Tuesday, July 2, 2019

TOS: Action Comics #390

Action Comics #390 (July 1970)
title: "The Tyrant and the Traitor!"
writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
penciller: Win Mortimer
inker: Jack Abel
letterer: Joe Letterese
editor: Mort Weisinger
reviewers: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Mission Monitor Board: 
Chameleon Boy, Brainiac 5, Element Lad, Karate Kid, Saturn Girl, Timber Wolf

Proty II

President Peralla, Diol Masrin, the Dark Circle, Chemical Humanoid troops

President Peralla on the planet Lahum has taken over the government and appears to be preparing to launch wars against his neighbors. Leading the rebel forces against Peralla is Diol Masrin, but he is secretly allied with the Dark Circle. Peralla's army consists mostly of chemically created humanoid troops, virtually unstoppable because no one knows what their chemical composition is. The United Planets can't become involved, but someone in the UP government secretly asks Chameleon Boy to step into investigate as the Legion Espionage Squad. 
Chameleon Boy reviews the dossier on the Lahum situation and comes up with a plan to get rid of both the tyrant and the traitor. He reviews the Legion membership to come up with a mission team. 

Not long after, the Legion intercepts a cargo ship that they think is carrying weapons heading towards Lahum. Cham takes the place of the Captain of the thieves, and Proty II takes the place of a laser rifle. Saturn Girl reads the mind of the Captain and transfers important information to Cham's memories. They hand the actual team over to their buddies and fly on to Lahum, even though Karate Kid avers that the weapons are junk. 
The Impossible Missions Force lands the space-ship in the jungles of Lahum to meet up with Chavak, who is Masrin's right-hand man. The Legionnaires recognize him as a wanted criminal, so are happy when he picks up the first laser rifle he sees, which is of course Proty II. Cham takes the place of Chavak while Proty II takes the place of the ship captain. Saturn Girl transfers all of Chavak's memories to Cham. "Chavak" then reappears to the rebels and approves of the weapons and of three new guys joining their ranks. Saturn Girl secretly sneaks off the space-ship before Proty II flies it off. She heads to the capital city, Huevas, to try to discover the chemical composition of the humanoid troops.  
"Chavak" knows to depend on Nym Belev, who leads the rebels back to their hide-out. On the way, the chemical humanoids attack. They split up into new, separate creatures whenever they are hit, so Element Lad shoots them with one of the "new" rifles, secretly using his conversion power to change the ground to liquid mercury, trapping them. Element Lad can't attack the humanoids directly until he knows what their chemical composition is. 
The boys arrive at the rebel camp. Masrin is greeted by Karate Kid, who shows him privately that they are secretly from the Dark Circle. They meet in private in Masrin's private quarters, which are by far the best accommodations at the camp. The Legionnaires are secretly disgusted by his hypocrisy, but pretend to vow to help him defeat President Peralla. 

Outside, "Chavak" meets "his" girl-friend, Yroa, and is afraid that she might "see" through his disguise. 
In the capital, Saturn Girl comes across the chief of scientific development and implants in his brain the thought to hire her as an additional assistant. He brings her inside the Presidential Palace and asks his current assistant to run a check on the applicant.....but the woman surprises him when she tells him she already knows who she is! 

Russell: Cue the Lalo Schifrin theme music and strap yourself in, we're here for another episode of Mission:Impossible '2970.

This is a great set-up for the Legion Espionage Squad: go in where the UP can't *officially* send you, and try to fix a problem. Chameleon Boy is a great tactical leader for stories like this, and with the support of Brainiac 5 and Saturn Girl playing the parts of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, how can you miss?

And in case you as a reader don't pick up on the Mission:Impossible vibe, there is a scene where Chameleon Boy reviews profiles of every Legionnaire in order to "choose his team." Uh....where have I seen something like THAT before? How about in every episode for the first four or five years of the classic TV show, like in this one from season four?

Looking at the details of the story, however, I would hope there were a few things not shown us. For example, Chameleon Boy believed that Diol Masrin was dirty without being shown any proof. Why does the Legion need five cruisers to stop the gun-runners? ....and it would have been nice to see some of the other Legionnaires in this scene, taking possession of the real gun-runners as the team heads to Lahum.

How does the Legion know that Chavak is a wanted criminal? And how is that possible? The patriots on Lahum are actually Soldiers of Fortune? I guess, since the Legion boys join the team without any problems...but without any finagling over payment. Hmmm....

I liked the inclusion of Proty II here as a weapon, and then as the Captain after Cham turns into Chavak, and then to take the ship away. That was a good use of a minor character.

I also liked the point made in this story that both the President and the Rebel Leader had better, nicer residences than their people do. That was a nice way to show that neither leader was worth supporting.

And I REALLY liked the idea of the chemical humanoids! I wish they had made a come-back! If/when Element Lad finds out their chemical composition they would still be a formidable opponent for most of the other Legionnaires. Their graphic design is cool as hell. 

And then the story ends on a very clever, suspenseful note. When I first read this, I couldn't wait to read the conclusion. Job well done, Mr. Bridwell!

Mike: I LOVED this story. Certainly my favorite of the uneven run in Action so far and it is absolutely due to the blatant copying of Mission Impossible for the set up. I even put on the soundtrack to the original tv show when I read it because I am that big of a nerd.

Everything about how this story progresses is great. From Chameleon Boy's briefing to his selecting the Legionnaire "dossiers" to them taking the place of the crooks. It is right out of an MI episode. Even President Perella and Diol Masrin feel exactly like the sort of villainous characters we frequently saw in the series....except in the show Martin Landau would have disguised himself as one of them.

And it's hard not to fall in love with the whole concept of a Legion Espionage Squad. Choosing selected members for their powers when a little subterfuge is required...how can someone not find that intriguing?

We also get some unusually mature themes explored here with the team being inserted into a political power struggle between two leaders who are equally unappealing. The creators do a great job of throwing in some futuristic sci-fi with the humanoids without taking away from the seriousness of the situation at all. Heck, they managed to actually use Proty II in a way that I liked, which is a miracle.

Bridwell really gave us the perfect cliffhanger ending by exploiting the set-up of them being undercover. I have very little memory of the next part of this story but if it is even half as good as this I will be happy.

Science Police Notes:  
  • Mission: Impossible originally ran on CBS-TV from 1966 thru 1973. 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 9 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.


  1. I will reserve a more detailed comment for next issue, which I hold dear, but I guess this is the first time Jan is shown as projecting his powers from the forehead instead of the more regular hands. If you think about it, either or neither would make sense, there is no need for the power to be an actual beam. Probably a Mortimer license, but very notorious here and next issue.

  2. Good story, for sure. The whole "Mission: Impossible" vibe worked as well as the use of the Legion Espionage Squad" not really seen in action since the two part "Outlaw Legion" story. And the idea that it was "bad guy vs. bad guy" brought a shades-of-gray moral uncertainty not usually seen in comics of the time.