April 18, 2021

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Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #275

Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #275

Time for today’s re-read of a classic Legion of Super-Heroes comic issue. This time out: the second confrontation with Captain Frake and her space pirates. Enjoy! 🙂


Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #275

Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #275
May, 1981
“Of Pride, Passion, and Piracy!”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Jimmy Janes
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Gene D’Angelo
Cover: Dave Cockrum (signed)
Editor: Jack C. Harris

Mission Monitor Board:
Ultra Boy, Lightning Lad, Wildfire, Shadow Lass, Saturn Girl, Light Lass, Timber Wolf, Mon-El, Colossal Boy, Element Lad, Shrinking Violet, Dawnstar; Brainiac 5, Star Boy (background, no lines)

Opposition:
Captain Frake and her space pirates; inhabitants of New Tartuga

Synopsis:
At Legion Headquarters, Lightning Lad is reviewing the mission from the day before with a contingent of his fellow Legionnaires, in which the Legionnaires did battle with space pirates who almost demolished a Legion cruiser and left Cosmic Boy and Karate Kid badly wounded, and now hospitalized. Saturn Girl is still confused about what she sensed out in space, that Ultra Boy was a member of the pirates, although the Legion believes at this point that he died facing Pulsar Stargrave, and is somewhat cool and harsh with Shadow Lass, who comments that she’s not her usual self. Wildfire is anxious to go after the pirates, so Lightning Lad gives the order. The Legion will take their back-up cruiser and depart within the hour.

Out in space, beyond the orbit of Pluto, the space pirates whom the Legion are about to hunt down are busy stealing from another freighter. Ultra Boy, being called “Seeker” by the pirates because he hasn’t regained his memory of who he is, is helping to load stolen cargo aboard the pirate vessel the Antares, when the cargo-pac he is moving slips and almost crushes him to death, if not for his super-powers. Returning to the Antares, Ultra Boy sees one of the fellow pirates about to kill a captive who attempts to flee. He intervenes, placing himself in the line of fire, but is unharmed by the neuron-disruptor pistol blast. Crushing the pirate’s weapon, he demands that no innocent lives be taken, a decision that Captain Frake reluctantly backs up for now. She is starting to have her doubts about having fallen in love with “Seeker.”

As Lightning Lad leads a team of Legionnaires in their back-up cruiser to search for the space pirate from their last location by sub-space radar, Light Lass and Timber Wolf discuss their relationship. Timber Wolf tells her that he’s glad that he didn’t have to go on the mission with them, as he’s starting to feel that he’s losing his individual identity, saying tat that in recent days, the strain of living among so many has come close to driving him mad. He leads her to the Metropolis Zoo, where he tells her that the Legion seems to him at times like the creatures at the Zoo, “like a collection of freaks from many worlds — each locked helplessly in his or her own cage.” He longs to leave Earth, and go live closer to nature. He admits to Ayla that he stays on Earth as a Legionnaire only because of his love for her.

Elsewhere, at the Moon Dome, one of the finest of Metropolis’s night spots, Colossal Boy, Mon-El and Shadow Lass are having dinner. Shadow Lass tells the other two that she spoke with Tinya, Phantom Girl, before they left and she seems to be on the mend (from the death of Ultra Boy). Colossal Boy says that perhaps the best way for the Legionnaires to move on from his death is to go about their business as usual. Colossal Boy complains about his mother, the new President of Earth, who seems to be treating the Legion such that everything they do is wrong, that he thinks she’s let the power go to her head. Mon-El and Shadow Lass tell him that she is probably doing the best she can at a job she never wanted. Colossal Boy reacts impulsively, walking away from the conversation and knocking a robo-waiter towards another table. He grows and saves the other patrons from being scalded by the spilled soup and food, chastising himself for acting rashly and for being so clumsy.

Out in space, the Legionnaires can for the pirates in non-United Planets space some hundred light-years from Earth, and find a collection of planets and planetoids orbiting a blue-white star that Lightning Lad and Wildfire feel are where the space pirates can be found. Down in the depths of the Legion cruiser, Dawnstar, Element Lad and Shrinking Violet have little to do, but keep themselves on their toes as best they can.

On New Tartuga, one of the asteroids orbiting the blue-white star, Ultra Boy watches as his fellow space pirates run wild on the population of the pirate asteroid home, and while he doesn’t remember who he is, he’s come to feel that he isn’t one of them. Captain Frake calls to him, and offers herself as a calming influence, kissing him, but his memory of the girl he saw when he destroyed the Legion cruiser the day before – Phantom Girl – haunts him. Frake pulls away, sensing what’s going on, and he tells Frake that he thinks he’s remembering the girl he loves. She orders him away, telling him to get back to the Antares, that he’s now no more to her than the rest of the scum aboard the ship. At that moment, the Legion cruiser arrives, blasting the defensive ring around the town.

Captain Frake arms herself, and leading “Seeker” out of their quarters, not towards the Antares but towards the fortress north of the town. She has a plan, and the best defense is a good offense. As she rushes through the alleys of New Tartuga, Captain Frake slaps a slave-woman out of her way. When the woman hits her head on a rock as she falls and dies, Ultra Boy has had enough.

Back outside, the Legion cruiser attacks and destroys the Antares, and the six Legionnaires aboard emerge from the vessel. The space pirates and other citizens of New Tartuga defend themselves vigorously. Wildfire, Element Lad, Dawnstar, Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lad attack and defend themselves as best they can. Lightning Lad uses too much power in his attack, however, rendering his attackers unconscious leaving no one to question. “Seeker” attacks the pirates, feeling like he’s doing the right thing for the first time in a while, and Wildfire nearly sees Ultra Boy in action, but misses him by a few seconds. On the Legion cruiser, Saturn Girl senses Ultra Boy’s presence. She cries tears of happiness as she realizes that she really did sense him during the first battle with the space pirates and that not only is he alive, but he has not betrayed them by joining the pirates.

Reaching her fortress to the north of the town, Captain Frake arrives to find her First Mate has go the Star Crusher weapon powering up and preparing to fire. The power jewel cannon is the most powerful weapon in ten solar systems. She locks the weapon on her target – the Legion cruiser.

Back in the town, Dawnstar and Lightning Lad come upon a large group of pirates, too large to blast individually. While Dawnstar acts as a diversion for Lightning Lad, he uses his powers to strike and electrify the water of the large puddles they are standing in, knocking the large number of pirates and others out.

Meanwhile, Wildfire and Shrinking Violet, taking care of the house-to-house fighting, arrive at the fortress. They hear noises from a locked warehouse. Before Wildfire can blast his way in, Shrinking Violet tells him that sometimes you go around an obstacle, not shoot your way in, and then shrinks down. She opens the door from the inside, and introduces him to the enslaved people – women, children and old men – of New Tartuga.

In the meantime, Ultra Boy has managed to reach the fortress Frake mentioned on his own by following some of the pirate leaders. He sees the Legion cruiser in the air above, though he can’t figure out why it seems so familiar to him. He sees a weapon’s bay window opening, with some kind of cannon jutting through, and realizes what Frake meant when she talked about a good offense. As Ultra Boy races inside and find Frake and the weapon, he puts himself directly in the path of the Star Crusher as it fires. His invulnerable frame is blasted into seeming nothingness. The rays from the energy blast ricochet around, striking the Quintile crystal power source a glancing blow, and the fortress is destroyed in a massive explosion.

The Legionnaires see that half the mountain where the fortress was is nothing but rubble and ruin, but fortunately the town and the people there were on the other side of the mountain. Having landed the Legion cruiser, a shaken, staggering Saturn Girl emerges from the ship and falls into her husband’s arms. With tears pouring down her face and crying, Saturn Girl tells him that Ultra Boy is really gone now. Looking around at the devastation, the Legionnaires prepare to head back to Earth and home.

Commentary:
This issue is the second part of the story involving the “death” of Ultra Boy and the Legionnaires dealing with Captain Frake and the space pirates, that continues from the previous issue. The story seems to be less about Ultra Boy’s death, the Legion trying to get over that and move on here, and more about dealing with Captain Frake and the space pirates. The story does have the sub-plot of Saturn Girl still trying to determine if she really sensed Ultra Boy aboard the pirate vessel in the previous issue, and that matter is resolved here, in a manner of speaking. The shocking events at the end of the story, as Ultra Boy is seemingly killed yet again!, leave the reader feeling alarmed, and perhaps mentally reeling due to how unexpected it was. But the reader doesn’t get a clear resolution of how this shakes out, re: telling Phantom Girl, and the deception on Saturn Girl’s part.

While the story itself is fine, there are some excellent little sub-plots going on throughout. Wildfire’s impulsiveness comes out in the story once more, and he is all gung-ho about going after the pirates, taking Legion leader Lightning Lad to task for not doing so quickly. There’s a very emotional scene between Timber Wolf and Light Lass that hints at the strength of the love between them, but also at the fact that Timber Wolf is struggling to live in an urban, technological society. One has to wonder how much longer he will be a Legionnaire. Colossal Boy’s development as a character takes a twist here as well, as he questions his mother’s being Earth President and the changing relationship she has with both the Legion and with her son. There’s also the fact that he’s struggling with his being klutzy, an interesting twist given Gim’s super-growth power. Ultra Boy gets a bit of time spent on him, of course, but most of his time in the story is concerned with dealing with his growing feelings that he’s not one of the pirates and that his relationship with Captain Frake is not one of attraction or love, but more about feeling grateful for being rescued. It’s when he finally turns on the space pirates during the Legion attack on New Tartuga that the *true* Ultra Boy comes out once more. That said, I can’t help but wonder about the scene on page 14 where Frake swats away the female servant in the alley, killing her when she hits her head on a rocky outcrop… The slave girl is drawn to look a lot like Phantom Girl, right down to a white shift, and I have to wonder whether that was a deliberate move on the part of Gerry Conway and/or Jack C. Harris to make Ultra Boy remember Phantom Girl even more. The presence of Element Lad (who’s been absent for more than six issues) and Shrinking Violet are good to see here, especially the latter, who gets a very nice bit scene fighting one of the space pirates, but I have to wonder something else here. There are clearly more Legionnaires available for this mission of hunting down the space pirates than actually go on it. So, what’s the point of having 22 available Legionnaires here and Lightning Lad only taking five of them with him? Why have the cameos of Brainiac 5 and Star Boy at all?

One of the things that surprised me in this story was the absence of Phantom Girl. Given the romantic relationship between Tinya and Jo, and the strong role that she played in the first part of this story in the previous issue, it struck me as very odd that she wasn’t involved in the story and the dealing with the space pirates again. Shadow Lass mentions to Mon-El and Colossal Boy talking to Tinya on page 8, saying that Tinya’s still pretty upset about Ultra Boy’s death, and that she’s on the mend. That could be taken to mean she’s taking the time off to mentally and emotionally deal with Ultra Boy’s death, but might also refer to the attack by Ultra Boy on the Legion cruiser last issue, when Karate Kid and Cosmic Boy were both seriously injured. Tinya was hurt as well, though in the story Lightning Lad stated that she was merely stunned. It’s just odd that she’s not present in this story.

In terms of the artwork this issue, it was pretty jarring to open the comic and see that Jimmy Janes was back at the drawing board here. After what can only be described as Steve Ditko’s lacklustre effort in the previous issue, Janes brings back a nicely pencilled, solid effort with detail in his pages though I thought it lacked some of the dynamic edge that Ditko captured with previous issue’s work at times. Janes’s space pirates are more, well, dirty and disgusting looking than those of Ditko, giving the story a somewhat different feel. Frank Chiaramonte’s inks this issue are very effective over Janes’s pencils, giving the combat scenes notably a nice, dramatic and dynamic feel to them, though as I said, Janes’s pencils lack any real dynamism. I also liked the fact that Chaiaramonte’s inks give the panels a nice solid firmness to them, rather than the at times blurry look that Ditko’s work has.

That said, I have to say the best art this issue is the cover. Pencilled and inked by former Legion artist Dave Cockrum, it has a dramatic and vibrant look to it, even if it’s not as “fresh” as his earlier work. One additional thing about that cover… I don’t know who the colourist is for the cover, but one might not have noticed most of the Legionnaires in the background if the colourist hadn’t coloured them in for the reader. While Gene D’Angelo is the story colourist, I don’t know if he also worked on the cover. Regardless, nice touch.

Overall, this issue was a pretty good story with an ending that wrapped things up nicely as the pirates, including Captain Frake, all “die by the sword” as it were and there’s another surprise ending with Ultra Boy seemingly dying once again. But as a final thought, I’ll just say that the title of the story (see above) just left me quite confused. Whose pride, whose passion? The story title is a bit…unclear.

Final Notes:
The story continues, sort of, from the previous issue…

Phantom Girl is featured on the cover, and Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy and Karate Kid also appear on the cover, but they do not appear in the story…

Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy and Mon-El are also shown on the cover but do not go on the mission…

Dawnstar goes on the mission to New Tartuga, but is shown flying *inside* the Legion cruiser. This is one of the few times she did not fly alongside it…

This issue marks Element Lad’s first appearance since Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #267, not including his small appearances in the Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series. That’s an absence of almost nine issues…

On page 16, in the first panel, Saturn Girl is clearly seen emerging from the Legion cruiser onto the surface of New Tartuga. However, on page 19, it is clearly stated that she has remained on the Legion cruiser. Just another inconsistency here, nothing to see, move along…

The power jewel that Captain Frake is using to energize her Star Crusher weapon is revealed to be a Quintile Crystal. Quintile Crystals have appeared in the Legion stories twice before, first in one of the untold Legion stories in DC Super-Stars Vol 1 #17, and then later in Superboy and Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #237…

Tortuga (not Tartuga, as spelled in this story) is an island at the northern-most tip of Haiti, famous for having been a pirate hideout in the 18th Century.

The plot with Ultra Boy’s death is not concluded here, for Jo Nah is not dead, of course. The story will continue in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #277-282…

Next Issue: The Superman Family Vol 1 #207