Tuesday, August 14, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #352

Adventure Comics #352 (January 1967)
title: "The Fatal Five!"
writer & layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inkerGeorge Klein
letterer: Milton Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage, Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane, and Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knol

Mission Monitor Board:  
Cosmic Boy, Ferro Lad, Princess Projectra, Sun Boy, Superboy

Cameos of various other-worldly heroes whose names are not given and who are never shown again

The Sun Eater, The Fatal Five (Emerald Empress, Mano, Persuader, Tharok, Validus)
On the outer-most rim of the galaxy, a United Planets Warning Station discovers that "it" is on its way. The astronomer sends an urgent message to Earth. 
Russell: This is a great set-up. "It" is on its way....great foreshadowing! I would have liked to have seen more of this type of stuff in DC comics of this era.
Mike: Totally agree. The scene has a very classic science fiction feeling to it that I really love and really succeeds at building suspense.
J: Be careful what you wish for, lone worker in a space outpost! You think he has to wear that helmet the whole time?

Meanwhile, at the Legion Club-House the five Legionnaires on duty are reviewing a "Rogues' Gallery" film provided by the Science Police which profiles "the Fatal Five." 
The first profile is on The Persuader, who is armed with a powerful atomic axe that can cut through anything, including gravity. 
Russell: Speaking of fore-shadowing, this whole "let's review the five most dangerous menaces in the universe" bit isn't very smooth. There's something to be said about long-range planning where each of these characters are hinted at or introduced over the span of a few stories, and then brought together. But that's clearly a "new" point-of-view on an "old" story. It's pretty well done for what it is. And Jim Shooter does an excellent job of creating five new characters that we take an instant dislike to.
Speaking of which, I never realized that the Persuader was supposed to be Asian. The stories I read of him in the Seventies and Eighties he was not drawn in any particular Asian way, although here I think he clearly is intended to be Asian. Or is that just me?
Mike: I have never thought of him as Asian either, although he certainly appears to be here. I will be curious to follow his appearance as the blog continues through this era to see at what point that gets abandoned or forgotten.
J: It's a shame the Persuader only gets a three-panel introduction because, like the rest of the Fatal Five, he's instantly awesome. His axe can cut through energy, magnetism, and gravity! That's insane! I absolutely love how bonkers this is. Superhero comics should strive to be so off-the-wall creative and imaginative. Although part of me wonders what he does with the axe when he uses the bathroom or goes to sleep...

The second rogue introduced to the Legion is Tharok, who was a second-rate crook until he got caught in a police officer's blast, which disintegrated half of his body. The scientists on the planet Zadron worked to save his life, grafting his surviving body to a robotic half. Unfortunately, this increased his intelligence (and evil) exponentially. 
Russell: In true criminal mental process, Tharok blamed his situation on the lawman who shot him, rather than on himself for stealing or, perhaps more correctly, on failing in his attempt at stealing.  Nice.
Mike: Tharok has always been a character that I like a lot despite never really caring for his classic appearance. I am usually a big fan of Silver Age designs, and the goofier the better, but here it just doesn't quite work. It is better in concept than in design. Again though, I still like the character.
J: Damn that lawman for shooting the bomb and costing Tharok half his body! The Zadronians must have the most phenomenal med-tech in the galaxy if can save a man who was half-atomized, but their engineers suck. I still totally dig the half-man, half-machine look, especially in that last panel, but maybe he could try wearing a whole shirt and both halves of a pair of underwear?

The Emerald Empress, Sarya of the planet Vengar, controls the mysterious Emerald Eye of Ekron and is biding her time before she returns to her world to rule it with an iron thumb.... 
Russell: I got shivers re-reading this intro knowing how the fates of the Emerald Empress and Princess Projectra will be linked. Great name, too, by the way.
Mike: Now this is a character that had a great look right out of the gate. The Emerald Eye is so creepy and adds an extra ominous flare to her as a villain.
J: What does the crime of space-piracy entail? I'm into the Emerald Empress from the get-go, but I would've loved a whole book about the history of Ekron and the Emerald Eye.

Validus is an enigma; nothing is known of who or even what he is. Validus shoots "mental lightning bolts" out of his visible brain, and is known and feared throughout the galaxy. 
Russell: Another great character introduction. Looking at this as his debut, without any baggage of later revelations, boggles the mind. What if there had been a whole RACE of Validus creatures!?! What kind of story would THAT have been!?!
Mike: Assuming Shooter came up with the look of Validus in his layouts, he did a fantastic job coming up with a unique design here. And knowing later revelations about his origin, I really like the explanation that he was not truly evil and had never killed but was subject to bouts of madness.
J: Yes! Everything you guys said, yes, 100%. It's great how much expression Curt Swan can get across just with body language and, in some cases, just his shape of his mouth.

Lastly, Mano is a mutant armed with a destructive disc on his right hand. After suffering a life of taunts and bullying, he used his hand to destroy his entire planet. 
Russell: I think that Mano is the character who eventually got the least amount of respect. He literally has a "touch of death" and yet he was never able to kill a Legionnaire....or anybody, really, after this great intro. I wish he had been continually written as being as powerful as he was made out to be here.
Mike: Thats a good point, I cannot recall ever being portrayed as a threat on his own to the level that is suggested here. Another really nice introduction though.
J: Mano is so flippin' cool. This disc on his hand, a simple genetic mutation, can destroy *an entire planet with a touch!* Like you guys said, this makes it seem like Mano is one of the most dangerous beings in the universe. But after this intro it never really plays out that way. Maybe because he was built up as being too powerful. You think that glove is made from some flexible, modified inertron?

The Legionnaires retire for the night but are called back in to duty when Superboy as acting leader receives the UP summons on "it." For the benefit of the new members Princess Projectra and Ferro Lad "it" is explained to be the Sun-Eater, a terrible force that is attracted to energy and heat which is on its way to Earth's galaxy. 
Russell: So we finally learn what "it" is....and it's a Sun-Eater. Wow! Reminds me of the creature from the Original Star Trek episode, "The Doomsday Machine," which ends up being close to the origin Jim Shooter eventually give it. By the way, this story came first, as that ST episode did not air until October 1967.
Mike: That is a pretty impressive threat for the Legion to face. Its funny you mentioned "Doomsday Machine" because I had the exact same thought, but I did not look it up and actually assumed the episode came first. I owe an apology to Shooter on that!
J: Maybe I'm just the runt of the litter here but my first thought was of All-Star Superman. In that book Superman keeps a baby Sun Eater in his intergalactic zoo within the Fortress of Solitude, which is one of those fantastic ideas that naturally must've originated in the Legion of Super-Heroes. In the scope of things I think the notion of a Sun-Eater is on par with the Anti-Monitor and similar cosmic threats.

The Legionnaires calculate that the Sun-Eater will reach the Solar System within one week. The other Legionnaires won't return from their mission from QK-51 before that. Cosmic Boy suggests asking other super-heroes in the galaxy to assist the Legion. 
The Legionnaires try various methods to communicate with other worlds' heroes, but no one responds to their summons. After three days of waiting, the Legion decides to ask the Fatal Five for help. They arrange with the United Planets to grant each of them full pardons if they are successful in helping to defeat the Sun-Eater. 
Russell: Okay, this is the section of the story where I have to yell, Foul! There are 24 Legionnaires, and somebody decided that OUR universe only needed five heroes for more than a week!? And these Legionnaires couldn't call Supergirl from the past?! To create true drama there has got to be true obstacles to overcome. The idea that 19 super-heroes are otherwise occupied while Earth is being destroyed is ludicrous.
Almost as hard to believe is the idea that NO OTHER super-heroes would step up. Where are the Legion of SUBSTITUTE Heroes!?! How cool would it have been if they had been called in and had offered to help?
I think it boils down to, the timing of these events should have been more compressed: two days max for some "do or die" activity would have made the story read better IMO.
Mike: I cannot argue with your logic, there certainly is a pool of heroes they could draw from before going straight to the villains. I mean, what about Elastic Lad?? Okay, maybe not...
Still, I do like the concept of the Legion having to recruit some bad guys to help out, in sort of a Dirty Dozen-like story. Shooter could have fleshed out the premise a little better but it is still an intriguing idea.
J: I had the same thoughts-- there's no way to message Brainiac 5 to help devise a plan of action? And the timeline is far too long to make it plausible that nobody could come back in time. But there are some wonderful panels here, like Superboy throwing SOS messages in bottles out into space. Just a few interplanetary tosses, no big deal.

The five Legionnaires split up to search out the so-called Fatal Five. Cosmic Boy finds Tharok per the Science Police data he has access to as a Legionnaire. He flies in solo as Tharok defeats a swaud of Science Police ships. Cosmic Boy breaks into Tharok's ship and tells him their offer. 

Tharok readily agrees for the sake of the challenge, but not before showing Cosmic Boy who is boss. 
Russell: This is one of my favorite scenes in this story. What a kick-ass bad guy! I hate him already!
Mike: Yeah, they did a nice job of emphasizing how much of a threat Tharok is even though he agrees to help the Legion. No chance of him coming around to the side of the angels while working with the Legion. Instead, we are going to worry about him stabbing the team in the back at any given moment.
J: Great framing in this last panel, showing just Tharok's robotic half as he shows Cosmic Boy who's boss. It's awesome that Tharok agrees almost primarily because the odds are "about a billion to one" and his "super-mind loves a challenge!" This is gonna be on his terms, as we'll soon find out.

On the distant, isolated planet of Craggok, Superboy finds the Emerald Empress about to be burned at the stake as a witch. After he rescues her, she tells him that the Emerald Eye was weakened by a jewel that turns out to be Green Kryptonite, which she still has. Weakened, Superboy manages to tell her fo the UP offer, and intrigued by (and attracted to) Superboy, she agrees to go with him. 
Russell: On the other hand, this is my least favorite part of the story. How convenient that the Emerald Eye is weakened by Green Kryptonite....and that the Empress happens to have some....and that Superboy blabs to her that it's fatal to him. Probably better to NOT have shared that little bit of information with her, Clark!
Mike: Definitely convenient, but I guess you could no-prize by imaging she had a utility belt set up in the event she ever ran across the Legion. They are the Galaxy's greatest heroes after all and kryptonite is known to be Superboy's biggest weakness. Okay, I admit thats a stretch, but I guess I still enjoyed this scene so I am inclined to justify it. Still, it feels like it would have been better to go with Superboy's weakness to magic as a way to make her a real threat to him.
J: Can we take a moment to admire that she has pockets in her cape? You never really think about it, but yeah, pockets in capes. Makes sense! But it's severely disappointing to think that without the power of the Emerald Eye the Empress was so easily overcome by those primitives.

On the planet Bismari, Sun Boy is allowed to see Validus, who is scheduled to be executed on the next day. Although Validus is imprisoned in an inertron cell, when confronted by Sun Boy he tries again to escape. Sun Boy makes him his offer, and Validus agrees to go with him. 
Russell: Regardless of whether you like Sun Boy or not, you have to admit that it takes a lot of courage to go into a cell with Validus.
And is it just me, or does Validus remind anybody else of a mutated gorilla? I wonder if Shooter came up with a visual idea for him or if this is all Curt Swan.
Mike: As much as I am a fan of Curt Swan, I lean towards giving Shooter credit here. That's just my guess though, I have not read anything specific on the subject. At least as far as things like the size, and the brain in the clear helmet. Since Shooter has been doing layouts, we have seen a lot more variety to the look of new characters. But if anyone reading this knows otherwise, I'd definitely invite a correction in the comments below!
J: Between you guys saying "mutated gorilla" and "the brain in the clear helmet" the Doom Patrol fanboy in me thought of the design as some hybrid of Monsieur Mallah and The Brain combined. And for the record, those two debuted a few years before this story. Another Validus thought: it's really tough to keep his size consistent through panels. He needs to look monstrous, but he also needs to fit.

On his way back to Earth, Sun Boy is concerned about the rookie Legionnaires, Princess Projectra and Ferro Lad. Princess Projectra confronts the Persuader on the twelfth moon of Jupiter, immobilizing him long enough for his captive, the Governor General of Jupiter, to escape. She then tells Persuader their offer. 
Russell: This is a great example of just how powerful Princess Projectra could have been. Armed with nothing but her illusion-casting ability, she takes on the Persuader. If she hadn't actually blabbed to him that all she was doing was casting illusions, she would have beaten him! Still, this is pretty impressive.
J: Absolutely. The Persuader's axe can cut through anything except illusions! And even when he knows she's casting these illusions it's still difficult for him to mentally overcome something as simple as quicksand. Good to know quicksand is still a threat in space, in the future.

The Persuader manages to fight off her illusions, but agrees to go with her anyway because he wants to challenge his abilities against the other four villains. 
Russell: So the Persuader decides to go with Projectra.....and possibly try to rape her? I've said it before but I'll say it again, Jim Shooter did a masterful job in creating the personalities for these Fatal Five. The Persuader is just a guy with an axe....you wouldn't think much of him just by looking at him....but the force of his personality comes jumping off the page here. Brr, I would hate to run into this guy on a dark milkyway.
Mike: Wow, that turned dark there at the end. In this case, it worked well for the story though. Its really amazing watching the Legion assemble the group that turned out to be one of their greatest enemies. And you are right, Shooter really nailed it when it came to imbuing them with distinct personalities. Swan also did a great job of portraying a look of real terror on Projectra's face. She succeeded at her mission, but you can tell she is frightened by this guy.
J: Yeah, this got real dark, real fast. In this last panel doesn't Princess Projectra remind you of Kim Novak in Vertigo?

Elsewhere, Ferro Lad finds Mano just as he is about to be executed by having his hand sliced off in the middle of space. Ferro Lad stops the guillotine and then convinces the SP officers that he is an actual Legionnaire. When given a choice, Mano naturally chooses fighting the Sun-Eater over the continuation of his execution. 

Russell: Here's another reason why Mano should have been more angry and more willing to kill a Legionnaire later....he literally owes his life to them! Three of the five were about to be executed when the Legion interfered. I would have liked to have seen those feelings from the Fatal Fivers.
Mike: I loved that seeing Ferro Lad's Legion flight ring was enough to get the guards to back down. One of my favorite aspects to Legion stories is seeing soldiers, police, and politicians following the direction of this team of super-hero teenagers. And I mean that un-ironically. Yes, he also showed them United Planet documents to establish his credentials, but that just added a bit of realism to them listening to him.
J: I completely agree with how awesome it is that the Legion flight ring is such a powerful symbol that Legionnaires are immediately given the utmost respect and trust. It says something about the time it was written that people would respect a symbol of authority.
On the topic of Mano, this is a pretty rough way to execute someone-- chop off his hand in the vacuum of space so the pressure within his body rushes out. Yuck. And of all the totally nutso things that happened in this issue editorial felt it necessary to explain how Ferro Lad can talk in airless space. Really?

Russell: This is obviously a classic, and would have been even without knowing what's coming next issue. The Fatal Five are all great characters, and their individual debuts are fantastic. I can't wait to see how they're going to decide to stick together. Jim Shooter out-did himself with these creations.
Curt Swan, too, did another outstanding job. I especially love the rare "Next Issue" box. Take a look and tell me this doesn't make you want to come back next week and find out what happens!
Mike: Agreed, I cannot recall the Legion, at least in the Silver Age, having a next issue box as awesome as this.
J: Such a cliffhanger! Fantastic introductions for the Fatal Five, but we need more! And what the hell is the Persuader wearing on his head??
Russell: By the way, at the bottom of this page was an in-house advertisement for the Jimmy Olsen story that we reviewed last week. If you missed it, it's still on the blog but you gotta go-go-go...!

Science Police Notes:  
  • The UP Warning Station is labelled "UP Earth Warning Station #156." 
  • Although there are currently 24 Legionnaires, only five were left on duty in our galaxy. 
  • Although whatever happened in dimension QK-51 required 19 Legionnaires, we are never told the details of that adventure. 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 6, Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 3, and The Life and Death of Ferro Lad.

This issue features the debut of the original Fatal Five, who would prove to be one of the Legion's greatest enemies.


  1. Great review, guys. You pretty much covered anything and everything I would have said about this story. "Dirty Dozen" inspiration, check. Creation of five new iconic villains in one fell swoop, check. Comparison of Sun Eater to Star Trek's "Planet Killer", check.

    OK, Ferro Lad's flight ring is proof to the Science Police guys that he's legit, but doesn't the Legion give them out like Cracker Jack prizes?

    And bad science alert. On page 12, "Look, a nearby star just winked out." I'm sorry but the nearest star could "wink out" and we wouldn't know it for years.

    Still, it's impossible to overstate the significance of this story line to Legion history. And it gave Shooter the chance to show that he's not merely a competent writer, not even merely a good one, but among the greats of the field.

  2. "in sort of a Dirty Dozen-like story."

    That's exactly what it is. A LOT of Silver Age stories across DC's line were based on then popular movies or TV shows. Weisinger, in particular, was fond of telling the teams, "Give me something based on 'X.'" I think I've read Shooter talking about that regarding some LSH stuff specifically.

    Also, he was only 14 at the time. He can be cut a little slack on not knowing yet how to smoothly and quickly move the extra players off the board. Regarding the fast intro of the Five, the idea of setting up casts and stories issues ahead of time just didn't exist yet.

    "OK, Ferro Lad's flight ring is proof to the Science Police guys that he's legit, but doesn't the Legion give them out like Cracker Jack prizes? "

    They gave out the flight belts for all try-outs, but IIRC, the flight rings weren't given out. There were only around 10 non-Legionnaires that feasibly could have had them. I don't think that even the Subs had them. Where the belts were just a tool to fly, the rings seemed to be treated sort of as police badges.

    1. Weisinger DID ask his protégé for a story based on The Dirty Dozen. But, Shooter's family was too poor to allow him to go see it, so he crafted his story as best he could from reviews and descriptions. And hey, these characters are STILL around and viable after all these decades. Not too shabby.

    2. Kid Psycho had a flight ring; he mentions he was given one as "a sort of 'consolation prize'" by the Legion when he was rejected for regular membership. It was likely along the same order as the flight belt, allowing flight only. And the Subs were probably give flight rings since they aren't seen wearing their belts after the rings were introduced. They probably didn't afford them any higher status, since not many people still knew about them officially, although I believe they were made an official annex of the Legion, sort of like "deputies" to the main group.

  3. I really like that this story wasn't rushed by forcing it into a single issue.

  4. Something that just occurred to me. Validus is in custody when this story starts. It was said in the (much) later "Charma and Grimbor" story, that Grimbor had once captured Validus. Wonder it this was the period he was referring to.

  5. Shooter has stated in interviews that he was trying to infuse the Marvel Comics sensibilities into his stories for the Legion. And here he first succeeds. Yes, it has the DC Silver Age plot-driven structure and conveniences abound. But, the Sun Eater is a credible and challenging threat; villains like Tharok and Manos have reasonably believable motives for their actions (Manos particularly, as he was made an outcast by his people), and Validus isn't simply the "mindless monster" (as he was portrayed in later sotries, sadly); most of the bad guys think through the Legionnaires' offers (look at the Persuader's panel about the police no longer hounding him); the other heroes' responses to the Legion, while maybe bad form, are reasonable: some hit the panic button, while others can't get there in time to help -- that happens; and the main characters, good and evil, express believable emotions in their circumstances: doubt, fear, anger, lust, cockiness, confidence, and so on. These are all characteristics that Marvel stories of the time exhibited, and Shooter was wise to include them as it helps make this a classic story.

    (Also, compare the Sun Eater of this story with the Sun Eater Legionnaire (Mon-El) Lemon had to defeat in Adventure Comics #305. You're gonna laugh.)

  6. This one is definitely a classic. I've reread this thing so many times that the cover is gone.

    It's so interesting after all these years to learn some of the background to these stories. Jim Shooter really did add some pep to these stories when he came on board.

    And I agree that Tharok's design leaves a little to be desired. I must prefer the Tharok from the Reboot...