Tuesday, November 6, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #363

Adventure Comics #363 (December 1967)
title: "Black Day for the Legion!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
artist: Pete Costanza
letterer: Joe Letterese
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover art: Curt Swan and George Klein
reviewer: Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

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

Opponent: Dr. Mantis Morlo and his Chemoids

At the end of the last issue, the Legion appeared to be facing defeat at the hands of Morlo's Chemoids, which could shift their chemical block structure to any substance. We start this issue right where we left off last time....!

Karate Kid's opponent had counteracted his karate skill by turning itself into foam rubber, but Karate Kid uses his mastery of other fighting techniques to take him down.
The rest of the Legionnaires are also able to defeat their Chemoid opponents by switching their adversaries or by clever methods such as Light Lass turning "off" her power, making her Chemoid fall through the floor. In the chaos, however, Morlo flees. While the Legionnaires search for the villain, the story turns to the Legionnaires who were dispatched to Daxam.
After saving themselves, they find the capital city destroyed by the violent weather and Daxamites rioting out of fear. The emergency committee set up to deal with the threat has determined that Morlo is responsible but they have been unable to breach the defenses of his base. Knowing Morlo expects the Legion, the committee began prepare special weapons for the team, and our heroes spend the interim trying to deal with the extreme weather.
Once their weapons are prepared, the Legion goes to face Morlo at his underwater lair. They are attacked by artificial sea beasts created by the mad scientist. However, Lightning Lad is able to drive them off.
Morlo has set up traps but nothing the Legion cannot handle. They find Morlo attempting to flee in an emergency submarine, and although Colossal Boy attempts to stop him, Morlo is able to get away.

Meanwhile, back on Naltor, the populace is panicking because their precognitive abilities have been warning them of impending doom.
Fortunately, their Science Secretary has determined that there are contaminants in their food causing the false prophesies. It feels a bit surprising that Naltor even has a Science Secretary given everything we have learned about the primitive nature of their culture. But anyways, he cannot find the source but knows it is being artificially induced.

The team begins a search and Ultra Boy is able to use his penetra-vision to track the source of the contamination to a chemical plant. He also sees their opponent, Morlo, inside. The team goes to the plant but finds themselves up against strange monsters and a parade of their old villains. For some reason, Morlo boasts that they are facing hallucinations which seems a pretty stupid admission.
The team stops Morlo's attack on Naltor but he escapes. Back at his orbiting space lab, Morlo enacts his plan to get revenge by destroying the Earth. He is going to fire his Aqua-Fire Bomb and sends his Chemoid assistant Gorn to retrieve the trigger. Once Gorn returns, he fires the bomb at Earth and watches in delight as the seas, lakes, rivers, and even the land are engulfed in flames.
His celebration is interrupted when the Legion arrives and breaks the news that the Earth is fine. Apparently, Chameleon Boy had detected that the Morlo they battled earlier was not the real Morlo, but a Chemoid double.
So basically, Superboy, Mon-El, and Element Lad built a fake Earth to trick Morlo into thinking his plan had succeeded. I had a bit of trouble following Cham's plan here and it seems they could have just captured Morlo when they discovered him at the lab, but I guess building an entire fake planet was necessary to get him to let his guard down?

For the most part, this story stayed as fun and enjoyable as the first part last issue. There was a grand feel to it in having Morlo's plans spread over three planets, even if his motivations were somewhat vague, and there was a ton of action throughout. Several of the Legionnaires got to shine, particularly Karate Kid once again, and we got to see more of Naltor.

There were definitely more "huh?" moments this time than in the previous story, though. It is not clear why Karate Kid using a stick was able to stop the Chemoid when it had turned to foam rubber after his karate skill failed, and the rest of the Legion's sudden turnaround during the opening battle also seemed too easy.  The ending is a bit abrupt and the logic of the Legion's plan to defeat Morlo is not really clear to me. The scene of Morlo destroying Earth is certainly dramatic, which had to be what they were going for. It succeeded in distracting Morlo I guess, but despite their power level, I cannot help but think that building an entire fake planet Earth had to be a bit of a strain for Superboy, Mon-El, and Element Lad, and probably a bit unnecessary.

The art by Costanza is serviceable. He is following Shooter's layouts just as Curt Swan and other artists did during this period, but the renditions of the Legionnaires themselves just feel off. I am a big fan of Golden Age Captain Marvel comics and enjoy Costanza's work on his books, so I hate to be critical, but it does not feel like Costanza was a good fit for this title.

Science Police Notes:  
  • This issue we visit Naltor and Daxam, two more Legionnaire planets that we did not visit very often. 
  • This issue features every Legionnaire except Shrinking Violet and Supergirl. We are told Violet in vacationing on a hydrogen atom and Supergirl is busy with a monumental mission in this month's issue of Action Comics, i.e., Action #357 "Supergirl's Secret Marriage." 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 7 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 3.


  1. Great review.
    You mentioned that you were surprised that Naltor had science. But science has been mentioned before in association with Naltor; Dream Girl used Naltorian science to alter Lighting Lass' power in her first appearance.

  2. More random thoughts....

    * I honestly believe the young Jim Shooter was wanting to tell a story about man-made pollution and the harm it can have to the natural environment. Indeed, the Legion first shuts him down (last issue) for contaminating the air with smog from his experiments. Shooter also makes a point of having Morlo being a super-chemist working almost exclusively with chemicals. And in this issue, we have chemically-effected weather and contaminated food.

    I'm sure pollution was a major highlighted issue in 1967, and I applaud Shooter for his initiative. But his treatment of it here is just too obvious, and even at bit heavy-handed. Even with the sci-fi elements, this is a case of "Pollution bad. People who cause pollution evil. Fight pollution, you are good." Now, I'm not an advocate of environmental pollution; I'm from Florida and I hear about the Red Tide on the news a lot, among other things. And like I said, I commend Shooter for his early effort. But his treatment here of such a complicated issue only reveals, however talented he was, just how inexperienced a writer he still was at the time. Yes, he was still a teenager when he wrote this, and this story shows it.

    * Another area that highlights Shooter's weaknesses was in his use of the Legionnaires. Except for his showcase of Karate Kid (I suspect he was Shooter's favorite), all this story shows is the members using their powers -- and that's it. There's no attempt at characterization or even little character bits. Even the Hamilton/Forte stories had those. But here, it's just each Legionnaire displaying his/her power(s) and nothing more than that. I suspect that between his pollution message and trying to recapture the magic of his prior Universo story (which beautifully used every member to full advantage), Shooter took his eyes off the ball.

    Having said that, I DO appreciate how he expands the capabilities of some of the members. I like how Lightning Lad is able to absorb and control lightning he doesn't create, Human Torch-style; I don't think he's ever been shown doing that again (I may be wrong there). I thought Ultra Boy's using his penetra-vision to search for Morlo layer by planetary layer was clever. It was also good to see that Karate Kid is more versatile than just a karate master. The best was, obviously, the secret of Chameleon Boy's antennae, which future writers made good use of, especially Levitz.

    * As for the Kendo-stick-versus-foam-rubber-android bit, I would liken that to hitting pressure points on a human opponent. Strike the right area hard enough or repeatedly, and he goes down. I think that's the same thing here, just that showing it in a single panel doesn't convey it well enough.

    * LOVE the cover. LOVE it! I'm not sure if the practice of making the cover first and THEN write the story was still going on here, but that may have been why this story ends the way it does.

    * This may just be Monday morning (Tuesday morning?) quarterbacking, but I also don't see why Cham simply didn't sabotage Morlo's launcher and monitors while he was disguised as Gorn. I agree with Mike, I don't understand his motivation, unless it was to pay Morlo back for his earlier impersonation. Never try to outwit a shapeshifter with a false double of yourself - they HATE that.

    * This story's ending has that familiar rushed feel to it. The villain has unleashed his final scheme and appears to have succeeded, but there's only two pages left. So, we're left with the "We built an entire planet so you'd hit the wrong target" explanation. The ultimate "Huh?" moment.

    * Can someone please explain what "pore patterns" are? Thank you.

    1. Many good observations. I had not thought too deeply on it, but yeah, Shooter does seem to be skirting pollution as an issue a bit even though he never directly does so. And while I did not touch on it, I definitely agree with you on the cover.