Adventure Comics #365 (February, 1968)
“Escape of the Fatal Five!”
Writer/Layouts – Jim Shooter
Penciller – Curt Swan
Inker – George Klein
Letterers – Milton Snappinn & Morris Waldinger
Editor – Mort Weisinger
Cover Price: $0.12
Today we’re going to look at a book written by the 17-year old comic veteran, Jim Shooter!
After our spoilery Silver-Age splash (which I won’t describe til we get there) our tale opens on the formerly peaceful planet, Talok VIII. Once a peaceful, prosperous planet… six months later, a war zone! The swift change has been captured on a film prepared by the United Planets to share with Superboy and Legionnaires Brainiac-5, Cosmic Boy, and Karate Kid. The U.P. asks them to check it out… and also sets them up with a guide: Shadow Lass! Wait, is this her first appearance? (Yes). To evade detection the kids parachute in to the desert far away from their target of the capital.
Upon landing, the Legionnaires hole up in a cave until the Sun sets. We shift to a fortress in the capital and learn that their arrival did not go unseen… and was actually part of someone’s (pay no attention to the title of the issue) sinister plot.
Once night falls, the group makes their way up to get a better look at the wall surrounding the capital. Upon realizing how heavily guarded and fortified it is, they decide it might be best to take the long way around… and so, they head back into the unforgiving desert. Elsewhere, they are being monitored. The unseen voice of “The Master” demands that they be in their top fighting strength when they arrive.
And so… as luck would have it, the Legionnaires happen across an oasis… but, like a real one! They set up camp and fill their bellies to prepare for the next leg of their journey…
… Which takes them up into the peaks. As they climb, they find themselves attacked by (the dreaded) Deathbirds! It’s a short skirmish, but allows for a nice little power demonstration. Brainy identifies the rocks as being full of iron ore… and so Cosmic Boy can use them as projectiles. Superboy does his super-thing, and Karate Kid (who had been abducted) uses his… karate! The tussle ends with Shadow Lass engulfing the crew in a black shadow to cover their escape. Amazing… in three panels, Jim Shooter is able to give the reader a taste of what five characters can do!
After getting away, the Legionnaires enter the capital. They are shunned by the civilians as “savages” and “mountain men” as they are wearing tattered rags. All but Brainy take the insults in stride, which is pretty funny. They come upon a fortress guard, and Karate Kid chops him in the neck so they can enter.
We shift to that room where the bad guys are hanging out, and learn that it’s time to spring us some traps. The kids are hit with a teleport beam and separated… each one trapped in a power-specific gambit… which is what we saw on that first splash page. The first we see is Karate Kid, who is stuck inside a giant hollow diamond. He begins chopping at it, fearful that his limited air supply will run out before he can break through.
Next up, we join Cosmic Boy as he’s dodging… giant flying balls. Of course, they’re non-ferrous, so his powers are useless.
Elsewhere, Superboy is being crushed in a sort of hydraulic press (made from a metal from a Red Sun planet). No matter how hard he tries to break out, he cannot.
Brainiac-5 is in one of the two traps I grew up being most scared of… being crushed by walls of spikes! When I was a kid, this scenario scared the hell out of me… I don’t know why I thought I’d ever be crushed by spikes, guess that’s just part of being a dumb kid. So we’re clear, the other terrifying scenario was quicksand. I’ve made it 37 years without encountering either! Anyhoo, Brainy’s force-shield is malfunctioning.
Finally, we rejoin Shadow Lass who is in a “room of radiance”, which is to say, a cube comprised of lit panels. Light being the “enemy” of shadow, she falls to her knees. The “Master” holds out hope that the kids will free themselves… as their survival is crucial if his plan is to come to pass.
And… over the next couple of pages, they do! After taking what would have been his last breath, Karate Kid manages to chop through. Cosmic Boy realizes that, while the balls are non-ferrous, the walls aren’t… and so, he breaks through. Superboy gives himself a pep talk and breaks out of the press. Brainiac-5 alters his force-field into a force-ray to melt through his trap… and Shadow Lass uses her powers and slips though a hidden door. This goes precisely according to The Master’s plan… as by using their powers, they were actually charging several colossal batteries which would open a barrier to another dimension!
The dimension where the Fatal Five have been trapped! Who saw that coming?
Once free, Tharok shares their story. After being banished to, wherever they were, they found a dimensional window to Talok VIII. He mentally enslaved the Talokians, and caused them to become warlike… knowing that would get the attention of the United Planets, and finally… the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Elsewhere, the Legionnaires reunite… and head toward the throne room. Inside, however, they find no throne… just a mass of machinery. Brainiac investigates, and realizes that the machines were powered by their own exertion of energy in breaking out of their traps. Suddenly the doors fly open and the entire Talokian army barges in… five-thousand strong! To be… waitasec… a Silver Age DC story ending with a “To be Continued”???
A nice “escape the traps” story here. I feel like we get these a lot, while at the same time, if asked I don’t think I could specifically cite one.
This is a hard one to really analyze… as it’s really just a solid superhero comic. We get plenty of surface-level characterization from the Legionnaires, a demonstration of powers, and a returning threat. Jim Shooter writes an inviting story that never makes you feel “lost”. Seeing that he also did the layouts here only makes my respect for his storytelling acumen grow!
I suppose what I can say is, I had a good time reading it. I’ve said it before… (too) many times… the sheer size of the Legion of Super-Heroes kept me away. The focus here on five characters definitely helps assuage any of my “accessibility” concerns. Sometimes when I look at those group shots, with like skatey-eight hundred Legionnaires, I marvel at how anybody can tell half of them apart. It’s just primary colors and capes… and it becomes a mush in my already addled brain. The characters used here were all instantly identifiable, which is probably why the cover called out to me. When I can name all the Legionnaires on a cover, I know it’s one I should check out!
I was surprised by a few things. First, this being Shadow Lass’s first appearance. It happened so nonchalantly that I assumed she had been a longtime associate of the team by this point. The U.P. fella was all “I set up a guide… here’s Shadow Lass” like the kids already knew her. Though, to be fair, she is introduced as a Talokian superhero… so, her reputation may have proceeded her.
Second surprise: A to-be-continued! That’s certainly not something I expect to see in a Silver-Age DC comic. I’ve said it before but, my Silver-Age game is pretty weak, so this may happen far more frequently than I thought, or maybe this is just luck of the draw. Either way, I thought it was pretty neat that this was going to continue into the next issue rather than building up for 20 pages and being slam-dunked in the final page and a half.
Third surprise: The back-matter (see below)! Several pages illustrating the Legionnaires and their powers. So damn cool… and something I ought to have blown up and put on my wall for future reference. Just love stuff like this… only thing better would have been if they included a cross-section of the Super-Hero Clubhouse! I don’t care how small it might be… I still love those cross-sections!
Overall, this was a fun… if boilerplate superhero comic book. Nothing wrong with that at all! If you’re into the Legion, or Superboy, or Jim Shooter… definitely give this one a look. This story has been reprinted/collected several times. DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #8 (April, 1981), Legion of Super-Heroes Archives (those $50 hardcovers we all drooled over) Volume 7 (1997) and most recently in SHOWCASE Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 3 (2009). It has not yet been collected digitally… oh well, maybe if Shadow Lass shows up on one of those CW shows it will be…