Tuesday, April 16, 2019

TOS: Action Comics #378

Action Comics #378 (July 1969)
title: "The Forbidden Fruit!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
artist: Win Mortimer
letterer: Mike Esposito
editor: Mort Weisinger
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board: 
Timber Wolf, Light Lass; cameo by Lightning Lad

an unnamed extortionist and drug dealer

Timber Wolf is walking through Metropolis when he falls prey to a well-planned trap: by stopping a bank robbery and getting blasted by a rip-ray. After he has captured the thieves, Timber Wolf is approached by an unnamed man saying that he is a doctor. He treats his wound and then gives Timber Wolf something medicinal to drink; he then rushes off. 
Timber Wolf returns to Legion head-quarters, where he snaps at Light Lass for "fawning" over him. H wants to be alone. Almost immediately he goes into a drug-induced haze, staying up all night with even more heightened senses than he usually has. 
The next morning Timber Wolf wanders the streets until "the doctor" approaches him. The man tells Timber Wolf that the Legionnaire is now addicted to the Lotus Fruit from the planet Oomar. He gives Timber Wolf two, telling him that he will get more if he eats one and gives the other to another Legionnaire. 
Timber Wolf returns to Light Lass and asks her in a dream-like way to eat the second fruit. When she refuses and tosses the fruit aside, he uses his advanced acrobatic skill to catch it and then storms out. As he enters another Lotus Fruit induced "trip," Light Lass watches him and realizes what is going on. 
The next morning, when Timber Wolf comes out of his haze Light Lass is ready for him. She trails him to a meeting with the unnamed dealer. The dealer has a whole basket of Lotus Fruit ready to give to Timber Wolf. He wants the Legionnaire to share the drug with his team-mates so that they all become addicted, so the man can control them. 
Light Lass uses her gravity-control power to grab the basket of Lotus Fruits from him. She quickly attaches a small detonator on them and the explosives on her. She tells Timber Wolf that if he chooses the Lotus Fruit, the detonator will cause an explosion and that she will die. She tells him he has to choose her of the fruit.  
After a moment's hesitation, Timber Wolf's love for Light Lass wins over the power of the Lotus Fruit, and he knocks out the dealer with one punch.    

Russell: This is one of the more famous Legion stories, as writer Jim Shooter claims it to be the first anti-drug story in comics. It pre-dates Amazing Spider-Man #s 96 (from May 1971) and Green Lantern (Green Arrow) #85 (Aug 1971), both much more famous than this, so I'm inclined to believe him.

Being first doesn't necessarily mean it's the best, though. The set-up is good, but the conclusion where Timber Wolf actually has the will power to Just Say No to the Lotus Fruit seems simplistic in the extreme. In fact, I think of a lot of harm comes from the idea that drug addicts (or alcoholics, or over-eaters, for that matter) would stop if they really loved their partner or family. It works as a plot device, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't necessarily work in real life.

Speaking of the Lotus Fruit, this is the second story in a row that references The Odyssey by Homer. Anybody want to guess whether high school student Jim Shooter had to read this book for an English class at about this time?

The art is by Win Mortimer and Mike Esposito, a one-time only combination. Mortimer by now is used to the Legionnaires and to the 30th Century locales, and his art is straight-forward if not a tad boring. His drug-induced hazes especially seem a bit dull, but I guess never having tried the Lotus Fruit who am I to judge his artistic representation of how it makes you feel? Inker Mike Esposito was well known as the inker for penciller Ross Andru on such series as The Flash and Wonder Woman. Although he had inked a few Curt Swan Adventure Comics covers during the Legion's run, this was his one and only Legion story. I would have liked to have seen more of this combination, as he "cleaned up" Mortimer's rough edges very nicely. Light Lass and Timber Wolf both look pretty good in this story.

Mike: I have been fairly harsh on the art of late, but this one was a noticeable improvement. The splash page was particularly well done thanks to Timber Wolf's sad sack appearance and the psychedelic design over half of his body. While you are right that Win Mortimer's drug-induced hazes were on the subdued side, I thought by Silver Age DC standards they still looked pretty impressive.

The creators do deserve credit for even trying to tackle this topic, especially given DC's more conservative approach to comics at this time. We are in the Weisinger era after all, so it is amazing this even got printed. On the other hand, that may explain the fairly simplistic resolution. I agree that the idea that addicts would stop if only they cared more about the people in their lives is a problematic solution.

Nevertheless, I try to review things in context and I do think that the fact that they even addressed this topic counts for a lot. After all, part of what made the Legion so appealing to readers in the Silver Age was how ahead of the curve they often were in comparison to other DC titles. It also adds a certain depth to the 30th Century world they inhabit. Certainly there are plenty of bad guys wandering around then, otherwise there would be no conflict to support a superhero title. But to introduce a drug dealer as the villain suggests that the Earth they live on is not nearly as enlightened or advanced as readers had probably assumed.

This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 9 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.

This is the first appearance of the Legion in their new home in the back-up spot in Action Comics. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
This story is well-known in the comic-book world as one of the very first anti-drug comic-book stories.


  1. Legion fans do tend to pooh pooh the Action Comics and Superboy back-up features, understandable given what came before and after, but they did give us some good character moments and kept the flame alive for the Legions eventual status in their own mag(s).

    As to this story itself, I understand that Shooter wanted to go full-up on the drug angle but due to, ahem, editorial constraints brought in the somewhat allegorical fruit.

    1. I fully agree. The shorter format was usually resolved by using fewer characters, and thus focalizing on characterization. Actually, many character bits that now we consider "canon" come from this run

  2. One of things I enjoy most about the story reviews is that for the most part all of you do indeed keep them in context of the times in which they were written.

    There are few things more nonsensical than (and very little insight to be gained by) judging a 50-year-old book by the standards of today.

  3. I think that the jump in quality from the last handful of Adventures to here is very noticeable. As I mentioned in a comment above, I believe that the "fewer pages = fewer characters" formula really worked.

    Looking forward to your coverage of the Action run, many of my favorite moments in the whole history of the Legion come from this era.

  4. Looking at some of the art - especially the first panel posted (with the title), the panel of Brin's Lotus-fueled hazes, and the panel of Brin catching the Lotus that Ayla tosses away - I wonder how the art would have looked had Steve Ditko penciled the story. Those examples in particular look like Mortimer was trying to do a Ditko style. (I'm reasonably sure the hazes wouldn't seem as dull had Ditko drawn it, though. Nothing against Mortimer, but... no one really did "trippy" quite like Ditko...)

    1. Interesting idea. The Dr. Strange stuff was wild. Pity that nothing like that ever came up when Ditko did some Legion work.

  5. ??? Problematic? I stopped using because of my love for my family and so did the three others in my group.
    Have either of you even been addicts or have you just been told about the lack of control addicts have and pity them?
    I have not met an addict who isn't slowed down if a loving family is involved.
    If you like I could give you a link to the Australia/New Zealand group I'm a part of for other readers of site. They do need to take responsibility for themselves though and that doesn't seem fashionable today.

    1. First of all good on you for quitting. Our intention was not to belittle the efforts of ANY former addicts; whatever works for you to help you beat it is great.
      I have not been an addict but I have known a few, and the generalization I would make is that it was up to THEM to find the will-power to stop. Robbing from me and lying to me and being abusing to me was OK as long as the addiction was fed....until suddenly, for whatever reason, it wasn't OK, and then they started to stop. For the purpose of this story, the drama was (overly) simplified, and I was only trying to call attention to that fact.
      Thanks for sharing!

  6. I did enjoy this issue and yes, I think you have to view this in the context of the times it was written in. In that context, I think it was fairly groundbreaking. A good, but not great story both in terms of writing and art.

    While I prefer the two-part Adventure stories and think they're the best of the Silver Age Legion, emsley wyatt makes a good point about reducing the roll call and focusing in characterization as a positive.