Tuesday, November 20, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #365

Adventure Comics #365 (February 1968)
title: "Escape of the Fatal Five!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: George Klein
letterer: Milt Snapinn or Morris Waldinger
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover art: Neal Adams
reviewers: Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane, Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage, and Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knoll

Mission Monitor Board: Brainiac 5, Cosmic Boy, Karate Kid, Superboy

Guest-Star: Shadow Lass, heroine of Talok VIII

Opponents: the armies of war-mongering Talokians, the "unknown" bosses behind the military.....who could it be!?!

There is something wrong on the planet Talok VIII, which six months ago was a peaceful, prosperous world but is now a belligerent, war-like place that prevents any ship from coming near. They are also testing anti-tron bombs in space, much to the consternation of their neighbors. 
Russell: This is a cool set-up for a story; right away I'm interested in what is going on. Of course, I've always loved mysteries. So I like the idea that the UP would ask the Legion to investigate. As an aside, though, I do wonder what would have happened if the Legionnaires had gone in and found a fairly elected government. That would have been a drama of a different kind.
Mike: Some really strong art in the opening here from Swan (admittedly based on Shooter's layouts). The designs of the buildings, spaceships, weapons, and other technology all look great.
J: Sometimes I get uncomfortable when the modern world imitates past stories like this, ya know? I love the name 'anti-tron' bomb. An anti-anything bomb sounds ominous.

The United Planets asks the Legion to investigate, to be guided by local super-heroine Shadow Lass. She had been on a mission in space but when she returned to her planet, she was nearly shot down. She wants to go back and find out what has happened even more than the UP does.
Russell: This is another great bit, and not just because we all know that Shadow Lass becomes a Legionnaire. In a different continuity, it would have been great for the Legionnaires to team up with, say, Power Boy, and then when the mission was over, we have another great supporting cast member out there for future team-ups.
On the other hand, where is Invisible Kid in all this? Shouldn't the Legion Leader have some say in which members get assigned to "detached duty" of several days or even weeks? Plus, these four are not the four Legionnaires I would have necessarily picked for a covert "invade and find out what's going on" mission.
Mike: First of all, Shadow Lass just looks great. Another wonderful design. Also, I like the small selection of Legionnaires here. It has the feel of a specialized squad...Brainy for smarts, Karate Kid for stealth, and both Superboy and Cosmic Boy come with powerful abilities that could help in a wide range of scenarios.
J: For what it's worth, my impression was that the U.P. Director was calling the shots on this one and Invisible Kid, the leader and obvious covert expert, didn't have a say in the matter. Shadow Lass is introduced: gorgeous, mysterious, fearless. Her style pops in contrast to the costumes we're used to. And there's more beautiful fun sci-fi with the space parachutes that use solar-powered anti-grav energy. I miss this kind of imaginative fun in comics!

The Legionnaires parachute down with solar-powered anti-gravity energy. They land as planned, and think that they were not noticed by the authorities. In reality, they are being monitored by....someone, who orders that they are led to his location without the troops actually engaging them.
Russell: Okay, this is my first "What the what...?" moment. It appears as if Jim Shooter is trying to keep the identity of the "boss" secret. However, uh....spoiler alert....we know who it is right from the title of the story. Methinks editor Wiesinger messed up coordinating the suspense in the story and the title of the story.
Mike: Yeah, I have to wonder if Shooter had no idea that their identity was going to be revealed on either the cover or the splash page.
Their arrival on the planet was very well done, from the space parachuting to the backpacks containing their supplies to their whole stealth approach. There was both a militaristic and cinematic feeling to these series of scenes.
J: Same thought here-- if I didn't know from the cover that it was the Fatal Five I would have counted the shadowy figures and wondered...

The Talokians build a wall to stop the Legionnaires' direct approach to the capital, so they must go around this obstruction, increasing their travel time. They must squat during the hot days in the desert so that they can travel at night.
Russell: This is my second "What the what?" moment: Shadow Lass, a native of the planet, is the first to faint due to the conditions? Come on, she compared to Cosmic Boy, Karate Kid, and Brainiac 5 should have been most "conditioned" to her home planet. Sure, she didn't live in the desert, but still....this scene of "delicate femininity" just rubs me the wrong way.
Mike: I completely agree, it felt troubling having the only female hero be the first to collapse, especially with it being her own home world.
J: But she hasn't been identified as a 'hero' per se, and as stated, she likely didn't live in this desert. She was "on a mission in space" for at least six months when the story begins. Also, quite sporting of the leaders to want the Legionnaires at the peak of their potential when they meet.

The boss orders them to be refreshed before they arrive at the citadel, so his army builds an oasis for them in the desert.
The next night the Legionnaires scale a mountain range when they are attacked by dangerous birds of prey. One grabs Karate Kid, but he is able to karate-chop it and get away. Shadow Lass then leads them to the summit. Once over the mountains, they change into local "Yakka Mahor" mountain people to get into the town. At the Citadel they knock out the guard and head in. 
Russell: I love this scene, not only for the guard thinking the Legionnaires are "babbling idiots" from the mountains, but because the Legionnaires are missing the Espionage Squad. Nice touch.
Mike: The giant bird attack was fun, and I was happy to see them finally giving Shadow Lass something to do in helping them escape. Having them disguise themselves as mountain people was also a clever idea. With the exception of having Shadow Lass pass out first earlier, I have enjoyed everything about this issue so far.
J: There's a nice throwaway line about Superboy not being able to crash through everything because the local warlords hoard Kryptonite. Nice touch.

 The unseen boss orders the Legionnaires directed to a specific "welcome chamber." Each Legionnaire is then individually teleported into a specialized death trap. Karate Kid finds himself in a hollow diamond, losing oxygen. Cosmic Boy is in a hallway attacked by non-magnetic flying metal balls. Superboy is in a pressure sphere that is crushing him. Brainiac 5 is in a room with spiked walls that are closing in on him. And Shadow Lass is in a room consisting of nothing but lights.
Russell: I'm not a huge fan of "death traps" as a rule, but these are pretty well thought out. My one minor quibble would be, Tharok had these build up pretty darn fast. Sure, he had an oasis created over-night, but still....kinda convenient that Legionnaires who might have been harder to trap, such as maybe Colossal Boy or Chameleon Boy, aren't along on this mission.
Mike: I enjoy a good "death trap" as long as they're well done, and I agree, these are well thought out for the most part. I am a bit skeptical about Superboy's given how powerful he has been shown to be, but it was still an interesting concept so I am willing to go along with it here.
J: Diamond is the hardest substance known, Karate Kid? What about inertron? I love these death traps, although I agree that Superboy's not having Kryptonite leaves it flawed.

Karate Kid finds the flaw in his diamond and is able to shatter it. Cosmic Boy uses his magnetism against the walls instead of the balls, so when they slam into it they break him free. Superboy exerts himself past his usual standard level of strength and manages to break free. Brainiac 5 converts his force-field belt, which isn't working, into a drill that allows him to escape. And lastly, Shadow Lass wraps herself in her cape, which allows her to build up her strength so that she can "re-charge" her shadow powers. She covers herself in darkness, and can then see the escape hatch that was hidden by the bright lights.
Russell: Again, not a fan of death traps but these escape methods are pretty clever. It helps that a few pages later Tharok announces that the was *counting* on the Legionnaires being able to escape. So brownie points for him (and Shooter) for flipping the concept of "death traps" on its head like that.
Mike: I admit that surprised me a bit when Tharok announced that their escape was all part of his plan, and it succeeded in making things feel more ominous for our heroes.
J: Ahhh, the ol' non-death trap. Superboy's grimace face looks so weird, but I'm a big fan of the second-to-last panel above where all we see is Shadow Lass concentrating, enveloped in cape and shadow.

The "unknown" boss has siphoned off the Legionnaires' energies into a matter transmatter battery. The machine is then used to shatter the dimensional barrier between Talok VIII and where the five silhouettes are stuck. Lo and behold, these shadowy characters are none other than The Fatal Five! Tharok explains that when Validus and the Persuader had battled each other, their respective energies had propelled the villains into another dimension. However, thanks to "energy" supplied by the Legion, the Fatal Five are back! 
Russell: It's hard to second-guess a comic from more than 50 years ago, but it sure does seem like a huge spoiler to have the title of this story be "The Fatal Five~". This page definitely reads like it was supposed to be a huge reveal.
Mike: I really wish it had been. The scene was good as is, but would have been much more powerful if the cover and splash had teased a mystery reveal instead of naming the Fatal Five.
J: *We totally blew the reveal -Ed.

Tharok then gloats that he was the mastermind behind the mental enslavement of the people of Talok VIII. They rush off just as the Legionnaires rush in. Brainiac 5 deduces what must have happened just as the Talokian army surrounds them, ready to execute the exhausted Legionnaires.
Russell: Except for the idea that there is somehow "energy" in Karate Kid's karate chop that Tharok's machine could harness, this is a well thought out and executed conclusion. And the cliff-hanger....five Legionnaires against an entire planet's army!?! Yikes!
Mike: Other than the minor quibbles of the spoiler in the title, and Shadow Lass's moment of weakness in the desert, I really loved this story. Their arrival on the planet was perfect, the death traps were fun, and it ended on a great cliffhanger. No big complaints from me on this one. Just enjoyable all the way through. Plus...Neal Adams cover art! Looking forward to more of those.
J: By the time Tharok was explaining everything I'd forgotten about the planet going warlike, I was way too into the rest of the story! But I can't believe that Tharok expected even an army 5,000 strong to defeat a handful of Legionnaires when Superboy is one of them. And I guess a dimensional barrier is one thing that Mano's hand can't destroy. Very well-paced, fun story. A real shame about the cover spoiler.

Science Police Notes:  
  • This the is the "real-time" debut of Shadow Lass. She made a cameo appearance in Adventure Comics #354 as one of the fallen Legionnaires in the Adult Legion time-line, but this is considered her true debut.   
  • This is the first Neal Adams cover for the Legion run in Adventure Comics. He will draw the covers on the majority of the remaining stories.  
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 7 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 3.

This is the debut of Shadow Lass, who will of course join the Legion in the next issue.


  1. I had no idea that Shooter did layouts on these stories. Clearly he was channeling some of the more exciting design work Jack Kirby and others were doing at Marvel. Swan's art really opens up here and loses a lot of the DC House Style stodginess. Great stuff!

    1. Actually, when the 15-year-old Shooter submitted his first Legion stories (which Weisinger accepted), he had no idea how comic book stories had to be submitted. So, he included his own layouts, which Swan obligingly followed. I read elsewhere that Swan corresponded with Shooter and gave him pointers on how to improve his layouts, and I suspect the artist appreciated the young man's efforts as it gave him a chance to break out of the current DC house style and improve his own work.

  2. Yeah, a lot to recommend with this one, even if they did reveal the "twist" with the cover. Of course, a "Return of the Fatal Five" cover is going to sell more mags than a random "Crisis on Talok" cover would have. And sales is always the final determiner as to cover art.

  3. Now, THIS is more like it !! After a few not-so-stellar offerings following the Universo two-parter, we get back to what made the Shooter/Swan era such a delight: a well-crafted plot that centers on a small group of Legionnaires, great artwork, and nice writing. Welcome back, guys.

    This is a great review, gentlemen, and I have little to add to it. Just observations on the death-traps:

    * Russell, Tharok had DAYS to construct the traps and tailor them to the individual Legionnaires, as shown when they had to cross the desert at night and sleep under blankets at daybreak.

    * Mike, Tharok mentions during his too-long explanation that Superboy's trap was made of metal from a red-sun, Krypton-like word, which made it more difficult for him to break out of.

    * Jason, diamond is considered the hardest "natural" substance (at least as far as comics and sci-fi stories are concerned), but it does still seem odd that KK can "karate chop" harder metals but can't chip diamond without locating the stress flaw.

    I'm in TOTAL agreement that the cover and splash page ruin the mystery of the story, which was quite well established and written. And on the nitpick end, how did Shadow Lass know that the warlords had stockpiled kryptonite when she's been off the planet for months and didn't even know about the fortress wall until she saw it?

  4. This is one of the first pre- ERG-1 (first ever) stories I ever read as a kid, and it firmly cemented Shadow Lass as one of my favorite Legionnaires ever.