Tuesday, February 12, 2019

TOS: Adventure Comics #374

Adventure Comics #374 (November 1968)
title: "Mission: Diabolical!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
artist: Win Mortimer
letterer: Milt Snapinn
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan & Mike Esposito
reviewers: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board: 
Dream Girl, Element Lad, Matter-Eater Lad, Supergirl, Ultra Boy; cameos by the majority of the other Legionnaires

Guest Stars: 
The Legion of Substitute Heroes (Polar Boy, Night Girl, Chlorophyll Kid, Fire Lad, Stone Boy, Color Kid)

Opponent:
Scorpius, Taurus, the Taurus Gang (Black Mace, Mystelor, Quanto, Rogarth, Shagrek)

Good morning, Mr. Burbage. Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to try to review one of the most convoluted and badly written Legion stories of the Adventure Comics run. Good luck, Russell!

For the first few pages of this adventure we see various teams of Legionnaires being captured by unknown bands of snipers and crooks. For example, six specific Legionnaires are requested to protect Brenck's Armored Air-Car from robbery. However, when they arrive they are blasted by a mysterious ray that robs them of their super-powers. They are then murdered knocked unconscious by mysterious snipers shooters. Elsewhere, Saturn Girl and Princess Projectra are waiting for their dates at a carnival, so innocently ride the Mind Tunnel, where a pre-arranged "hate ray" turns them against each other and they are murdered captured by more of these masked men. 
Russell: I pulled up these two examples because they are the worst of these various scenarios. Take a look at Light Lass and Lightning Lad (?) in panel 3 exclaiming that their powers are gone. HOW in the world would this be possible, especially for these particular six Legionnaires? Shadow Lass got her powers via magic (sort of). Sun Boy got his by radiation. Star Boy got his by comet dust. Cosmic Boy's powers are natural (he was born with them). And the Ranzz twins got theirs by getting blasted by a Lightning Monster, and then when Ayla's abilities were altered by Naltorian science.
So tell me again HOW one amazing ray could somehow take away ALL of these powers! Oh, they meant to say, "The ray, it's confusing me....can't concentrate to use my powers....!"  Okay....nice No Prize. But in the next example how does the bad guy know that Saturn Girl and Princess Projectra would go into the Mind Tunnel, where the "hate ray" is planted? What if they had gone on the Ferris Wheel or some other ride, instead? This is baaaaadly plotted.
Mike: Everyone goes down so easily! It does make you wonder how the Legion has ever been able to conquer any bad guys if they can so easily be overcome. I guess if you want to squint and try to see it in some sort of positive light it does make you curious how this story can play out in a way that justifies the bad guy not just killing them all to be done with them.

The Legionnaires continue to be captured like amateurs (see below for the last example) until Dream Girl and a group of four other Legionnaires walk into their empty head-quarters. Suddenly, Scorpius starts talking to them, having hacked into their communication system. 
Russell: So not only has Scorpius poned the Legion BAD, he also hired a computer nerd (probably from Colu) to hack into their communication system!? Unbelievable! Where's Snapper Carr when you need him?
Mike: Well...at least Karate Kid's group got a few punches in this time. For all the good it did them.

Scorpius ignores the question as to HOW he has managed to accomplish all of this. Instead, he tells the five remaining Legionnaires to exit the head-quarters immediately or he will kill Duo Damsel. They exit the building, where they are instantly hit by a beam that turns out to be a teleporter. 
Russell: I have so many negative thoughts about this story already, but Scorpius grabbing Duo Damsel and threatening to kill her....with artist Win Mortimer only showing one goon holding her? Come on! She could have doubled up on him and moved this story in another direction!
Also: SO not a fan of explanatory dialogue like, "oh, we had to do this in order for him to do that!" Have a little more faith in your readers' intelligence, DC.
Mike: Having Supergirl and Ultra Boy in this scene makes the Duo Damsel threat even week. No way they could not have rescued her.

Ultra Boy, Supergirl, Matter-Eater Lad, Element Lad, and Dream Girl have been brought to the secret head-quarters of Scorpius, one of the most notorious gangs in space. Scorpius extorts the five Legionnaires to fight against the Taurus Gang and capture or kill  them, or he promises to kill the other, captured Legionnaires. The Taurus Gang consists of Black Mace, Mystelor, Quanto, Rogarth, and Shagrek. Having little choice, the five Legionnaires agree to Scorpius' conditions....for now. 
Russell: I feel like I've said this before, but this story is another great example of a great idea very badly executed. So the premise is awesome: a crime boss is sick and tired of a rival's gang getting in his goons' way, so he wants the Legion to step in and capture them. Great! So why in the world choose THESE five members? Why choose only five members to begin with? This is VERY badly plotted.
And also, is this a good place to point out how DULL the character designs are for these bad guys? None of them are interesting at all. Shagrek looking a little bit like Chameleon Boy is probably the laziest. Or maybe putting a guy named Black Mace all in black is lazier.
Mike: Sadly, I think the word "dull" is being kind here. I  feel sad saying that because I think Win Mortimer did some wonderful work in the Golden Age, particular on covers, but his work during this period for the Legion is not good.

The Legion decides to attack the Taurus Gang incognito because they will be "recognized" as being members of the Scorpius gang, which would besmirch the Legion honor. However, as Dream Girl could have predicted (and probably did but kept it to herself) these Legionnaires are hopelessly outclassed. 
Russell: By my count we are now in the sixth story IN A ROW where the Legionnaires are portrayed as incompetent, either individually or collectively. For nearly 70 issues the Legionnaires have always caught the bad guys, but all of a sudden Ultra Boy can't think ultra-quickly enough to capture a bargain-basement Sun Boy? Matter-Eater Lad doesn't know to lead with his mouth? Supergirl is not as strong as Rogarth!?! COME ON!
I do like the stand-off between Dream Girl and Mystelor, but I question why Saturn Girl wasn't chosen for this mission instead? More on the choice of these members at the story round-up.
Mike: It does feel like this story just plows ahead with no real thought given to the specific characters used or much logic to how the plot unfolds. Like you mentioned earlier, there may be some potential to the premise, but this is just a mess.

Before the Taurus Gang can shame the Legionnaires too much their battle is interrupted by the Science Police and the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Both the Taurus Gang and the Legionnaires escape, but not before the Subs recognize their friends. They know something weird has happened. Science Police Chief Zoltorus vows to break up the Scorpius gang. 
Russell: Someone needs to send Element Lad back to the Legion Academy to teach him how to use his powers. If he doesn't want to change the air around Shagrek to nitrogen or sulfur, he could have formed an inertron cage around him. Oh, never mind. Clearly I care more about this story than Jim Shooter and Mort Weisinger did.
Oh so convenient that Polar Boy recognized the Legionnaires, but none of the bad guys OR the Science Police officers did. It's not like they wear masks or anything, ya know.
Mike: As brief as their appearance was here, seeing the Subs was the one moment where I perked up a bit in this story. It made me at least a little hopeful that things might take a more interesting turn, especially in light of Polar Boy's dialogue.

At a nearby location, as the Taurus Gang waits to get picked up by their handler, they discuss the Sagittarius Gang members who tried to stop them. We learn that the members are not friends. Shagrek has a crush on Mystelor, but she has a crush on Quanto. However, he considers himself "above" their petty human squabbles, and is only a member of the gang because he is following orders from his "superiors."  
Russell: How I wish we had gotten more of THIS type of scene in this story, to understand who or what the Taurus Gang was. As it is, we never learn anything else about them, like if Mystelor is from Titan or not.
Mike: It is one of the better scenes, but their bland design still gets in the way of me really building up any interest in these guys.

SP Chief Zoltorus confronts billionaire Leland McCauley in his skyscraper mansion, accusing him of being the boss behind Scorpius. 
Russell: What the what....!!? I get the distinct feel this was part of some cut or revised plot line that somehow got left in. NO IDEA what the point of this scene between McCauley and Zoltorus is.
Mike: The way things are going in recent and upcoming issues, I keep wondering if there was some disconnect between Shooter and Mortimer. Perhaps Mortimer is ignoring or misconstruing some of Shooter's layouts? Not sure how we could get a whole extra scene from that but who knows. Maybe Shooter is just mentally checking out lately?

At Scorpius' secret head-quarters, the Legionnaires discuss their next steps with a flunky assigned to assist them. The Legion decides to flush out the head of Taurus, and to do that they decide to infiltrate the Taurus Gang. Dream Girl has a vision that the Taurus Gang will attack a casino on planet Ceres, so they have a few days to plan how Ultra Boy is going to take the place of Black Mace. 
Russell: In case you missed the connection, the spies on Mission:Impossible always infiltrated the bad guys by taking one of the bad guys' place. This page in particular really calls back the set-up scene from the old Mission:Impossible show. This is my favorite page of the story, as we get the idea that taking some stranger's place isn't just as easy as throwing on a wig and a new set of clothes. Oh, wait....
Mike: It's funny you point that out because I just bought the original Mission: Impossible show on DVD and have been rewatching it. I have not seen it in years, since FX reran it in the 90s but its as great as I remember. Yes, I am aware I have gone off on a tangent here, but I just really do not have much to say about the story at this point.

On the fateful day, the plan does not go well; Ultra Boy is knocked out before he can take Black Mace's place. Noticing his failure, Dream Girl decides to take Mystelor's place instead, grabbing a dark wig from a female customer and switching clothes with the villain. However, she doesn't know just what to do. Quanto realizes that she is "not the same Mystelor as before." She gently suggests that they should be getting more money, and eventually the Gang decides to confront "the big man," the leader of Taurus, to  demand more money. 
Russell: I think part of the charm of the old Mission:Impossible series was that the spies were shown to work very hard at copying someone, and that Martin Landau, say, couldn't just walk in with a wig on and expect everyone to think that he was suddenly Anthony Zerbe. Here, however, Dream Girl basically takes a total stranger's place and none of the bad guys notice!??! NO NO NO!!
Mike: Mission: Impossible always had great scenes of their plan unfolding in steps whether it was Martin Landau getting into disguise, or Greg Morris building or taking apart some gadget or machinery. Also, Barbara Bain was beautiful. What? Oh yeah, we are supposed to be talking about the Legion! Sorry! The Dream Girl scene was just another moment where the story plows ahead with no real thought or logic to what is happening. I did like Dream Girl's reaction to Shagrek though since it's been mine throughout the issue.

When the Taurus Gang arrives at the gang's secret head-quarters to meet with the boss, the other four Legionnaires are there to meet them. They then learn that the Taurus leader is secretly RJ Brande, the Legion's benefactor, which stuns them. They manage to capture the leader, loyalty be damned. However, he turns out to be SP Chief Zoltorus, not Brande. However, the Taurus Gang escapes. Before departing Quanto confronts Dream Girl, and tells her that he will try to help reform his team-mates now that he knows goodness such as Dream Girl and the Legion exists. 
Russell: All I can say is that this denouement is more complicated than it has to be, and only half as satisfactory as it should have been.

The five Legionnaires are suddenly teleported to the Scorpius head-quarters, where they are reunited with their fellow Legionnaires.  
Russell: I love this bit where the previously captured Legionnaires just walk up to them, waving. Uh....you all were just in various death traps that you assumedly did not escape from on your own. Do you really want to be so nonchalant and low-key as to wave to your buddies right now? Shouldn't you want to get the hell out of there?
Sure enough, the next moment the bad guys break out the extra-dimensional guns that "will kill even Mon-El."  I told you!
Mike: In my head canon, I am going to assume the captured Legionnaires were drugged to make them feel happy and relaxed, and not really aware of what was happening.

Scorpius is about to blast ALL of the Legionnaires when the Legion of Substitute Heroes arrive and defeat all of the Scorpius goons. Night Girl even gets the drop on the head man himself. The leader turns out to be the man that the five Legionnaires had been dealing with as a lackey. 
Russell: So....there are, what, 50 Legionnaires at this point, and NONE of them are quick enough or smart enough to 1. stop the goons from shooting the others with their extra-dimensional weapons, or 2. capture the Scorpius goons?!?
All I can say after reading this story is that the Substitute Heroes should have been made members immediately!
Mike: Again, in my head canon, the captured Legionnaires are all drugged, which explains why they just sit back and let the Subs rescue them.  In which case, thank goodness for the Subs!


Russell: So to summarize: what a great idea, very badly handled. If Shooter wanted to insist on getting the rest of the Legionnaires out of the way, this should have been a two-parter with that part of the story taking up maybe half of the first issue. Then the remaining members could have been contacted and challenged to fight the Taurus Gang at the end of the first part. But really, the point was to get these five members together, so threatening to kill some civilians or cause some other horrendous damage should have been enough to get them to go along.
And that is my second gripe with this story: for all the time and effort spent to get Ultra Boy, Supergirl, Matter-Eater Lad, Element Lad, and Dream Girl to work for Scorpius, there is absolutely NO reason given that it had to be these five Legionnaires! Given the powers of the Taurus Gang, I think Ultra Boy, Sun Boy, Saturn Girl, Timber Wolf, and Supergirl might have been better choices. OR, we could have let the Legion Espionage Squad take care of this mission, with maybe an over-arcing help from Princess Projectra? As it is written, there just isn't anything good about this. If Shooter was trying to write a story with four of the most under-used members and Ultra Boy he succeeded, but he didn't really make any of them look very good while doing it.
Mike: I agree that there is a potentially good idea here but I would have taken it in a very different direction. Open with the Subs stumbling upon Supergirl's team in disguise and battling the Super-Outlaws, and then turn the focus of the story on Polar Boy playing detective and backtracking to discover what happened. The story would then alternate between the status of Supergirl's group, with many of the details improved, and Polar Boy's investigation.
Okay, hindsight is 20/20 and the story would still need a lot of work. But it definitely feels more interesting then the mess we get here. Given that the Subs saved the day in the end, I really feel like they should have received far more focus in the issue instead of wasting so many pages early on watching Legionnaires get their butts kicked.


Science Police Notes:  
  • This is the one and only appearance of the Taurus Gang except for Black Mace, who re-appeared to fight Timber Wolf in Superboy/Legion #213 and in a flashback story battling Princess Projectra, Karate Kid, and Ferro Lad in Legion v3 #31 (which occurred chronologically before the events in this story). 
  • This is the final Silver Age appearance of the Legion of Substitute Heroes as a group. Night Girl will appear on her own in Action Comics #386
Status: 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 8 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.

4 comments:

  1. Now THIS is flustercuckery at its finest.

    I love how the remaining Legionnaires are ordered about first by Zordon, then by Mockingbird. Classic.

    One random thought: this and the stories that follow all have a "rushed" quality to them, as in "Just-rush-them-out-and-get-it-over-with" feel. Given that comics are created months in advance of their publication, and that the Supergirl and Legion features were about to trade books, is it possible that Weisinger was having Shooter just come up with a few last stories (with some suggestions like the "Mission: Impossible" motif here) before making the switch and just not caring too much about the quality?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shooter did much better with the two-parter format. All his single-issue stories seem rushed. (Of course, just wait till later.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Quanto reappeared in a pre-Magic Wars Levitz story, didn't he? I used to wonder if he was intended to be the "real" Reflecto: not really a villain, on a secret mission from another "universe"...even the colour scheme.Shooter would bring in Quantum Queen shortly.
    This was my first ever LSH full-length story. I had read "The Hapless Hero" in Action first. Crazy Scottish distribution!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Quanto reappeared in a pre-Magic Wars Levitz story, didn't he? I used to wonder if he was intended to be the "real" Reflecto: not really a villain, on a secret mission from another "universe"...even the colour scheme.Shooter would bring in Quantum Queen shortly.
    This was my first ever LSH full-length story. I had read "The Hapless Hero" in Action first. Crazy Scottish distribution!

    ReplyDelete