises to continue his war against the Legion. 

This is another one of the better Giant-Sized Legion issues. It is fast-paced, full of action AND characterization, and boasts a heck of a mystery to boot. I am not going to spoil the identity of the impostor here, because if you get a chance to read this story you should be given the chance to "play along" with Chameleon Boy as he solves the puzzle. I'm guessing it's impossible (the clues are there but very minor), and that is not just because I was totally overwhelmed the first time I read it!
Jim Starlin shows an obvious love for the characters in his art and in the story. Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, and Shadow Lass all get the royal treatment here; it will be several years before they are handled this well again. Sure, it's a little bit silly for Ultra Boy to "go on the lam," instead of trusting justice to figure out who really killed An Ryd. But I believed the characterization of a hot-headed jock just trying to do his best. It worked for me. And the art....the Legion hasn't looked this good since Joe Rubinstein inked Jim Sherman, a few issues ago. Although Cham looks a little bit too "alien" and Phantom Girl and Timber Wolf look a little bit different than how we're used to, overall this is some good stuff.

Science Police Notes:  
  • This is the first appearance by Marla, the Legion Advisor, since Action Comics #392
  • In a nice bit of continuity, Cosmic Boy shows up in the middle of the story in a new Legion Cruiser, Ultra Boy having absconded with the first one. 
  • Turning the bad guys' idea against them, Mon-El and Superboy search for lead-lined rooms that are not laboratories or other official locations, homing in on a lead-lined apartment in the middle of the city. 
  • The murderer would eventually be revealed in a story that appeared a year after this issue, and then re-revealed again two years after that. Stay tuned. 
This issue has not yet been reprinted.

This is the first Legion story by comics great Jim Starlin.


  1. I have fond memories of this one. It was a stand-out story from this era. Starlin and Rubenstein did fantastic work, the story was fast-paced and gripping, there were some good character moments -- I really liked the way Levitz wrote Cham as detective -- and this was the first time I ever saw a comic book writer point out that "hiding behind lead" was actually like a flashing red light to Superboy. "Just look for the block of lead in the middle of town."

  2. The follow-up story was supposed to be tabloid sized like the wedding of LL and SG, but editorial got in the way (as they always do), and the story was in 250-251, with Starlin using the name "Steve Apollo".

  3. I thought the Legion was ridiculously hostile to Ultraboy when they first confronted him, especially Marla. Just look at their faces! Furthermore, they say An was killed by Heat Vision. She was killed by a heat beam. Clearly any kind of ray could have killed her (as we know it did) so why are they jumping to it was "Flash Vision". Even Mon-EL or Superboy could have killed her from another planet with combined telescopic vision and heat vision after UB had left her.