Tuesday, March 12, 2019

TOS: Adventure Comics #378

Adventure Comics #378 (March 1969)
title: "Twelve Hours To Live!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Win Mortimer
inker: Jack Abel
letterer: Joe Letterese
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Neal Adams
reviewer:  Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board: 
Brainiac 5, Duo Damsel, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Superboy

Death, unknown would-be assassin; the Fatal Five

On Brainiac 4's birthday, four Legionnaires help him celebrate the day in the traditional Coluan way: by toasting him with Kono Juice in ceremonial ivory mugs. Superboy did a super-vision scan of the privately provided juice; he guarantees that it is not poisoned so they all drink up. 
I think this is a nice way to start a Legion story, but none of these characters have ever been considered Brainiac's good friends. I would have preferred members like Supergirl, Invisible Kid, and Saturn Girl to have been included, or maybe a quick note saying that these five members were the ones stuck on duty on his birthday, so they decided to celebrate it with him.

However, Brainiac 5 notices that the Kono Juice tastes differently. When he runs tests on the mugs, he finds that they were coated with Rakurga, the deadliest poison in the universe with no known attitude. Upon further investigation he finds that the poison also has microscopically lead-lined Green Kryptonite in it that will affect Superboy. Brainiac 5 estimates that they have 12 hours to live. 
No good deed goes unpunished. Stupid Superboy!

Brainiac 5 realizes that if Superboy dies here and now, then there will never be a Superman, which will affect the entire time-line. So he rushes to the lab in order to find a cure. 
This is good, sound logic Brainiac 5....too bad Jim Shooter and Mort Weisinger didn't agree with it. OBVIOUSLY Superboy does not die. So does that mean that the others don't die, either? Trying to create a sense of suspense when the reader KNOWS that what is supposed to happen isn't going to happen is just bad plotting.

Superboy returns to Smallville but is overwhelmed with sadness there. He can't confront his foster parents, for example. So he heads back to the 30th Century and spends his last hours doing good deeds. 
Clearly, the impetus for including Superboy in this story is to get the maudlin sentimentality of these scenes. I'm a sucker for men showing emotions or crying, so I understand what Shooter was trying to do here. But when we all know that Superboy isn't about to die, it feels like a cheat. Shame on you, DC. It would have been better with any other male Legionnaire besides Superboy.

Duo Damsel is at the Legion head-quarters and sees Superboy. Instead of wanting to join him, she thinks that she should have quit before this. She goes home to her parents and spends her last hours with them. 
This particular scene seems much more realistic and in general is handled much better than the scenes with Superboy. Duo Damsel's lack of self-regard comes through nicely here, and I found myself thinking that maybe she would quit at the end of this story rather than face death again.

Karate Kid is alone at his apartment but doesn't want to "waste" his last hours. So he contacts the Science Police and uses their computer to calculate the most likely location of the Fatal Five hide-out. He heads off to find them and succeeds in finding them hidden inside a hollow asteroid. 
Although I like the idea that Karate Kid, Alpha Male type that he is, would want to go out in  a blaze of glory. What I don't like, is that we get no scenes with him and Princess Projectra discussing their impending doom. What's the point of having a couple in this story if you aren't going to include something about "let's get married!" or....or....now that I think about it, maybe Shooter DID include something about them sleeping with each other and maybe Mort took it out. Haha!

Karate Kid attacks, bluffing them that he isn't alone against them. He defeats three of them before Tharok realizes that Karate Kid really is on his own; he then orders Validus to kill him. However, Validus' mental lightning accidentally sets the power on fire, causing the asteroid to explode. Karate Kid barely escapes in time. 
Although this is my favorite part of this story by far, I have to say that it is just not done well. Karate Kid manages to take down three of the Fatal Five, all by himself? Okay, I get it that Shooter really really liked Karate Kid as a character, but this doesn't make the Fatal Five look all that....fatal.

Back on Earth, Princess Projectra is feeling lonely and sad in her huge penthouse apartment. She decides to go out, to spend time with people. 

Projectra winds up at the park, where she meets civilian Myron Marks. They chat about Life and about living it with no regrets, which makes Projectra feel more at ease. 
This is my second favorite part of this story, as an average citizen of Metropolis is able to give Princess Projectra a fresh perspective on Life and Death. This is handled well, I think. Although to repeat myself, I think Shooter and Weisinger missed having Projectra and Karate Kid make some type of emotional commitment to each other.

The Legionnaires return to the head-quarters, and Brainiac 5 admits that he could not find a cure for Rakurga. They decide to write their will on a piece of steel. Projectra leaves her vast private fortune to the Legion. Brainiac 5 leaves his patent rights to the Legion, and his force-field belt to Invisible Kid. Karate Kid leaves his personal arsenal to the Legion. Superboy leaves all of his personal tools, robots, and mementos of Krypton. 
Okay, hold on. Why in the world would the Legionnaires' Will have to be engraved on steel? I wonder if the cover came before the rest of story. Was DC still doing that by 1969? I do like how each Legionnaire donates what they can to the Legion. I *don't* like how they didn't call in any other Legionnaires or make more of a big deal out of all dying at the same time, though.

As the Legionnaires begin to drop off, Brainiac 5 remembers that they have the Miracle Machine. He rushes off to use it to wish it to save their lives. However, he's too late. He collapses on top of it. 
My huge complaint with this story is that it actually continues into the next issue. If Brainiac had remembered the Miracle Machine a few panels earlier, this whole thing would have been a nice little character study on how each of these five characters chose to face death. As it is....there's MORE next issue? Uggh. We know these heroes aren't going to die, so to keep this artificial sense of "doom" hanging over into ANOTHER issue?!?! This was a mistake.

The murderer walks into the headquarters brazenly, setting off all of the intruder alarms. However, no one is there to respond. He gloats that he managed to murder five Legionnaires. 
Suddenly, time stops! 
And....the perfect ending to a perfectly stupid story. How would the would-be assassin have known that there would not have been any other Legionnaires at the head-quarters? I guess he might have taken that risk, and as soon as the alarms went off and no one apprehended him he knew that he had succeeded? But then TIME itself stops, making his brazen actions pointless.

As I said, I understand that the point of this story was to do characterization on these Legionnaires on how they decide to face death. That's fine, and except for the inclusion of Superboy I think the story works well for what it's supposed to do. The problem of including Superboy, of course, makes the whole story feel even more artificial and pointless than it otherwise would. We can believe that DC might consider killing off a supporting character, such as Commissioner Gordon or Perry White or one of the Legionnaires, but to threaten Superboy like this....as I said before, obviously Superboy wasn't going to die. That means that there is a very strong chance that the others wouldn't be killed, either. If Superboy's place had been taken by any other Legionnaire, this story would have worked better.
But it's still awful! The idea that Brainiac 5 would not have called on Element Lad or Chemical King to help control the poison's effects is just ludicrous. The idea that he wouldn't have suggested that they all be sent into the Phantom Zone until a cure could have been found is also idiotic. And the fact that nobody thought to call in any other Legionnaires to try to track down the assassin also missed a great dramatic point. None of the Legionnaires come off looking very good in this story, but Superboy and Brainiac 5 especially come off as idiots.

Science Police Notes:  
  • According to the 1976 DC Calendar, Brainiac 5's birthday is December 30. 
  • This is the last appearance of Smallville during the Adventure Comics run. It won't return to this book again until Superboy returns as head-liner in Adventure Comics #453.  
  • Duo Damsel's parents are Hure and Silvou Durgo. 
  • Princess Projectra's father is King Voxv. Her mother's name was never revealed.  
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 9 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.


  1. A few stray thoughts as I wade into the flustercuckery:

    * I understand your point, Russell, but I feel it's a little uncharitable to say "none of these characters have ever been considered Brainiac's good friends." Shooter obviously chose the Legionnaires for this story based on their potential for characterization expansion. And hey, Legionnaires support one another through the good times as well as the bad.

    * This is the only story I've ever come across that expressly states the central creative problem with the original Superboy: the adventures of Superman when he was a boy. Of COURSE he's never going to die, or be harmed or altered in any way. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a Superman. That pretty much kills the suspense in his stories. I give Shooter his due for pointing that out, at least once.

    * Again, I agree with you, Russell, that Val and Projectra should have spent some time together as the end approached, given their feelings about each other. But, I disagree with your take on the Myron Marks scene. This is actually one of the more clichéd storytelling devices, the "chance-encounter-with-a-wise-stranger-who-puts-everything-in-perspective". This was just bad writing on Shooter's part, particularly when we've seen that he was better than that.

    * I'd never considered it before, but, yeah, this story could have been much more effective as a stand-alone tale. Not so much if Brainy actually used the Miracle Machine (too much of a cheat, as we will see later), but to have Element Lad or Chemical King come in when the others lose consciousness and manage to save them. Given the proper set-up, this could have been a thought-provoking story on how one faces death or other personal crises. A missed opportunity.

  2. I rather like the Myron Marks scene myself, cliché though it was. It's nice to see that this futuristic, over-dramatic adventurous setting has space for the quiet, philosophical moments. ("I'm going to die." "Isn't everyone?") I'd even like to see Myron make another appearance, although in today's continuity-bound storytelling it'd probably turn out he was some future incarnation of the Immortal Man or J'onn J'onzz, or something...

    1. I agree with the philosophical aspect to the Myron scene, and that it does have a place here. It's just that it's SUCH a hackneyed device that it takes away any importance. If the story had been better plotted, it might have been OK. As it is, it's just one more poor element in a story that has too many.

  3. And, of course, the irony of the whole "Superboy can't die" thing is that he ultimately DOES. Hey, does that mean that all the Silver Age Superman stories didn't "really" happen?

    1. That's what they WANT us to think, Emsley. ;) Be careful.