Adventure Comics #313
‘The Condemned Legionnaires’
By Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan
This splash page is all you need to see to know that this is
going to be the greatest comic ever:
Does it live up to its promise? Oh yes. This comic is
The story starts dramatically, with every girl in the Legion
falling sick, victim of a mysterious red (that’s a clue, if only I had realised
it!) plague. I’m immediately suspicious that this is a ploy by Edmond Hamilton
to get them out of the way, because I’ve noted before that he doesn’t like using
the female cast members. But female characters are very much central to the
story. First of all we’re introduced to Satan Girl:
Is this a potential new member? No, it turns out she’s the
villain of the piece, and with all the powers of a Kryptonian to boot. With
half their members sick, and Superboy and Mon-El carefully written out back on
page one, how can the Legion possibly oppose this threat?
Yay, send for Supergirl!
But notice the problem with Cosmic Boy’s statement? ‘Supergirl
would be free to come from the 20th century, for she promised to
visit us about this time.’ This makes no sense. If she can travel through time,
how can she not be free when they need her? If she was busy when they
called, she could wait a hour, a week, a year even, and still travel to the
point in time when they needed her!
This has been a consistent problem in how the Legion writers
treat time travel and it niggles me slightly. Edmond Hamilton is a better SF
writer than that. I can only assume he’s glossing over the more paradoxical
aspects in order to make it simpler for his audience. But I wish he wouldn’t.
It doesn’t detract from the story, though, because look,
I like how Curt Swan draws Supergirl; there’s an elegance to
his art which is very different to Jim Mooney’s (regular artist on Supergirl)
cartoony style and John Forte’s (usual artist on the Legion) stiff figures. And
he draws dynamic battle scenes that I don’t think Forte could ever pull off:
The story progresses with Supergirl trying desperately to
defeat Satan Girl before she kills the Legionnaires.
They are physically equal, so Kara tries to deduce who or
what Satan Girl is so she can find her weakness. She is apparently not Kryptonian
(though this turns out to be a cheat on Hamilton’s part, and a bit unfair on
readers trying to guess the answer) nor Daxamite, nor a super-powered android.
And worse, she seems to know Supergirl’s every thought, anticipating her every stratagem.
As usual for Hamilton’s stories, this one is packed with examples
of his wild imagination, presented as incidental, throw-away ideas just to lend
colour to the science-fiction setting. I love things like this:
What purpose do they serve in the story? None! They’re just
there as cool ideas, and I love that about Edmond Hamilton.
The other thing I like in this story is how Hamilton
repeatedly illustrates how Supergirl is orders of magnitude more powerful than
the other Legionnaires: single-handedly repairing their smashed space ship, flying
unaided through space far faster than the ship can follow, swiftly fashioning an
exotic ray gun from ores and chemical she digs out of the ground. Kryptonians
are so far above anyone else it boggles the mind.
Finally, at her wits’ end, and dying of kryptonite poisoning,
a random clue tells Supergirl that Satan girl’s powers don’t work on animals
(for an unspecified reason). So there’s only one possible solution:
Super-Pets and Supergirl in one story! Comics don’t get much
better than this!
With the Pet’s help, Satan Girl is subdued and Supergirl
saved from the kryptonite. And then we get the revelation of her secret
Satan Girl is an evil duplicate of Supergirl, caused by
exposure to red kryptonite! It’s like good Kirk and evil Kirk after a
transporter accident, but without the benefit of dark eye-shadow to identify
the evil one!
Just after this revelation, Satan Girl’s 48 hours are up and
she merges harmlessly back with Supergirl.
I really liked Satan Girl as a villain. It’s an interesting
way to have an adversary of Kryptonian-level power without it being yet another
escaped Phantom Zone villain, and the twist of her having Supergirl’s mind and
memories was a good one, neatly confounding Kara’s attempts keep her friends safe.
And although her methods were clearly evil, I can’t help feeling
sorry for her. Her motivation was believable and sympathetic:
Points that I think the story failed on were first the fake kryptonite immunity—explained away, but still a cheat for the readers—and second the fact that it felt like Kara didn’t earn
the victory. Oh yes, she worked hard for it, but the clue to Satan Girl’s defeat
was stumbled across at random, which seems like another cheat.
And Hamilton missed a
chance to use a classic paradox, where Satan Girl would only be created when
Supergirl travels into the future … in order to help stop Satan Girl! He almost does it, but ultimately opts for a non-paradoxical explanation, and again I suspect he’s doing it to keep things simple for his readers, which is a pity.
But the important thing to remember about this story is: