A Tribute to the of

Many years ago, Bruce Springsteen released an album that was downright melancholy.  Granted, you didn't have to look far for elements of "downer" songs on the majority of his albums, but this one, "Nebraska," pretty well defined the genre.  I was digging through some old cassettes I'd recorded and stumbled across a song from that album titled "Atlantic City" and the chorus begins with these haunting words: "Well now everything dies, baby that's a fact But maybe everything that dies someday comes back…"  See what I mean?  Gloomy stuff.

Hold on, now.  I hear you.  "Prof, you've lost it.  You're so far off topic you can never return."  C'mon now.  You must understand by now how my mind tends to operate and is sometimes triggered, even if it is often by a few degrees of separation.  For reasons only my overstuffed-with-useless-information-brain could offer, the words by Bruce made me think of an old issue of Adventure Comics where apparently something that died did come back.  Shall we see what happened in issue #357 from June of 1967 when we encounter "The Ghost of Ferro Lad?"

Before I begin I'd like to point out that amazing cover.  I'll grant you that purple is my favorite color, but even so, that's a fine effort by Curt Swan & George Klein, guaranteed to get your attention at the comic rack, or in my case, seeing it on eBay.  I simply had to have it.  The splash page (also rendered by Swan & Klein) is equally impressive, depicting an oversized Ferro Lad, both luminous and transparent, holding four of his fellow Legionnaires in submission, including Cosmic Boy, Sun Boy, Superboy and Princess Projectra, while Saturn Girl and Brainiac 5 look on, seemingly oblivious to the threat:  "Save you?  From what?  There's nothing there!"

The tale, written by Jim Shooter and editor Mort Weisinger, begins in space as we witness a cruiser that sets down on Shanghalla, a sort of large, oblong meteoroid with a natural outcropping topped by a beacon.  It is a final resting place for the greatest heroes throughout the universe and is home to scattered rocket urns holding the remains of the dead.

From the cruiser emerge four space-suited figures, moving with measured, military precision as they approach a particular, but empty, rocket urn, that of Andrew Nolan, or Ferro Lad, their fallen teammate.  Superboy, Sun Boy, Cosmic Boy and Princess Projectra salute and then place a wreath at the memorial.

Segue back to 30th Century Earth and a comet-like object is piercing the upper atmosphere, but then behaves more like a guided missile, turning this way and that until reaching its final destination, the Legion clubhouse.  It vibrates its way through the shielded walls until finally shedding a space travel shell and embedding itself inside a control panel.  Then, only silence.

Many hours later the mourning party returns and Superboy excuses himself to spend some time alone in the Ferro Lad Memorial room.  Here the boy of steel is left with his thoughts, which are dominated by guilt:  "We were battling the Sun-Eater, a cloudy mass of almost unbounded energy, which threatened to destroy Earth's sun…and the whole galaxy…  Even I couldn't stop it when it weakened me with the force of red suns it had devoured!  (Native Kryptonians, of course, being mere mortals under their native red sun.)  Our only hope was for someone to carry an absorbatron bomb into the thing's center…and I volunteered…  Ferro Lad realized I was still weak from the red sun blast and after using his power to change his body to iron; he slugged me and took my place!  I couldn't stop him…"  The young hero then ponders the question as to whether he was unconsciously paralyzed by fear of the Sun-Eater, but it's time for another scene shift to the home of Rokk (Cosmic Boy) Krinn, where he is relaxing with his family.  His brother Pol challenges Rokk to a game of Magno Ball, which looks remarkably like Ping Pong, but since all people on his home world of Braal have magnetic powers, the ball is made of iron and no paddles are necessary.  Still, his little brother whips him three games straight and Cosmic Boy blames his inability to concentrate.  He then excuses himself to go and listen to some music tapes.  Even that distraction cannot seem to penetrate his brooding, however, when his mother points out that the tape spool ran out 15 minutes ago.  (Looks like there's a little plug in there, too, as Rokk is listening to "Music Tapes from the Broadway Play 'Superman'" from 1966.)  The troubled youth is consumed with thoughts of Ferro Lad and later, he is even visited in his dreams by the glowing green apparition of his deceased teammate, who threatens he and his three teammates:  "You have no choice, Legionnaires!  I'll haunt you till you leave earth for good!  You caused my death…all of you!"  When in his dream, Cosmic Boy protests, the apparition retorts:  "With your magnetic power, you could have stopped my iron body from leaving the ship…if you'd acted fast enough!"  He soon snaps out of his troubled slumber and hears his Legion communicator click to life.  It's Sun Boy summoning him to an emergency at their headquarters.  Upon his arrival he, Sun Boy and Princess Projectra race into the darkened structure, due to the drained nature of the nuclear generators.  Sun Boy melts his way into the power plant, only to see Superboy under siege from a multitude of mysteriously flying objects, including some Kryptonite specimens that endanger his life.

The three Legionnaires spring into action to aid Superboy.  Sun Boy melts objects while Cosmic Boy uses his magnetic powers to repel them.  Princess Projectra's ability to project illusions is pretty much worthless, but she uses a blaster.  Cosmic Boy pulls Superboy aside and asks what happened when a semi-conscious boy of steel mutters something about the ghost of Ferro Lad before losing consciousness.  The surprised Cosmic Boy cannot take much time to absorb the information, though as the debris continues to attack.  Soon both Sun Boy and Princess Projectra are down and two massive generators are lurching toward the prone heroes.  We then see a tremendous cataclysmic explosion as they collide, leaving smoking rubble in their wake, but our heroes are safe thanks to a last minute magnetic shield erected by Cosmic Boy.  As they're reviving, Princess Projectra points out a bizarre message that has suddenly appeared, etched into the wall:  "Each time I come, I get stronger…First as a thought…Then as a dream, Now a force, soon I will drive you out!"  Directly below the message is the symbol for iron, which would suggest Ferro Lad.

Meanwhile, millions of miles away in space, Saturn Girl is altering the course of the spacecraft she and Brainiac 5 are using to get to a law enforcement officer's convention.  She's received an urgent summons from Superboy and soon the duo arrives at the clubhouse, inquiring as to the problem.  When Superboy announces they've got a ghost at their HQ, in the form of Ferro Lad.  An incredulous Brainiac 5 demands to know what sort of joke they're playing.  Saturn Girl sends him a mental message that they could be traumatized by their visit to Ferro Lad's monument and to humor them.  Soon they show the newly arrived Legion members the room where the battle with the flying debris took place.  Brainy suggests that allegedly a ghost will return to avenge its murder or to the articles he used in life.  He suggests they use their fallen comrade's belongings as a lure, but Princess Projectra objects, saying you cannot trap a spirit.  She thinks they should try to communicate.  This raises Brainiac 5's suspicions that perhaps she's been somehow using her illusion casting powers to bring this about.  He clandestinely places a psychic image disruptor under her cape and they begin the waiting game.

Later that night, Projectra enters the room where Brainy is sitting watch and then says she sees Ferro Lad.  He responds that he doesn't see anything, but she insists he sound the alarm.  Soon the other members enter and Superboy, Cosmic Boy and Sun Boy see it, too.  In the next moment, the giant-sized figure attacks while a baffled Brainiac 5 looks on, still unable to see the green apparition.  He uses a projector to bathe the room in each wavelength of visible radiation, but only sees his teammates being tossed around.  Then, Saturn Girl arrives and using her though powers confirms that she senses a presence of a powerful and angry Ferro Lad, so intense that she loses consciousness.  Then, the presence is gone, but the objects they'd used to lure the presence have been destroyed, ending Part I.

Part II entitled "The Phantom's Revenge!" brings us back to our baffled heroes.  Brainiac 5 quietly removes the disruptor from the Princess' uniform and they try to regroup and figure out what they're up against.  Saturn Girl's ordeal has reduced her to several days' bed rest.  Princess Projectra insists that their strategy now must be to find out what the haunting presence wants through a séance.  Superboy says that for that they need a medium and she replies that as a Princess of Orando, she is of the ruling class of Orikalls, or mediums, so she can perform it.  Brainiac 5, ever the scientist, is highly skeptical, but agrees to go along with the procedure.  Several minutes elapse as they surround a table and the Princess goes into a trance.  Brainiac 5 has about had his fill and rises to leave when the voice of Ferro Lad emerges from the Princess instructing him to be seated.  Then a green mist begins to rise from the center of the table until the figure of Ferro Lad appears and he ain't happy.  When queried as to what he wants he immediately blames those assembled for his demise and demands that they be banished from the galaxy and disband the Legion.  He then dramatically disappears with the warning that he can enforce his wishes.

Sun Boy asks what they're going to do and Superboy simply replies that they'll do as instructed.  Dumbstruck, Brainiac 5 tries to reason with them, but their minds seem to be made up as they prepare to pack up and leave Dodge.  Brainiac 5 is in a state of shock at the thought of losing four of the Legion's top members, but decides that if they can't beat this thing then the rest of them have little chance and the organization will fall apart anyway, so he begins making contact with all Legionnaire's far a field and advising them that they're disbanding.

The next day the exodus begins with Brainiac 5 being the last to leave.  Once the darkened HQ is empty a figure appears, triumphantly declaring that Phase One is completed and a Controller never fails.

We now join Superboy, who is flying through space and preparing to return to the 20th Century when a ray appears from nowhere and strikes him full force, followed closely by a sort of golden vortex until he abruptly finds himself being held fast via some sort of super mental force in front of a human-like figure on a raised platform surrounded by control panels.  He greets the boy of steel and introduces himself as a Controller, from a race of near-omnipotent beings from another time-space continuum.  He goes on to describe how their universe was ravaged by intergalactic wars and once they evolved beyond them they decided to save this universe from some of their mistakes.  Each Controller was sent to police a particular sector of the universe, armed with a weapon to use to halt warfare.  This particular Controller's weapon was the sun-eater, though he'd seldom needed to use it as his formidable powers of mind-control were able to avert most wars.

As time went by, the worlds in the galaxy evolved and banded together, neatly doing away with the danger of intergalactic war, so the Controllers gradually left, save this one, who had decided, as the most powerful being in the galaxy to stay and conquer.  So much for the kindly Big Brother, eh?  He had determined to use the sun-eater to demonstrate his power when Ferro Lad disrupted things by sacrificing himself to destroy it.  So now the Controller plans to use the Legion itself as his pawn.  He further describes to the immobilized Superboy that  he fired a miniature psychic projector into the clubhouse and used psychic impulses to space-cast all the ghostly phenomena they'd been experiencing, to include the guilt, the dreams and the figure in the séance.  He even used a voice tape to bring Ferro Lad back to life.  Since Saturn Girl with her super-telepathy abilities could have uncovered him, the controller used a shock impulse to put her out of commission.  He also answers the question he senses from Superboy as to why he didn't just use his superior abilities to dominate them from the start.  He elaborates that the machines at his disposal were designed to work on minds that are in turmoil or confusion, so the only way to get them to that state was to demoralize them through disbanding the Legion.

Superboy continues to be held helpless and wishes he could somehow activate the danger signal in his Legion flight ring, but it's impossible.  Then, a strange occurrence.  The "L" on the ring begins to move, inverting and releasing the signal.  Minutes pass as the Controller waits for his mind machines to gather sufficient energy, allowing him to dominate Superboy's will.  He's just about to place the Enervator helmet on to complete the task, when the other four Legionnaire's burst in upon him.  The Controller realizes he cannot best their minds when they're in peak fighting trim, so he retreats and activates photon bolts from the walls that temporarily disable Princess Projectra, Cosmic Boy, Sun Boy and Brainiac 5.  He uses the break in the action to retreat further behind specially constructed doors that lead to a master control panel.  Sealing himself inside, he prepares to pull a master lever that will destroy the entire outer chamber, but as he reaches for it a voice cries "Don't touch it!"  Looking up in surprise the Controller shrieks:  "Who said that?  No…it can't be you!  Get away…no…no!  Eeeyah-h-h!"

Later, when the Legion members have freed themselves and entered the lair of the Controller, they find him, dead of a heart attack and with his visage still displaying his terror at the end.  The authorities are summoned and the heroes prepare to depart.  As they do so, Brainiac 5 asks Superboy how he was able to signal them with his ring.  He replies that he didn't, that he thought they'd found him on their own.  "Then who did it?  And how?"  "Who knows?  Maybe the Controller's machines accidentally caused it.

Soon the hallway is silent as they've made their exit, then in the final panel we see a transparent figure following.  The text finishes the story:  "And so the echoes of the Legionnaires' footsteps die, as the vast hallways are once more empty…and silent…until, suddenly, footsteps again resound through the corridor…the footfalls of one who walks contentedly…footfalls that clang with the sound of…iron!  Do you still doubt that ghosts can return from the dead?  Then who turned the L on Superboy's ring?

I've mentioned in prior reviews that Ferro Lad has somehow occupied a particular space in the Legion's history and mythos.  He joined up in issue #346, (which waits patiently in the wings for its opportunity to be reviewed in this space) met his fate in issue #353, which of course was the first issue ever reviewed here, and was then apparently back in #354, though it turned out in fact to be his twin brother.  His post-mortem appearances weren't exclusive to the Silver Age, either.  I have a copy of Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, #206 from February of 1975 which prominently features him as well, this time as a clone, though unfortunately a defective one who again perishes.  For all I know it didn't end there, either.  So, as Mr. Springsteen sang, maybe everything that dies does someday come back.  In any case, I wouldn't bet against seeing Ferro Lad as you peruse the Silver Age.  By the way, perhaps you'll enjoy the musings here as much as I did.  Certainly a man after my own heart and I can relate very well, having bought many of my comics at Mike's Market.

I really enjoyed this issue, despite the fact that I'm not much on supernatural storylines.  Still, it involved one of my favorite teams and a character I've long been fascinated with in Ferro Lad.  The final panel literally sent a chill up my spine and as usual, Curt Swan's art is splendid, particularly in the oversized panels and the varying viewpoints.  A very good read that I'll give a rating of 9.

Please join us again in about two weeks for another peek into the mighty Silver Age.  As always, you know how to reach me: professor_the@hotmail.com

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2005 by B.D.S.

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