A Tribute to the of

I have it on excellent authority that this is the final season for Justice League Unlimited.  I'll miss the series as they've done a pretty impressive job overall and as many of you know I often draw inspiration from the show for my efforts here, but this season has been a bit scattershot.  For beginners it's been inconsistent in being aired.  More than one night I discovered to my dismay that it wasn't on during it's usual time slot, often being replaced by an abomination called Bo bo bo bo bo bo or some such.  Each time I've seen even the shortest segment of that piece of crap I've cringed.  Also, while they've continued to do a fine job of looking back to the Silver Age for storylines they've really hosed up a few things, such as the animated debut of the Shadow Thief in the episode "Shadow of the Hawk", and the more recent follow up "Ancient History" where it was revealed that he is a manifestation of Hawkman's psyche, for crying out loud.  My intent is not to rail on it, though, but to once again draw upon the series for this edition of The Silver Age Sage, because a few weeks ago the JLU episode "Far From Home" provided the forum for another animated debut, nearly 40 years after their introduction in the pages of Adventure Comics.  I refer to none other than The Fatal Five.  I've covered the two issues that contained their debut, so I thought this time I'd present their return, also in the pages of Adventure and once again in a 2-part storyline.  It's Adventure #365 and #366 from February and March of 1968, respectively.

Let's tear ourselves away from that dynamic Neal Adams cover, his first for the series and jump right into #365 and the Jim Shooter/Mort Weisinger collaboration "Escape of the Fatal Five!"

Our splash page rendered by Curt Swan & George Klein shows five of our favorite heroes from the Legion, each caught in a seemingly escape free trap.  Karate Kid is imprisoned in a large jewel; Brainiac 5 is in a room with spiked walls that are closing in on him; Shadow Lass is trapped in a room with brightly lit panels on all sides, negating her shadow casting abilities; Cosmic Boy is being bombarded by massive metallic spheres and Superboy, mightiest of them all is encased in a small spherical space that is on the verge of crushing him.  How did these dilemmas come about?  Let's flip the page and find out.

As usual, we're in space in the 30th century and the particular locale is Talok VIII, a peaceful planet enjoying the prosperity of the intergalactic trade routes.  The next panel is six months later and suddenly it's a warring planet, routinely destroying any ship that comes within a million miles and conducting anti-tron bomb tests.  Needless to say, this abrupt change in behavior has attracted the attention of the United Planets and as an extension the Legion of Super-Heroes.  A plan is quickly formulated to get the party of Legionnaires onto Talok VIII to investigate.  They'll be clandestinely dropped into a desert area of the planet and will be escorted by Shadow Lass, heroine of Talok.  The blue-skinned beauty explains she'd been on a mission in space and was therefore not subject to the controlled coming and going on the planet under the watchful eyes of the warlords.  She is determined to find out what has happened to her home world.

Days of space travel later, the heroes are dropped from a U.P. spacecraft.  They are wearing protective suits and carry supplies and parachute out of the vessel with special space 'chutes that catch reflected light rays from the planet's surface and turn them into anti-gravity energy.  Soon Brainiac 5, Cosmic Boy, Karate Kid, Superboy and Shadow Lass have landed and set up shelter in a cave.

A scene shift takes us to a fortress on the outskirts of Talok where a man is addressing five shadowy figures in some sort of chamber.  He tells his master that the group has landed where predicted.  Instructions are given the Captain to re-direct the party to their location when they head for the capital city.

Re-joining our heroes, we see them striking out on foot after darkness has fallen, so that they don't trigger any radar or armed patrols.  Unfortunately they soon encounter a formidable obstacle.  It's a barrier wall covered by armed guards.  Rather than give away the element of surprise, they detour around the lengthy wall at the cost of days, hiding beneath camouflage cloaks during the day.

Back at the fortress, their progress is being monitored.  The Captain is ordered to make sure the struggling legionnaires are in perfect fighting shape when they arrive.

Valiantly they trudge on, running weaker as supplies dwindle when they suddenly discover an oasis with water and food.  They rest there for the rest of the night, rejuvenated by the provisions.  The Captain continues to watch them, smug in the knowledge that the oasis was provided.

The next night as they prepare to move forward, the heroes encounter a mountain pass that they must traverse.  As they get out their climbing gear and begin their ascent, huge green "Death Birds" swoop in to attack.  One grabs Karate Kid in its massive talon while Superboy takes one on with a powerful right cross and Cosmic Boy uses his magnetic manipulation to hurt large rocks filled with iron ore at them.  Karate Kid is able to free himself and glide down via his Legion flight ring while Shadow Lass uses her ability to generate opaque shadows to plunge the area into darkness which only she and Superboy can navigate.  Soon they've escaped the birds and have arrived at their destination, the citadel and city beyond it.  Swiftly the Legionnaires disguise themselves as Yakka-Mahor, mountain people who speak a rare and strange language.  Thus adorned, they enter the town at dawn.

As they make their way toward the guarded gate, they bide their time, keeping in mind that despite Superboy's great powers, the people have a stock of Kryptonite on hand.

Inside the citadel, more communication between the Captain and the figures in the chamber.  The master is very concerned that the group is at full strength.  The Captain assures him that they tested them with the Death Birds and they are at their peak.

The heroes use a diversion and slip past the guard, entering the citadel.  Hearing guards approaching, they duck down a side passage and right into a series of ray beams that cause them to vanish.

The first Legionnaire we see is Karate Kid, trapped in a giant hollow diamond.  He quickly begins to attack the interior of the gem with his super karate blows, but so far to no avail.  He begins to worry that he'll run out of air before he can free himself and he estimates the remaining supply at about a minute…

With that rather glum scenario we join Cosmic Boy in a hallway and he's soon being bombarded by large metal balls.  He tries to use his power on them, but is completely ineffective, closing Part I.

Part II is entitled "Mocked by the Master!"  We then see Superboy, scrunched into a pressure sphere that is gradually crushing him.  He does not comprehend how it can affect his invulnerable body, but he struggles mightily.

Segue again to a room where Brainiac 5 has found himself facing spiked walls that are closing in on him.  Confidently, he presses the control on his force-shield belt, but his non-chalance quickly dissipates when it fails to function.

We then join Shadow Lass in a room that abruptly illuminates with blinding light to include the floor and ceiling, negating her power of shadow and sapping her very life strength as well.

In the citadel throne room, the Captain again addresses the figures, fearing the traps are too strong.  The master retorts that they must escape.

Back at the hollow diamond, Karate Kid has collapsed.  His air is gone and he realizes he has but one chance.  He must find the natural structural weakness in the gem and fast.  He spots a darkened area and musters enough strength for a powerful blow that shatters the diamond, freeing him.  He gulps in life-giving air and lies prone, trying to regain his strength.

We now join his teammate, Cosmic Boy, who is continuing to play dodge ball, but he's rapidly running out of options.  He decides to try a different tactic, using his magnetic powers on the steel wall at the end of the hall, creating like charges that will repel until he successfully weakens the wall.  When the balls strike it, he is free.

The Boy of Steel, meanwhile, is on the verge of throwing in the towel when he realizes he's also fighting a mental block.  Having dwelt among much weaker creatures his whole life he has a difficult time exerting his full power, but must do so now or perish.  Bringing forth a supreme effort, he bursts free of his prison.

Things have just taken an even worse turn for Brainiac 5 as flashing lights and a piercing siren have erupted, making it nearly impossible to concentrate even for his 12th level intellect.  Bringing all his powers of concentration to bear, he removes his belt and swiftly begins using the components to create a force ray, dissolving the wall and allowing him his own freedom.

One more stop now, in the cell of Shadow Lass who has improvised a plan of her own.  Wrapping herself in the confines of her cloak, she blocks out the offending light rays enough to help rejuvenate her shadow casting power.  Gradually she expands the shadow, struggling mightily until she finally succeeds in blacking out the lights in the room long enough to escape through a panel.

Back at the throne room, the master commands the Captain to activate the machinery that has now been charged with the super-energy created by each hero during their escape.  The power was collected by a small electrode in each cell.  The energy is directed at the dimensional barrier until it bursts, freeing the Fatal Five.

Tharok, the half-man half machine leader and the erstwhile Master, gloats with his victory.  (By the way, how do you suppose he keeps that half-uniform on anyway?)  The Persuader comments that since it was the Legion that got them into the dimensional trap it was fitting that they freed them.  Tharok then reminisces and explains what has happened to them.  He recalls how Princess Projectra broke his mental control over Validus (back in issue #353) and that when he released his mental lightning against Persuader's invincible axe the blast sent them into another dimension.  Tharok then spent his energies searching for a dimensional window, finally locating one on Talok.  They could not breach the physical barrier, but by modifying the circuits in the robot half of his brain he created a mind control unit which allowed him to mentally enslave the Talokians, which is why they became the hostiles we see today.  He knew the abrupt change in Talok would bring the Legion, so he laid the trap via his mind control.

Mano interrupts, asking what keeps Validus from doing a repeat performance when Tharok assures him that during their imprisonment his mind control over Validus has grown ever more powerful and that the huge beast-like creature is as evil as the rest of them.

In the next panel a guard arrives to alert the Fatal Five that the Legionnaires are on their way.  The Persuader is ready to do battle, but Tharok tells him they need to get to the ship and to let the soldiers deal with the heroes.

As the five figures make their way to the throne room they discover it empty and in ruins.  Brainiac 5 determines that it's a dimension warp and that the equipment nearby was used to break the natural barrier between dimensions.  He somehow deduces that five people were freed and they'd better pursue when a mass of 5,000 soldiers arrive and begin to attack.  The curtain closes on this issue.

I'd like to mention a great bonus feature following the story.  Eight pages (six in pictures and two in text) contain "The Origin and Powers of The Legion of Super-Heroes!"  A total of thirty-five characters are listed to include the super pets, reservists Jimmy (Elastic Lad) Olsen and Lana (Insect Queen) Lang as well as the Legion of Substitute Heroes and even the deceased Ferro Lad.  An excellent appendix!

Okay, on to issue #366 and "The Fight for the Championship of the Universe!"

Things resume where they left off last issue, with the Army attacking the five heroes.  They confidently counterattack only to discover some unpleasant surprises in the weaponry, to include Kryptonite that put them on the defensive.  Superboy is thrown into a nearby bank of machinery which oddly stops the army in its tracks.  They realize that it is a mass mind control machine that has now been disabled.  Brainy hits the high points of what happened last issue and then they head for the spaceport to find a ship and continue their pursuit of the Fatal Five.

Meanwhile in deep space, the Fatal Five are deciding their next move and bickering as usual.  Tharok pulls his trump card of Validus and tells them they'll obey his commands.

Later in Metropolis a startling sight as Validus storms down a street destroying everything in his path.  The police call for help when Mano, in another part of the city, uses the destructive power of his hand destroys the Nine Worlds Monument.  Above the city, the Emerald Empress plays her role, using the Emerald Eye to ruin the elevated transportation in the city.

We then join Tharok.  He is on a floating platform and is headed for the Presidential Palace.  The decoy by his fellow henchmen has worked perfectly and he blasts his way into the unguarded chamber, demanding that the President surrender.

Simultaneously at the 30th Century's answer to the Pentagon, the Persuader overcomes the weakly defended complex with his atomic axe, taking over there as well in the name of the Fatal Five.

Later the villains are gathered together and are delivering an ultimatum to Metropolis, capital of the United Planets, which has been successfully cut off from all contact with the outside world.

Inside the Presidential Palace, Tharok reveals the greatest prize of all, a concealed apparatus that he explains is the Universal Weapons Control Panel.  With it, they can control every defensive weapon of every planet in the U.P.  The massive machine is unlocked with large keys.  Tharok has gained possession of one from the Pentagon and one from the President himself, but Mano notes there are three keyholes.

The five malefactors are soon gathered at the only place the third key could be held:  The club house of the Legion of Super-heroes.  The Persuader reaches for the entryway when he receives a shocking surge of power.  Before he can use his invincible axe, however, the door opens and Brainiac 5 blasts them with a force-shock ray, sending them flying.  Unfortunately it takes more than that to kayo Validus and as he counterattacks, the heroes retreat back inside.  The Fatal Five then begin to execute their plan to relieve the Legion of the last key.  They begin by stringing atomic barbed wire around the structure and demand the heroes surrender.  Thus ends Part I.

Part II, "Showdown for Shadow Lass!" opens inside the clubhouse as the Legionnaires ponder their options.  Karate Kid suggests destroying the key, but Brainiac 5 objects, citing the danger it would place the U.P. in by stripping the organization of its defenses.  They decide to hunker down and wait for the cavalry, confident in the special alloys in the building's construction when the door is rocked by a huge blast of energy.

Outside, Validus is using his mental bolts to strike the clubhouse, but somehow the structure withstands the incredible force.

Back inside, Brainiac 5 has devised a way to reinforce the structure, hooking up his force shield belt to the force blaster.  Karate Kid then discovers that Shadow Lass has been injured in one of the attacks.  Brainy takes her to the infirmary and treats a badly strained shoulder.  Brainiac 5 asks why she came along after fulfilling her duties as guide on Talok VIII.  He coins a Vulcan phrase by calling the behavior illogical, but Shadow Lass replies that she wanted to come.  After he departs her thoughts betray her:  "He's brilliant…strong-willed…proud, handsome…and so logical!  Maybe if he had a little less logic he's have realized why I came!"

Outside, the action continues as the Persuader hacks away with his invincible axe.  The force shield resists, however, immediately sealing itself after each slice.  Tharok orders him into their ship and delivers an ultimatum to the Legion.  Surrender the key or they will destroy the fifteen million inhabitants of Metropolis.  The heroes are given a 5-minute window to decide.

The Legionnaires debate the best course of action and Superboy as acting leader responds to Tharok by proposing a third option:  A fight to the finish via hand-to-hand combat…winner take all.  The challenge is accepted and Shadow Lass insists on evening the odds to five vs. five, but before they begin she requests to be sworn in as a bona fide member of the Legion.

The heroes then emerge and the battle is on, with Validus blasting Superboy with another of his potent bolts.  Superboy counterattacks by hurling his invulnerable body into Validus' chin, but he bounces off and soon finds himself being crushed under a massive foot.

On another front, Karate Kid is engaging Mano, but isn't faring well either.  Mano places his hand on the Kid's shoulder, but controls the power to where he is merely burned rather than disintegrated.  The villain then follows up by pressing his destructive force into the ground, causing an eruption at K.K.'s feet, leaving him battered.

Nearby, Brainiac 5 and Tharok square off.  Brainy has retrieved and engaged his force shield belt, but Tharok merely uses a portable controller to manipulate a mechanical cargo arm, gripping and viciously shaking our hero.

Cosmic Boy's nemesis is the Persuader and as Cos tries first hurling metal equipment at the marauder, only to see it sliced by the invincible axe and then attempting to magnetize the villain's armor to no avail he's soon on the receiving end of the Persuader's great strength and is on all fours, reeling from a punch to the abdomen.

Meanwhile the Emerald Empress is using her Emerald Eye to radiate an intense green light onto Shadow Lass once again bringing her to her knees.  Just when it appears all is lost, though, Shady manages to fire a bolt of shadow at the eye, blacking it out and then uses a good old-fashioned left hook to put the Empress out of action.  Quickly keeping her momentum going, she projects a blackout over the entire battlefield, hoping it will give her comrades a much-needed advantage.

It turns out to be just the break the Legionnaires needed as Superboy uses his super vision to elude Validus.  Karate Kid in turn can see Mano via the glow of his hand and attack.  Brainiac 5 switches his force shield off enabling him to wriggle out of Tharok's cargo arm and Cosmic Boy takes advantage of the distraction to send magnetic rays underground and burst the buried water pipes beneath the blinded Persuader.

At that moment, however, the Emerald Empress has recovered enough to bring the Eye back into play, illuminating the battlefield again.  Tharok promptly demands surrender, but before the Fatal Five can back it up the U.P. forces arrive, prompting a hasty retreat by the villains.

A while later, the 5 members of the Legion of Super-Heroes stand before the President, apologizing for allowing the escape of the Fatal Five.  The President disagrees, noting that they successfully protected Metropolis and the entire United Planets.  He decorates them and sends them on their way, ending another adventure of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

I enjoyed this two-part tale.  The Fatal Five was obviously a concept too good to let lie for long, as evidenced by this story and of course we got to see the debut of Shadow Lass in the bargain, gaining her battlefield commission if you will and joining the LSH on the fly.  True story:  While I was deciding upon this tale I was convinced I had it in my collection.  I'm still reasonably certain I'd read it in its entirety before, but I only had #366 on hand.  Thanks to eBay, though, I was able to secure #365 in short order, allowing me to bring it to you here.  I'll give this effort a solid 9 on the 10-point scale.

The next edition of this feature will hit the web in about two weeks.  In the mean time please consider dropping me a line at:  professor_the@hotmail.com.  Feedback is always appreciated.

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2006 by B.D.S.

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