Comicbook Covers: Adventure Comics # 354 : an article of a tidy mind by: GF Willmetts

January 1, 2017 | By | Reply More

By their nature, covers are used to entice you to buy a product. More so with American comicbooks in the 1960s. You might recognise the characters but it often the actions and the activities that are going on that will convince you to read the adventure. With the Golden Age and the resurrection of comicbook interest, good cover artists sold copies mostly because of their ability to capture the reader to buy the comic. For National Periodicals aka DC Comics, from the mid-1960s, Carmen Infantino cornered the market for design that usually the interior artist based their drawing on. With their perchance for not giving credits, it only was the specialist comicbook fans who could identify them. At a glance, I can pick out the Neal Adams and even Curt Swan covers from that period from DC Comics. With the latter, he pretty much cornered the Superman market so that wasn’t difficult and was largely outside of the Infantino mode. Swan’s art is immediately recognisable with a clean style and solid torsos on his men, it wasn’t hard to recognise his work.

In many respects, if you look over the early 1960s ‘Adventure Comics’ of the Legion Of Super-Heroes era, Curt Swan’s covers were utilitarian in nature. In the early days, there was a need to identify the characters for the readers but generally they were used to depict a scene from the interiors and Superboy was the flagstone for sales. That was the selling point because you wanted to see how it happened.

The means to misinform, like Adventure Comics # 344 (1966), ‘The Super-Stalag Of Space’, where Superboy is apparently killed had to serve two choices. Superboy wasn’t in the story but his brand was what sold the comicbook. Ergo, you had a Durlan frozen in that look and killed escaping and the obligation was covered. It only had to look like Superboy although this was only done the one time. Technically, this is probably the first ‘Adventure Comic’ featuring the LSH that didn’t have Superboy on the cover or inside. I should point out that Superboy only appears briefly at the end of the second part of the story in Adventure Comics # 345 (1966), causing one of the oddest changes by underestimating the villainous Nardo’s weaponry. If anything, it was the baptism of fire showing that the LSH really could stand without Superboy being around although it would be many issues before that became a reality.

Anyway, before I switched to Marvel Comics (remember the times when you had brand loyalty in the 1960s and didn’t read the main competitor?), I always had a preference for the LSH. A team of super-teens had the appeal for the inner younger geek and there was a stronger continuity compared to the other titles, especially when a teen-age Jim Shooter took over the scripting and made the characters more than stuffy figures filling up the panels, although again, that wasn’t known to the readers. Then again, him being 13 when he started, Shooter knew what appealed to us younger teens as well and even editor Mort Weisinger thought he was older for a time.

The one cover that stuck out the most to me was ‘The Adult Legion’ in Adventure Comics # 354 in 1967. It was not billed as an ‘imaginary story’ as was their want in those days. Granted, based on something I read by Alan Moore, that all comicbook stories are imaginary, the correct context is a story that is part of the reality canon.

For what started off as a Superboy comic, having his adult version there visiting the adult Legion and walking down a memorial to the dead certainly presented solemn emotions. Andrew Nolan, Ferro Lad, had died the previous issue but the rest were unknown. Shadow Lass, Tasmia Mallor, didn’t appear until the two-parter ‘Escape Of The Fatal Five’ in Adventure Comics # 365-366 (1968) and, unlike the cover, had blue not pink skin and the same costume. In those days, no one ever thought costumes would be changed and the skin colour was just a mistake or something that had been over-looked.

Quantum Queen was later shown to be originally with another group called The Wanderers and first appears in ‘King Of The Legion’ in Adventure Comics # 375-376 (1967), although no note is made of her ‘death’ reference in the comic. There is a note on the Internet ComicVine that Quantum Queen later changed her costume but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t have changed back when she was older or whenever her death happened. Even so, us LSH fans thought things were moving towards making this future.

Chemical King, Condo Arlik, was the second character shown and when he joined the LSH in Adventure Comics # 371 (1968) with the story, ‘The Colossal Failure’, his few appearances and confusing super-power to speed up chemical reactions, which should have made his Catalyst King, gave all the indications of a terminal character which eventually happened in ‘Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes # 228 (1977) when his fate was finally revealed. To us long time readers, it was seen as only as a matter of time. Even so, 9 years was better than a sudden appearance and death.

Reflecto didn’t appear until Legion Of Super-Heroes # 277-280 (1980) and without wishing to give a spoiler away would have been someone Superman would have known very well. It does also tend to indicate things aren’t always what they seem.

You do have to wonder why there isn’t a memorial statue for Superman as well because, unless Kryptonians are immortal, he must have died long before the 30th century or he would be keeping an eye on them in some way. Then again, the LSH are very careful not to give the Boy or Man of Steel too much information about his own future and the post-hypnotic suggestion keeping most of it in check or there would also be a reveal to his cousin’s death as well. Although it’s never mentioned, one would also imagine this hypnotic suggestion would also prevent him communicating to Mon-el in the Phantom Zone that he would have a ten century wait before he could be released with an anti-lead antedote medication. Considering that the Legion have access to time travel technology, Brainiac 5 could have travelled into the past and administered the drug to the younger Mon-el. You would then have had to have asked what would Mon-el have done? Returned to Daxam and reveal the temporary cure or go and live in the future? That would have messed up the past as it was never recorded, more so as the future older Mon-el had visited the past, it’s just as well that the denizens of the Phantom Zone could only look in on the physical Earth periodically.

On page 15, there is a reveal but not how for another Legionnaire called Power Boy who died and fulfilled the prophesy from a single panel notation, living from ‘The Man Who Manacled The Legion’ in Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes # 240 (1978) and ‘The Last Battle’ in The Legion Of Super-Heroes # 17 (1991).

I ended up digging deeper in terms of how many other prophesies were fulfilled or not. Only one, Colossal Boy, Gim Allon, has never lost his size-changing powers.

Oddly all the relationships were fulfilled with:-

Timber Wolf, Brin Londo, and Light(ning) Lass, Ayla Ranzz.

Lightning Lad, Garth Ranzz, and Saturn Girl, Irma Ardeen.

Bouncing Boy, Chuck Taine, and Duo Damsel, Luornu Durgo

Cosmic Boy, Rokk Krinn, and Night Girl, Lydda Jath.

Of them, its only Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl who had children and one of these turned out to be the ultimate infant terrible. The different versions of the LSH have tried shaking at least two of these relationships up.

Indeed, the intent was to fulfil this history as when Matter-Eater Kid, Tenzil Kim, was forced to resign from the Legion when he finds himself drafted for political office on his home planet, Bismoll, as shown in ‘Last Fight For A Legionnaire’ in ‘Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes # 212 (1975) and the original Adventure Comics # 345 was referenced again in the page notes.

In interview in Alter-Ego # 137, Jim Shooter admitted that he should never have locked down the future in such a manner with his story. If these characters appeared, you knew they had a limited life to fulfil the prophesy. Of course, decades later, with all the alternative realities and LSH being recreated, that rule book can be dismissed as belonging to different futures now. None of them have progressed that far in their histories or been as successful and less so since most don’t have the presence of any kryptonian, especially when Clark Kent was never active as a super-hero when a boy.

But sticking to that reality for the moment. The writers that followed Shooter, long before the multiple futures DC Comics has today, still liked to ponder on what to do with this established future and were there ways to circumnavigate it. Although Quantum Queen could be any age, Shadow Lass stayed with the name change, so her life would be longer and maybe someday some would explain her skin changing colour. Alas, with all the reboots at DC, the LSH weren’t excluded and such things are now areas that we will never know. Well, unless they decide to switch back to that reality line but with at least about 45 of the 51 alternatives to choose from, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. Let’s not even go into the complications that were made when the ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ (1985-86) ignored the LSH completely, although later placed their reality or rather the Superboy history into a pocket universe…twice.

Many years down the line in ‘The Legion’s Super-Secret’ in Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes # 235 (1978), Superboy’s regular hypnosis update using a machine is interrupted and he realises some information is being kept from him. This is a change from the days when Saturn Girl did it telepathically and as Brainiac 5 points out, it gets harder to maintain Superboy’s memory block every year he gets older. It does make you wonder why they just don’t put another tiny piece of kryptonite in his brain like they did in Adventure Comics # 350 (1966) story, ‘The Outcast Legionnaires’, but I suspect in the past he would eventually have spotted it. For Superboy, all he knew was he couldn’t travel into the 30th/31st centuries anymore. Well, until he was an adult for that one visit. Haven’t we been there already?

We know that both he and Supergirl have limited memories of the future, especially for him to forget meeting her when young. What they are also restricting is certain information from the future, especially that there is a serum that prolongs or rather prevents you getting older. Although it’s not said in the story, the only drug shown that could cause that is rejuvium and there had to be plenty to go around if everyone is on it or it only needs to be taken once.

‘Rejuvium?’ That came up in the opening of Adventure Comics # 335 (1965) story, ‘Starfinger’, with an example of it turning an old man into a younger man. One would assume taking such a drug if you were in your teens would probably kill you as you would be regressed beyond babyhood. However, as it’s the only time a drug relating to prolonging life has been shown in the 30th century as far as I know, one would assume that with their science, that it would not only be possible to synthesise it but halt aging than retract it. This would also set the time period when the Legionnaires and pretty much everyone on the United Planets would be taking it. Said drug does not mean you can’t be killed but you could be assured of a longer slowly aging life when you reach adulthood.

There is no indication when this happened. If we assume it is after the discovery of rejuvium, it would explain why all the Legionnaires have stayed under the age of 18 and stayed within their age-limit charter. As such, this could also postpone the deaths of Quantum Queen and Shadow Woman, not to mention the change in her skin colour and could even be a different character, indefinitely or at least a long time.

Now we have the problem of Adventure Comics # 354. Just how far did Superman travel into the future? He must have made allowances for his own age so he didn’t bump into his younger self or younger versions of the LSH, although as issues of ‘DC Presents’ shows, he did meet the younger versions four times. As DC Comics have always maintained the Man of Steel of that reality to be in his mid-30s and he finally stopped visiting when he was around 16, that would mean anything up to 20 years later when he was called to the future to help them on a case where a mystery person was wrecking their updated headquarters. He was also on guard duty there for a fortnight belong planning to returning to his own time. Granted, Superman could stay in the future for as long as he wanted and return a few seconds after he left but he might also be aware of his own physical aging as well and just be a little bored with no action.

Superman was invited to the future and, although not stated, there must have been mentioned in one of his diaries of the visit, even if it was in vague terms, and which the Legion would have to fulfil and remain faithful to what he wrote down. He would have had to have expected them to have aged as well and saw them as such, so we have a problem of the Legion’s adult appearance. Although Superman would have stayed in their headquarters, he could look around with his telescopic vision For everyone to be adult or at least older than they are, there would have to be a mutually agreed stop using the serum or Superman wasn’t seeing things quite as they are. Of particular note, there is no reference to Princess Projectra in this story so it is conceivable that this is all an illusion to ensure Superman’s memories of the trip or at least what he recorded in the past is maintained. Indeed, they could just be fulfilling what Superman has noted in the past of one of the few trips as adult into the future. After all, the clue were laid out for him to solve and he even come up with the solution.

Using relative ages, mentally the legionnaires would certainly have been in their seventies or even older. Most of the retired members, he met with Brainiac 5 using video or the proton-inverter which could have all been illusions. That would limit the number of the team that he would actually have to meet and no new members. Don’t think the legionnaires have ever been deceitful? They’ve been doing it for years, right from the time that they’ve had two powerful kryptonians there from different time eras.

That post-hypnotic suggestion has to be very busy inside Superman’s head. When he returns to the present, he’d probably remember meeting his old team as adults and the adversary, which I’ll leave vague as its spoiler for those who haven’t read the story, and note in his diary fulfilling the time loop. One would also have to wonder whether he would put a time lock on his own adventures so his future team-mates wouldn’t have access to their own events although I doubt if that would stop the Legion. It also gave an excuse to re-enforce his post-hypnotic suggestion, after all, he was in the future for two weeks and they certainly wouldn’t want him to visit unannounced. All of this, I should point out is conjecture but there’s certainly enough space in those two weeks to do something about that.

All of that sounds logical until part 2 of the story after Superman has returned to his own time and the Legion is attacked by the older Legion Of Super-Villains. Without changing anything in the events, the Legionnaires could have been hypnotised to believe themselves to be the age they were. The LSV themselves might not have been allowed access to the longevity serum and so be their true age but that’s another story. The LSV might equally still be adult, after all, the longevity drug just freezes the age not retract it.

All of the above applies aspects of what happened in Jim Shooter’s writing tenure and the writers that followed adhering to the future history. I started cross-checking a little deeper, especially when I came across Matter-Eater Lad resigning to join the Bismol Senate in Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes # 212 (1975) and it was referenced back to his political office in Adventure Comics # 254 (1975) story ‘Last Fight For A Legionnaire’ in the comic.

With events that happened later, although probably not with that in mind, you can make certain justifications. Take the death of Karate Kid, Val Armorr. There would be a good reason not to reveal this as this legionnaire came back to current day Earth for a time and Superman might have come into contact with him. That post-hypnotic suggestion would have prevented him revealing anything. Equally, when members of the Legion returned for his assistance as teen-agers several times and hope you have access to your ‘DC Comics Presents’ collection for # 8, 31, 43, 59 as he would just think of them as coming from an earlier time. I doubt he would question why the adults he met needed to come back at all.

Of course, with DC Comics revealing that there are 52 DC Universe reality variants out there, it is also conceivable that Superman visited one of these and assumed that it was the one he was familiar with and, even basing this on said events, they had called him to the future but pretty much the same thing applies.

We have only seen about four of these later variants. Some things have had minor changes like with their code-names and costumes but their origins are pretty much the same. We are also seeing their earlier adventures, many without the presence of the kryptonians so there would be a massive divergence from the start. It does tend to suggest that Superman did go to the right and only future associated with him as a boy. Even so, the Legion Of Super-Heroes is so well established in nearly 60 years that it doesn’t need Superboy on the cover to sell it to their fans.

You would have thought the Science Police would have wanted a special section with super-powers than what really happened when Rokk Krin, Garth Ranzz, and Irma Ardeen saved billionaire R.J. Brande, who financed the Legion Of Super-Heroes, but this is the one consistency throughout all the realities seen so far. As such, this is the nexus point for change because the LSH have a remarkable record for pursuing and capturing super-villains and a variety of rescues. The sun-eater and its defeat by the sacrifice of Ferro Lad, Andrew Nolan, seems to fall into that category as well, although it might not have happened yet. Super-powered kryptonians venturing into the future seems less of a variable seeing the other realities earlier histories revealing that most of the Supermen did not start their careers as boys although this should still be considered as many of these LSHs teams were inspired by the Man of Steel rather than any of the other Justice League members. Certainly, the five Brainiacs give a direct ancestral link back into the past. Whether Tenzil Kim’s move to senate office or Colossal Boy, Gim Allon, needing to retire after injury also falls into this category is hard to say. History, as they say, is variable.

Of course, it could all have been an alternative reality from the start. After all, it’s been established that there 52 DC realities now and Superman accidentally went to one of these. I like happy endings.

Artist John Watson liked the original cover so much, he did two variants of it.

Having said all of that, Adventure Comics # 354’s cover has still piqued a lot of fans and pros over the years as a strong reminder that for the Legion Of Super-Heroes, not all of them would survive. In my childhood, that was a rarity. These days, characters die and come alive again at a rate that would make the New Testament blush. What is more staggering is the effect of a single story on a comicbook reality was written by a fifteen year-old boy that stood up to be canon. For that, you have to have respect.

(c) GF Willmetts 2016

 

@@ Although I don’t expect anyone to write such a lengthy article as above, if you have a favourite comicbook cover and what it means to you and want to write about it, please contact me. @@

Category: Comics, Superheroes

avatar

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Leave a Reply

Enjoy scifi? Please spread the word :)