Tuesday, July 17, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #349


Adventure Comics #349 (October 1966)
title: "The Rogue Legionnaire!"
writer & layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inkerGeorge Klein
letterer: Milton Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewer: Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knol

Mission Monitor Board:  
Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl, Shrinking Violet, Superboy

Guests: 
winner of the Metropolis Students' Science Fair (Rond Vidar)

Opponents: 
Universo



Editor's Note: 
As of this review the LSB Applicant Review Board has completed our check on the Blogger known as Anachronistic Kid and hereby offer him membership in the Legion of Super-Bloggers! He will be helping out with the Silver Age "The Original Series" reviews, on his own (like this one) or on a mission team. Welcome to the blog, Kid; don't sell us out to the Khunds! 



This issue marks the debut of the classic Legion villain Universo, initially referred to as Universo, the Unwanted (aka The Rogue Legionnaire). He’s definitely unwanted, but never actually becomes a Legionnaire, so that’s a bit curious. The cover image is striking and features a solid blue background that lets the characters pop. Furthest from the reader we see Universo, a bald, older man with a small black patch covering his right eye, a bright pink outfit and a green cape that give him a Lex Luthor vibe.


What sets him apart is the glowing green eye pendant on his chest which shoots out yellow beams at the heads of the cover’s Legionnaires, and their blank stares let us know he has them under his mental control. This is confirmed by the perfect dash-marked-staccato-speech-of-Superboy in the foreground, a surefire sign of being hypnotized. Even though Superboy is looking away from Universo, as if seeking our help, he confirms that Universo is now “one-of-us!” -- a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes! But, spoiler alert, that never actually happens.


The first page features a fantastic layout to foreshadow the issue. Universo is in a glowing circle in the center and his pendant’s yellow rays slice the page into 5 shards, each featuring a Legionnaire in a different time period. The caption near the top introduces the previously-unseen Universo as “their arch-foe,” and beneath he taunts that he can be found in one of the featured time periods: Old China, Medieval England, Ancient Peru, Napoleonic France or amid the pyramids of Egypt. These seem kind of vague, but it’ll make sense later.
On page two the story actually begins with the exciting thrills of the annual Metropolis Students’ Science Fair. Golly! The Mayor has appointed Shrinking Violet, Saturn Girl, Colossal Boy, Superboy and Brainiac 5 the judges of the contest. Brainiac 5’s attention is caught by a moving scale model of the asteroid belt within a Kandor-esque container as the others marvel at the rather large digital computer taking up half the page-width panel. Truly a marvel of science.


Then Superboy becomes fascinated by a young man who built a collapsible time cube that “can transport matter through the fourth dimension, to the past or the future!” Between the Legionnaire judges, the crowd and the entrants it seems that nobody is concerned about a kid making a time machine. Boys will be boys, huh?


The genius places a small statue in the cube and it vanishes, only to reappear in “the dinosaur age” as seen on the monitor next to the cube. I found myself fascinated by the ability to visually monitor the progress of whatever is transported by the time cube. And the way the boy is drawn to look almost simian from the side.
The judges unanimously agree to award the boy first prize, but just then an alarm on Brainiac 5’s belt tells the Legion that someone is trying to break into the clubhouse. The Legionnaires apologize for not staying to take pictures with the winner, but the safety of the clubhouse is at stake! As they race through the sky we see hands angrily banging a wall, then a blaster melting the clubhouse front door. Universo makes his impressive entrance strutting through the blasted hole to find the Legionnaires, now with Chameleon Boy, waiting for him.
Universo abandons his initial plan to steal a time bubble and instead announces his desire to join the Legion. He’s immediately hit with “You’re too old!” and, oh yeah, he broke into the clubhouse. But before Universo can be led out he exhibits his “power of super-hypnosis!” and we quickly learn from a caption, not a villainous brag, that “nothing can counter the hypnotic ability of Universo.” Only Brainiac 5 is able to fight back, thanks to his computer brain and Universo splitting his power to control six individuals.


Brainiac 5 breaks free but has to quickly shield himself from a hypnotized Superboy’s attack, leaving Universo enough time to destroy one time bubble and steal the other. As soon as Universo escapes the Legionnaires are freed of his hypnotism, with the exception of Superboy. It seems that Universo used Kryptonite dust in his hypnotic eye and gave the Boy of Steel a post-hypnotic suggestion to, I guess, just stand there blankly?


The team despairs at how long it’ll take to create a new time bubble, but just then Professor Huxton of the Chrono-Research Lab appears on the communications screen. He notifies the Legion of five areas of time-disturbances as seen on the opening page. Now we’re getting somewhere! Five somewheres, even! The Legionnaires thank Huxton for his help, and he notes he’s “always glad to be of service…” --comm screen is switched off-- “...to my master, that is… Universo!” Diabolical!


Anyhoo, Brainy has the idea to rush back to the science fair and borrow the prize-winning time cube to transport the Legionnaires to the aforementioned time periods. But wait, wasn’t it only big enough to fit a small statue? How is this going to work?
Expand it to full size! Of course! At Brainy’s request the still-unnamed lad explains that his time cube works on the same principle as the time bubbles (“gamma-vibro-radiation”) but differs in that his device “merely projects its contents!” Oh, and quick fine print, a person can only remain in the past or future for 24 hours and must be in the same spot at which they arrived in order to be transported back, lest they be stranded in time. Everyone clear on that? Great! On with the time-travel!


Chameleon Boy lands in the city of Cuzco, the Incan capital of Peru in 1300. Immediately he sees a caravan marching up a hill about to be smashed by a boulder from enemies above. He quickly transforms his body to a giant lens and focuses the sun’s rays “into a powerful blast that vaporizes the boulder.” The people he’s saved quickly see him as Inca, the Sun God, and take him to their ruler’s palace. There’s a really great shot of him being carried away, the object of worship. I feel like there should be some Legion rule against letting past civilizations believe you’re a God. Cham is made to prove the people’s claims by being thrown into a volcano; survive and confirm he’s the Sun God or perish in the molten lava for committing sacrilege.
Meanwhile, back in the future, the boy-- let’s call him Time Cube Lad-- feels helpless watching the Legionnaires and decides to rummage the store room for parts to create a new device so he can help the heroes. Because that’s one of those afternoon projects he can just whip up.
Back in Peru Chameleon Boy is able to transform himself into a parachute and glide over to a ledge, thus surviving the test. The people hail the Sun God, but the current ruler is enraged and recalls “the strange one in the globe-thing” that warned him of the “powerful stranger” who would arrive and take his throne. Cham sees the look in the King’s eyes and knows he’s been hypnotized by Universo, but this sudden realizes comes only moments before the King dives at the hero and they both plummet into the heart of the volcano.


Cut to Egypt, 1243 B.C., where Shrinking Violet arrives and goes shopping for a new outfit. One of Universo’s minions, the owner of a well-trained falcon, immediately spots her and loudly accuses her of paying for her new clothes with false gold. Violet realizes the man is in Universo’s trance and shrinks down to escape the guards trying to catch her. Violet flies away over the great pyramids, but the falcon, Horus, spots her and gives chase. Violet tries to dodge the bird but is “grazed and stunned by the talon” and plummets to earth. She lands safely in her small size, only moments away from being trampled by a horse-drawn carriage!
Part 2 begins strong in England, 693, with Colossal Boy as an inverse to the previous scene, tall as a castle and trying to avoid a swath of armored knights. As expected, Colossal Boy is immediately recognized by a hypnotized leader who orders his troops to attack. This whole scene provided my favorite visuals of the story, with a massive tower of archers shooting “thousands of tiny arrows” at Colossal Boy’s face as he tries to defend himself.
The wheeled tower is moved further up a cliff and backs Colossal Boy up near the edge until he finally snaps the wheels off of it. But just when he thinks he’s safe a massive boulder is catapulted into his chest. He staggers on the edge of the cliff, but before he can regain his balance he’s struck by another boulder and sent falling backward off the cliff.
Now in France, 1812, we find Saturn Girl in a wine cellar. She’s found by an authoritative man with keen powers of observation who recognizes her as “a girl” and accuses her of stealing wine. The man, who is expecting an important guest, tells her to work as his servant or go to prison. Saturn Girl attempts to use her telepathy to change his mind, but “his mind is blank, as if it were already under the control of someone else!” These Legionnaires just land in the worst possible places.


Saturn Girl is given servant clothes and put to work scrubbing floors as she plans her escape. But the French fiend, unlike Universo’s other lackeys, was given a weapon-- seemingly the blaster that Universo used to melt the clubhouse door-- to kill Saturn Girl. His being a man of high-standing is good news for Saturn Girl as he vows to only kill her “once I find a way to do so legally!”



That evening the guest arrives, and it turns out to be Napoleon! Swan does a fantastic job of replicating Napoleon’s famous portrait in what needed to be a fairly simple comic style.
The head servant orders Saturn Girl to serve the two men wine once they enter the next room, but when she does so she is immediately scolded for disturbing them. As Saturn Girl attempts to explain she’s slapped by her captor, who simultaneously slips a rolled document into her apron.
As she walks away Napoleon notices a map is missing, and they spot it in Saturn Girl’s apron. This is “splendid!” for Universo’s henchman who can now have her legally killed. A squad of armed guards corner her in a dead-end alley and line up their shot. Saturn Girl telepathically forces them to fire up into the air, but Universo’s aristocratic friend is wise to her powers. He pulls out the blaster and fires, and all we see is an explosion and radiating smoke where Saturn Girl had been standing in front of the wall.


In the next panel Brainiac 5 arrives falling through the air in ancient China. He’s unable to use his flight ring or press his force-shield controls before he crashes into the ground and is knocked out in the garden of Kublai Khan’s palace. While Khan himself believes Brainy to be “some vile demon cast from the skies by my great ancestors!” as was so common at the time, an armored guard recalls to himself that “the strange one with the cursed eye” had foretold his coming. The guard suggests they kill the visitor to honor Khan’s ancestors, an idea so perfect that it’s instantly agreed upon.


Brainiac 5 awakens in a scene befitting Batman ‘66, strapped to a huge gong before Khan, the armored guard and the bald-but-for-a-ponytail guard. The armored one explains that when the gong is struck upon the hour Brainy will be shaken apart, because physics. And then Khan and the useful guard walk away so the one inept guy can oversee the gonging.
Brainy, naturally fluent in ancient Chinese, taunts the lone guard using childish insults. The ugly pig marches over and slugs Brainiac 5 across the jaw. That wasn’t exactly the plan. So more insults beget more more punches and the guard, suddenly 100 pounds heavier, lands a perfect jab to the force-shield activator in Brainy’s belt. Thus Brainiac 5 gets it on just before they can bang a gong. Thank you.
One fell swoop later Brainiac breaks loose, switches off his force-shield and knocks out the guard. He’s quickly on the run but other guards give chase, and one is lucky enough to throw a spear that perfectly severs the force-shield belt. Twelfth-level intellect forgot to flip a switch. And in a ⅓ page panel Brainy encounters a really cool mechanically-operated dragon which he quickly finds out breathes real fire. Just as the flames shoot out at him, he disappears!


Back in the 30th Century Universo walks up the stairs of the United Planets council building, ready to, I don’t know, take over everything? I’m still a bit unclear on his motives. He effortlessly hypnotizes the two guards at the door who then destroy the defense system on Universo’s command. He then hops on an anti-gravity disc to make a stylish entrance before the council and he thinks to himself-- oh, here’s the rub-- “Soon I’ll be supreme!”
He announces his plan to the inner council, that he’ll hypnotize them and they’ll be his puppets, thus he will be ruler. Yet the President of Earth defies him with a polite-but-firm “No, I’m afraid not!” Universo and his wounded ego activate the hypnotic amulet to no avail because the “inner council” was really the Legionnaires! Oh, and they’ve been conditioned to resist the hypnotic force of the eye. But didn’t they all die in the past?


Brainiac explains how Universo’s multifaceted plan actually worked perfectly: he purposely didn’t hypnotize Brainiac 5 so he’d witness the escape, he knew they’d split off individually to five different time periods so he set up death traps in each one, and he knew they’d have to use the unperfected time cube at the science fair. It all would’ve worked were it not for “the ingenuity and courage of” the young boy who won the science fair. He took those spare parts and improved upon his time cube to focus its rays and save each Legionnaire moments before their doom.
Universo is in a straight jacket and being escorted out by guards when he cries out, “No! It can’t be! You’re dead! All of you!” I suppose the straight read of this is that he’s somehow in denial of the reality occurring around him and believes the Legionnaires should be dead. This is backed up by Brainiac 5 wondering “if he’s really flipped his lid, or if he’s faking?” However, in this day and age I initially took Universo’s utterance to imply that “it can’t be” that his plan has failed, and “You’re dead! All of you!” is a very serious death threat. Either way, I don’t think he’s faking, Brainiac 5. And since you’re still alive I think he seriously wants to kill all of you.
But on the far side of that panel we see the young genius quietly crying and we circle back to that nagging issue of Universo’s knowledge of the time cube, even though he wasn’t at the science fair. Saturn Girl, in a morally unsettling admission, confesses that she knows the answer because she read the heroic boy’s thoughts. The boy then confesses the terrible truth as he walks away in shame, “Universo is my father!” I love the dramatic effect of this narrow panel: the boy’s back is turned to us as he steps through the doorway, he’s framed by the black wall and casts a long black shadow, starkly contrasted by the stripe of orange that colors the rest of the panel.
Back at the clubhouse the team remembers that they forgot about Superboy, who’s been standing in a practically catatonic state, hypnotized with no instructions. Brainiac 5, now in possession of Universo’s eye pendant (what??), is able to use its Kryptonite dust to weaken Superboy and revive him from the trance. In the closing panel we see the still-unnamed boy sitting alone on the stairs in a dark alley, wrestling with the guilt of his actions.
This story is not just a fun time-travelling adventure but also a significant piece of Legion history. The seeds of this story bear fruit later when Universo’s (finally named) son, Rond Vidar, becomes an honorary Legionnaire as well as a member of the Green Lantern Corps.


Universo is later revealed to have been a Green Lantern himself, until he went renegade. He continues to be one of the Legion’s greatest villains and pops up to battle them in every ongoing Legion series, at times even turning the world against the Legion!


It makes sense that a teenage Jim Shooter would write a story where the hero turns out to be a boy rather than the Legion, and the journeys through time feel a bit like notes taken during a history class. But where these early stories tended to be more plot-driven and in search of adventure, Shooter brings real character and emotion to the introduction of Universo’s son. The boy isn’t even given a name throughout the issue, yet we still feel for him and the difficulties he goes through. And the powerful introduction of Universo can’t be denied. He’s got plans but can change them on the fly, and he’s fully capable of what he sets out to do. Brainiac 5’s admission of how the Legion was truly outsmarted and would’ve been doomed without Universo’s son doesn’t make the Legion seem weak, but rather makes Universo seem like a serious threat to the group.


Curt Swan’s faces are as powerfully expressive as ever within these panels and really carry the emotional weight of the story. The most emotive panels are often amplified by the simplistic, flat-color backgrounds throughout. At first I was slightly annoyed by the number of panels lacking detailed backgrounds, but as I went back through the issue I realized how much it emphasized the characters in those panels. The cover itself is a prime example, amplifying the amulet-beams and characters, but also dulled by the lack of setting behind them.


My appreciation for this issue, like the gong-guard’s size, unexpectedly grows the more I read it.

Status: 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 5 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 3.


Milestone: 
This issue is the debut of Universo, who became one of the Legion's most important foes.

2 comments:

  1. You forgot to mention another Milestone: this marks the first appearance of Rond Vidar, honorary Legionnaire and future Green Lantern, even though he is as yet unnamed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great story and great review. I couldn't believe it when I learned that the guy who wrote it was barely older than me (at the time). Loved Brainy taunting the guard, with junior-high school grade insults. This comic also contained one of my favorite "bloopers" ever. When the Legionnaires, impersonating the council, reveal themselves, Chameleon Boy is shown opening his outfit and holding a mask. Somebody forget what his superpower is?

    ReplyDelete