Tuesday, August 29, 2017

TOS: Adventure Comics #308 Point-Counterpoint

Adventure Comics #308 (May 1963)
"The Return of Lightning Lad!"
written by Edmond Hamilton
drawn by John Forte
lettered by Joe Letterese
cover by Curt Swan & George Klein
review by Anj and Russell

Mission Monitor Board: Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy, Brainiac 5, Lightning Lad (?!) ; cameos by Saturn Girl, Mon-El, Shrinking Violet, Superboy, Supergirl, Invisible Kid, and Triplicate Girl

Hello everybody and welcome to Silver Age Tuesdays. It's Anj, from the Supergirl Comic Box Commentary site and this Legion blog. I usually hang out here on Fridays but Legion Leader Russell offered me the chance to review this Legion story and I jumped at the chance. As most know, I am also a huge Ayla Ranzz fan and so this review will be a special treat.

"The Return of Lightning Lad!" was written by Edmond Hamilton with art by John Forte and introduces two characters to the Legion mythos. One of them is my beloved Ayla, a character who I have comic crushed on for decades. As is my wont in life and on many levels, I wouldn't have a chance with her.

So settle in for a fun story with some standard Silver Age odd moments. We will run this as a Point-Counterpoint, with me starting off and then let's see if our Leader has anything different to add!

Anj: The story opens with a nice half splash setting the stage of the story nicely. Lightning Lad is back. He is standing in his usual battle pose. The team is urging him to use his powers but there are no lightning bolts emanating from his hands. We see that Sun Boy fears that Lightning Lad may no longer have his powers. For readers at the time, this must have been a great hook. Characters rarely died then. And it was even rarer for dead characters to come back. So I surely would have been intrigued.
We also get the first look at the new Legion flag, lustrous, metallic, and indestructible! We have seen that flag hoisted on the HQ and carried as a standard into battle. It makes sense that they would want to lay the flag on Lightning Lad's coffin. And, of course, it is Saturn Girl who recommends this. She is probably still hurting.
Russell: I gotta admit, this story starts out strong. The debut of the Legion flag is cool, and the idea of draping it on Lightning Lad's crypt is reverent and serious. So far so good---!

Anj: The team heads to Lightning Lad's crypt, where they are amazed to see Lightning Lad move! They assume that the lightning bolts pounding the crypt must have revived him somehow. This is definitely  a foreshadowing of the true revival of Garth. I do find it a little weird that they are so nonchalant about this whole thing, though.
Russell: I like how Cosmic Boy is ready to explain what Bouncing Boy sees as "deep emotions." Sheesh! YOU were supposedly his best friend, ya jerk.

Anj: Bringing Lightning Lad back to the headquarters, the team hears him describe his time in limbo. Amazingly, Cosmic Boy's first thought is to oust Garth for not having powers. Talk about being a stickler for the rules. The dude was dead! Thankfully Sun Boy tells Rokk to calm down.
Russell: I thought this was weird, too. "He lost his memory after he *died* and so therefore maybe he lost his power. Let's review his origin...." Wh-what?
And here we see Lightning Lad attacked by Lightning Beasts, with no sign of his brother, Lightning Lord. Mekt was included in Garth's origin *almost* from the beginning, yet is missing here. Another casualty of having so many different Legion stories in so many different books written by so many different writers.
Oh, and look quick or you'll miss Supergirl, who is at the Club-house to welcome Garth back but then promptly disappears again.

Anj: Immediately, Garth joins the team on missions but he seems unable to bring forth lightning. Cos keeps trying to prove that Lightning Lad is powerless but Sun Boy keeps covering up for him. Here, the team is looking for a hidden Thieves' World. It is Sun Boy who brings down a criminal ship. Such an odd dynamic ... Rokk hoping to kick Garth off and Dirk covering for him.
Russell: It seems the Legion has come a long way from booting Sun Boy out when he lost HIS powers. In fact, maybe that embarrassment and loneliness from a few issues ago is what is driving Sun Boy during THIS adventure? It seems logical that the Legion would simply pull Lightning Lad aside and ask him to throw out some lightning bolts. Where's the harm in asking him to do that?

Anj: The downed ship turns out to be a pirate ship hauling off prized animals. One of them is Proty! That's right! This issue introduces us to Cham's pet shape-shifter. How ironic that this is his first appearance given the ending to the later 'true revival' of Lightning Lad. Luckily the downed ship's GPS is set to return to the Thieves World. The team heads back.
Russell: This is where the story gets a little weird for me. So these animals have been stolen, and the Legion is going to return them to the proper authorities, except for Proty, who Chameleon Boy is going to keep as a pet? Uh...isn't that stealing?
Also, look closely and you'll see Invisible Kid and Mon-El helping to load the animals onto the Legion cruiser. Invisible Kid disappears for the rest of the story, which, okay, that's what he does, to that makes sense, but Mon-El is supposedly off with Saturn Girl fighting Space Fungus. It would help if the artist could remember what the stars of the story are supposed to look like.

Anj: The team discovers the Thieves' Planet, hidden behind an invisible screen. On the planet, they try to fit in as criminals and are eventually brought to the leader of the world, a glowing robot orb. I found it strange that the team was still so little known that they weren't recognized as Legionnaires.
Russell: It's worse than that, Anj, because only a few pages earlier the Legionnaires themselves say, "Oh, the pirates must have seen us and are going to try to kill us!" Which is it!?! And the guards are robots, you dont' think they would have been programmed to recognize Science Police and Legionnaires?

Anj: The energy globe senses the powers of the group and makes itself invulnerable to their power of light, heat, and magnetism. But sensing that no one believes Lightning Lad has his powers, it remains vulnerable to lightning, thinking it isn't in danger. Finally, Lightning Lad unleashes his lightning power, shorting out the globe. Why wait so long to show his powers?? This is the one part of the story that still makes no sense.
Russell: The ONE part? How about the idea that Bouncing Boy and Chameleon Boy have non-offensive powers, so they should have been able to take down the robot guards. In fact, Chameleon Boy doesn't do anything in this part of the adventure except wave Proty around as a made-up ray gun. Bouncing Boy doesn't do anything at all. Pretty lame if you ask me. Lastly, the energy globe uses telepathy to communicate, and reads the Legionnaires' minds....and doesn't realize Lightning Lad's secret?!

Anj: And then, Sun Boy points out that Lightning Lad doesn't have an Adam's apple, making it clear that he is a woman. Sun Boy deduces that it is Ayla, Garth's twin sister. Sun Boy assumed she didn't have powers, so was covering for her.
Russell: And how about this whopper!?! Although I like the idea of Ayla taking her brother's place, joining as her brother really makes no sense. And I know it's wrong to read these Silver Age stories with a modern sensibility, but....it really would have worked better if we had seen any of the other boys' Adam's apples. I'm just saying.

Anj: Earlier in the issue, we saw a recap of Lightning Lad's origin. (I guess he was forward thinking to wear a lightning costume on the day he got his powers.) Here we see a panel again, and this time with Ayla conveniently added. But hey ... where's Mekt??
Russell: Ah, twice in one issue and still no older brother! I like how from the very beginning Ayla is introduced as Garth's twin sister. She has enough (superficial?) resemblance to him to confuse the Legionnaires, but after this story their resemblance is never mentioned or shown again. In fact, she is sometimes called his little sister, in direct contradiction to this story.
Anj: Ayla felt such grief that she decided to take her brother's place on the team. Why she felt she needed to imitate him, I don't know. She could honor him by taking his place as herself.
Russell: I totally agree.
Anj: And, of course, as soon as the reveal happens, the character goes from the barrel-chested look of Garth to the petite, curvy, girlish figure of Ayla. Love the beehive!!! And so there is a new Legionnaire!
Russell: THAT is the worst part of this story. Okay, we get it. Mon-El can dress up as Marvel Lad and fool his friends. But a bunch of teenage boys can't tell the difference between a boy and a girl? I mean, come on! Check out how Forte drew "Lighting Lad" up until page 11...handsome, buff, and clearly a boy. It's right there in the page we reprinted....he's handsome Lighting Lad in  that second to last panel until suddenly she's petite Lightning Lass. Wow....and not in a good way.
Anj: There is a lot to wrap your head around here. Cosmic Boy swiftly trying to kick Lightning Lad off the team was weird. Ayla not using her powers in the early situations was weird. Sun Boy hiding the fact that an imposter was in their midst was weird. All that said, it ends with Lightning Lass on the team, so I can't complain.
Russell: Well, if you can't complain then I guess I have to, haha! This is the perfect example of that worst type of "twist ending" story that Silver Age writers seemed to love springing on their readers. Maybe John Forte didn't take the time and effort to make the twin-angle of the characters work better. "He" certainly looked like a boy for the duration of the story. And then Lightning Lass' motivations were never made clear.  And of course the whole story depended on Saturn Girl not being around....imagine if she had been! If Ayla had managed to "hide" her thoughts, how would she have gotten out of her romance with Imra?! I DO like the inclusion of Lightning Lass, but the way she is literally shoe-horned in could have been SO much better....!
On a last note, I DO like that Sun Boy's hair color doesn't match the Ranzz twins' hair color. That's a point that I have never noticed before.

Science Police Notes: 
  • The scene in the splash page never occurs in the story. 
  • The Science Police are actually called the Science Police in this story. 
  • Lightning Lass moves her brother's dead body from the Legion-built crypt to a "Lightning World" without anyone being the wiser.

Milestones: Lightning Lass joins the Legion in this story. The Legion flag and Proty are introduced in this story. 


  1. I always found it amusing that during the origin recap, when Garth gets his powers, he thinks "This'll allow me to join that new Legion of Super-Heroes." It wasn't until later that he was established as one of the FOUNDERS! Again, as you said, Russell, "another casualty of having so many different Legion stories in so many different books written by so many different writers."

    To your point about Saturn Girl: the romance between her and Garth didn't really begin until after Garth comes back, and there were no real hints about it beforehand.

    So, Ayla "short-circuited" the Thieves Master's brain? Does that mean she KILLED him? Uh-oh! And where's Phantom Girl in this meeting of the girl Legionnaires?

    1. Adventure Comics was the comic book I couldn't live without when I was I young boy !

      Just the best and I was hooked !

  2. As a big legion fan I'm surprised I've never read this story but heard about it or seen it seen it in flash backs so many times, I thought I'd seen it all, but that is one heck of a transformation! Do they already have those overnight gender/bender drugs? (That Kono once took.) That would fool people if you were twins. Only in a cast this large could you have so many extended family members; three sets of twins, two sisters, first cousins, an adopted brother, plus all the future marriages.
    I love overthinking the whole "Lightning Family" saga. How this family gains powers and revives from death from electrical currents that would kill (and does) most beings.
    Speaking of forward thinking, very funny by the way, not just a new girl, but a girl with a "boy power". Nit Picking here, but Lightning Lass' new hairdo is a Bouffant as is Princess Projectra's style. Night Girl, now that's a Beehive. Many Thanks.

  3. Sorry. I'm thinking now, that it was Matter Eater Lad that took the sexual reassignment drugs. Much to Kono's amusement if I'm right this time. DON'T DO DRUGS KIDS!

    1. I don't know about M-E Lad, but Element Lad's lady friend, Shvaughn Erin, was revealed to have taken "ProFem" as a man ("Sean") and became a woman ("Shvaughn") in a classic/controversial 5YL story.

  4. I read this issue!

    It was entertaining, but I found real confusing that Ayla looked right like her male brother up to the reveal, and the next panel she's slimmer and more womanly.

    I notice that, for some reason, when comic fans talk about female counterparts of older male heroes -often to whine about said female characters existing on grounds of allegedly "lacking originality" or supposedly "de-uniquing" their male counterparts- they never bring up Lightning Lass. Supergirl, Batgirl, Mary Marvel, Spider-Woman, She-Hulk... sure, but Ayla never comes up ("But Ayla's powers aren't like her brother!" "You're assuming said fans know, care or can tell the difference" "Oh, okay"). Then again, given what Kara (killed off and retconned out), Barbara (crippled) and Mary (turned evil and crazy) have gone through, maybe Ayla is better off being unnoticed.

  5. I would add Hawkgirl, Element Woman and Ms. Marvel to your list of "weak sisters", all of which I love. But I always loved when Babs operated very independently of Batman and Gotham City with other D.C. legends like Superman and Supergirl. Also unlike the others there is no blood relation (more twins) or transfusions like most. Speaking of male/female sidekick relations, What was Kitten to Cat Man, in those old golden age stories? Back to Legion male female couples I've always thought of Dream Girl, Saturn Girl and Phantom Girl as being the smarts behind their impulsive and sometimes obtuse boyfriends. Sure the legion has it's share of wallflowers and cheerleaders, but the legions lasses have never been short on brains and bravery.

  6. I don't think it's all that odd for a guy to refer to his twin sister as his "little sister", if she's, well littler than him. Also, re Cham's "adoption " of Protty, I'm sure that appropriate arrangements were made.

  7. "I would add Hawkgirl, Element Woman and Ms. Marvel to your list of "weak sisters", all of which I love."

    Yes, they rock.

    I'd also add May Parker. I enjoyed Spider-Girl very much, despite the weak supporting cast.

    I hope my former post didn't give the wrong message that I think those female characters are weak, although some fans like to assume so.

    (And then when Supergirl beats Superman they scream bloody murder and claim she would stand no chance against Darkseid. Yes, The Great Darkness Saga proved that for sure. After all, she was quickly taken down whereas Superboy fought on... What do you mean my sarcasm detector is broken?)

    Back on topic, I notice Light Lass and Shrinking Violet are sharing panel space in Ayla's first appearance. Heh.

  8. With all the contrivances of this as-Silver-Age-as-it-gets story, look at the wealth of story material in these few pages:
    Setting up Garth's actual resurrection
    Introducing Ayla
    Introducing Proty
    As mentioned, Proty's role in the aforementioned resurrection
    All issues relating to Proteans sentience
    Mekt's absence/inclusion
    The Ranzz family dynamics
    Garth's "bad luck"
    Potential ways Ayla passed as Garth (from the decades in the making gender reassignment drugs, to all kinds of image distorters introduced later on)
    And of course, the uber-controversial 5YL Annual 3 revelation.

    Sure as hell Hamilton was expecting those kind of long legs...

    1. Agreed! These Silver Age stories could be bonkers, but you got your money's worth.

    2. I'm not sure Hamilton WAS expecting this story to be such a mother lode for future stories. Sure, he was setting up Garth's resurrection by introducing Proty, but the rest was for other writers to mine.

      For Hamilton, it was undoubtedly just another assignment, finished with no thought to anything but getting the next plot from Weisenger. No thoughts about the future. No story arcs, no reprints or TPs, no royalties or credit. No nothing.

      Such was the fate of many Silver Age, and Golden Age, comic book writers. Sad.

  9. Maybe Mekt wasn't included because she was ashamed of him.

  10. 1. Where was Garth's body while Ayla took his place?
    2. How long did she have to wait in his coffin before the Legion showed up to offer their respects to Garth?
    3. I think this story didn't mention Mekt because Lightning Lord's original origin, in Superman #147 (1961), was written by Jerry Siegel, and this story was written, as mentioned, by Edmond Hamilton.
    4. The concept of a woman who disguises herself as a male and who has a "dead" twin brother seems to have been loosely borrowed from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night; Ayla does provide a reason for her disguise: She feared that if her super-power became public knowledge, malefactors would force her to use it for evil purposes, which prompts some questions, such as "Why couldn't malefactors in Ayla's world have forced Garth to use his power for them?" and "How powerful must these malefactors be to overcome bolts of lightning?" and "How could Ayla hope to continue Garth's work with the Legion secretly when Adventure #306 showed us that Legionnaires have huge statues of themselves on a main street in Metropolis? Did she make Metropolis and the Legion promise not to build one of her?", not to mention what having an enormous statue of oneself could do to one's ego.