Tuesday, March 13, 2018

TOS: Adventure Comics #334

Hey, it's Anj from the Supergirl site Comic Box Commentary, looking back at one of my favorite issues from the Silver Age, Adventure Comics #334, 'The Unknown Legionnaire'!

 People should know by now that I love the Legion and this issue has the bonus of including the Silver Age Supergirl as well. But the biggest mystery of the comic is who is the Unknown Legionnaire? Who is he? And why is he the 'greatest super-hero of all time'??

Now trust me, this is a wild story. One of the things that amazes me is how jam packed these Silver Age stories are. I mean, this is a dense story with plot twists and major turns and multiple scenes changes. This would be a 6 issue arc in today's books and here it was told in a crisp 17 page story.

And, of course, knowing my particular interests, I felt obliged to review this issue.

"The Unknown Legionnaire" was written by Edmund Hamilton with art by  John Forte and Sheldon Moldoff. I mean, those are some heavy hitters in comic mythology on this book.

This was labeled one of the "Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes" because it is told as a flashback.

But we get a great splash page to ramp up the readers' excitement. Superboy, flying on an obvious alien planet, witnesses an Unknown hero wearing a lead bullet-shaped mask fighting a monstrous Protean. The landscape is a desert with odd giant mushrooms with a crazy net-like vines. And is that an orange sun?

How could you not want to read this book?

In the framing sequence, we see that a Legion away team has landed on a planet in the Antares system, the home of the Proteans.

When the disembark, Superboy shows them a statue celebrating the Unknown Legionnaire, the one they called Unknown Boy.

While the body suit is very early 60s sci-fi with pointy gloves, boots, and sporting shoulder pads. But the most interesting part is the faceless, pointy, riveted lead helmet.

The statue sparks memories in the team who then retell the Unknown Boy adventure.

Earlier, the Legion was having a standard meeting when Brainiac 5 interrupts. Dr. Eldor,  noted criminal, has escaped his prison by tunneling out of his cell and hopping a supply freighter.

Everyone is eager to get on Eldor's trail. Unfortunately, Supergirl needs to head back in time because she is needed back at Stanhope College. Brainy tells her that he will slip her information about their leads on Eldor so that if they need her in the past she'll be able to join in.

It is all very timey-wimey if you think about it too much. Maybe the next time they contact her that future mission will be over. And so Supergirl leaves.

They head to the Protean home world where it becomes obvious early on the the Protean aliens are working for or, at the very least, defending Dr. Eldor. It becomes difficult for the Legion to operate where anyone or anything they see may be an Protean in a different shape.

Luckily, when you have a 12th level intelligence on your team, scientific solutions can happen quickly. Using just the stuff on the Legion cruiser, Brainiac 5 is able to make a spray that will not only make a shapeshifter revert to their true form, it will also freeze them in it.

Accidentally, Cham and Proty become locked in their standard form.

The Legion splits into teams to try to track down Eldor. But each team ends up skirmishing with Proteans. And with the Proteans shape-changing ability and their knowledge of the planet's terrain, the natives always seem to have the upper hand. We see Saturn Girl, Sun Boy, and Brainy all get captured through deception and cunning.

The other team, Cosmic Boy and Phantom Girl, are about to be trapped when someone new arrives.

An unknown hero  sporting a lead helmet arrives and protects the Legionnaires. They label him Unknown Boy. His powers seem more akin to Ultra Boy or Mon-El. Given only Ultra Boy has vision that can see through lead, the team assumes it is Jo in disguise. But then Unknown Boy seems to use more than one super power at the same time.

The mystery continues.

Some of the Legion away team regroups and Unknown Boy joins them. They not only need to find out where Eldor is but also why is he there?

Unknown Boy knows that he saw a criminal base underground, below a dead city filled with screw-shaped lead buildings.

How can Unknown Boy see through lead? And who is he? And why is he helping the Legion? Is he a villain?

Cosmic Boy sprays him with the inhibitor spray but Unknown Boy is uneffected. He isn't a Protean.

We finally get to see Eldor's motivations. The Proteans have captured Brainy, Sun Boy, and Saturn Girl for Eldor.

Speaking in front of a throng, Eldor claims to be a descendant of the Llorn. In a flashback within a flashback, we learn that the Llorn were benevolent scientists who came to this world and colonized it peacefully with the pacifist Proteans. Unfortunately, great quakes made the Llorn have to flee. Before leaving, they bathed the native aliens in an evolution ray. The result was that the Proteans became shape-changers and could more easily live on the planet. The Proteans adore the Llorn and so it is understandable they would listen to Eldor.

The Llorn supposedly left a super-weapon on the planet as well. Eldor is hoping he can cajole the Proteans into showing him where it is.

The arriving Legion are able to free their collagues. During that battle it becomes clear that Unknown Boy is invulnerable.

Unfortunately, Eldor states he has a bomb planted which will kill all the Proteans unless he is released. The Legionnaires begrudgingly let him go. Eldor takes Cosmic Boy as a hostage.

Flight, super strength, invulnerability, and vision that can see through lead. Who is he?

Saturn Girl telepathically scans Unknown Boy and finds that his mind is empty. Is he a robot? Maybe that makes sense given his power set?

Using his lead-vision (?), Unknown Boy sees that the Proteans and Eldor have fled to a secret cavern. And the Llorn's ultimate weapon is there. The Legion need to head there and stop Eldor and not injure Cosmic Boy.

Unknown Boy has an idea that he will cause an earthquake that will make Eldor and the Proteans panic and flee. Meanwhile, Superboy will use his powers to keep the cavern from collapsing.

The plan seems to work. The Proteans and Eldor run away, leaving Cosmic Boy. Superboy keeps the ceiling intact. And, amazingly, Mon-El shows up to help.

So if you thought that Unknown Boy was Mon-El, scratch him off the list.

Eldor is arrested by the Legionnaire on the surface. There is nothing left but the unmasking.

Superboy has figured it out.

Unknown Boy is Supergirl. (You knew that right? This is from a Supergirl blog!)

When she traveled back in time, Supergirl flew through a Red K cloud. And this time, the Kryptonite removed all her memory. This explains why Saturn Girl couldn't read her mind.

The only thing she remembered was a strong compulsion to protect her identity (I suppose back then secret identities were paramount). Given that fear of her identity being discovered, she forges the Unknown Boy costume, including the lead helmet.

Luckily, another side effect of Red K was the ability for Supergirl's x-ray vision to work through lead! That explains the lead-vision power.

The only other information she had was that scrap of paper that Brainiac 5 gave her at the beginning. So she headed to Antares in the future. That explains why she arrived to help her Legion friends.

I still don't know how Superboy put the clues together to figure out it was Kara. But he did. And when he called her name, she remembered everything.

Still, the Proteans remember that Unknown Boy helped them. And so they erected the statue.

Now that is one wild story. It is like a fever dream at times. Between the wild alien world of screw-buildings, mushrooms, and caves as well as Proteans shape shifting into Legionnaires, elephants, and tentacled monsters, and the bizarre mystery of Unknown Boy, there is enough material here for a whole trade of nightmares.

While Unknown Boy didn't have the comic resonance of the other Red-K Supergirl Legion story (Satan Girl), it is a fun story, a sort of hidden nugget in Supergirl history. I definitely think it is a good book to have in a Supergirl collection, especially if you are also a Legion fan.

Hope you liked this look back!

Overall grade:B

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