BHOC: SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #203

Another comic whose origins are shrouded in mystery. I don’t really know where this one came from. But I do know that I should have loved it, with its vast roster of super heroes. But somehow, I didn’t–the style felt weird to me, in the same way as those earlier BRAVE & BOLD and WORLD’S FINEST issues had. There was an ethos present that I just didn’t click to.

The story was written by my favorite writer and recent Flash visitor Cary Bates, with art by Mike Grell. This was Grell’s first full issue on SUPERBOY & THE LEGION, and his style was somewhat divisive among fans, especially as he replaced fan favorite Dave Cockrum in the gig. I‘ve always had a soft spot for Grell and his Neal Adams-esque approach to figures.

The issue opens in the 30th Century, as a team of black-garbed intruders break into the headquarters of the Legion of Super-Heroes on a mission of sabotage. The Legionnaires on duty move to intercept, but despite their best efforts, one of the invaders is able to plant an explosive device deep within the heart of the headquarters.

It turns out, though, that the intruders are actually Legionnaires themselves, and thatt his has all been a simulated training exercise–one that has revealed vulnerabilities in the Legion;s defenses. But the big question on everybody’s mind is: where is Invisible Kid, who was meant to be guarding the area of the Headquarters where the faux bomb was planted?

The Legionnaires find their fellow unconscious and injured, still invisible in the trophy room. They take him to the med-bay, where they use a Mento-Scanner to probe his recent memory, discovering that he has been communing with a woman from a dimension invisible to the naked eye but which he can reach when he turns himself invisible. 

The story is interrupted at this point by a 1/3 of a page letters page, most of which is devoted to editor Murray Boltinoff taking cheap shots at the departing Dave Cockrum and claiming that the Legion never needed him in the first place. It’s about as petty and mean-spirited an editorial piece as I’ve ever seen.

Invisible Kid and Phantom Girl talk, and she probes him about what’s going on. I.K. gives a neat demonstration of depth focus that is one of the things I remember the most about this story, before proclaiming that he intends to marry the girl from the other dimension. Meanwhile, Dream Girl has a vision of Validus attacking Legion Headquarters. But Tharok, the leader of the Fatal Five, is in a medical coma, and could not be guiding him in this action. The Legion needs to figure out what is drawing Validus to attack them before they are destroyed.

Validus is so powerful that none of the Legionnaires, including Superboy, is able to do much more than slow him down, and he plows his way through their ranks over a succession of pages. But Invisible Kid has the answer. He reasons that Validus must be being drawn to the Headquarters by the remains of Tharok’s brain that are being kept on display in the Legion trophy room, He moves to destroy them, but not before Validus arrives and literally crushed Invisible Kid to death.

This was the first time that I ever experienced a super hero being killed, and it wasn’t something that I enjoyed. To add insult to injury, Validus simply flies away afterwards, still at large and not even pursued by the Legion. And then it comes out that the girl Invisible Kid had been speaking with was really a dead spirit (!) who appears to the Legionnaires in order to let them know that she’ll take care of their comrade in the next life. It’s a weird ending all around, and I’m not sure why either Cary or Murray thought this would have been satisfying to readers. It certainly didn’t make me want to read future issues.

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