Adventure Comics #316
‘The Renegade Super-Hero’
By Edmond Hamilton and John Forte
This is a shocker! According to the cover and splash page, Ultra Boy has turned bad! Can it be true? Well, I guess I’ll have to keep reading and find out.
The story opens with Superboy flying to the future to attend an important ceremony (and saying ‘I’ll have to return quickly to ... my own time’, which is ridiculous as he can time travel and so return whenever he wants; but I’ll not get into that rant again).
We get some images of the Legionnaires practicing their powers, and we learn that they’re making a gold statue to honour Proty, who sacrificed himself to save Lightning Lad. It’s nice that this is referenced—it gives a sense of continuity to the series, and reminds us that in this comic things can happen that have lasting repercussions (unlike, say, in Superman or Batman where they can’t change so everything has to be reset at the end of the story).
As Ultra Boy is the featured character, he recaps his origin for us. Actually, is this a recap? I can’t remember it being told before. Anyway, he got his powers when his space-speedster was swallowed whole by a giant ‘energy beast’, and the creature’s radiation changed him. The funny thing is that his real name is Jo Nah—and he was swallowed by a giant beast. Get it? It’s almost like he was predestined to suffer that fate!
Hmm, is it just me or is Phantom Girl a bit keen on Ultra Boy?
Nope, not just me, Saturn Girl has noticed it too!
But then, shock, while investigating the criminals, there’s a terrible discovery:
Oh dear, that’s going to upset Phantom Girl.
Yep, thought so.
So the Legion vote to expel Ultra Boy because he’s an escaped criminal and plan to turn him over to the police, and obviously he makes a run for it.
Sorry, I’m going to go back to talking about Phantom Girl here.
There has been so little romance in the comic before this (a hint of something between Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, but that might just be me reading too much into things) that this is quite surprising. But they’re clearly more than team-mates.
That’s something else that makes this comic stand out. Super-heroes as soap opera! You can’t imagine that type of thing in Batman, can you?
So, back to Ultra Boy. I’m conflicted here, because he makes valid points about trying to do right for years, so he’s clearly a reformed character, but still he’s an escaped criminal, so he’s still got a sentence to serve. You can sympathise with him, but still you know that the Legion are in the right here.
And back to the continuity notes: there’s an interesting flashback to an earlier adventure on Puppet World, when Ultra Boy saved Sun Boy’s life. The Legion were on Puppet World in Adventure Comics #313, the Satan Girl story, but that scene never happened in the story! This is something that must have happened off-panel ,while we were focussing on Supergirl fighting Satan Girl. That’s a really neat piece of retroactive continuity (that’s a new term I just made up—do you think it will catch on?).
We now follow Ultra Boy as he hides from the Legion and has an encounter with some alien monsters, and again we see that he is truly is a reformed character, intent on doing good deeds even while on the run (you could probably make an entire TV series out of a premise like that).
There’s also an interesting reference back to a recent Supergirl story in Action Comics (published the month before this comic). And more consistency with facts established in earlier stories: Ultra Boy remember that Mon-El’s people are master biophysicists. This issue is really a marvel of continuity, making you feel as if you’re in one big, interconnected story.
I’m enjoying all this immensely, and then in the last couple of pages the story falls flat on its face, as in a rushed climax we learn that it’s all been a trick by Ultra Boy in order to capture some powerful aliens. It’s really not a good ending at all—oh, yes, I’m happy that Ultra Boy is exonerated, but it’s all wrapped up too quickly, his plan doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and it all feels like a bit of an anti-climax. It reminds me of the nonsensical, capricious plotting Jerry Siegel brought to the Legion a couple of years ago, and generally Edmond Hamilton has been much better than that.
But other than the disappointing ending, this has been a fantastic story, with great characterisation, plenty of Hamilton’s inventive SF ideas, and some moments of genuine drama. So on balance, another ‘hit’ from the Hamilton-Forte team!