Tuesday, May 7, 2019

TOS: Action Comics #381

Action Comics #381 (Oct 1969)
title: "The Hapless Hero!"
writer and layouts: Jim Shooter
penciller: Win Mortimer
inker: Jack Abel
letterer: Milt Snappin
editor: Mort Weisinger
reviewers: Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board:
Matter-Eater Lad, Shrinking Violet; cameo appearances by Brainiac 5, Chemical King, Karate Kid, Lightning Lad, Phantom Girl, Princess Projectra, and Saturn Girl

Duplicate Boy

A late evening meeting is breaking up and Chemical King offers to take several of the Legionnaires home in his new sky-car. While most are dropped off directly at their homes, Matter-Eater Lad asks to be dropped off early. He claims to be in the mood for a little walk but it turns out that he is embarrassed by both his home and his family. They live in the slum sector and his father is blowing his pension at the race track. The family has become dependent on his monthly Legion living allowance. (They get paid?)

Tenz storms out and returns to Legion headquarters where he finds Shrinking Violet on monitor duty. She is depressed because she has fallen in love with the hero Duplicate Boy but rarely sees him because he lives five million parsecs away and is always busy.

He offers to take her out to cheer her up even though it means spending his Legion paycheck, which is all the money he has to his name. And we see that people still carry wallets in the 30th century. Projectra comes to relieve Vi of monitor duty and help her get ready for their date while Tenzil makes some arrangements. 

Tenz picks her up in the 30th century equivalent of a limousine, which comes with a robot chauffeur. They go to a high class restaurant where it takes him about two seconds to cave and confess that he was just putting up a show and is not actually wealthy.

Rather than bringing the date to a screeching halt, his confession loosens things up and the two end up dancing the night away at a gravity free ballroom. Things go so well that at the end of they night they kiss. Unfortunately, this is precisely when Duplicate Boy shows up and he is pissed. Typically, in a superhero comic, we would expect at least a few panels of fighting, but surprisingly, that is not what happens. Instead, Matter-Eater Lad convinces Duplicate Boy that attacking him will only make VI hate him and everyone talks it out. 

This is such an unusual story but I enjoyed it. There is no fighting, no adventure, no villain, and it reads far more like a romance comic than a superhero tale. But there is a lot to like. The focus is on Matter-Eater Lad and Shrinking Violet, two often neglected Legionnaires. As has happened several times in recent stories, we see that 30th Century Earth still has many of the same societal problems as modern Earth. Not only is Tenz revealed to live in poverty but his father is a gambling addict. Also, the way the scene at his home played out heavily implies that his dad is an abusive husband and father as well. Very heavy stuff for one of our Legionnaires.

The only problem with this story is the abrupt happy ending for Tenzil that gets tacked on at the end. I understand that this is a Silver Age comic intended for younger readers, but giving his father such an unrealistic turnaround at the end really takes away from the power of the story. Although as I type this it occurs to me that the scene could actually be read very differently than intended.  Knowing how unlikely it is that his home life will really change and seeing the hopeful look on his face could leave one with the thought that he is destined to have his heart broken. Well, I kind of wish I had not thought of that...

Science Police Notes:  
  • Duplicate Boy wears a uniform in this adventure that is never seen again. 
  • Matter-Eater Lad's parents (and unseen younger brother) re-appear in Superboy #184
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 9 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.


  1. It is nice to see these stories digging into the Legionaries personal lives and into the world thy live in.

    In my dream world, during the Adventure run every 4th issue or so would have been 2 or 3 short tales focusing on one or a few team members.


  2. This issue marks the debut of a Legion HQ variant that I refer to as the "Hatbox Hilton". Also Duplicate Boy's jealousy would be featured again in the "Violet/Yera/Colossal Boy" arc.

    One wonders how much of the aspect of ME Lad's poverty was shaped by Shooter's own experience.

    1. Given that Shooter had to work at 14 to help support his family, I'd say it was a major influence.