Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Lo, there shall come changes (but small ones)

The big change in Fantastic Four #61 (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby) was supposed to be the Sandman. The costume upgrade on the cover is only part of it.

As the Sandman, AKA Flint Marko explains it, he took the Wizard’s advice to attend some college science classes. The Wizard then helped him develop a utility belt of chemicals to make him more formidable (see the scene below). Apparently Marko also took elocution classes as he now talks like an evil mastermind than a ruthless thug. The upgrade didn’t take, however; in a few years Sandman was back to being a tough fighter in a T-shirt and jeans.

Another, less prominent change did take hold: the Negative Zone.

Reed first entered the Negative Zone in #51 almost a year earlier but called it “sub space.” Like hyperspace, Reed hoped it would offer a short cut to the stars, giving us a chance to spot and fight threats such as Galactus before they reached Earth. The Negative Zone was the name for the barrier Maximus the Mad erected in #47 to trap the Inhumans in the Great Refuge.

When I reread the earlier Inhumans story and spotted the name, I wondered if it would be rationalized — Maximus’ barrier tapped into Sub-Space in some fashion — but no. Crystal doesn’t even recognize the name.Presumably Lee and Kirby realized it was a cool name and decided not to waste it. I think they made a good choice.

A minor, maybe not-a-change happened a few issues later, in #64, our first encounter with the Kree.An archeologist convinced Earth was visited by aliens in the long-gone past successfully locates a hidden Kree base. Too bad an android Sentry remains in suspended animation and now wakes up cranky. After the FF defeat the Sentry, the next-issue box promotes “The Mystery of Alicia.”Instead, the next issue brought us Ronan the Accuser, with Alicia’s mystery the B-plot which leads to the debut of Him, AKA Adam Warlock. It’s not at all unusual for the book to pivot that way — the initial Inhumans arc constantly whipsaws as Lee and Kirby figure out who, exactly, these characters are — but I was still surprised. #64 ends on an almost tragic note as the Sentry admits he’s been asleep so long he has no idea if the Kree Empire still stands: his devotion to duty may be completely pointless. As of #65, it’s clear the Kree are around and man, are they grumpy.

Did Stan and/or Jack decided the Warlock arc needed more work (Lee insisted Kirby change the end of that arc)? Did Jack dream up the Accuser and decide to stretch out the Him plotline? Did it tie into Martin Goodman’s interest in securing Captain Marvel as a trademark for Marvel Comics? It was, after all, only a few months before Kree warrior Mar-Vell showed up and the defeat of the all-powerful Accuser helped give him a reason for coming here. Or am I reading too much into that ending announcement and what we see is exactly what they planned for #65.

The changes in Jim Shooter’s Adventure Comics script for #359, “The Outlawed Legionnaires,” were more clear-cut. The story itself (Shooter, Curt Swan) completely blew me away as a kid. The entire Legion have been off on space missions; when they return to Earth they discover new Earth president Kandru Boltax has convinced the United Planets to disband the team.

Subsequently some of the heroes use their powers to save lives in a train crash. That violates the anti-Legion laws so a court sentences the guilty heroes to ten years hard labor on the prison planet Takron-Galtos. The remaining Legionnaires are banned from any use of their powers. By a strange coincidence, right after that ruling a gang of punks attack them; one of the punks clubs Princess Projectra and puts her in a coma.

By the end of the story it’s obvious Earth’s government has become a vast conspiracy and even the heroes’ parents are part of it. Now the handful of Legionnaires who remain free are hunted outlaws determined to smash whatever or whoever’s behind it — but even with another issue to continue the story, how can they win?

At nine years old this was my first exposure to this kind of paranoid thriller and it was mesmerizing. Even now that I’ve seen plenty of similar stories, this one holds up well. But the focus of this blog post is the elements Shooter adds to the Legion’s setting. There’s Takron-Galtos, which would show up in multiple later stories as the 30th century equivalent of Blackgate or Iron Heights. More significantly the story introduces gazillionaire RJ Brande as the man who underwrites the Legion. In 1968 E. Nelson Bridwell incorporated Brande into the never-told origin of the Legion, then later revealed him as Chameleon Boy’s father in Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The crusty old financier appeared in multiple Bronze Age and 1980s stories besides those.

Something that may or may not be a change is Projectra pointing out that as a princess of Orando she might have the political influence to push back against Boltax — gee, what are the odds she wound up in a coma right after that? Up until that point there’d been no indication “Princess” Projectra was any more royalty than Saturn Queen or Cosmic King of the Legion of Super-Villains. But then again, Shooter may have assumed “Princess Projectra of Orando” obviously meant she was royal blood, and didn’t realize it wasn’t clear (her debut was only his second comics story).

Then there’s Karate Kid. In this issue he refers to calling his folks about everything that’s going on; that puzzled me since I remembered Adventure #367 establishing him as an orphan. I took a look in that issue and yes, Val Armorr is a foundling; he explains in a thought balloon that when he talked about his “folks” he was referring to the Japanese neighborhood that took care of him collectively?

Was that what Shooter meant in the previous story? It’s an odd way to use a phrase like “my folks” and Adventure #356 (admittedly not written by Shooter) doesn’t list Karate Kid as one of the “Five Legion Orphans” in the story. My guess is Shooter only developed Karate Kid’s backstory between 359 and 367 and threw in the thought balloon to explain it. If so, I think it was a good move. And points for anticipating objections and explaining them away rather than waiting for a later letter of comment to protest. [UPDATE: I asked Brian Cronin who asked Shooter and no, Shooter always meant for Val to be an orphan; “folks” was meant to hide that, but in hindsight it was “too clever by half.”]

#SFWApro. FF art by Kirby, first Legion cover by Curt Swan, second by Neal Adams.

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