Tuesday, December 4, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #367

Adventure Comics #367 (April 1968)
title: "No Escape From the Circle of Death!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: George Klein (pp 1-10) and Sheldon Moldoff (11-24)
letterer: Milt Snapinn or Morris Waldinger
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover art: Neal Adams
reviewers: Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane and Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board: Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Karate Kid, Cosmic Boy, Superboy, Lighting Lad, Duo Damsel, Phantom Girl; cameos by Star Boy and Invisible Kid

Guest-Star: an unnamed Controller

Opponents: the Dark Circle

The citizens of Metropolis are interested in the construction of the Legion's new head-quarters. It is  being built by a grateful United Planets to recognize all the good that the Legion has done. 
Russell: You could argue that this is a wasted page, but I kind of like scenes that "ground" stories in their realities. This page establishes that the Legion is still idolized by the citizens of Metropolis and the United Planets, and serves as a great starting point to the story.
Mike: It's not a waste at all, it was moments like these that really made the Legion stand out among other DC comics of this era. On the one hand, the moment seems inconsequential, but on the other, it adds a level of depth to the Legion stories, reinforcing their significance in the 30th century. These types of scenes are among my favorites.

Sun Boy, Brainiac 5, and Karate Kid walk through the site, looking at the weapons room, the hall to honor Ferro Lad, and the control room. 
Russell: I remember reading somewhere that these weapons for Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet never made it into any story.
And that statue of Ferro Lad is HUGE! Later stories would change the look of this Honor Hall drastically, but I like the idea that it was always there.
Mike: I thought the casual mood of this scene, watching them just stroll through headquarters, was kind of refreshing after some of the recent heavier stories we have seen. It lets us sort of take a breath and see a more human side of our heroes.

Karate Kid then goes on leave "for a couple of weeks" back to Japan. He takes a tube-car from Metropolis to Tokyo.
Russell: Obviously, Karate Kid was one of Jim Shooter's favorite characters. He goes on leave in this story but still participates, and will be back next issue, too. So...yeah. Nice attempts by Curt Swan to draw Japan. The people seem somewhat Asian, at least. Cool that the woman in the panel above is looking at him on the street. What might she be thinking? "Another damn foreigner here in Japan!?" or "Is that *Karate Kid*?" or "Hmmm, he's kinda cute."
Mike: It may be hard for modern readers to understand what a big deal this is. Up until now, the vision of Earth's future has been almost exclusively Caucasian and American. To see any other culture surviving, even thriving, in the 30th century is really progressive by the standards of comics of the time and even in the Legion. Sure, the portrayal is far from perfect, but compared to what we have seen so far, this is really amazing.

Superboy arrives with a load of gifts from the United Planets. The Legionnaires unpack them and find brand new cruisers, gym equipment, a new mass spectro-analymeter, and something that even Brainiac 5 does not recognize.
Russell: I like the idea that the Legion would be inundated with gifts. To me it's the old "It's A Wonderful Life" type scene: the Legion is in trouble, and the United Planets volunteer to help out in any way they can. Much nicer scenes than what happened after Omega faced the Legion and destroyed THIS head-quarters in Superboy/Legion #250-251. 
Mike: It goes back to what you mentioned earlier about how important the Legion is to the United Planets. Sure, in a way, moments like this are directed towards younger readers, but I still totally go along with them because they are just charming.

Elsewhere, a group called the Dark Circle is meeting to discuss their invasion plans. The Dark Circle is a secret organization that is an alliance of five worlds dedicated to the destruction of the UP. They know that the Fatal Five took two of the three keys to the Universal Control Panel, making it inoperable. And they know that the Legion is spread too thin and preoccupied with re-building its headquarters. So they decide to invade Earth!
Russell: For some reason, these visuals work better for me than the similar Super Assassins design from the Dominators' debut story a few issues back (Adventure Comics #361). Maybe it is just the difference between Curt Swan here and Jim Mooney on that story?
I also like how Shooter creates this group but doesn't tell us anything about them. And the continuity between this story and the previous Fatal Five battle is great. You really get the feeling that the Legion's adventures are continuous.
Mike: Yes, continuity is such a strong aspect of the Legion at this time. Shooter gave much more thought to that than most DC writers at the time. And I love the design of the villains here...the dark hoods are such a simple design but very effective. It really makes them seem threatening.

In Tokyo, Karate Kid meets with the man who raised him after his parents died. As they begin their visit, the Dark Circle troops strike. 
Russell: I know this page doesn't give us much to do with the story but I love the introduction of Sensei. I'm a sucker for "off-stage" scenes with the Legionnaires and their loved ones.
Mike: As someone who grew up watching Kung Fu on tv, I loved this moment. Especially given how far it preceded that series. I only wish he called him "grasshopper."

Karate Kid tries to defend his home-town, but he can't stop them all. He calls the Legion for help, not realizing that the Dark Circle is attacking all over the world. Brainiac 5 responds and tells him that he is on his own.
Russell: Okay, although I will argue that Karate Kid earned his Legion membership dozens of times over, I have to cry "Foul!" here. Super stomping? That's not a fighting technique!
On a separate subject, I would have liked to have seen similar scenes with other Legionnaires battling the Dark Circle. We've established that several Legionnaires live on Earth, so it would have been nice if we had seen more Legionnaires besides Karate Kid.
Mike: Totally agree. Sometimes focusing in on one person gives the story a more personal touch, but here it really feels like taking a broader view and seeing other Legionnaires dealing with the threat would have added to the story. We do get a few in the following scenes, but it still feels like we are missing out.

In Metropolis the Legionnaires on duty are taken out easily. Brainiac 5 retreats into the head-quarters hoping to find a weapon he can use to defeat the Dark Circle. 
Russell: Is it just me, or does the Legion get defeated a bit too easily here? I would have liked another page or two of them holding the Dark Circle troops off a *bit* longer....!
Mike: Eh, I am torn here. It does feel like things moved a bit quickly but I still thought the battles we saw were handled well. Giving Superboy a more prominent role was nice because it emphasized his power. I think it goes back to what you identified earlier as a problem in not seeing more Legionnaires dealing with the threat.

When Brainiac 5 wishes that Karate Kid was there to help run interference for him, his fellow Legionnaire suddenly appears. Brainiac 5 realizes that the gift that he did not recognize earlier must be a Miracle Machine, a device that alters your wishes into reality. 
Russell: I really like how Brainiac 5 AND Karate Kid are both surprised by his appearance.
On the other hand, clearly the Miracle Machine is already "on," so Brainiac 5 didn't really need to find it to activate it. I mean, he already wished Karate Kid there by his side, right?
Mike: I want to give a lot of credit to the art on this scene. This whole page is mostly Brainiac 5 sitting but it's drawn in a way that really helps compliment the writing to build suspense.

Brainiac 5 wishes the Dark Circle off of Earth and the Legion head-quarters completed,and the next moment both things occur.

Russell: Jim Shooter and Curt Swan give us two full-page spreads in succession. It certainly does make the story more "epic."
Mike: That first page had almost a Kirby vibe to it and the second one really reminded me of Steve Ditko's sci-fi stories for Charlton.

Brainiac 5 explains to the others about what a Miracle Machine is,and then suddenly a Controller arrives to continue the explanation. He tells them the Controllers sent it in recognition for the Legion defeating the rogue Controller who had sicced the Sun-Eater on the solar system.
The Legionnaires encase the Miracle Machine in a cube of inertron, vowing to hide it away and not use it until mankind is ready for it.
Russell: In standard Silver Age DC tradition, the explanation is rushed in the last page before the story ends abruptly. Odd how Brainiac 5 didn't recognize the Miracle Machine when he looked at it but then knew all about it at the end. And how convenient that Superboy happened to have a cube of Inertron lying about. Maybe he wished for it?
Mike: Well, in fairness, it's not limited to Silver Age DC. John Byrne did that plenty of times in his FF & Superman runs (which I love). But yeah, there is a lot of info dumped in the end here.

Russell: I like this story a lot. It creates another great adversarial group for the Legion, it gives them a brand-new head-quarters, and it features some important "down time" for Karate Kid. If more Legionnaires had been featured this would have been perfect.
And as I mentioned a bit when talking about the design of the Dark Circle, is it just me, or does this story remind anybody else of "The Unkillables"? Especially, this issue's cover harks back to the cover of Adventure Comics #361. If I haven't read either of them for awhile and then see one of the covers, I can't remember which one is which.
I wonder if Shooter re-read #361 and thought, "I can do better with these unnamed unseen bad guy groups. Let's try this again...."
Mike: I also liked this story, although not on the level of the some of the last few we have covered. There were moments they could have given it a more epic feel, and missed out, as we mentioned. That's not to say more personal stories cannot be a nice change of pace, but this one really seemed to lend itself to being one of those grander tales if they chose to run with it.
Having said that, I really, really loved Karate Kid's sojourn in Japan. If anything I would have loved to see that become the focus and have the story build more from there. On the other hand, I did still enjoy it so my complaints are minor.

Science Police Notes:  
  • The Dark Circle makes its debut in this issue. 
  • Karate Kid's foster father, called "Master" here but later called "Sensei" (the Japanese version of this title), makes his debut. 
  • The Miracle Machine makes its debut in this issue. It would be featured in atleast three more stories in Legion mythos. 
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 the new Legion head-quarters, the Miracle Machine, and the Dark Circle.


  1. I was blown away by this story as a youngster. Sure, the climax may seem a cheat to a more sophisticated reader, but for the target audience it was a real blast. Who hasn't wanted a "miracle machine" at one time or another? And the new HQ? Fit for an actual legion, not merely a "club".

  2. I loved the different sized weapons for Salu & Gim, and the scene of KK chopping that tank was epic back in the day!

  3. It's a pity this wasn't a two-parter. There's a LOT going on here for a single story, even with twenty-four pages. With a second part, that would've allowed for an even stronger debut for the Dark Circle, room for the story to breathe and pace better, and have a truly EPIC fight with all the Legionnaires (including Mon-EL - where's he been lately?), several pages of great action and struggle, allowing for the story to build and build to where all hope is nearly gone, and THEN break out the Miracle Machine.

    I'm probably going to get flamed to a crisp for this, but I believe IMVHO that this is the last "good" Shooter/Swan Legion story. The next stories to come take a bit of a -- turn. Don't get me wrong, there's still a LOT of quality in the next few issues, but they miss something, that "je ne sais quoi" that most of the Shooter/Swan stories have. Okay, pile on -- I'm a big boy, I can take it.

    Speaking of miracles (as in Machines), I'd like to convey holiday cheer to all the supervisors, authors, regular commentators, and readers of this blog!! Whatever festival(s) you observe at this time, may it be an utmost pleasant one and good fortune to all in 2019. :D

    1. "I'm probably going to get flamed to a crisp for this, but I believe IMVHO that this is the last "good" Shooter/Swan Legion story." Mordru the Merciless begs to differ. Seriously, that two-parter is just awesome beyond words.

    2. Frankly, I think the Fatal Five Shadow Lass story was the last "great" Shooter story, but that's just me. ;-)

  4. Why would anyone entrust their defenses to the holders of the three keys? "Oh, dear, the first key broke in the lock before I could turn it! Now I guess the Dark Circle will kill us all!" Why would anyone want their DEFENSES subject to such limits? I think I see the wisdom of having more than 1 person have access to the nuclear codes, so as to, somewhat, ensure that the decision to go atomic is a well-considered one, in case there's a false alarm (which has actually happened). But the defenses?!
    And there it is, my sole objection to this excellent story.

    1. In the last issue, it was termed the "universal WEAPONS control panel in case an all-out attack". Think of the SDI "Star Wars" plan of the 1980s, or the Patriot missiles used in the Gulf War to shoot enemy missiles out of the sky. On a planetary or galactic scale, you'd want as many weapons as possible (not just force fields) to create both an effective defense and a strong offense. As for three keys being needed to activate it, having that level of security ensures that no outside hostiles can take over and use the defensive weapons as tools of conquest. Which is exactly what the Fatal Five intended to do and exactly how they were thwarted.