Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Classics - Adventure Comics #312

I can't be 100% certain - memory being a tricky thing at best - but I'm pretty sure this was the first issue starring the Legion of Super-Heroes that I read.

Published in 1963, the issue is actually titled Adventure Comics, and it was home to the Legion for several years before they finally got their own comic, almost always co-starring Superboy.

This particular issue made a real impression on me, because the story centered around the attempt to revive Lightning Lad, a team member who had been killed in action.

Death may be as common as a cold in comics these days (and almost as easy to recover from), but it was very rare in the '60s.

The uncredited story follows the Legion as they comb the universe, looking for a way to bring their teammate back to life. They find a number of possible solutions, but only one that works.

The solution requires that one of the Legion give their lifeforce - in other words, someone else has to die to bring him back.

As depicted on the cover, the whole team wants to volunteer, so they decide to let fate decide who will die - they all stand holding little lightning rods. The one struck by lightning will die, and bring Lightning Lad back.

The plot twist at the end is quite clever - certainly I didn't see it coming (of course, I was just 7 years old) - and it made this issue a favorite.

Today's reader might struggle with this comic - there's a lot of wordage (captions and word balloons) and lots of small panels.

I love the art, which is very much in the DC style at the time - but the funny thing is, as many times as I've read this issue (and at the time DC did not allow credits), I never noticed that the splash page has John Forte's "signature" in the lower right corner.

It's to his credit that he manages a huge number of characters, worlds and creatures while keeping the story clean and easy to follow. The characters are all distinctive and likeable, and he ekes every bit of drama out of the life-or-death situation at the end.

I was always impressed by the team's determination to help their friend - most comics just focused on beating the villain, but here was an issue devoted to beating the ultimate "bad guy" - death itself.

This issue made me a devoted Legion fan for quite some time after. With teen heroes, numerous powers, a futuristic setting and inventive enemies, it was lots of fun to follow along.

And death would make a return appearance in the years ahead - but more about that in a future review.

Grade: A-

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