Tuesday, October 9, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #360

Adventure Comics #360 (September 1967)
title: "The Legion Chain Gang!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: George Klein
letterer: Milton Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan and George Klein
reviewer: Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knol

Mission Monitor Board:
Brainiac 5, Bouncing Boy, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Dream Girl, Duo Damsel, Element Lad, Invisible Kid, Karate Kid, Lightning Lad, Matter-Eater Lad, Mon-El, Phantom Girl, Princess Projectra, Saturn Girl, Star Boy, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Superboy, Supergirl, and Ultra Boy

"President Boltax"

I always try to be positive with these reviews because I love these stories, but I can't start this without mentioning how much I dislike the title of this issue. The "Legion chain gang" is a minor, boring sub-plot that's resolved with frustrating simplicity near the end. The cover is utterly misleading, and this issue definitely doesn't "star" Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy. This is a continuation of "The Outlawed Legionnaires!" so a title like "Legion on the Lam!" would've been much better. But I digress.

This issue starts with a page split into two horizontal panels showing the chain-gang Legionnaires and the on-the-lam Legionnaires in their respective hopeless situations. Then the action really gets going with... a two-page summary of everything that happened in the last issue. I liked the way scenes are slightly redrawn and dialogue balloons are slightly altered, like the way old serials altered their cliffhanger endings in the part that followed.

We rejoin Karate Kid, Invisible Kid, Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl, Brainiac 5, and Sun Boy in their regular street clothes, having been figuratively stripped of their Legion outfits in the last issue. The group is talking and walking through the sewers under Metropolis, hiding under the layers of lead pipes to evade police. But as everyone walks forward Chameleon Boy turns left for no reason and trips over a hidden switch that opens a secret panel. Wow.

After a fair amount of walking down the corridors of the secret passage they enter secret hideout of none other than Lex Luthor! The 20th Century accommodations are swank and include a food synthesizer and a clothing replicator that instantly recreates the team's costumes for them. The next step is to plan a jailbreak to get the other Legionnaires free.

President Boltax receives a message from the head guard, Brugol, on Takron-Galtos, reporting on the status of the Legionnaire prisoners there. We see the strongest members of the Legion being used as slave labor, mining jewels and kept weak by specialized shackles. Superboy's shackles have kryptonite coating, Mon-El's have some lead paint, and Ultra-Boy's have a special radioactive metal.

Boltax is satisfied with this update and then goes to a hidden room in his home to check on another prisoner: his son! The boy looks familiar but he isn't named, nor does he speak to acknowledge his father. When Boltax storms out his son gets up from his chair, retrieves a metal sliver from its hiding place above a lamp, and goes back to work loosening the screws on a vent in the room so he can escape.

Meanwhile the sewer crew makes their way to the jail and enact their plan. Karate Kid manages to "karate" through the Durlamite gates and the team fights through three pages of fantastic action sequences: shooting out lights, burning through jail bars, and tearing down walls. And during all the action Cham manages to retrieve their Legion flight rings from a safe in the warden's office! The Legionnaires regroup in Luthor's former hideout to figure out how the whole planet is being mind-controlled.

The Espionage Squad, led by Chameleon Boy, begins Part 2 of the story. Duo Damsel, Karate Kid, Lightning Lad, Shrinking Violet and Cham infiltrate the Presidential Palace to investigate but come up empty-handed. Back at their base they decide to think about the problem in a different way and realize that Boltax must've used some method that everyone on Earth comes into contact with to brainwash people. His first order as president was a worldwide water plant project, so Brainy does a quick analysis and finds traces of hypno-chemicals in the water.

He immediately whips up an antidote that can be absorbed through the skin and they set off for the water purification plant. Like, the very next panel. And it doesn't seem like that would be enough for the world's water supply, but whatever, he's Brainiac 5. Side-note: the titular Legion chain gang has still been absent for most of this issue and in no way progress the plot.

The Legion shows up to the plant just as Boltax and the armored guards of his motorcade arrive. The Legionnaires fight the guards and disguised tanks while Brainiac 5 sneaks into the plant, but just as Brainy is about to pour his tiny vial of antidote into the world's water supply he's knocked out by the butt-end of a guard's gun.

On the prison planet Takron-Galtos the imprisoned Legionnaires finally realize that Element Lad can rescue Superboy, Mon-El,  and Ultra Boy by changing their harmful chains into simple tin. Oh, and Matter-Eater Lad was there the whole time, too, ready and able to eat through the chains. The entirety of their story took one generous page to resolve.

Back on Earth the Legionnaires are getting injured, but they manage to capture Boltax. They tell him to make his guards surrender, but he dismisses the notion and orders his guards to capture the Legionnaires. Just as they're prepared to "free Boltax!" a massive water tank above the guards explodes and pours water down upon them.

The Legion believes they've saved, but Brainiac 5 never got his antidote into the water! The guards raise their guns and point them towards the hostage situation when one of the guards exclaims, "Boltax! You controlled our minds! You're the enemy here!" But how...?

An unseen figure speaks to say that he found Brainiac 5's antidote and poured it into the water, then blew up the tank to douse the guards. This mysterious figure is none other than Rond Vidar, the heroic son of Universo! And of course that means that this whole time "Boltax" has actually been Universo in disguise!

Rond explains that Universo used his hypnotic ability to escape from prison and orchestrated the events of the entire story: the President's "accidental" death and Boltax's ascent, off-world emergencies for the strongest Legionnaires to attend, curfew laws and hypnotic drugs in the world's water so everyone would agree to outlaw the Legion. Universo kept his own son locked up to prevent him from telling the Legion, but Rond was smart enough to escape and sabotage the water plant with the Legion.

The off-world Legionnaires return just after Rond has finished explaining his father's master plan, and Karate Kid proposes that honorary membership be conferred on Rond Vidar, the boy who has twice saved the Legion, and the world, from his evil father Universo. The vote is unanimous, and the story ends with Rond accepted as an official honorary member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

This story, the conclusion to "The Outlawed Legionnaires," is notable for bringing back Rond Vidar and making him an honorary Legionnaire after foiling his evil father's plans for the second time. Universo, last seen being taken away in handcuffs in Adventure Comics #349, proves yet again that he's an extremely formidable threat to the Legion. Were it not for his son (and Element Lad & Matter-Eater Lad deciding to use their powers) Universo would have succeeded in having the Legion outlawed while he reigned as President of Earth.

There are some really great little moments in this story, like finding an old Lex Luthor hideout, accessible through an old sewer. Curt Swan's artwork really shines throughout this issue's great action sequences, from the jailbreak to the covert operation at the Presidential Palace and the final showdown at the water purification plant. I hesitate to throw in full pages of art, but there's panel after panel of fantastically-paced action that really gives a sense of how much is happening all at once.

And while I'm glad to see Rond save the day again, it's a little disheartening to see Brainiac 5 stopped by a sneaky guard's gun butt. And again, the whole Takron-Galtos sub-plot would have been satisfying if Element Lad and Matter-Eater Lad weren't there and the Legion chain gang had to actually plan an escape. That section's flaw really hurt the overall issue for me, and that's really unfortunate because there's so much to love here. It's rough when one glaring plot hole takes away so much attention from the big picture, but that can't stop it from being a classic Legion of Super-Heroes tale with the lasting impact of Rond Vidar's honorary membership.


  1. There's another little moment that I want to acknowledge. When Boltax/Universo initially visits Rond, in the first panel (not pictured here, sadly), he begs his son to talk to him: "Son... I'm here. SON... are you all right? Answer me... PLEASE!" That display of emotion shows that Universo really does love his son and wants that love returned. Even though he reverts to the standard megalomaniac dialogue trope ("I conquered the universe... for YOU!"), that one panel has always stayed with me. It reminded me of moments I've had with my own father, how he sometimes dropped his a-hole attitude and expressed his love for me. A small thing, to be sure, but it displays how much talent the young Shooter possessed.

    When I first read this story, I thought that the Legion chain gang members were going to figure prominently in the climax; instead, they only show up near the end with two panels to go, just in time to add their votes to make Rond an honorary Legionnaire. So, while I think you're too focused on your criticism of their jailbreak, Kid, I agree with you that, as a plot element, it does damage the story.

    I like how the story uses the fact that the Legion would have failed at the last minute if not for Rond's last-minute save and the villain appears to win only to have a last-second turnaround by his former slaves. It's a troupe that's been used before, but it's used to good effect here.

    Is it just me, or does the whole Luthor's Lair aspect -- Cham's tripping at just the right place, the fact that it's still pristine and functional even after 1,000 years, that it can make clothing and replicate food, and it's right near the jail that houses other captured Legionnaires -- seem like just too many coincidences, even for a Silver Age story?

    Okay, I'll accept Light Lass, but Cosmic Boy is STILL missing from the Mission Monitor Board. And he's actually featured more prominently this time. And Supergirl doesn't even put in an appearance this time (which was discussed adequately in the last issue's comments).

  2. I always liked the "Luthor's lair" angle. Lex sure built stuff to last, didn't he? As for the "pristine" aspect of the place maybe, in addition to the replicator, he also invented the Roomba. Being near the jail is fine. Maybe the jail has been on that sight forever and Lex built the lair where he did to serve as a "way station" for his many escapes.

    Still felt the absence of Supergirl in this one. Would have been nice if during the "undercover" portions of the story she could have been there in 30th century duds and her Linda Danvers wig.

    1. If Linda had been there, then Karate Kid wouldn't have been needed to "karate" the Durlamite gates, which was his big moment in this part.

      So Lex invented an ultra-version of the Roomba that can take care of dust, grime, cobwebs, rust, and other dirt and pathogens for over a millennium? Why was he a criminal, then? He would've made millions just on that alone!!

    2. TV Tropes has a page for villains who could easily make more money using their powers/skills legally than they could make as criminals, and it's even named for Lex! https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CutLexLuthorACheck

      (But nothing beats the classic Silver Age "imaginary story" where Luthor convinces the world he's reformed and gets pardoned, all as a ruse to get Superman to trust him enough that Lex can kill Superman. How did he convince the world he'd reformed? By CURING CANCER. While STILL IN PRISON. THAT is some dedication to super-villainy for the sake of being a super-villain right there.)

    3. Thanks for the link, GL. I've read stories about villains convinced to use their powers/skills for better profits before, but I never knew there was a website about it.

      And yes, "The Death of Superman" shows that Luthor was JUST that dedicated to destroying Superman. There are also plenty of stories that mention that wealth was never his M.O., only Superman's destruction. I just think that not exploiting his inventions was a WASTED opportunity. (And since he could probably not patent anything, place like S.T.A.R. Labs or WayneTech could have a bonanza. ANOTHRER wasted opportunity!)

    4. Interesting points. Makes you wonder if Luthor hasn't marketed some of his inventions, perhaps through shell companies, to finance his criminal enterprises.

    5. That's true. I've often wondered how smart phones developed so quickly. ;)