Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #239 (May, 1978)
“Murder Most Foul”
Plot & Layouts – Jim Starlin
Plot Assist & Dialogue – Paul Levitz
Finished Art – Josef Rubinstein
Letterer – Ben Oda
Colorist – Cory Adams
Editor – Allen Milgrom
Cover Price: $0.60
Gonna try a bit of “Legion Learning” today with a Bronze-Age whodunnit.
We open with Ultra Boy walking the streets of the seedy-as-hell looking planet of Rimbor. He is heading to the Hotel Orion to meet with a former lover, An Ryd, who had summoned him. He considers how his life has changed in the years since he’d last seen her… joined the Legion, started a relationship with Phantom Girl. He inquires which room she might be in, and heads upstairs. He finds her seductively posed on a couch in her room… looking trashier than he’d remembered. After she makes with the sweet talk, it’s revealed that she’d lured him here in order to sell him!
Jo is struck by a blast from off-panel and lays kayoed on the floor. An Ryd turns to the gunman, and informs him that she’s ready to be paid. For her troubles, the gunman nails her with a fatal blast.
Time passes, and Ultra Boy fumbles back into consciousness. He finds himself sitting in an unfamiliar spacecraft, and without his Legion flight ring. One look at the sky tells him he’s not on Rimbor anymore… and he fears wherever “here” is, it’s where he’s going to be stuck forever.
As “luck” would have it, as he makes his way out of the craft, he is greeted by some very familiar voices… it’s Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes! Jo is pleasantly surprised, thinking they’d come to rescue him… his tone changes quickly, however, when they reveal they are here to… arrest him, for the murder of An Ryd!
He pleads his innocence, but it’s to no avail… the other Legionnaires just ain’t having it. Well, all except for his current “better half” Phantom Girl, that is. The others feel that the evidence is far too compelling… Jo was the last person to enter her hotel room before the body was found, there were Ultra Boy-specific energy signatures on the scene… and perhaps the most damning (and really, kinda dumb if you think about it) Ultra Boy’s Legion flight ring was found on the corpse. Rather than face trial, Jo decides it might be best to escape his captors and find the real killer himself! It’s rough-going, but he’s eventually able to out-muscle, out-speed, out-smart, and out-maneuver his teammates to get away. This certainly doesn’t aid in his innocence, but it looks pretty cool!
Before leaving, he swoops in to tell Phantom Girl that he’s going to prove his innocence. He then flies into the Legion spacecraft and takes off. As the Legion recover and lick their wounds, we learn that a nerve hold that Jo used on Dawnstar would keep her out of commission for an entire day… a wise move, considering she’d be their best bet to track him. We rejoin Ultra Boy nearing Rimbor, where he ‘splodes the Legion spacecraft to avoid being traced. He hits the surface, and grabs a costume that had been stashed during an earlier adventure. Wearing the hooded tunic of an undertaker, he heads back to the Hotel Orion to investigate.
After using his Penetra-Vision, Ultra Boy deduces that there are no clues left in the hotel. He decides to crash for a bit at his friend Si’s house. Inside, he is met by Chameleon Boy… disguised as a gaudily colored couch!
Chameleon Boy’s all “sell me on your innocence”… but isn’t quick to believe Jo’s story. He reminds Jo that running away surely didn’t help his claims… but concedes that there might be a frame up going on. Their discussion ends in a really cool way. Jo asks what “we” do now. Chameleon Boy goes “Me, I’m gonna research… You? You’re a fugitive… I suggest you run.” Ice cold.
We shift scenes back to the Legion, who are onboard a spacecraft. Legion adult liaison, Marla is calling for Ultra Boy’s head… while Superboy tries to get him to settle his tea kettle. Wildfire pipes up suggesting that Ultra Boy most likely went back to Rimbor… as it’s the only place he’d be able to clear his name. It’s pretty conflicting, as if they were 100% certain of his guilt… what could he hope to find back to Rimbor?
Meanwhile, Chameleon Boy conducts his research… he rules out the possibility of an impostor being among the Legion, because everyone’s physical IDs match up. He then considers that it was an “inside job”. He checks the computer files, and finds that they were not tampered with. This (and a whole lot of trusting his gut) is somehow enough for him to suss out who is behind everything… all he’s gotta do is prove it, and not die in the process!
The Legion arrives in Rimbor orbit, and Superboy and Mon-El are tasked with using their x-ray vision to scan the entire planet. After a few hours, Mon-El is able to locate a shielded location near the Hotel Orion… they know that’s gotta be where Jo is holed up. At the same time, Jo is using his Penetra-Vision… and he knows he’s been caught. So, using his one-superpower-at-a-time, he flees out of the city…
… where the Legionnaires are already waiting for him! He tussles with Timberwolf, and outmaneuvers one of Wildfire’s blasts… only to find himself socked in the mush by Colossal Boy’s over-sized fist.
Jo is thrown for a loop… but comes back with a super-powered punch of his own. He then kayos Sun Boy, and steals his flight ring… this way, he’ll maintain the power of flight, and also be able to use another superpower. He thinks things might finally be going his way when… he runs right into Superboy and Mon-El, which is all she wrote for poor Jo Nah.
With Ultra Boy captured, Wildfire is quick to call for his head. Superboy again expresses the need to exercise patience. Grown up guy Marla says it’s a matter of the courts… however, before he can finish his though, he is interrupted by Chameleon Boy. He reveals that a traitor stands among them, and it’s… Wildfire! To be clear, it’s a robot posing as Wildfire.
The Legionnaires make short work of the bad-bot, but make sure to save its head so that they might hook it up to the computers and study who might have sent it. Chameleon Boy reveals that the robot was not the killer, but just a way to help frame Ultra Boy. The real killer is still out there. He continues… saying he found the real Wildfire locked in his quarters, held by a force field. The reason all of the physical IDs matched was because the real Wildfire doesn’t have a body! Chameleon Boy suggests he knows who the real killer is… but is not ready to name names.
We wrap up with the hooded killer watching Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl embracing on a monitor. He reveals that this little endeavor gave him all the information he was looking for… and promises that next time things will go his way for sure.
Okay. I really liked this. Like, really really.
I always think of Legion stories as only ever taking place onboard a spaceship… which is part of my disconnect with the franchise. That, and the far-flung future angle. It makes it hard for he to really care for the characters, or see any sort of urgency in their plights. This issue, being (relatively) more “grounded” really helped to convince me that there’s something more to the Legion.
At its core, this is a mystery story. The fact that it all went down on the gritty planet of Rimbor made it all the better. It felt down and dirty, and perfectly fit the tone. Probably the closest I felt to seeing a “real” locale in my (very) limited Legion Learnin’ experience. The strong focus on characterization here really helped to… especially Ultra Boy (obviously) and Chameleon Boy. I can see myself really digging a no-nonsense, tell it like it is Chameleon Boy. His “You’re a fugitive, you’d better run” and “See you when they catch you” were excellent lines… that portrayed him as both thoughtful and sorta disconnected toward Ultra Boy’s plight.
This mystery came with layers, which is also great. I can’t claim to know who is really under the hood… but, just in reading this issue, my eyes darted from Legionnaire to Liaison and back again wondering who might have motivation to frame Ultra Boy. I thought for sure that Marla would be a part of it, considering how quick he was to condemn poor Jo… but now I’m not so sure. The Wildfire reveal worked well enough, however some of the “oomph” was lost on me when I needed to have it explained that he doesn’t have a physical body underneath his uniform. I think knowing that going in may have given me a sort of “Aha” moment… but that’s definitely not the fault of the story. I’d never slag on a serialized story for expecting its readership to have an understanding of the characters within…
I will say that the Wildfire reveal does make sense out of “Wildfire’s” suggestion that Ultra Boy might be back on Rimbor attempting to prove his innocence. That should have raised a red flag for the other Legionnaires who were convinced of Jo’s guilt. If Jo was guilty… why would he ever return to the scene of the crime? Wouldn’t he just go on the run forever? I really like this little detail… which only really becomes clear after the big-bot reveal.
I really can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this. I never felt completely out of my depth (though, I did have to check the DC Wikia for some code names). One of the things keeping me from the Legion was (and is) it’s sprawling cast. It feels like there are hundreds of colorfully clad “-boy” “-girl” “-lad” and “lass”-es to keep track of… which felt just so daunting. Here, we had a crew of less than a dozen. Far more manageable for a “Legion Learner” like myself. The focus being primarily on Ultra Boy really helped me as well. This felt like a true “toe dipping” into this wacky and (perhaps) wonderful franchise… and I’m really looking forward to more.
Overall… this issue is definitely recommended. I believe that longtime Legion fans and newcomers alike could get something out of this. As luck would have it, it is available digitally.