Tuesday, July 9, 2019

TOS: Action Comics #391

Action Comics #391 (August 1970)
title: "The Ordeal of Element Lad!"
writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
penciller: Win Mortimer
inker: Jack Abel
editor: Mort Weisinger
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

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

President Peralla and his chemical humanoids, Diol Masrin and his Dark Circle providers

Saturn Girl waits in the Presidential Palace in the city of Huevas on the planet, Lahum waiting for an interview to join the staff of the Scientific Development administration. She is trying to get a job there in order to find out the chemical composition of the humanoid army that President Peralla uses to keep his people in line. However, the current assistant at the Scientific Development administration is Marli Zhorg, also a native of Titan and an old friend of Saturn Girl. She recognizes the Legionnaire, but only as her old friend. She vouches for Imra, but now she will not be able to keep in telepathic command with the other Legionnaires. 
At the rebel camp, Element Lad talks with Diol Masrin in such a way as to recap the first part of the story for new readers: the Legionnaires are in cognito trying to help bring down the war-hawk president but also stop the rebel leader from bringing in the Dark Circle. The Legion boys are pretending to be Dark Circle operatives sent to destroy the chemical humanoids in order to help overthrow President Peralla. Element Lad needs to know the chemical composition of the humanoids so that he can use his element-changing powers on them. Chameleon Boy is pretending to be Chavak, the second-in-command under Masrin. He is kissing "his" girl friend, Yroa, but gets the feeling that she is more interested in the next in command, Nym Belev. 
Karate Kid admits that he has some leftover glop of a humanoid on his hand from where he tried to fight them, and Brainiac 5 is overjoyed. He gets to work analyzing it in order to figure out their chemical characteristics. 
As the chemical humanoids attack the rebel base, Brainiac 5 has cracked their chemical composition, so Element Lad starts destroying them while the rebels think that their guns are doing the work. He changes them to neon gas, or to magnetic lodestone, or to bismuth or sand. He destroys them all, but weakens Element Lad to where he cannot even stand up. 
Masrin, flush with victory, orders his rebels to attack the presidential palace in Huevas, so Timber Wolf carries Element Lad so that he can recuperate. When they get to the palace Element Lad changes the guards to water, but there is also a force-field around the perimeter.  
Brainiac 5's force-field is able to nullify President Peralla's force-shield, and he gets into the complex. Saturn Girl sends directions telepathically, but her fellow telepath "overhears" her and Saturn Girl has to knock her out. Brainiac 5 destroys the force-field machinery, and the rebels overpower the palace. 
Masrin and the Legionnaires locate the treasure vaults, and Masrin decides to share some of the treasure with "the people" but keep most of it for himself. Element Lad alters the gold and precious stones to rocks, and the rebels rebel against Masrin! As "Chavak" has suddenly disappeared, Belev becomes the new leader, with his new girl-friend, Yroa. 
The Legionnaires meet their rendezvous ship, although Element Lad has passed out. On the way back to Earth, Legion Leader Karate Kid promises to recommend a bonus for him for effort above and beyond the call of duty. 

This is a great conclusion to a great story. There are a few nit-picks, but no glaring plot-holes that make you come to a sudden stop while reading it.

For example, after Brainiac 5 understands the chemical composition of the chemical humanoids, there is absolutely no time for Element Lad to even pretend to re-set the rifles to fire upon the invading horde. And yet the rebels are supposed to understand that one setting on their weapons will turn the chemical humans into neon, or lodestone, or tissue paper, or bismuth, or sand? And by the way, kudos to writer E. Nelson Bridwell for including bismuth as one of the elements the chemical humanoids are turned into. I thought that was a made-up element, but it actually exists!

Although the melo-drama of Element Lad being too overpowered to walk is a BIT much, it's nice to have Peter Lupus Timber Wolf available to carry him into the city. (Lupus? Wolf?)

And due to the rush of the story, the conceit that Brainiac 5's force-field would somehow "cancel out" the palatial force-field....? I don't think I have ever come across that bit of physics in a previous Legion story before. Convenient, though.

I wonder who was piloting the pick-up ship at the very end of the story.

Science Police Notes:  
  • Bismuth is an element with the symbol Bi and atomic number 83. Its chemical properties resemble arsenic and antimony. It is often used in automated sprinkler and alarm systems, and in electrical fuses. 
  • This is the last appearance of the Legion Espionage Squad until Superboy/Legion #228. 
This issue has been reprinted in The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol 9 and Showcase Presents: The Legion Vol. 4.


  1. A decent story overall. This was, I think, the first and only two-parter in the Action run. The broader canvas sure helps.

  2. Back in the seventies I was getting random Mexican reprints of DC comics in whatever order, but I already was intrigued by the Legion and by Element Lad in particular (both costumes, but the green one was/is my fave iteration). This issue cinched it for me, Jan was THE MAN. As I mentioned in the comments for the previous issue, not sure about the "mental blast" manifestation of the powers, but that is some power set!
    As for the tiredness, melodramatic, yes, but also puts an nice limit to who, it's been argued, is one of the most powerful legionaries ever.

    PD: Jan turning creatures into the element "Bi". Heh, I see what we read there...

  3. Sock it to her, Imra!

    And I agree that it's cool that Jan has a limit to how long and/or how much he can transmute before it takes its toll on his system.

  4. I quite enjoyed this one. It's a great little story, and it is really surprisingly sophisticated for the era.

    I actually covered this and its first part in my Bronze Age blog!