I decided to comment on Silver Age stories that I read either as reprints or back issues that left an impression on me. Today I pick Adventure Comics #362-363 (N-D'67) "The Chemoids Are Coming!/Black Day For the Legion!" by a young Jim Shooter and Captain Marvel artist Pete Costanza.

  • I liked that it used practicall ALL the Legionnaires, even explaining why Shrinking Violet and Supergirl weren't there.
  • I've read some places where it was felt Costanza's work wasn't right for the Legion. True he's not Curt Swan but he was very good. There was great action and design work.
  • The villain, Dr. Mantis Morlo was, of course, inspired by Sivana, though I don't recall if Shooter ever said he was a Captain Marvel fan. They could have thrown in a few "heh-heh"s though.
  • At the beginning the Legion stopped Morlo when the waste gases from his experiments threaten to poison the Earth, he sics his android Gorn after them but is quickly defeated. Then they leave him in his lab! Then we learn that the Legion had to stop Morlo before and they still don't arrest him. Nor do they inspect his lab very well either! They just weren't into it that day!
  • And during that fight with Gorn, Superboy stood there while his teammates got smacked around a bit.
  • The team later splits up to investigate worldwide disasters on three Legionnaire homeworlds (Daxam-Mon-El, Orando-Princess Projectra and Naltor-Dream Girl).
  • On Orando, a medieval world, a chemical smog is threatening to poison the planet. Luckily they sent Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel!
  • Despite the catastrophe, Karate Kid puts the move on the Princess, in her own castle!
  • Brainiac 5 gets to play mad scientist with some funky gadgets, using Karate Kid as an atom-smasher!
  • They discover Morlo on a "flying citadel" and are attacked by a Chemoid army.
  • Each Chemoid is designed to combat a specific Legionnaire. A blind one versus Princess Projectra, a non-magnetic one for Cosmic Boy, a super-heavy one for Light Lass, a foam rubber one with razor fists for Karate Kid, a glue one for Bouncing Boy, a grabby one for Brainiac 5, a duplicating one for Duo Damsel and, of course, a Kryptonite one for Superboy!

More to follow with Part Two!

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I didn't want to let this thread go unanswered, Philip.  But it took me awhile to get the time to comment.

 

My initial reaction to the Mantis Morlo two-parter from Adventure Comics # 362-3 (Nov. and Dec., 1967) is ugh!  But, in reading your comments, I realise that my reaction is strictly based on Pete Constanza's artwork.  I disagree that Constanza's work was tolerable.  His sense of anatomy and perspective was off, generally resulting in characters with arms, hands, waists, and legs that were inaccurately undersized.  Further, his characters had no sense of weight or mass.  His close-in shots weren't too bad, but any long shot clearly betrayed his flaws.

 

Constanza usually inked his own work, which didn't help.  When he was inked by another, such as Jack Abel, in World's Finest Comics # 174 (Mar., 1968), Constanza's pencils were much more acceptable.  Presumably, this was because the inkers corrected or ameliorated Constanza's weaknesses.

 

But otherwise, when it was Constanza-inking-Constanza, it was almost too poor to read.  At least, for me.  It was endurable on a second-tier title, like Jimmy Olsen, but I just couldn't bear it when he was handed a few Legion assignments in '67.

 

Not to mention (but I will, anyway) the covers to the two-parter are major bait-and-switch cheats.  You have glorious covers drawn by Curt Swan and George Klein, only to open up the books and find Pete Constanza art.  What a letdown!

 

But, in reading your comments, Philip, I reflected on the story itself, evaluating it as I would have if Swan and Klein had drawn it.

 

Starting with the Starfinger story, from Adventure Comics # 335-6 (Aug. and Sep., 1965), DC gave us a two-issue, "everybody into the pool" Legion saga roughly twice a year.  There was the Computo tale, from Adventure Comics # 340-1 (Jan. and Feb., 1966); the "Outcast Legionnaires" story, from Adventure Comics # 350-1 (Nov. and Dec., 1966); the Universo story, from Adventure Comics # 359-60 (Aug. and Sep., 1967); and the Mantis Morlo two-parter.

 

I looked forward to these particular two-parters, which included all or nearly all of the Legionnaires (even of some of them got only a one- or two-panel walk-on).  And for my money, "The Outlawed Legionnaires"/"The Legion Chain-Gang", from Adventure Comics # 359-60, is the best Legion tale ever done.

 

Giving "The Chemoids Are Coming"/"Black Day for the Legion" some thought---once I could divorce my reaction to the art---I have to admit there are some good points.  And some down checks, too.

 

It never occurred to me until you mentioned it, but it is strange that, in the first chapter, the Legion puts paid to the threat to the Earth caused by the waste gases from Morlo's experiments, yet does not arrest him,  or at least, destroy his lab to shut down his operations.  True, one could say that the near-poisoning of Earth's atmosphere was an unintended consequence of Morlo's experimentation and not deliberate.  But that would fall under the category of reckless disregard, which is, in itself, a criminal offence.  Especially when it endangers the lives of all of Earth's population.

 

It's a treat to see a few of the Legionnaires' home worlds--Orando and Naltor and Daxam.  And, as your discussion of the second part will make more clear, every Legionnaire (except the absent Supergirl and Shrinking Violet) gets a chance to shine.  There is, to be sure, a natural trade-off in this.  Throwing all twenty-plus Legionnaires into the mix allows every member (and every Legionnaire is the favourite of some fans) his moment in the sun and shows how he contributes to the team.  On the other hand, there is little opportunity for character development that tends to occur in Jim Shooter's Legion yarns with much fewer members present.

 

There is also a loss of drama when you have two dozen Legionnaires on hand to tackle the menace; there is the chance of creating a "Godzilla Versus Bambi" feeling, unless the threat is crafted keenly and powerful enough in scope.

 

Because of these factors, it wouldn't be advisable to use the entire Legion in every adventure.  But, a couple of times a year---as was done---was just about the right pacing. 

 

Speaking of pacing, I think Shooter's Morlo script was off in this regard.  The first half of issue # 362 set up the situation:  the reader is informed of who Mantis Morlo is and his early run-ins with the Legion; and dividing the Legion into sub-teams (shades of Gardner Fox!) to deal with the simultaneous threats on Orando and Naltor and Daxam.  But the entire back half and the first part of issue # 363 is dedicated to the Legion team that went to Orando.

 

That meant that the adventures of the Legion teams that went to Daxam and Naltor got squeezed between the Orando team and the climax.  Those other two teams definitely got the short shrift.

 

The mystery of Mantis Morlo appearing on each of those three worlds wasn't much of a mystery, either.  Not in a future era in which we Legion fans already knew was capable of androids and robots with AI.

 

But as strictly an action-oriented adventure, the Morlo two-parter was decent.  Morlo's chemical creations posed legitimate threats to the heroes and there was a genuine sense that all of the Legionnaires were truly needed for this one.

 

It's just that Swan and Klein would have elevated the story so much.

 

 

 

 

Obviously Curt Swan and George Klein were THE classic Silver Age art team. No doubt about that at all. But Pete Costanza wasn't that bad. In the Legion Achives Volume 7, he drew a Jimmy Olsen/Legion tale that preceded this one. I cringed at John Forte's work until I grew to appreciate it later and found Jim Mooney's to be boring though I liked him on Supergirl. Plus Swan & Klein seemed to get the better stories to draw, IMHO, anyway.

Onward to Adventure #363:

  • The roll call went quicker by listing who wasn't there: Shrinking Violet (vacationing on a hydrogen atom! That IS small! Though what does one do for fun?) and Supergirl (who was busy in Action Comics, convienently forgetting that she travels through time!).
  • Jim Shooter is clearly enamored by his own creation, Karate Kid who demolishes the Chemoid designed to defeat him. Little wonder that KK became such a favorite. He even gets to rescue Superboy!
  • Cosmic Boy, Brainiac 5 and Light Lass defeat their Chemoids, too and help the others.
  • Morlo is quickly caught and just as quickly escapes, evading the still weakened Superboy's X-ray vision.
  • My favorite sequence is the Daxam segment.
  • That team consists of Mon-El, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Colossal Boy, Sun Boy and Element Lad. Not bad, not bad at all!
  • Daxam's weather is disasterously dangerous on a global scale. Acid rain, ball lightning, giant hailstones, red hot snow, deadly gas plus hurricanes, tornados and floods are destroying Daxam and the culprit is Mantis Morlo!
  • The Legion tracks Morlo to an undersea base, wearing personalized scuba gear.
  • Morlo polluted the oceans with lead but Mon-El is protected by his anti-lead serum which also grants him his powers on Daxam. But would lead affect non-powered Daxamites?
  • Deadly monsters guard Morlo's base but they're quickly handled. But then everything in this two-parter is quickly handled!
  • Inside Element Lad is almost killed by a chemical trap and Mon-El's had enough! He smashes through the base to get to Morlo who evades capture there as well!
  • At the same time on Naltor, Dream Girl's homeworld, she, Invisible Kid, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Star Boy, Ultra Boy and Matter-Eater Lad learn that Morlo has been chemically giving the Naltorians bad and false dreams, catastrophic to a people whose dreams predict the future.
  • Ultra Boy scans the entire planet, layer by layer until he finds Morlo's underground base. A cool idea though he must have needed a ton of Visine afterwards!
  • He uses an ion-force screen (foiled by Star Boy), nightmare vapors (blown away by Cham) and ensnaring polymeric fibers (eaten by M-E Lad) but escapes and Chameleon Boy lets him go!
  • While the Legion is divided on three worlds, the real Morlo is still in his orbiting lab! The Science Police left it there, unguarded, unmonitored and operational! No comment.
  • Morlo plans to destroy the Earth with his Aqua-Fire Bomb (heh-heh!). He even paints a target on Earth and Africa can't be happy! Plus that's a lot of paint!
  • As the Earth burns to a crisp, the Legion arrives to tell Morlo...."Gotcha!"
  • Cham could read with his antennae that the "Morlo" he encountered on Naltor was not the real one so the Legion were able to build a fake Earth for Morlo to destroy. A lot of work when they could have, y'know, just stopped him from launching the bomb but the Legion loves its pranks!

This was a pretty good Legion adventure. I got the second part way before I got the first, an occupational hazard in our hobby. All the Legionnaires had their bits and the dangers were thrilling. We saw how Chameleon Boy's powers worked though the process was never used or mentioned again.

Karate Kid was definitely the star of his chapter. There were dynamic shots on Lightning Lad absorbing and attracting lightning to him.

Mantis Morlo and his Chemoids were credible opponents. And he meant business, too. No conqueroring or demands, he wanted to destroy the Earth just to prove his superiority. Sadly, he did not reappear until Superboy and the Legion # 248-249 (F-Ma'79).

FWIW, I would argue that Karate Kid became a star for several reasons:

 

* Being the non-powered Legionnaire meant that anyone could identify with him.

* The early 1970's fascination with martial arts had a major impact on his popularity, I think.

* His romance with Projectra also gave him a bit of an underdog status, and I think that added to his popularity.

 

Regarding this specific story, I always wondered why many Legion fans looked down upon it as one of Shooter's worst.  Certainly it's not War and Peace, but it's a big, fun superhero slugfest and makes for pretty decent escapist entertainment.  IMO (especially in latter years) there was more than enough doom and gloom and grim and gritty and Legionnaires dying left and right, so I guess a good old fashioned superhero melee just appeals to me.

The 70s martial arts phase had Marvel in the lead with Master Of Kung Fu, Iron Fist and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. Saturday morning cartoons had Hong Kong Phooey (the #1 Super Guy!) who I almost picked as my avatar for this month. DC, however, had the uneven and multi-creative teamed Richard Dragon-Kung Fu Fighter and had to displace Karate Kid from the 30th to 20th century for his own short lived title at the tail-end of the fad.

In his favor, Dave Cockrum designed a far better, black & white outfit for Karate Kid that Mike Grell brought back in Superboy and the Legion #209 (Ju'75), had his origin revealed in #210 (Au'75) with Grell drawing him more Asian looking. Thus Swan's brown curly haired Val Armorr suddenly had straight black hair! He was featured in many stories between #198 and #224 but then he got his own title. Karate Kid #1 was in March of '76 and lasted 15 issues. He teamed with the Legion before they met him, encountered both Robin and Kamandi, had his own super villains in the Black Dragon and Pulsar, battled Nemesis Kid, Major Disaster and the Lord of Time plus stinkers like Master Hand and Gyro-Master. And broke the heart of New Yorker Iris Jacobs who thought that she could compete with Princess Projectra...in that outfit!

After his series was cancelled, he returned to the Legion in #244 (O'78). It took a few more years for him to win the Princess' hand in marriage (the whole point of him going back in time in the first place), with the wedding in Legion of Super Heroes Annual #2. He was written out again, only to be killed off in Legion of Super Heroes (third series) #4 because Keith Giffen, unlike Cockrum and Grell, didn't like the character. 

A personal story: In the 80s, I spoke briefly with Jim Shooter at a convention and asked him what did he think about Karate Kid and Princess Projectra getting hitched and he answered, " I never thought he was the type." Well he did put them together!

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