Tuesday, November 28, 2017

TOS: Adventure Comics #320 Point-Counterpoint

Adventure Comics #320 (May, 1964)
title: "The Revenge of the Knave From Krypton!"
writer: Jerry Siegel
pencillers: John Forte and George Papp (pp 4-9)
inkers: Sheldon Moldoff and George Papp (pp 4-9) , Al Plastino (Superboy's face)
letterer: Milton Snapinn
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
editor: Mort Weisinger
review by: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board: 
Superboy, Mon-El, Sun Boy, Element Lad, Brainiac 5, Lightning Lad, Chameleon Boy

Proty II, Dev-Em, Radiation Roy

Molock the Merciless

Superboy flies into the future just in time to see Radiation Roy fail as an applicant. Roy had inherited millions of credits and spent that money to give himself radiation powers. Unfortunately, he could not control them so he is rejected.
Russell: I know it's a traditional bit, but don't you think some of these applicants should be a little bit better than they are? "I have this power but I can't turn it off!" doesn't sound like the best rallying cry to me.
Mike: I love Superboy's line about needing to get him away before he kills someone. It has this air about it like he has gone through this during lots of tryouts and is getting tired of it. Like it should have started with "oh, not again..." Putting aside the danger, Radiation Roy deserved to be rejected for the goofy name and horrible costume.

Afterwards, the Legion shows Superboy some of their new security devices when an alarm goes off because of an intruder. Superboy is then shocked when the intruder turns out to be Dev-Em, the teen-ager who caused him so much trouble in Smallville a few years ago. Superboy tells the Legionnaires (and us) of how Dev-Em was a juvenile delinquent on Krypton before it exploded. He stole various devices and tried to claim them, pretending to be a boy genius. Sometimes he just "borrowed" them to go joy-riding with them.

Russell: Is it just me, or does anybody else hear Lampwicke from "Pinocchio" when they read Dev-Em's word balloons?
Anyway, if the point of this extended flash-back is to prove that Dev-Em is a dick, it succeeds. I hate this character.
Mike: It is interesting that Krypton is so much more advanced in technology, but the people are essentially the same. Here, we have a guy who has just grown up to be a huge jerk and a criminal for no reason. He is like the evil preppy guy in an 80's teen film, you just hate him from the moment he shows up.

His family lived next to Jor-El and Lara. Because of that he hears that Jor-El is building a rocket to send baby Kal-El away. Dev-Em then managed to build a lead-lined room into a make-shift rocket so that he and his parents could escape the destruction of Krypton, too.  However, they entered suspended animation *and* a time-warp. By the time they arrived on Earth they had not aged, but Superbaby was now Superboy, roughly the same age as Dev-Em.
Russell: There is SO much silly Silver Age Superman stuff going down in this paragraph, I almost don't know where to start. A juvenile delinquent has the knowledge and ability to build a rocket out of a lead-lined room? AND convince his parents that they should trust him to save them? If this is all true, doesn't this make Dev-Em *smarter* than Jor-El?!?!
So then Dev-Em and his parents eventually wind up on Earth and his parents....don't wake up? It's never made clear what happens to them, as they are never seen or mentioned again. You would think they would have something to say about their little Dev bullying the people of Smallville.
Mike: I guess his parents are still in suspended animation? You would think Clark would do something about that.
Throughout the Silver Age, Krypton just became smaller and smaller. So many Kryptonians that Superman encounters seemed to have known his parents. If you were a Kryptonian and you met Jor-El, your chances of surviving Krypton's destruction skyrocketed.

Dev-Em tricked Superboy and sent him into the Phantom Zone, then pretended to be Superboy-Behaving-Badly in order to ruin Superboy's reputation. Dev-Em then brought Superboy back to Earth and he flew off into the future with his parents. Luckily, Police Chief Parker told the world that Superboy suffered from Red Kryptonite radiation, so he was forgiven.
Russell: I understand this story as an example of a by-gone era of innocence and silliness. But please for the love of the Legion can someone explain to me why the powers-that-be thought this would make a great sequel, in a Legion story at that? 
Blink and you'll miss Saturn Girl's sudden appearance on page 9, panel 3. 
Also, didn't Commissioner Kolar later have a huge career doing Hanna-Barbera space cartoons? 
Mike: I guess from the creators' perspective, the Legion is still pretty locked into the Superman universe at this point. They invited Jimmy Olsen to be a member, after all. They have built such a separate identity though that it is jarring when they get thrown back into his world like this.

Now, Dev-Em is an agent of the Inter-Stellar Counter-Intelligence Corps on a secret mission to take down Molock the Merciless. Doubting his story, the Legion communicates with ICC Commander Kolar, who vouches for him. Dev-Em had even undergone a psychotron test and passed it: he really had reformed. Then Commander Kolar sees an opportunity and grabs it: he asks Superboy to take over the mission because the Boy of Steel is more experienced. Dev-Em raises no objections, and Superboy agrees, all the while wondering if Dev-Em really has reformed.... 
Russell: After an extended flash-back to introduce and basically get us to hate this guy, there's an extended sequence to show that he's actually a great guy!? What the---!?
Seems like we could have had just any other new character show up and fulfill the requirements for Dev-Em in this plot, with a lot less folderol.
Mike: This story might set a record for most panels devoted to a flashback.  We literally get pages and pages of nothing but flashbacks.

Superboy prepares to impersonate Dev-Em. Dev-Em loans Superboy his uniform as Brainiac 5 makes a plastic mask of his face for Superboy to wear. Much is made of how Superboy is now impersonating Dev-Em, just as Dev-Em had once impersonated Superboy!
Russell: This is the point of this adventure, I guess. Jerry Siegel decided it would be "turnabout is fair play" for Superboy to pretend to be Dev-Em.
Wouldn't it have made more sense for the Legion Espionage Squad to hitch up with the real Dev-Em and make this a real Legion adventure, instead of this back-door Dev-Em pilot episode for an on-going series?
Mike: While the Espionage Squad would be more interesting, I do kind of like seeing Superboy undercover as someone else. I found myself curious to see how he would handle himself on the mission.

Superboy asks for some faked Legion gadgets to bring to Molock, so his pals oblige him. Superboy then goes on the pre-determined route as dictated by the crime boss and ends up at the Palace of Peace and Good Will, where he is instantly teleported to the head-quarters of the Cosmic Spy League. 
Russell: I think that scene of the boys hanging on to the table while Dev-Em lifts it up is hilarious. I wish *that* scene had been used for the cover.
Mike: There are a few panels I really enjoy of Dev-Em joining some tourists at a museum where he sees some unusual gadgets and statues of heroes from different alien worlds. I love these glimpses into the Legion's universe. The art is always fun to look at in how bizarre and unusual things can look, very much in the classic sci-fi aesthetic of the '50s and '60s. Also, it adds some sense of history and texture to their universe and conveys that their adventures do not exist in a vacuum...other significant stuff had happened and is happening.  Anyways...back to this story... 

Superboy "Dev-Em" immediately meets Molock, who demands to know what happened while Dev-Em was on Earth. Superboy lies about trying out for membership, then stealing the gadgets. He shows off the Legion head-quarters token, which glows now that it has been removed from the Legion club-house. Molock is pleased, so then exposes "Dev-Em" to gold kryptonite, stealing his powers. Molock blasts Dev-Em, but oddly he is not harmed. The criminals are surprised when the gold kryptonite shows itself to really be Proty II. Superboy rounds up Morlock and the criminal organization, placing them under arrest.
Russell: In typical Silver Age style, the action is wrapped up within one page. Talk about a let-down! I can't imagine the kids back in 1964 enjoying this huge build-up just to see it collapse in three panels.
Also, those aliens look cool. I wish we had seen them again. They are definitely more dynamic-looking than Bouncing Boy's evil Uncle Molock.
Mike: I am so glad you said that! This entire story he kept reminding me of Bouncing Boy. Seems like they could have made him look a bit more distinct. On the other hand, Forte did a great job making him look like a real sleazy villain. He is not just evil, but an obnoxious slob.

Back on Earth, Dev-Em admits that Morlock had asked for gold kryptonite, and that he had gotten some for him. Dev-Em knew that Superboy was in danger, and Proty II the telepath "heard" Dev-Em's concerns and offered to go with Superboy to help. When Superboy showed Morlock the Legion head-quarters token and it glowed brightly, Proty II switched out with the gold kryptonite, saving the day. 
Russell: So we now learn why Proty II was included at the beginning of this story: if he appears at the beginning he's fated to save the day? Again I'll suggest that instead of Proty II, including Chameleon Boy and maybe Invisible Kid or Phantom Girl would have made for a more interesting story.
Mike: I admit, I would never have predicted Proty II being the hero. I agree that I would have much preferred one of the other Legionnaires saving the day.

The Legion thanks Dev-Em for his help and asks him to join, but he declines. 
Russell: Is this story over yet? Can I come out and admit that I absolutely HATE this story now? Not only is it all over the place with characterization and motivations, the Deux Ex Machina of Proty II happening to find a case just like the case with the Gold Kryptonite already ready is beyond belief!! So of course he (it?) can take the Gold K's place and save Superboy. Of course. And the idea that Dev-Em would let Superboy go after Molock *knowing* that Molock had Gold K, and not warning him.....! Why, Mon-El could have taken BOTH of their places and made this story much, much more straight-forward. But during the Silver Age, the shortest distance between the beginning and the end was definitely NOT a straight line!!
Maybe part of the reason I hate this story so much is because it was such a long, drawn-out introduction to a character who we NEVER saw again during the Silver Age. Clearly DC was trying to introduce Dev-Em as "the character find of 1964," but also clearly, they failed! I wonder if bundles of letters arrived at DC telling them what an awful character he was. I wish I had a time bubble so *I* could write one of those letters~! Yuck, I hate this story SO MUCH.
Mike: How do you really feel? I cannot disagree with many of the criticisms but in the end, I just do not mind the story that much. Poty II is a Deux Ex Machina, but those were incredibly common in Silver Age DC comics. And...well, yeah, okay, that's about the strongest defense I can mount. Just be grateful Dev-Em did not accept that membership offer.

Science Police Notes: 
  • Dev-Em first appeared in Adventure Comics 287-288, also by Jerry Siegel and George Papp. This is the two-part story that is summarized here.  
  • Dev-Em's parents are named Ron-Em and Leeta. 
  • On Krypton the Els lived next to the Ems. 
  • After this story Dev-Em is not seen in action again until Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #294, nearly 20 years later.  

Milestones: Dev-Em is offered membership, but declines. He becomes the second person, after Stone Boy of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, to refuse an offer of Legion membership. 


  1. Nope, that would be Stone Boy. And why does Mon-EL have to hang onto the table? I also found some amusement in the Bouncing Boy/Molock resemblance. I hope the writer only got half-pay for this story considering how much of it was flashbacks. Still, it was not without merit, since it did show a previously villainous character reforming and not as a trick. Although it is hard to know how Dev-Em could be taught any lessons while in super-being mode. Usually such lessons are only learned when caught and super powers make escaping the consequences of your actions fairly easy.

    I have a question that this story kind of inspired. Did they ever do an imaginary story in which Jor-El actually did convince a substantial number of people of Krypton's impending doom and hundreds, if not thousands, of Kryptonians built rockets to escape to Earth?

    1. Good catch on the Stone Boy being the FIRST hero to refuse membership. I have edited my comment to include him. Thanks!

  2. "Maybe part of the reason I hate this story so much is because it was such a long, drawn-out introduction to a character who we NEVER saw again during the Silver Age."

    And when he reappeared after Crisis on Infinite Earths he was always a criminal or a villain, so I guess hardly anyone liked him.

    Many years ago I read a Legion fanfiction where Earth-One Supergirl fell for Dev-Em (and when Superman made his displeasure obvious, readers were supposed to think he was being unreasonable). Ironic, since he became an enemy during the New Krypton mega-arc and attempted to kill Kara in the Man of Steel prequel comic.

  3. If the Els lived next to the Ems, does that mean Kryptonian families are sorted alphabetically by surname? Did the Kays live on the other side, and the Ens further on down?

  4. My first exposure to Dev-Em was as a member of the ICC in an 80's Legion story, and I didn't encounter this tale until years later. I thought it was very cool that a Kryptonian wouldn't automatically suit up to be a public hero.

  5. This story should put to rest the idea that the early Legion had a rule against duplication of powers.