Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #281

Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #281 (Nov 1981)
title: "Madness Is The Molecule Master"
plotter: Roy Thomas
writer: Paul Levitz
penciller: Steve Ditko
inker: Bruce Patterson
letterer: Ben Oda
colorist: Gene D'Angelo
editor: Mike W. Barr
cover: George Perez/Bruce Patterson
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Superboy/Ultra Boy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, Karate Kid, Dawnstar, Blok

Lana Lang

Time Trapper, Molecule Master

Outside Smallville in the recent past, Ultra Boy (trapped in the body of Superboy) flies around the mountains thinking over recent events: how he somehow re-appeared as Reflecto, then remembered who he was but found himself inside Superboy's body. He tests his strength and decides he must really be Superboy. He tries to break the time barrier, but cannot. Elsewhen, the Time Trapper laughs at him for trying.

At the Kents' home, the other stranded Legionnaires prepare to go into town to buy groceries. The boys borrow some of Clark's clothes. Blok and Dawnstar, because they can't be disguised, are staying behind. Just then, a neighbor arrives unannounced, trying to sell girl scout cookies. Karate Kid, who has had the most amount of experience in the past, tries to convince her that they are friends of Clark's who are practicing for a school play. "Clark" Ultra Boy himself returns and vouches for them, and she leaves.
The majority of the Legionnaires head towards downtown. Saturn Girl and Phantom Girl did not borrow any of Ma Kent's clothes, so they are subjected to leers and jeers. They meet Lana Lang, who recognizes the Legionnaires. When she guesses that Clark Kent hanging out with the Legionnaires means he is really Superboy, she is shocked to hear him (Ultra Boy) act surprised at her accusations. Confused, she asks to be let in on the secret so she can help. Even though she is an Honorary Legionnaire, they do not tell her what is going on, and she walks off in a huff.
Back at the Kents' home, the snooping neighbor is back. Just as she gets closer to the house to peer into the windows, there is a terrible explosion downtown. Blok and Dawnstar decide that they must fly off into town to investigate.
In town, Molecule Master has destroyed a building to get the Legionnaires' attention. They establish that he is an android, and he admits that he is a tool of the Time Trapper. He is able to keep them busy when they attack him singularly, but as soon as they team-up and rush him en masse, he explodes.
Phantom Girl revives from the explosion first, as she was behind and therefore shielded by Super Ultra Boy and Blok. The US Army arrives to cart off the unconscious Legionnaires. Refusing to let that happen, Phantom Girl concentrates and shifts back to her home dimension, Bgztl, with Super Ultra Boy and Dawnstar.
As the Army takes the Legionnaires prisoner, somewhere and someWHEN else, the Time Trapper laughs the hearty laugh of the stereotypical bad guy.

Where to begin? The cover is typical Perez: lots and lots of characters on it, but still well designed and your eyes naturally stay on the Legionnaires in the center. Every time I look at it I scan the street signs, expecting them to be labelled "Perez St" and "Patterson Ave." It's the best thing about this issue for sure.

Which means, if you have been following these reviews, that the story inside is, basically, awful. We get three or four pages of "Superboy" flying around Smallville re-telling any new readers what is going on. We then get a few pages of "disguised" Legionnaires walking around Smallville...but wait, Phantom Girl and Saturn Girl don't disguise themselves? Surely they are the most conspicuous of the Legionnaires!? They couldn't have thrown on one of Martha Kent's summer dresses? Of course Lana is going to walk up to them and recognize them! Props to Roy Thomas for including Lana, by the way. I would have liked to have seen Pete Ross, too, as we aren't going to get to see the Kents.

On the other hand, it is good to see Molecule Master. In his first and only appearance he was an android sent to the Legion to try to steal the Miracle Machine. It's good to have some closure on that case, as it is revealed here that he (it?) is a tool of the Time Trapper.

On the *other* other hand.....huh? Why in the world is the Time Trapper after the Miracle Machine? If he really is a Controller, one of the aliens who actually created the Miracle Machine, why doesn't he just build himself a new one? (Also, as a side note, the Time Trapper *had* a Miracle Machine at the wedding of Saturn Girl And Lightning Lad. How did he get that one?!) And why would someone like the Time Trapper, whose shtick is to play with time, have a toy android around? Why doesn't he attack the Legion himself? I get a bad feeling about the inclusion of the Time Trapper in this story......and his posing at the end of the issue doesn't bode well. Isn't this how LAST issue ended, too? If the Time Trapper is so all-powerful, why is he just standing around all the time?

The fact that this Molecule Master does not have the same abilities as it (he?) did the first time is also jarring. In his first appearance his powers were similar to Wildfire's, able to master atomic energy blasts. This time, he is more of a "Matter Master" able to make inanimate objects come alive. Not really the same thing.

This the last guest-artist appearance of Steve Ditko, and coming as it does in the midst of the Reflecto-Super Ultra Boy-Time Trapper epic, it's quite jarring. This time out inker Bruce Patterson is able to keep most of the characters on point, but the snooping neighbor is especially cartoony. I get that she's supposed to be the Gladys Kravitz nosy neighbor stereotype, but she is, literally, a cartoon character. Ditko was really good at "weird" scenes, like when the street lamps come alive and wrap themselves around the army (see above). But the scene just before that, of Molecule Master facing down the Legion has to be described as dull.  Overall, the art in the action sequences is static, which is a shame.

Science Police Notes:  
  • Lana Lang last appeared in these pages in Superboy/Legion #255 in a story set in Smallville. She last met the Legion in Superboy/Legion #205
  • Molecule Master last appeared in Superboy/Legion #201
  • The nosy neighbor is not given a name. 
This issue has been reprinted in Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 2.

This story is the last guest-artist appearance of comics legend Steve Ditko in these pages. This issue also features the last George Perez cover. And most importantly, it features the return debut of Paul Levitz as Legion writer. He would go on to write the Legion's stories for the next eight years.  


  1. This is one of the first comics I ever bought with my own money. Which is a big deal, when you're 12. I knew enough about the Legion from reading my sister's old books that I wasn't COMPLETELY lost. Didn't understand why the art inside was different than on the cover. And of course I still remember that panel of Dawnstar in the shower...

  2. Didn't find these till years after they came out. Saying that, after the Crisis, the Reboot, the THREEBOOT and the unboot these are still the most confusing comics in the entire Legion run for me. Great covers though ;)

  3. Anyone know what the circumstances of Levitz's taking over the title in the middle of this story were?

  4. @Myk-El That shower scene with Dawnstar is emblazoned in my memory too!

    I agree that Imra & Tinya's lack of disguises made zero sense. And Patterson's inks are the saving grace for Ditko's out of place (imho) pencils.