Tuesday, October 24, 2017

TOS: Adventure Comics #316

Adventure Comics #316 (January 1964)
title: "The Renegade Super-Hero!"
writer: Edmond Hamilton
artist: John Forte
letterer: Milton Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
review: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Mon-El, Bouncing Boy, Sun Boy, Superboy, Shrinking Violet, Element Lad, Lightning Lad, Chameleon Boy, Saturn Girl, Invisible Kid, Lightning Lass, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Brainiac 5

Raiders, lack of faith in your friend

Superboy flies into the future for a memorial ceremony for Proty, who sacrificed itself to save Lighting Lad. While waiting for the ceremony to start he watches the Legionnaires work out and also display their abilities in the process of making a gold statue of Proty.

I gotta say, this is a great way to introduce the characters to new readers. The characters call each other by name and then demonstrate their powers. Much more "natural" than having somebody say, "Oh, here's Shrinking Violet, who shrinks." Although, now that I mention that, this is just what happens here.....Never mind.
Afterwards, Superboy is in a hurry to return to Smallville when mysterious raiders begin stealing highly technical items from Earth, such as a solar generator and some Universium, the rarest and hardest metal in the universe. When he and Ultra Boy fly off to investigate, Ultra Boy teases Superboy about his secret origin: getting swallowed whole by a space dragon, which caused his body to be infused with "ultra" energy. This gives him various super-powers, but only one at a time. Ultra Boy goes off on his own to continue to scan the atmosphere for the raiders as the other Legionnaires arrive and check out the crime scene. 

Readers! This is the most important page of this story. Believe it or not, this is only Ultra Boy's 11th appearance, and the FIRST time he has ever been given his "one super-power at a time" trope. Before this all of his appearances were either in crowd scenes or where he only used Flash or Penetra Vision. This is a huge improvement on the character, and I feel like this story was written just to showcase him (and, to a lesser extent, Phantom Girl).

At SP HQ the Legionnaires ask to borrow the profiles of super-powered criminals, thinking that maybe looking at them will give them a lead on the raiders. They are shocked to find a profile on Ultra Boy using the name Rann Varal. His fingerprints and pore patterns match; there is no doubt that Ultra Boy is an escaped criminal. When confronted Ultra Boy apologizes and asks for forgiveness, but the Legion votes to expel him. Phantom Girl abstains, maintaining that something is horribly wrong. 

Look how bad ass Rann Varal looks. Like "I Was a Fugitive From a Future Teen-Aged Chain Gang." 
As Ultra Boy is escorted out of the Legion's Club-House, Superboy flies away to return to Smallville. Ultra Boy refuses to be taken into custody and flies off. When Mon-El tries to catch him, he switches to ultra-strength and their wrestling causes the Metropolis Spaceport Space Beacon to topple. Mon-El stops to fix it, allowing Ultra Boy to escape. 

Now we come to my first real question with this story. Ultra Boy's insignia is burned off....why? It's not like it's a Legion emblem. Are people not going to recognize him because he doesn't have a big green.....thingie...on his chest? (That reminds me, what IS that thing supposed to be? I always thought it was a space dragon, but it kinda looks like an eagle, too....)
I LOVE the dramatic BOOM BOOM as Ultra Boy walks his last mile.
Oh, and what is up with Superboy leaving in the middle of the adventure? It's TIME TRAVEL, Clark. For goodness' sake.

The Legion decides to drop everything and go after Ultra Boy, who they now consider a dangerous renegade. Phantom Girl reminds Sun Boy that Ultra Boy had saved his life on the Puppet Planet, but Sun Boy reminds her that the Legion has no choice; they have to stop Ultra Boy from sharing all of their secrets. The Legion releases a universal press release stating Ultra Boy is no longer a Legionnaire, and then they head out into space to try to capture him. 

Didn't we just see the Puppet Planet when the Legion faced off against Satan Girl, in Adventure Comics #313? But Ultra Boy wasn't there....?

Ultra Boy lands on an uncharted world, where he is surprised to be addressed by odd-looking creatures. He hears about a terrible experiment of mind-switching that can't be reversed. Although Ultra Boy can't figure out the machinery to cure the men, he allows Mon-El to catch up with him knowing that Mon-El, with his better knowledge of biophysics, will stop to help the misguided scientist and his victims. 

Hey, wait a minute! Didn't we just have an adventure where the Legionnaires' personalities were switched with monsters like Hitler and Nero? And the editor here is referencing another mind switch story from Action Comics #307. Boy, the Silver Age loved themselves some mind-swamping, didn't they?

Sure enough, Mon-El stops to help, causing him to lose Ultra Boy's trail. Saturn Girl tries to get a mental tracing on him, but he second-guesses her: he thinks of a planet so that she will pick up on his thoughts, but he doesn't actually go there. Later, the Legionnaires manage to catch up to him. Chameleon Boy confronts him with a gun, but Ultra Boy knows his friend is using Proty II as a bluff.

I really like the idea that Ultra Boy could escape his friends by using their powers and personalities against them. It's charming that Ultra Boy lands on a planet where he needs to help people, but because he can't he maneuvers it so that his pal, Mon-El, can. And Ultra Boy thinking hard about some planet he is NOT going to, to throw Saturn Girl off his trail. Brilliant! This might be the smartest Ultra Boy was ever portrayed.

 Phantom Girl thinks she knows where Ultra Boy is heading, so she sneaks off to meet up with him on Mirage World. 

...and promptly gets captured by a reverse hair-dryer.

Phantom Girl meets up with Ultra Boy just as the raiders come upon them. They offer him riches to join them and help take over Earth, and he agrees over Phantom Girl's strong disagreement. Ultra Boy leads the raiders to the Legion Club-House, where they capture Cosmic Boy and Brainiac 5. Then Ultra Boy uses a freeze ray on them, capturing them all. 
Ultra Boy admits that he saw the raiders earlier when he was alone, and was afraid that they would be too difficult for the Legion to handle in a fair fight. So he planted the false information that he had a criminal past, hoping that the raiders would come to him. Although the others were convinced, Phantom Girl never doubted him.  

In true Silver Age fashion, the story winds up within one page. To tell you the truth, I would have liked a little bit more drama between Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy. Wouldn't she confront him when he "gladly" agrees to sell out the Legion? Then she plays almost no part at all in the climax. It's almost like Edmond Hamilton didn't want to take any light off of Ultra Boy here, even though she could have easily crashed the raiders' ship or fought back in some way.
Still, the story ends with Ultra Boy getting saluted by his pals and his dragon back from Phantom Girl, so all's well that ends well.

For a special re-telling of this story, check back here on Monday when the LSB reviews Secret Origins #42, the secret origin of Phantom Girl! 

Science Police Notes:  
  • John Forte signed his art on the main splash page. 
  • The cover scene of the Legionnaires watching over Ultra Boy getting blasted was reused for years as the art for the letter column.  
This story has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol. 2 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol 1.

This issue features the first appearance of the "one power at a time" characteristic for Ultra Boy. Because he was only shown using Flash Vision in his debut appearance, that is the only super-power he was ever shown using up until this story.
This issue is considered the beginning of the Phantom Girl-Ultra Boy romance. Although they never share a kiss in this particular story, it is later established that they are a couple. As they never had any interaction before this story, and Phantom Girl is clearly flirting with Ultra Boy during this adventure, it is not difficult to imagine what must have happened after Ultra Boy's re-induction ceremony.


  1. Was Sun Boy the leader during this, or at least the deputy leader? He's acting and speaking like one: making battle plans, directing everyone's actions, making all those pronouncements. I thought he wasn't in any leadership position until the '70's (briefly) and then actually was the leader when the Legion collapsed just before 5YL.

  2. This was the story that vaulted Ultra Boy onto the list of my favorite Legionnaires. There is so much to like here. He & Phantom Girl have always been my favorite LoSH couple.

    I always thought is was hilarious that Phantom Girl & Shrinking Violet were practicing their powers alongside the other members. Because their abilities are physical, and endemic to their planets' races (not gained from an accident), it would be like one of us practicing breathing! I like to think the expression on Violet's face reflects her thinking the same thing ("yeah yeah, I'm practicing already! Put on a show, put on a show...").

    1. I thought Violet's face looked like it always did in this run of the book. Sad, always sad. Others in the letters page commented on that too and thought she suffered from clinical depression.

  3. The nature of love. To believe in someone that much, or to have someone believe in you that much is no small thing.

  4. "This might be the smartest Ultra Boy has ever been portrayed." I think the Bierbaums might take issue with that assessment (see 5YL Legion Annual #1).

    Also, I'm curious about the 4 pages of Legionnaire profiles mentioned on the cover. Are they reprinted anywhere else? Who was the artist? Forte or Swan? How do they compare to later profiles by Cockrum, Sherman, and LaRocque?

    1. Myk-El, the GCD says that the profiles were reprinted in Adventure Comics #365 (Feb, '68), and again most recently in Showcase Presents: The Legion of Super-Heroes #s 1 and 2 (2007 and 2008, respectively) and in the hardcover Legion Omnibus published earlier this year. The art was by Swan & Klein.
      Incidentally, the Swan & Klein picture of the tribunal on the cover was soon reused for Adventure Comics' subsequent letter page, The Legion Outpost.

    2. Also, we've started posting them over on our FB page. They will show up here after we post them all individually there.

    3. ...And I take offense with a lot of what the Bierbaums did, so that would make us even. ;-)

    4. Thanks, wordsmith. I'll be sure to check them out.

      And Russell, I also take offense at the Bierbaums, too. In particular what they did to Lightning Lad, or should I say Proty II? (UGH!). Only mentioned them because this story was most likely the inspiration for their take on Ultra Boy in the 5YL Annual #1. ;)

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