Tuesday, October 16, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #361

Adventure Comics #361 (October 1967)
title: "The Unkillables!"
writer & layouts: Jim Shooter
artist: Jim Mooney
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & George Klein
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Karate Kid, Duo Damsel, Brainiac 5, Superboy, Colossal Boy, Bouncing Boy, Star Boy, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet, Ultra Boy

The Unkillables, shoddy plotting, lackluster art

It is 2967 and the war between the United Planets and the Dominion seems to be ending after more than twenty years. However, some people on Earth don't want peace, they want total victory. The UP President wants to insure peace, so he calls in the Legion of Super-Heroes to protect the group of Dominators coming to Earth to negotiate the peace treaty.
The Legion goes to the Presidential Palace, and after passing through various security devices that we never saw before or again, are granted an audience with the President. He asks them to go to the planet Politor to meet the Dominator guests. There they will receive the second part of their orders.
Elsewhere, in some secret location, a new recruit to the group of assassins is brought in for his loyalty to be tested. When he isn't killed by an electric chair, he is allowed to join the group. The Master of these assassins knows that the Dominators are coming to Earth and that the Legion will be asked to escort them, but he has a plan to destroy them all.
The Legionnaires arrive on Politor and meet the blue-skinned Dominators. They open their top secret orders to find that they have been asked to escort the group to Earth via the 10th Dimension. There is a Dimensional Warp Machine gateway on Politor and air-cars waiting for them. However, the assassins have also entered the 10th Dimension from another star-gate gateway, bringing weapons and tools of their own.
As their journey begins, the Dominators explain their race to the Legionnaires, and how they are bred to be in control of things. Suddenly, an avalanche threatens the group. The Legionnaires are able to protect their charges. Investigating on the mountain, Shrinking Violet is able to ascertain that the avalanche was not normal: it was an assassination attempt. The Legion decides to stand guard all night.
Star Boy is on guard-duty when one of the Dominators joins him, offering him food and companionship. He tells Star Boy that the Dominators are a very structured class society, and that the larger your disc the higher you are in society.
After Star Boy is left alone, he sees a Dominator away from the encampment. Concerned, he is easily attacked by the assassins. They call themselves the Unkillables. They destroy most of the group's supplies before disappearing into the night.
Star Boy says that he is sure he saw a Dominator just before the attack, which means one of them is a traitor.
All the next day, the Legion is on high alert  in order waiting for the Unkillables to attack again. In fact, they do not strike specifically to tire the Legionnaires out with stress. On the third day, they spring out of some volcanic pits, and the fight is on.
As the Legionnaires surround their guests in order to protect them, the Master fires his "ultimate weapon" at them. It seems to have no effect, until suddenly the Legionnaires realize that they have somehow exchanged powers! Shrinking Violet can now grow, for example, and Colossal Boy shrinks. Confused by their new abilities, the Legionnaires seem to be losing.
However, the Master Assassin over-plays his hand. He tosses a bomb at Brainiac 5, who uses his Superboy super-breath to blow the explosive back at him, killing him. With the death of the Master, the Unkillables give up, and the effects of the ultimate weapon wear off. The Master is unmasked to reveal the large-disc Dominator that Star Boy spotted two nights before. The Dominators explain that the Unkillables are a genetically manipulated clones bio-engineered from killers from the past.
At the dimensional gateway, the Dominators reveal that they are really just 3D Projecto-Images. The real Dominators have gotten to Earth without any chaperones at all.

Excuse me if I sound smug, but this story reads like it was written by a 15-year old boy. Assassins who are clones of famous Earth killers?! Where did THAT come from? If you're a Dominator, wouldn't you use non-humans? Or was it in order to scare the Earthlings? But the Unkillables kept their faces hidden, so that couldn't have been the reason. So really what was the point?

It was also weird for me to read the beginning of this story, with the Legion having to all but jump through hoops to get in to see the President. Did everyone forget that they very easily got in to see him just last issue! Not to mention the pop culture trope where the artist doesn't show the President's face....but this isn't Lyndon Johnson, it's Kandro Boltax! His name is right there on the picket signs.

The idea of a stargate between planets is a good one, but the schedule of this story makes my head hurt. The Legionnaires fly from Earth to Politor in less than one day, and then have to travel from Politor to Earth via the 10th Dimension, which takes three days!? Why in the world would that be the choice of travel?

The "initiation" on page 4 is totally unclear and confusing. Is the guy being electrocuted? Brainwashed? Hyper-super-powered up? Is he supposed to be some famous historical assassin? Who knows? Who cares?

And the "ultimate weapon" talked about for the majority of the story turns out to be a major dud. First of all, how is it possible to mix and match genetic abilities such as Kryptonian strength, Imskian shrinking, and Bgztl phantoming with artificially created powers like Bouncing Boy, Ultra Boy, and Colossal Boy have? Not to mention that it should have been impossible for Karate Kid's super karate (!?) to be transferable at all.

The story would have been a lot more pleasant to read if the art had been by Curt Swan or Pete Costanza. As it is, Jim Mooney does a pedestrian effort and boy does it show. As exhibit "A" here's a close-up of the Master assassin:
Ignore for a second the coloring that makes him appear to be a Caucasian. The bigger problem is that his eyes are clearly not Dominator eyes! Was he even paying attention to what he was drawing? I doubt it. Check out page 21 (reprinted above) where he draws Due Damsel as Phantom Girl.

And let me ask this for those of you paying attention: how many air cars were there? There are two shown in their first scene, three shown in their second, four shown next, and then five shown on the page reprinted above. Of course, this really only matters if you know how many Dominators there are in this story. There is any number between three and six.

On the plus side, we do get the introduction of the Dominators. I don't know why they returned with yellow skin; maybe blue seemed too tame? The idea of genetically enhanced warrior race that gets tired of fighting was a good one, but it's all but wasted here behind the masked assassins drivel. But hold on a minute, doesn't this story call into question the Earthwar Saga? I thought in that story the Dominators were suing for peace, too. Did the efforts in this story not "catch"?

We also get Shrinking Violet sort of pulling her weight, as an expert on geology. Her examination of the rocks would make Brainiac 5 proud. That was a nice character bit for a member who all too often has "little" to do.

Likewise, it's a nice scene with Star Boy and the friendly Dominator. It would have been better served if his head-disk was clearly not as large as the next Dominator we see. As it was, I couldn't tell the difference between the two until the end of the story. Oops, I'm back on the negatives again.

I know I said a few weeks ago that I didn't care for "The Hunter," but compared to this story, that one is a Distinguished Classic. This is definitely the worst Legion story since Jim Shooter took over as writer.

Science Police Notes:  
  • Light Lass is listed on the roll call but does not appear in this story. 
  • Polator is spelled this way on page 4 and then as Politor on page six. 
  • Although super-magnets draw the Legionnaires' flight rings from their fingers when they enter the Presidential Palace, Brainiac 5's force-field belt doesn't quiver. Not made of metal? 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 7 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 3.

This issue features the debut of the Dominators, an alien race which will return to bedevil the DC Universe many times in the future.


  1. Some stray thoughts:

    I agree with you, Russell, there's a LOT about this story that makes no sense whatsoever. First, the United Planets and the Dominators (I reserve "Dominion" for ST:DS9) have been at war for twenty years. At WAR. For 20 YEARS! And all the while, the Legion of Super-Heroes have been preoccupied with such grave matters as hazing new members, fighting the "Super Moby-Dick of Space", and being turned into toddlers. OK, that may be a bit harsh, but still, even during the Iraq war, which was a far-off conflict, we still knew that this country was AT WAR. If this conflict was so bad that rabble-rousers could potentially destroy a negotiated peace, how could it not be on the Legion's agenda?

    The last-minute revelation that the "Dominators" the Legion were escorting were just technobabble imitations really irked me when I first read this story. Basically, it was all for nothing! The Legionnaires could have been killed over being a high-profile escort for decoys, which they were kept in the dark about until they reached their destination. AND, they just blithely accept everything, the decoys and the deception. Amazing.

    Yeah, I miss Curt Swan here, too. He'll have a handful of stories in the coming months, only to be followed by not-so-great artists. I'm not casting aspersions on the others, it's just that Swan was really on his game with his Legion stories and raised the bar for the others that followed.

    I'm actually fine with the heightened security measures now in place to see the President. I don't blame Boltax for being extra-paranoid after Universo easily killed his predecessor and kept him prisoner while a dictatorship was established under his name and face. You're right, it's way over the top, but better to err on the side of caution.

    I'm also fine with the "switching-powers" element. That's a trope which has been repeatedly in many super-hero features (for the Legion, as far back as "The Stolen Super-Powers", aka "The Death of Lightning Lad"). My only objection here is the Assassins calling it their ultimate weapon. The build-up given made it seem like something that would be direct and deadly to the Legionnaires, making the powers switch come off as pedestrian.

    In addition to Shrinking Violet, I'd like to give a shout-out to how Bouncing Boy was used in this story. Sure, he wasn't a headliner, but he certainly helped out during the avalanche and used his power to good effect in hand-to-hand with the assassins.

    Here's a random bit of Silver Age silliness: when the Legionnaires are seen in their gym at the beginning, Brainiac 5 is testing Superboy's strength with "ten million pounds of pressure". which Clark easily hold up with one hand. Ten million pounds. 5000 tons. With one hand. Right. Piece of cake.

  2. As problematic as this story is, it's notable how much of it seem to be ingrained in Keith Giffen's mind, since it's basically the starting point for Invasion! and many 5YL elements: the caste systems, the Dominator's gene manipulation and earth as a farming ground for those experiments.

  3. Shows how even the worst of stories can leave seeds for the future.

    1. "This is definitely the worst Legion story since Jim Shooter took over as writer." Oh, you ain't seen nothing yet. ;)