A Tribute to the of

As I type this edition of the Silver Age Sage, the great Mike Grell is celebrating his 69th birthday, so it seems like an inspired notion to spotlight some of his work from the ol’ collection. After all, as I’ve mentioned in the past, Mike was the first artist the webmaster and I began to identify back when we were cruising the spinner racks for the latest issue of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

With that in mind, let’s take a peek at an old favorite from that series, specifically issue #210 with an August 1975 publication date. Cover art is by Iron Mike Grell as is the interiors with a script by Jim Shooter titled, “Soljer’s Private WarMurray Boltinoff is our editor with lettering by Ben Oda.

The splash page is a bit like the cover, with Legionnaires Lightning Lad, Phantom Girl and what is soon to be revealed as Superboy in attendance. LL has just unleashed a death bolt at the flying figure. He is practicing his combat skills and Superboy is the willing, living target.

Soon, however, the weather, even though programmed, is taking a turn for the worse, so they cut the maneuvers short right after another bolt is unleashed, this one missing the Boy of Steel and striking the ground. As they leave for HQ and Phantom Girl dematerializes to avoid getting wet, something is happening at the strike zone. A figure fights its way to the surface and is described as less than alive. This isn’t a classic zombie, though, but a soldier with an invading force who had been in action during World War VI in the year 2783.

The war was fought with super weapons and computers and the objective was to take Metropolis but even then they had the ground-pounders, the infantry, and just as the unit is advancing, a gamma grenade is lobbed into their midst. Mike Essad throws himself onto the deadly weapon and in a freak circumstance is simultaneously struck by lightning from the storm. His fellow soldiers bury him in the crater that was created from the blast and his sergeant remarks that he was a good soldier.

Now, 200 years later, this same figure is standing in another stormy day with only the foggiest of memories, but he remembers the “good soldier” comment and wonders if that is his name: Soljer. He soon spots a mileage sign to Metropolis and recalls his orders, which are to take Metropolis. Like any good soldier, he has his orders and he will do his best to fulfill them.

Back at Legion HQ, Brainiac 5 gets word that there is trouble in their base of Metropolis and he dispatches the available Legionnaires to deal with it. They quickly find that a lone figure s wreaking havoc with what appear to be imaginary weaponry. As Superboy is the first to engage he also ends up the first casualty as a blast from an unseen rifle clobbers him with an anti-matter fusion blast, something to which even the Kryptonian is susceptible.

Next up is Lightning Lad, but his bolts have no effect. It seems, according to Brainy’s readings, that the attacker is already super-charged with energy, so what’s a little more?

Phantom Girl takes a shot, but an invisible knife is pulled from a scabbard and is plunged into her phantom form in the abdomen. Essad marches on, but the Legion members decide to break off the engagement as Superboy and Phantom Girl are injured. She has returned to her corporeal form, but back at the clinic, under the care of Brainiac 5, the source of her pain is not apparent.

Just then Chameleon Boy enters to report that Soljer is still blasting away with his invisible arsenal. That gives Brainy the inspiration to instruct Cham to turn phantom and see if he can find what is harming Phantom Girl. Quickly, the shape shifter finds that he can feel the handle of a knife and he removes it, allowing the sophisticated 30th Century healing machines to do their work.

Chameleon Boy notes that the weapon seems to hail from World War VI and Brainiac 5 states that everything points to that skirmish, including Soljer himself. When Cham protests that it was 200 years ago, Brainy tells him to solidify. The knife then disappears. Brainiac 5 floats his hypothesis that the body of Soljer has been super-charged with energy, allowing him to create any weapon he imagines with that energy. They cannot be seen or touched, but the damage they do is very real.

Time for some research as Brainy retrieves history tapes of the 2783 Invasion of Metropolis. Meanwhile, Cham gets the others so they can get prepared for another encounter with the plus 200-year old warrior.

Soljer, meanwhile, is in full attack mode when abruptly he is surprised to see Metropolis reduced to burning rubble. While he’s processing what his senses are reporting, he is addressed by a similarly garbed man. “Private Essad! Ten-Hut! I am Sergeant Richter..look at me, Private! Do you remember me?” The Private acknowledges that he does and the Sergeant explains that the mission is complete. Essad snaps to attention and then collapses into the ground. Brainiac 5 then reports that the soldier is dead, never knowing that the destruction of Metropolis was a patented Princess Projectra illusion or that Chameleon Boy was impersonating Sergeant Richter.

In the final panel it is revealed that a monument will be erected to the memory of Private Mike Essad to honor his selfless sacrifice for his fellow soldiers. A small scroll at the bottom displays a familiar passage from John 15:13 in the New Testament: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

That wraps up this 11-pager right before the backup tale of the untold origin of Karate Kid. Perhaps we’ll look at that one another time.

I loved this story as a kid and still appreciate it all these decades later. I never put two and two together back in the day that it has trace elements of the Frankenstein Monster what with all the electricity flying around and reanimation of a body. Not to suggest that was an inspiration for this story, but it’s an interesting element.

Actually, being a bit of a science fiction buff, I’ve long found it to remind me of Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier,” the first episode from the second season of The Outer Limits. If you’ve not seen it, check it out. It’s an excellent little program and ultimately, at least in a court of law, was acknowledged as a basis for the Terminator movie.

No rating for a Bronze Age representative, but this is some great Grell goodness. Here’s to Iron Mike! Long may he pencil!

Do join us again on the 1st when we take another trip to the glorious heyday of DC Comics. Of course you are always welcome to drop a line to me anytime at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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