A Tribute to the of
Call me Ishmael...er, no. Wait just a minute. That's not it at all. Call me "Professor." Why Professor, you may ask? Particularly since that's not my vocation, nor am I a castaway on an uncharted desert isle. No, it's simply an old gradeschool nickname that I took a fancy to and since I'm mildly paranoid about revealing my true identity in cyberspace, it suits my purposes nicely. That being said, I'll get down to business. My lifelong best friend and your humble host and webmaster here at the Silver Lantern has afforded me the great honor of having my own little corner to wax poetic about some of my favorite reading material, namely the great Silver Age of DC Comics and in particular the super hero genre. Now I'm going to go out on a limb here with some assumptions. If you are here, reading this, you already understand what the Silver Age was all about and when it happened. If not, may I refer you back to the many excellent references and points of information on this very website. Go ahead, I can wait. Done? Good. Now, how did the webmaster and I get so involved in this era, when we were too young to even be reading? Well, a brief history. The webmaster has an older brother. Quite a few years older. He had amassed quite a collection of the old 12 cent wonders long before we came along and, um, "appropriated" them. While we appreciated the classic heroes as much as the next kid, these gems from what would become the Silver Age held our imaginations in a special way and we were hooked. We went so far as to create a club strictly for comics, but that's a tale for another time. Now, flash ahead many years when we're both in our middle 30's and our collections have long been set aside or lost and lo' and behold the world of eBay comes along and suddenly those old familiar treasures are available again. We've had untold fun reclaiming our old pulp friends and just for the record, there is a time machine besides hearing the old songs you loved so much. Rediscovering the old comics has been every bit as magical.
So, my column or review or whatever you care to call it will begin with a rather odd selection. I have chosen Adventure Comics #353, the February 1967 issue as my first effort here. It was written by Mort Weisinger and a 13 year-old lad by the name of Jim Shooter. Art supplied by the pencil of Curt Swan and brush of George Klein. Layouts were the work of that whiz-kid Jim Shooter. You can see a scan of the cover by clicking on the link below, and I won't go into the gory details of when Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes began as the feature characters because you already know all that or you can find out just a click or two from here. Why this particular issue? Isn't this, after all, the second of a two-part story? What's the significance? Well, glad you asked. For reasons I cannot completely express, this was a great favorite of mine as a kid and, as luck would have it, I never knew it had a prequel. Older brother had somehow missed buying issue #352. Furthermore, this was my very first eBay purchase after a heated battle with someone else who was just as furiously bidding. I prevailed, but it came after committing to 20 bucks and begging via e-mail for him to let me have it. Again, a tale for another time. Let's take a look at what I consider a milestone issue.
I'm going to mention a personal opinion here. It's my column. I can do what I want within the realm of the webmaster's sanction. Right, buddy? :-) [Webmaster: Right you are, Prof! :)] To me, 1967 was a peak year in the Silver Age. Nearly without exception the issues produced were of a stellar quality, with mesmerizing stories, splendid art work and just a solid, entertaining product. This particular issue took a bold step, too, particularly for the times. Take a look at that cover scan. (+ house ad as seen in Blackhawk #229) Can you read the teaser? "One of the Legionnaires on this cover will die! You'll be shocked by the identity of "The Doomed Legionnaire!" Is that a hook or what? You see Superboy being hit with a bolt from Validus, who is gripping Cosmic Boy in his right hand and simultaneously delivering a left hook to Ferro Lad. Sun Boy is on the ground, stunned, at his right foot and Princess Projectra looks on in horror. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fatal Five, who debuted with this storyline, stand poised to assist their fellow evil doer. Open the cover and you find that our heroes are actually allied with the Fatal Five to try and save the galaxy! Plot twist extraordinaire! The galaxy is being threatened by the Sun Eater, whose nefarious mission should be obvious by it's moniker. I should interject here for the uninitiated that all Legion tales take place in Earth's 30th century, even though there's a blunder right on page 2 stating it's the 20th century. Shame on you, Editor Mort Weisinger! Also, don't worry. I won't dissect each page here. The gist of the story is the effort to save the galaxy from the sun eater. Attempts to contact heroes from other worlds are rebuffed for various reasons, so the Legion turns to the Fatal Five, who have formidable powers and also stand to perish if the menace isn't stopped. An uneasy alliance is formed. The Fatal Five is composed of Tharok, a half human, half robot being who was a thief; Mano, whose hand can disintegrate any matter; Emerald Empress, keeper of the Emerald Eye; The Persuader, wielder of an invincible Atomic Axe that can even cut gravity and Validus, a huge brute whose brain flashes lightning and whose origin is unknown. They and the Legion set up a gauntlet on floating platforms in space to try to divide and conquer the sun eater. Sun Boy is used as the bait to the trap, emanating solar power to the limit of his abilities. The Persuader cuts the sun eater into pieces that each of the heroes and villains attempt to battle individually, to no avail. It then reforms itself and continues inexorably to destroy our solar system's sun. During the battle, though, it is discovered that there is an Achilles' heel. A solid core or life force that, if destroyed, will seal the sun eater's doom. An absorbatron bomb is hastily constructed, but there is no time to devise a propulsion system. Someone has to deliver the bomb. Ferro Lad, still a rookie Legionnaire, snatches up the bomb and immediately flies out of the ship into the sun eater's core with the bomb. Despite his ability to change his body to iron, he is destroyed along with the sun eater, saving the galaxy from destruction. Afterward, the Fatal Five turn on the Legion, but Validus ends up rebelling against his fellow group members and when the energy from his brain impacts that of the other members of the Fatal Five, they disappear, perhaps into another dimension. The final panels of the story show a sad but grateful Legion, launching a memorial missile to the cemetery satellite Shangalia, the resting place of heroes from all over the universe. The inscription reads: "In Memoriam Andrew Nolan (Ferro Lad) A mutant whose non-human face was kept hidden behind a mask. He gave his life to save this galaxy."
A stunning end to a bold story, no? Two of the essential keys to mark the lasting impact of this story are the creation and introduction of some fascinating villains who are all but invincible, even to the formidable powers of the Legion, and the great risk taken by the writers to do away with one of the heroes. Ferro Lad hadn't been a member long, but was already making quite a mark, and as we'll see in future issues, he continued, even in death, to be a strong enough character to merit mention and even entire story lines in the Legion Lore. This is a watershed issue in my estimation, and I give it the maximum 10 point rating. (2013 update: Here's a recent Mike DeCarlo recreation.)
Thanks for reading. If you have comments, feel free to address them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your feedback, and I'll be back in a couple of weeks with my next installment.
Long live the Silver Age!
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