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Adventure Comics 342
"The Legionnaire Who Killed!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND I feel like a change from Charlton (although I might get around to reviewing HERCULES #1) so here's a favorite Legion story of mine from one of their "classic" eras.

March 1966; DC Comics; Mort Weisinger, editor; lead story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes in "The Legionnaire Who Killed!", script by Edmond Hamilton, art by Curt Swan and George Klein. On the cover, Star Boy stands on an alien planet landscape, holding a corpse in his arms, and protesting, "It's true I KILLED this outlaw...but it was SELF-DEFENSE!" But the trio of accusers pointing fingers at him aren't having any; "That's no excuse, Star Boy! When you used that deadly weapon, you BROKE the LEGION CODE!" Dream Girl (who is Star Boy's girl friend and not even a Legionnaire herself at this point) says, "You've killed ONCE...you'll kill AGAIN!" while Superboy delivers the verdict, "You're expelled! We don't want TRIGGER-HAPPY members in the Legion!"

On the splash page, however, Superboy's role is reversed, as he is defense counsel rather than accuser and judge. He tries to reassure Star Boy as a Legionnaire jury watches a replay of the scene where Star Boy shot a man to death....but the Boy of Steel has his private doubts; "How can I win his case? The prosecution has clearly proved he's GUILTY!"

It's a quiet day at Legion Headquarters with some down time for most of the Legionnaires, as Phantom Girl tries out "the Shurg, the latest dance craze on the planet Shanda", Superboy and Brainiac 5 play "Spaceopoly," and an assortment of other Legionnaires play the 30th century equivalent of spin the bottle..."having the big computer decide who'd have the most fun kissing whom! It's a riot!" Star Boy is invited to participate, but shies away...he's carrying a torch for Dream Girl, the girl with prophetic powers, who joined the Legion briefly under false pretenses in an earlier issue and then quit. Before taking off to visit his parents on another planet, Star Boy participates in the Legion ritual of interviewing prospective new members; this time the rejected applicants are Calamity King, whose bad-luck powers collapse a stone pillar-- "No thanks! A jinx we don't need!"-- and Color Kid, whose power to change the color of anything earns the consolation prize of a suggestion to join the second-string Legion of Substitute Heroes.

Leaving to meet his parents on the "primitive planet" Karak, Star Boy finds they have left already, though an explorer named Jon Barth is still on hand. Then a small spaceship lands, and a man armed with shield and ray-gun emerges. Jon Barth tries to draw his own ray-gun, but is shot dead by the newcomer, who, standing under an alien tree, reveals that his name is Kenz Nuhor and his mission is to kill Star Boy, who is his rival for the love of Nura Nal (Dream Girl). Star Boy attempts to use his power of making objects super-heavy against Nuhor, but Nuhor's special shield reflects the power, causing Star Boy himself to collapse to the ground. He sees only one way to save himself; he seizes Barth's ray-gun and shoots Kenz Nuhor dead. The act is witnessed by Dream Girl, who had come after Star Boy in her own spaceship to warn him of Nuhor's revenge plot.

Back on Earth, Star Boy is quickly cleared of any legal charges with the help of Dream Girl's testimony, as his act is found by the Science Police to be justifiable self-defense. But upon returning to Legion Headquarters, he finds, "Hey! What's bugging you, buddies? You all look as grim as a hangman with a headache?" Grim, indeed; the Legion's Mission Monitor Board has recorded Star Boy's actions on Karak, and now, despite his acquittal by the law, leader Brainiac 5 declares that Star Boy must stand Legion court-martial for breaking the Legion Code against all killing. Brainiac 5 declares it his duty to act as prosecutor, and appoints Saturn Girl to serve as judge. Superboy volunteers as defense counsel (contradicting his stand on the cover). Asked by Saturn Girl why he wants to defend Star Boy, Superboy replies, "Because I feel the Legion Code should be amended to permit Legionnaires to take life for the purpose of SAVING life! Mon-El and I are invulnerable...but you others aren't, and should have the right of self-defense!"

As the trial begins, Star Boy and Dream Girl testify, and then Brainiac 5 cross-examines Star Boy; "You claim there was no other way to save yourself but to kill your assailant?" "There was absolutely no other way. If I hadn't done it, I'd have been dead in the next few seconds! " B5 goes on to recount various incidents in which other Legionnaires saved themselves from death without taking life, but Star Boy continues to insist in his particular circumstance he had no other choice. Then Braniac 5 presents a mock-up exhibit of Kenz Nuhor's death scene, including Nuhor, the fallen Star Boy, and the alien tree under which Nuhor was standing when he was killed. Brainy directs Star Boy to direct his weight-increasing power at the tree model. He does so-- and the limbs of the "tree" fall and topple the Nuhor model. Star Boy could have done the same with the real tree, causing the branches to fall and pin down Nuhor without killing him, B5 declares. Superboy for the defense is dismayed; "Star Boy really could have done that, if he'd thought of it! This testimony will convict him, unless I find some defense against it!"

Placed in Legion detention as the trial is recessed, Star Boy is visited by Dream Girl, who remains loyal and tells Star Boy that Superboy is engaging in "super-fast research" to find a defense. Star Boy asks Dream Girl to use her future-reading power to tell if he will be acquitted, but she refuses to do so; "If the verdict is against you, I don't want to know till it happens!" Star Boy wonders if she is telling the truth or if she has seen the future and is hiding the bad news. Meanwhile, Superboy researches past Legion missions and at last he finds something he thinks will be useful. As the court-martial resumes, the entire Legion is in attendance, with those who are on distant planets and even other times observing and participating by means of the Monitor Board. As the trial resumes, Superboy makes his plea for the Legion Code to be changed to allow killing in self-defense.... and claims there is another precedent besides Star Boy's action. Who else killed in self-defense? "None other than Brainiac 5, the very prosecutor in this court-martial!" Superboy shows a recording of an incident on the planet Arnak in whch Brainiac 5 shot down an attacker. But B5 is able to show that the attacker was an unliving robot, and that he, Brainiac, knew this in advance, thereby nullifying Superboy's point-- and leaving him with no further defense for Star Boy. As a last-ditch measure, Superboy persuades the shape-changing creature Proty to imitate an attacking "scorpion beast" right in the courtroom, hoping that Brainiac 5 or some other Legionnaire will try to kill it. But B5 recognizes that it is not a real scorpion beast because its fangs are not dripping acid, and the ploy fails. Then Brainiac 5 makes a surprise turnabout, agreeing with Superboy's position that the anti-killing code ought to be changed to permit self-defense. But this will not help Star Boy, for "No change that MAY be made in the future alters the fact that Star Boy broke the Code as we have it NOW! I call for the extreme penalty...EXPULSION from the LEGION!" Superboy makes his final plea; "Will you expel Star Boy...shatter his career...just because he defended himself against a ruthless murderer? Think..YOU may be in that position yourselves some day! I ask you to acquit him!" And then all that is left is the vote of the full Legion membership to convict or acquit.

As the votes come in, at first it looks good for Star Boy; "Almost all the girls are on your side because of your romance with Dream Girl!" (Not very complimentary to the female Legionnaires, assuming they can be swayed from strict justice by such irrelevant sentimentality.) Superboy himself and Mon-El also favor Star Boy's cause because of his vulnerability compared to their invulnerability. But the balance shifts, and as the last votes come in-- including votes cast across time by Supergirl and honorary member Jimmy Olsen-- the final result is 10 to 9 for conviction. "And in one of the darkest moments of all Legion history," Star Boy walks out of Legion headquarters past his former comrades, as Phantom Girl casts her eyes downward; "I..I can't bear to see his face as he leaves...none of us can...." Leaving the headquarters, Star Boy is stunned; "No more palling around with the Super-Heroes...I'm all alone!" Not so, Dream Girl tells him; she is still at his side, and he has a new set of allies as well, as the Legion of Substitute Heroes has offered membership to both of them. Flying away with the Subs in their spaceship, Star Boy casts his last look at Legion Headquarters, but Dream Girl urges him, "Don't look back, Star Boy...look ahead...we have new careers before us...a new life...together!"

The story was controversial in future lettercols, with most readers disagreeing with the vote to boot Star Boy (and one arguing that Jimmy Olsen shouldn't have gotten to vote-- he's just "honorary" and a flake anyway-- and therefore Star Boy should have been acquitted on an even vote). And of course, Star Boy was readmitted to the senior Legion, along with Dream Girl, in a later issue (#351, I think). Despite the fairly quick reversal of the verdict, the story was unusual and memorable in that Star Boy really was expelled, in contrast to many earlier stories in which Legionnaires were charged with various crimes but it all turned out to be "a hoax, a dream, or an imaginary story".

The issue also features a "Hall of Fame" Superboy reprint, "The Boy Who Betrayed Clark Kent!" in which Clark allows Smallville newcomer Pete Ross to befriend him but fears that Pete is trying to pry into his secrets and discover his identity as Superboy, until he learns that Pete only thinks Clark would be the right person to *play* Superboy in a school pageant. Pete Ross would of course become a regular in the Superboy series, later actually discovering Clark's secret but not letting on to Clark himself that he knew... and today the character is still around (albeit changed from blond and blue-eyed to African-American) in the SMALLVILLE TV series.