Tuesday, March 5, 2019

TOS: Adventure Comics #377

Adventure Comics #377 (February, 1969)
title: "Heroes for Hire"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Win Mortimer
inker: Jack Abel
letterer: Gaspar Saladino
cover: Neal Adams
reviewer: Jason "Anachronistic Kid" Knol

Mission Monitor Board: 
Brainiac 5, Chemical King, Duo Damsel, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Superboy; cameo appearances by several other Legionnaires

Opponent:
Modulus and the living planet, Modo







If I asked Mark Waid to rattle off every time Superboy/Superman uttered the phrase "Relax, Pops" in the entirety of 80 years of publication it would more than likely begin and end here. The cover and splash page offer up such a cringeworthy version of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes that I knew it would be a struggle to read this story. On the plus-side, you can be spared that pain by reading this summary!



As the story begins a Science Patrol ship has crippled a criminal's ship, which now flies toward planet Modo. The Science Police debate whether rumors of one called Modulus are true, and decide to set down their ship on Modo to capture the fleeing criminal. The suspect is nearly captured when suddenly a massive hand forms from the planet to ensnare the officers.


Back on Earth there's a robbery taking place at the United Planets Mind-Drug Research Center, and the Legionnaires are on their way to stop it. Unfortunately as they arrive they're struck by the robber's plan, Preparation L! Yes, really. Brainiac 5, Duo Damsel, and Karate Kid are sprayed with an aerosol hallucinogen that leads to the most generic psychedelic splash I've ever seen.


The Legionnaires are saved by Superboy using his super-breath to inhale all of the drug gas because apparently it can't affect him(?!). One of the crooks was knocked out, likely by the same gas, and is taken back to Science Police Headquarters for interrogation. It is revealed that his crew, along with many others, operate out of the planet Modo. Thanks to Modulus, who is a part of planet Modo himself, the criminals remain safe under his watchful protection.


Modulus keeps hostages on the planet so he can't be bombed outright, and not even Superboy can hurt Modo because there's Kryptonite on the planet. Truly, Modulus has thought of everything. With this knowledge, the Legionnaires go back to headquarters and remain totally silent and absent over the coming days. When they finally come out Superboy announces matter-of-factly that since neither the Legion nor the Science Police can stop this Modo-based crime wave there's no point in trying anymore. So when the Legion alarm goes off because a millionaire's plane is about to crash, Superboy knows just what to do.


He demands a cash reward before he'll save the plane from crashing into the ocean. And it works! Superboy returns to Legion HQ with a massive sack of cash just before an injured Karate Kid returns from his mission. KK saved rare books from being stolen at the Carey Interplanetary Library, but when he asked for five million dollars as a reward he was attacked by an angry mob. The next night the Legionnaires are invited to appear on Meet the Press and defend their new position to the world.


Superboy admits that they're helpless before Modulus so they've given up on being pro-bono heroes in order to "earn a little bread the only way we know how!" Yipes. And in response, the outraged millionaire from earlier accuses the Legionnaires of sabotaging his plane in order to swindle him out of his fortune. And in response, Superboy gives us one of the most enraged, psychotic stares I've ever seen.

The world is now completely against the newly for-hire heroes, and most criminals are able to evade the Science Police by making it back to safety on Modo. Meanwhile, Brainiac 5 has the Legionnaires hunting for jobs on planets with very peculiar currencies. Superboy rescues a baby off a ledge on planet Gnogg in exchange for 500 ergloks, a currency made of pure Radium. And that's the least ridiculous currency to come.


Princess Projectra uses her powers on the planet Rojun to create aerial advertising. In return she is paid with a plastic box full of their money-- living crystals that just so happen to eat metal. If I stop to analyze this I'm just going to quit in the middle of this write-up. The fact that there are living crystals that eat metal, fine, that's cool, but to consider that a society keeps these creatures as a form of money?

And on Mercury, Karate Kid beats a boxing champ at a carnival to win 500,00 litros-- a Mercurian gas money held within metal containers. Once again, their currency is gaseous. They've developed an economic system based upon a gas. Back on the Legion cruiser there's even more absurd currencies collected, including Huopian energy money, contained in plasti-metal spheres, as well as a giant mirror coin from Dracksler.

Brainiac 5 announces that they've collected enough loot, and it's time to start spending! Karate Kid buys a sweet new Astrovette 8000, and Princess Projectra gets herself some expensive designer perfume. Feed those stereotypes, gang! But with the Legionnaires out spending, their space cruiser containing the curious currencies is seemingly left unguarded!

Their ship is sliced open by villains in waiting, and Brainiac 5 and Chemical King manage to make it out in an escape pod. The attacking ship's scanners show only money on board, so they decide to tow the Legion cruiser to Modo. However, from the escape pod Brainiac 5 signals Chemical King to make a move!

Thus the ridiculous chain reaction begins. Did you spot all the clues? I'm not even going to summarize how insanely convoluted this all is. Here ya go.

The Legionnaires inform the Science Police that it's safe to go down to the surface of Modo, in protective insulator suits, and capture all the criminals as well as Modulus. Brainiac 5 confirms that the Legion will return all the money they received, plus interest from the Legion's own funds, to those  they charged for heroic services. And, naturally, everyone will forgive the Legion for their trickery to capture Modo.

This was a rough issue. As the Adventure Comics era nears an end it's sad to find a stinker like this among the bunch. I've come to expect a one-page denouement that doesn't necessarily solve everything or make sense given the actions of the issue, but pretty much everything about this one rubbed me the wrong way. The art is serviceable for the bizarre story being told, from unnecessary hallucinations to a planetary talk show interview to living money. But the story itself had zero characterization and a plot that just dragged. I'm not sure how Jim Shooter came up with this one.

I dub this the Rube Goldberg issue. Certainly the Legion could have found a way to gather the necessary interplanetary currencies without completely sacrificing their goodwill and reputation. The idea of Modo/Modulus was the most compelling idea in this story, but that whole undeveloped character was passed over to tell the absurd tale of the Legion's efforts instead.

And while reading this issue my mind kept thinking of the Green Lantern planet, Mogo, which was created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons 16 years after this. That sentient planet, as a supporting character, is far more exciting than Modo, the main villain of this story.

Science Police Notes:  
  • Modo/Modulus were never heard from again. 
Status: 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 9 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.

3 comments:

  1. Certainly falls within the Silver Age "Heroes behave atypically for secret reason" trope. Was this the story that introduced Leland McCauly?

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    1. It did not introduce him, but he was featured.

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  2. Ah, flustercuckery. What would we do without it?

    The basic premise of this story reminded me of "The Reporter of Steel" from Action Comics #257 in 1959. In it, Clark Kent has to use his super-powers openly as himself to thwart a plot by Lex Luthor. He uses a similar ruse of accumulating millions of dollars by charging for his services and doing other money-making schemes, only to finally become "super generous" and give it all away to several charities.

    The 60's psychedelic artwork is more of a hoot than anything else, but having Superboy using the mod language of the day is just flat out WRONG. This was another DC attempt to ape the hipper Marvel style, which almost always fell flat.

    So "Meet the Press" will still exist in a millennium. Amazing.

    On the plus side, there was a nice callback to Adventure Comics #350 with the Rojun crystal turtles, the same ones that munched on Lightning Lad's metal arm.

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