A Tribute to the of

This edition of the Silver Age Sage is brought to you by the letter "M," as in Mark, who happens to be a long-time reader and correspondent of this feature.  Mark was recently indulging in the happy pursuit of digging through some of his comic collection when he encountered an old favorite.  He decided to drop me a line and ask if I would consider it for a future review.  As luck would have it, (and as evidence of our mutual good taste) I, too, own the issue he rediscovered.  It's a 100-page issue of Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, #202 from June of 1974, (cover by Nick Cardy) but as is the case with the majority of these "100-page Super Spectaculars," it contains a little contemporary material (Colossal Boy & Shrinking Violet are "Lost: A Million Miles From Home!" then the Legion suffers "The Wrath of the Devil-Fish!," both tales written and illustrated by Cary Bates and Dave Cockrum & Mike Grell.) and some great reprints from the Silver Age chosen by editor Murray Boltinoff. First up is "The Legionnaire Who Killed!" first published in the March, 1966 issue of Adventure Comics, #342. It's a great story and deserves a review of its own, watch for it in a future edition of this feature. Next, we arrive at the subject(s) of this review.  So, by way of reprint, we're proud to present to you a 2-part tale originally from Adventure Comics #344 from May of 1966 and #345 from June of 1966 entitled "The Super-Stalag of Space!" and "The Execution of Matter-Eater Lad!" respectively.  The stories are by Edmond Hamilton with art courtesy of Curt Swan and George Klein. Editorial tasks preformed by Mort Weisinger.

Now, let's head for the 30th century and see what's going on.

The opening panels are in space, where a bright, shiny, bottle-like object is floating until it is retrieved by a spacecraft in the interplanetary shipping lanes.  The metallic object contains a piece of paper that has a message of distress on it from a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  The message is swiftly relayed to Legion HQ where Saturn Girl informs the members on hand that Brainiac 5 is a prisoner of war.  Rapidly, the Legionnaires board a spacecraft to fly to their teammates rescue.  They include Light Lass, Element Lad, Cosmic Boy, Duo Damsel, Matter-Eater Lad, Chameleon Boy and Invisible Kid along with Saturn Girl. 

Soon they come upon an asteroid that contains a clearing and within that clearing is a large enclosed compound with surveillance towers all around the perimeter.  It's obviously a prison and in the next fateful moment a beam strikes their vessel and the Legionnaires tumble out toward impact with the asteroid's surface.  Fortunately their flight rings keep them from crashing and they immediately continue their journey toward the prison complex.  The reader is also given a glimpse of a weird, alien being who is observing.  He is scarlet-skinned with three eyes and looks like he is up to no good.  The Legion soon discovers this for themselves as he confronts the team of Element Lad, Cosmic Boy and Matter-Eater Lad with a burst of the same power that brought down their ship.  He introduces himself as Nardo and explains he is from a race whose bodies live by nuclear energy rather than blood in their veins.  After overcoming the trio, Nardo dispatches his guards to round up the rest of the Legionnaires.  The guards are android duplicates of their master and with their terrific speed and strength they also quickly overcome the remaining members of the rescue team. 

A little later, the boy legionnaires revive and find themselves inside a barracks, complete with bi-level bunks where they discover Brainiac 5, who introduces them to some of their fellow prisoners, heroes in their own right from other worlds, who include Plant Lad, Shadow Kid, Blockade Boy and Weight Wizard.  Cosmic Boy asks why they've been incarcerated and Nardo himself answers:  "Because I, Nardo, am at war with all lawmen in the universe!  Lawmen exiled me from my own world, in a distant galaxy…and I swore eternal warfare against all who champion the law!"  Cosmic Boy suggests an offensive based on the strength of their numbers, but Brainiac 5 restrains him, reminding him of Nardo's invincible nuclear power.  Nardo instructs a few of his guards to drive home the point that they are under his control by having them fire electron guns that sting mightily, but do not do permanent harm.  Sort of a 30th century version of a cattle prod. 

The group is soon herded out into the yard where they are shocked to see Superboy wielding a pickaxe on a rock pile.  Cosmic Boy comments that Superboy, Mon-El and Ultra Boy were on a mission to the past, so how could he be here now?  Nardo instructs the crew, with more electron gun bursts as incentive, that they are to replace the camp's fence with a stone wall and that any attempt at escape means death.

A short while later, Cosmic Boy asks Superboy why he doesn't put a stop to all this and is surprised by the answer:  "I'm not Superboy…I'm from Chameleon Boy's home world, Durla!  I used my power of super-disguise to try to bluff Nardo into surrendering, by impersonating Superboy!  I wanted to rescue some pals of mine!  But that villain stopped me with a terrible ray he projected.  That nuclear blast "froze" me in this shape, so I can't change!  Nardo still thinks I'm Superboy!"  The Durlan then shows a concealed tunnel he's dug and announces he's ready to escape now.  As he descends he tells his fellow prisoners that he'll try to reach cover and if he's successful they should follow.  Chameleon Boy gives his countryman his flight ring and wishes him good luck.  Unfortunately, as he emerges on the other side of the fence, Nardo and one of his android guards lie in wait with a ray projector that emits Green Kryptonite force rings.  The blast is so powerful that it is lethal to non-Krpytonians as well.  The body is brought before the other prisoners as a lesson and Nardo invites anyone who wishes to make another attempt to do so. 

The group decides the only way they'll regain their freedom is from a mass break, so after careful review of their room to make certain there are no bugs, they begin to lay plans.  Brainiac 5 is chosen as escape officer and they take the additional precaution of not discussing any final details to the plan so that it cannot get back to Nardo.  A few days later, however, one of the guards comes to collect Brainiac 5, ending Part I. Part II, entitled "The Test of Brainiac 5!" opens with the green-skinned Legionnaire facing Nardo, who demands he reveal his escape plan.  Brainy feigns ignorance, so Nardo instructs the guards to escort him to the conditioning room.  Brainiac 5 soon finds himself in a large, empty chamber, but in moments horrific creatures begin to emerge from the walls toward him.  He quickly realizes they must be illusions, designed to do psychological damage.  Soon they disappear, only to be replaced by numerous images of the Legionnaire, proclaiming they are the real Brainiac 5.  Our hero comprehends that the point to this portion of the events is to try and get him to lose his sense of identity, the first step in brainwashing.  He continues to resist.

Hours later he returns to join the others, mentally exhausted, but successful in keeping his plans to himself.  He then announces that one of them is a traitor, for that is the only way Nardo could have known that he was the escape officer.  Brainiac says they must escape and find the female members of their team.  Cosmic Boy again says they should use their combined powers and mutiny, but this time Weight Wizard advises against the action, stating that Nardo somehow knows when super powers are being used and uses his terrible force.  Brainiac 5 takes note of Weight Wizard's attitude and decides he bears watching.  The next day as they're urged along by the guards, Plant Lad is at the breaking point and says he can't take it any longer.  Brainiac 5 encourages him that he can hold out a few more days until they make their move.  (Curiously, he says it in front of the guards.  I know they're just androids, but they seem to be able to speak.  Funny…)  Brainiac 5 also notes that Weight Wizard never seems to be punished by the guards.  Despite the encouragement and warnings, Plant Lad has reached the end of his ability to cope and uses his power by turning into a huge Venusian Octopus Vine, attaching several of the guards simultaneously.  Other guards draw weapons, including the same projector they used on "Superboy" and kill the hero, along with the guards he'd ensnared.  The demoralized heroes return to their tasks.

That night, Brainiac 5 works on a device that will help him determine if Weight Wizard is indeed the mysterious informer. 

At the end of another exhausting day, Chameleon Boy notes the open gate, taunting them to attempt escape.  Brainiac 5 continues to worry about Saturn Girl, Duo Damsel and Light Lass.  Chameleon Boy later comments that Nardo has not returned to his guard tower and speculates that if he could get in there he might be able to find out about the girls.  Weight Wizard again cautions against action.  Chameleon Boy ignores him and uses his shape shifting ability to become a precise duplicate of Nardo.  Element Lad aids him by changing the window bars to gas.  The disguised Chameleon Boy orders the guards to allow him to enter the tower, but they seize him instead.  A smug Nardo emerges, explaining that they've been programmed to respond only to the sound vibrations of his voice.  Since the Durlan was not trying to escape, his life is spared, however Nardo orders him to use his power to become a Traglor to transport more rock.  The Traglor is essentially a huge centipede and when Nardo comments that he is more useful in this form, Chameleon Boy blows his cool and begins to attack, but Brainy intervenes and calms his teammate. 

Next, Nardo orders Matter-Eater Lad and Blockade Boy into a cavern and instructs them to extract more rock.  Once inside and out of sight, Matter-Eater Lad proposed they make a break for it.  Blockade Boy responds that while his ability to change himself into a steel wall is of small use, he's in.  Soon, the Legionnaire with the ability to eat and digest all matter at incredible speeds has successfully tunneled them out.  As they hurry away they soon come to a crest in the hill and are surprised to discover another, identical prison camp populated with female inmates.  Then, a voice from behind them announces that the penalty for attempting escape is death.  Nardo then twists the knife by stating that one of their comrades betrayed them.  He then raises his right hand at the two heroes and unleashes his terrible nuclear force, bringing things to a close for issue #344.

Adventure #345, "The Execution of Matter-Eater Lad!" begins with a recap of the last story, until bringing us again to the cliffhanger we just left.  Blockade Boy, in a last-ditch effort, swiftly brings his power into play and converts his body into a steel wall.  Matter-Eater Lad, shielded from the blast, pleads with him not to sacrifice himself, but Blockade Boy merely responds that he'll be killed anyway.  He is successful in saving his fellow fugitive, but he is indeed killed and reverts to his regular form.  Matter-Eater Lad is merely stunned.  Nardo decides he'll take the Legionnaire back for a public execution to send a message to the other incarcerated heroes. 

Below, Light Lass, Duo Damsel and Saturn Girl have been observing events, though they could not see clearly what had happened.  Saturn Girl says she has received a mental impression that Matter-Eater Lad and someone else had been killed by Nardo.

Later, back at the barracks of the male prisoners, an android fetches Weight Wizard, who mutters that Nardo must have more work for him and that he obviously hates him the most for constantly giving him extra duties.  Brainiac 5 again thinks that the hero doesn't appear to be all that overworked.  He then slips away and activates the device he has long been working on in secret.  It's a small "flying ear" that he sends after Weight Wizard to surveil the boy's activities.  Sure enough, he has been summoned by Nardo to report the activities of the other prisoners.  By way of reward he's given extra food rations.  Back at the barracks, Brainiac 5 hears the telling evidence through a tiny receiver in his ear.  When Weight Wizard returns, they lie in wait and confront him.  As they charge the youth, he uses his ability to alter his weight to a single ounce, allowing him to jump high above his fellow prisoners until the guards arrive to protect the stool pigeon.  They subdue the uprising with the fearsome electron guns while Nardo announces that since they don't seem to need rest, they can go back to work with the aid of the tower lights.  Once outside, Nardo notes a light aimed into the nearby jungle and orders that it immediately be repositioned so as not to attract the night-roaming Phanders, large, elephant-like beasts who are fascinated by light.  One nearly charges before the light is repositioned.        

Later, the exhausted prisoners watch the day break and with it comes Weight Wizard, suddenly guilt-ridden and contrite.  He announces he's going to break out and get help and soon does so by once again reducing his weight, allowing him to hurdle the prison fence.  He swiftly works his way through the jungle and past the sleeping herd of Phanders.  He can hear his pursuers and then doubles back, crossing a swamp on giant lily-pads, only to discover the huge flowers act similarly to a Venus flytrap, exuding a poison gas and dragging their prey within.  A gloating Nardo observes the demise of the young hero and Part I ends.

Part II arrives under the banner of "Duo Damsel's Double Play!"  The evil alien has his prisoners lined up and announces the fate of Weight Wizard when he realizes someone is missing.  Invisible Kid has used his ability to disappear and is hiding, but the Legionnaire is in for a rude surprise when Nardo seizes him, explaining that his third eye is a natural radar device, negating the young hero's power.  This time as punishment, Nardo uses a beam that not only negates Invisible Kid's power, but shrinks him to a size Shrinking Violet or the Atom would be proud to attain.  He will be trapped in this state for six hours and must deal with the hazards it brings.  Immediately those hazards become apparent as the Legionnaire walks right into a cobweb inhabited by that planet's version of a spider.  He escapes, but is nearly attacked by a mouse.  Fortunately the creature is frightened away by the footfalls of the returning prisoners.  Invisible Kid tries to attract Cosmic Boy's attention, but he's too small to be heard, so when Cos takes a seat, he climbs up to his ear to tell him what had happened to him.  He then waits out the six hours under the protection of his fellow Legionnaire. 

That night Brainiac 5 again works long into the night to create another device with the help of Element Lad and Cosmic Boy.  They're working against the clock to try and save Matter-Eater Lad from his scheduled execution.  Chameleon Boy, looking on, is skeptical that a device that blows dust will do any good.

At the girl's prison, the trio of Legionnaires wonders how they can help.  Saturn Girl establishes a telepathic link with Brainiac 5 to confer.  Brainy warns Saturn Girl not to try and assist, but she has other plans.  Duo Damsel divides herself while no one is watching and one returns to the barracks while the other hides in the shrubbery.  Light Lass discreetly assists by causing a section of the fence to become super light.  After dark, Duo Damsel lifts the fence and escapes, finally working her way to the other prison.  Lashing together a makeshift ladder, the heroine climbs into one of the guard towers and shines a spotlight toward the jungle, attracting the Phanders, who soon charge the compound, knocking the tower and fence asunder, just after Duo Damsel evacuates. 

Taking full advantage of the confusion, the boys spill out of their barracks and soon are confronted by Nardo, who raises his hand menacingly, but before he can unleash his nuclear force, Brainiac 5 uses the dust blower to coat the alien criminal's body.  Element Lad then swiftly uses his element-changing power to convert the coating into lead, effectively shielding the nuclear energy inside Nardo's body.  Brainiac 5 then tricks the warden into speaking the words he needs into a miniature recording device so that the Legionnaire can order the guards of the girl's compound to release the prisoners.

Unbeknownst to the happily reunited Legion members, however, the wicked Nardo has another trick up his sleeve.  He has managed to move his head enough to allow that versatile third eye to display another power, that of heat vision, which is powerful enough to melt the lead encasing him.  He is soon attacking Invisible Kid and Chameleon Boy, along with Matter-Eater Lad, whom they had just freed. 

Rapidly, Nardo assembles a firing squad of androids to destroy the bound and blindfolded Matter-Eater Lad, but at the critical moment a trio of new Legionnaires arrives in the form of Mon-El, Superboy and Ultra Boy.  They'd been suspicious of foul play when they returned from their mission to the past and had checked the destination record of their fellow members, leading them there.  Superboy inserts himself between the blast and his teammate, but he has merely deflected the beam, which traveled around his invulnerable body and struck Matter-Eater Lad.  Nardo orders his guards to retrieve the Green Kryptonite weapon, but they are knocked out by the team of Ultra-Boy and Mon-El, who are invulnerable to the powers of Nardo.  Once the fiend is in custody and his androids deactivated, they check on Matter-Eater Lad to discover that he is alive, but has suffered a strange side effect.  Apparently the beam, upon impact with Superboy, was altered at the atomic level and changed Matter-Eater Lad's form to one closely resembling Bouncing Boy before he lost his power to inflate his body at will.  The titanic two-part tale ends on that comic relief note.

My friend Mark commented in his message to me that this story was likely influenced by classic World War II themed movies such as "The Great Escape."  I must agree.  This was a classic take on a prison movie and if nothing else the title "Super Stalag of Space" is a dead giveaway as to the inspiration for it.    

This story had a lot to offer.  A seemingly impossible scenario where the mighty Legion is held by a being whose powers are equal to theirs, even collectively; a few new heroes from other worlds thrown into the mix and (with the exception of Shadow Kid) all those we are introduced to, Plant Lad, Blockade Boy and Weight Wizard, are tragically destroyed.  It had a lot of tension and action and was obviously a complex enough tale that it couldn't even be held within a single issue.  A very satisfying read that I'm willing to rate as a classic, so the story is hereby given a maximum rating of 10.  It reminded me why the Legion of Super-Heroes was one of my all-time favorite features back in the day.  By all means check it out for yourself if the opportunity arises.  You won't be disappointed.  A big thank you to Mark for requesting this review and providing the cover and splash page scans as well.

Rounding out this Bronze-Age offering is a generous sprinkling of house ads, a special Legion Fact-File and another Superboy adventure. Other mags in "The Line of DC Super-Stars" touted are: Superman #275, Justice League of America #111, (Weird) Adventure Comics #433, Shazam! #12, Swamp Thing #10, The Unexpected #157 and Star-Spangled War Stories #180. Jack Kirby's tenure at DC is acknowleged with ads for Kamandi #17 and OMAC #1. The final house ad alerts readers to the March 7th (1974) release of Famous First Edition #C-28 and Limited Collector's Edition #C-27. Part one of the Legion Fact-File entitled "The Lore of the Legion!" reveals the vital statistics of 16 Legionnaires as well as showcasing their new uniform designs. The final tale told, "The Superboy of Bigville!," was previously published in Superboy #91 dated September, 1961. Lastly, the letter column "Super-Talk" contains lavish praise for issue #200, featuring the wedding of Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy.

In the course of my on-line research for this review I happened upon a site that gives some details about Austrailian editions of DC comics. As luck would have it, the Austrailian equivalent of Superboy #202 is among those profiled. Just follow this link to discover the interesting differences.

If you have a favorite story you'd like given the Sage treatment, you know how to reach me.  I am available at professor_the@hotmail.com.  If you don't have a story in mind, just let me know what is on your mind, whether it's feedback of some sort or a question or gushing praise.  Meanwhile, the webmaster and I will continue to bring you the best of the era, right here at The Silver Lantern, in about two weeks.

See you then and...

Long live the Silver Age!

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