Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time Keeps On Slipping: The Adult Legion

Adventure 355 Legion of Super-Villains
Adventure #355 (1967)

Adventure Comics 355 (April 1967)
“The War of the Legions!”
Jim Shooter, Curt Swan/George Klein

Doug: Here we are for part two of our look at the Adult Legion – this story is somewhat of a conclusion to the tale we looked at last week, although it could be considered a done-in-one.

Doug: DC had a habit in the Silver Age that I guess strikes me as similar to Marvel’s use these days of the first page of the book as a non-story page. Nowadays Marvel gives the reader a recap of past issues; DC, over 40 years ago, gave the reader (to me) a second cover – that is, they printed an image that was a teaser of what was to come in the following pages. In either instance, I really feel the readers are cheated out of additional story/art space. But I’ll give a slight tip of the hat to DC in that the reader at least got a large splash page instead of a small recycled panel (as Marvel does).

Karen: Since I only started reading DC in the mid 70s, I haven’t seen too many of these splash pages. It seems very odd to a Marvel reader like me. With a lot of the old Marvel books, they liked to start in media res! But DC’s method here is preferable to the text recap pages used now.

Sharon: That was part of the DC formula—the splash page functioned as a second cover—just in case the cover by itself was not enough to reel in the impressionable youngster! And of course, Superman (or Superboy), being the main DC attraction, had to be featured on the cover-- even if, as here, he’s only in a few panels in the story.

Doug: Time travel problem (again!) – on the second page, Superman comments to the assembled Legionnaires that he must return to his own time to get some pressing work done. Why couldn’t Brainy just send him back to the exact second he had left? No one would have known he was gone, and whatever deadlines he had wouldn’t be in danger. Ah, well…

Karen: Time travel is always messy. That’s why it’s so disturbing when Brainy says time travel is commonplace! How many things would get screwed up if people were time travelling willy-nilly all over the place –er, time?

Sharon: Yeah, some readers would write in and question why Superman (or Superboy) was in the future for, say, two weeks, did that necessarily mean he was gone from the 20th century for those two weeks? Why wouldn’t he return to his own time a few seconds after he left? Some readers—including kids--didn’t buy it.

Karen: Also, Superman’s quote at hearing about the casualness of time travel – “Well I’ll be a three-eyed Kryptonian babootch!” – just kills me! Was he always saying stuff like that back in the 60s, or was that just Shooter?

Sharon: The dialogue was consistent with how Superman was usually written in his own comic and throughout the Weisinger-edited books. We tend to credit Stan Lee with creating a unified Marvel Universe but overlook the fact that some editors at DC were doing the same thing—the difference is, at DC the editors (Weisinger, Schwartz, et al) each oversaw 4-8 books, and not an entire line comprised of 8-10 titles (as Stan did). While there were varying degrees of character/story consistency among each DC editors’ set of books, Weisinger really stands out as someone who championed a cohesive mythology for his books (Superman, Superboy, Superman and Supergirl in Action, Superboy and the Legion in Adventure, World’s Finest, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane) by mixing and matching the same elements among them: the LSH, Supergirl, Jimmy, Lois, Perry White, Lana Lang, Lucy Lane, Lori Lemaris and Atlantis, Pete Ross, the super pets, Ma and Pa Kent, Kryptonite, Kandor, Argo City, the Fortress of Solitude, the Phantom Zone, Bizarro, Braniac, Luthor, Lena Thorul, etc.

Sharon: It’s no accident that as his Superman family was growing, Weisinger also instituted the first DC Annual, which compiled earlier tales of Superman (the start of the fabled 80-page DC Giants), so that his audience could familiarize themselves with Superman’s history. Weisinger had already woven a rich Superman tapestry before the Fantastic Four were a gleam in Stan or Jack’s eyes (well, maybe not Jack’s because the FF is reminiscent of Jack’s Challengers of the Unknown. But that’s a topic for another day…). Anyway, while Stan and Jack and Marvel can be credited with tapping into a new, older audience, kudos should also be given to Weisinger, who sought to provide his (younger) audience with an interconnected cast of characters and concepts.

Doug: “That weird ship hovering up there… as if waiting for something???” said Brainiac-5, the smartest guy around. Hey, dude, the SV logo on it ring a bell? Duh – not until the next panel when he gets himself captured.

Sharon: Maybe he thought the vessel belonged to Shrinking Violet? Oh, that’s right, she had retired…

Doug: And if you’re the Legion of Super-Villains, why don’t you just announce your presence?? This is really a quaint way of storytelling – the innocence in it is lost in today’s mags filled with sex and ultra-violence.

Doug: I also liked the SV seal on the envelopes that popped into the Legion’s hands – reminded me of the Hallmark Gold Crown stickers!

Doug: So anyway, Superman leaves, Brainy is kidnapped, and the five Legionnaires in this story (Lightning Man, Cosmic Man, Saturn Woman, Polar Man, and Element Man) are sent to five different destinations to try to find him. Two new do-badders are introduced for this tale – Echo, the master of sound, and Beauty Blaze, who can manipulate fire.

Sharon: You know, even with the additional two members, I find it amusing that a grand total of five baddies constitutes a “legion!” I guess we’re meant to assume there are plenty of other criminal members of the LSV, but they just weren’t available for this mission?

Doug: Interestingly enough, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen combat their younger counterparts, but Cosmic King does battle with Element Man while Cosmic Man battles Echo.

Sharon: Element Man and Cosmic King’s similar powers made them natural adversaries, as far back in Adventure #331 when the teen Element Lad’s powers were used to counteract Cosmic King’s.

Karen: Wasn’t splitting the team up a typical DC convention of the time? I seem to recall this often occurred in Justice League.

Sharon: Yes, and it often happened to the Legion too, when they opposed a team--the Fatal Five, the Wanderers…

Doug: Shooter must have done his homework, or perhaps he was a closet alchemist – Element Man informs us that Cosmic King’s plot to destroy Metropolis by exploding plutonium was stifled when EM transmuted nearby objects to cadmium, which absorbs plutonium neutrons thus preventing the explosion. Hey, who am I to say?? Seems plausible to me!

Karen: Shooter tried to give scientific explanations for most of the Legionnaires’ feats here. He must have been paying attention in his science classes!

Sharon: I love how Saturn Woman’s evil nature is underscored by her thin, “unattractive” (for a comic book female) face. And does anyone else think Echo’s face looks a wee bit like the similarly powered Klaw (who’d been introduced in the Fantastic Four comic about a year earlier)?

Doug: Well, to make a long story short, the Legion gets their collective butts kicked by the cadre of super-villains, only to be saved at the last minute by… Let me just say that I didn’t care for the ending. In my opinion, doing the obvious trick of having Superman/-boy suddenly reappear, or Mon-el, or whoever, would have been better than the choice Shooter (certainly under the orders of Mort Weisinger) made.

Karen: I agree, this was a very weak ending. It was probably supposed to shock the reader but it just seemed so contrived. Then again, it was written by a teen-ager, for a young audience. However, the previous ‘Adult Legion’ story did have its charms. This one just comes up flat.

Sharon: I’m going to have to “spoil” this 40-year-old story, so if anyone has not read #355 and wants to be surprised, read no further. The ending illustrates the downside to Weisinger’s cohesive approach to the Superman titles; there was a tendency to overuse the common elements. For one thing, in #355 the two saviors show up in lead lined armors—just as Sir Prize and Miss Terious did a scant few issues earlier, in Adventure #350 and #351! I’ve heard of recycling plots but—a scant 4 issues later?? Then, three months later after Mr. Mxyzptlk’s appearance in #355, he shows up again in the “surprise” ending in World’s Finest #169 (despite the presence of Batman, World’s Finest was very much a typical Superman book edited by Weisinger).

Sharon: All in all, I agree with my esteemed colleagues that #355’s story was not as entertaining as #354’s. However, both issues provide a good look at quintessential DC back then: “once and done” tales that were complete in themselves (even with the occasional two-parter as here)--short stories, as opposed to Marvel’s ongoing “novels.” Any real changes to the tried-and-true DC formula were about a year away (1968), when DC finally had to admit that Marvel was no mere flash in the pan.


Daniel Graves said...

On the splash page being a "second cover"...

I'd always assumed that this was the case because most DC comics at the time featured 2 or 3 stories (or, of course, the infamous "3-part book-length novels in one issue!"). The real cover would function as the tease for one of the stories (which then got a second tease on the title page), while the other stories (not featured on the cover) would use the title page as teasers.

It doesn't make much sense for the consume of today who has a pull-list at their local comic shop and buys most books "sight unseen", but in the "pre-comic store" world a kid would peruse through a wide selection of comics before choosing the ONE on which he/she would offer up that precious dime (or dime & two pennies, or quarter, depending on the era). This was an era when buying comics required A LOT of inspection. My personal "golden age" was 1975-85 when I was a kid. I didn't have a comic store in town in those early years and bought my books at a local variety store. My preference was anything Batman related, but there were weeks (and months) when I could find neither Batman or Detective. Thus I had to make do with other title, Green Lantern, Superman, Justice League, even Wonder Woman (egads, I was a seven year old boy!)

This really only came to mind to me recently when at a comic show I was buying a lot of late 70's books from 2 buck bins, attempting to find the various individual comics I had purchased off the newstand as a child. It was only then that I had realized how eclectic (in an limited DC-way) my buying had been in those years. I read very widely across the DC spectrum, wider than I had thought. Why? Because I had to buy what was available, not necessarily what I wanted, as we do today. This is all to say that my guess about the repetitive teaser title pages from a decade earlier were meant to help clinch the sale for that poor kid trying to make a decision where to spend his/her dime. This is just a guess, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be the rationale behind DC's decision.

Fr. Dan

Karen said...

I hear you, Father Dan! I'm guessing we're about the same age, and I recall many Saturdays spent riding my bike to the various 7-11's, liquor stores, and drug stores, trying to locate the titles I really wanted. The cover was always the ice-breaker - if it intrigued me, then I'd thumb through the inside. If I couldn't find the latest Avengers or Legion of Super-Heroes, then I might grab Werewolf by Night or Freedom Fighters instead, based on the cover first of all. I think you're probably correct in assuming that the "second cover" was sort of a reinforcing device.

Nowadays I have a small number of books on a pull list, but I still look at the racks and thumb through the titles. Old habits die hard!

Anonymous said...

Even when I was eight years old, I thought the deus ex machina ending was too convenient, and the rescuers' armor was too similar to Sir Prize and Miss Terious.

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