Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Super-Moby Dick Of Space & The Strange Anxieties Of The Legion Of Super-Heroes

Most if not all of us are inevitably going to snigger when we read the words "the Super-Moby Dick Of Space", and I doubt that there's any way to avoid doing so. Whether that's for literary or, perhaps more probably, scatological reasons, sniggering is simply bound to occur. And there is no denying that the Legion Of Super-Heroes feature in Adventure Comics #332 can seem to be a Big Dumb Comic, and yet that's not the half of it, and even that joyful dumbness has its own considerable virtues. Yet in contrast to the Marvel Comics which were also released in the May of 1965, writer Edmond Hamilton and artist John Forte's "awesomely mighty ... terror of all space" must have seen shockingly anachronistic. After all, this was the month in which Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's Spider-Man was shown being driven mad by Mysterio's psychoanalytical scheming, and in which Lee and Jack Kirby's original Avengers were replaced by a "kooky quartet" of second-string law-breakers. The conventions of the super-book were being vigorously shaken up with every new front-line issue published by what briefly really was The House Of Ideas, and to everyone but the youngest of readers, the Legion Of Super-Heroes must have seemed, for good or ill, the antithesis of Marvel's self-proclaimed Pop Art comics.

This week's post in The Year In Comics series over at Sequart - find it here, if you would - doesn't attempt to pretend that the Super-Moby Dick Of Space was anything other than an absurd, drama-deflating concoction. But there is an argument to make that there's a great deal of the modern-era Event Comic to be found in its pages, just as it's possible to recognise often-uncredited and even unsettling elements of social uncertainty and anxiety in the Legion tales of the first half of the Sixties.

Or; Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale...



  1. For years, I had a reprint of this story, yet I never noticed until now that the hyphen is (probably) in the wrong place. It should probably be "Super Moby-Dick."

    If the hyphen is between "Super" and "Moby," then the two halves of the famous proper name of the literary leviathan known as Moby Dick are seperated and the connection is somewhat minimized.

    I wouldn't mention it - hyphen misuse is rather common - but the resulting name of the space menace is kinda amusing. "Super-Moby" looks like an adjective and "Dick" becomes a noun.

    And I can easily imagine Colossal Boy or Ultra-Boy (Saturn Girl not so much) saying: "Watch out! He's not just a dick! He's a super-moby dick!"

    Excuse me while I go back to the top and actually read the post.

    1. Hello Hoosier X:- Yep, it's a comic which it is, as I said in the above, impossible not to snigger at. And the name is very much part of it, isn't it? That's one part of why I tried to steer as far away from the comedy of it in the Sequart piece, because nothing can match the comic itself. As you imply, you can read the story over and over again and there's still moments which bubble up which haven't been obvious before. You're of course quite right about the name. For me, I'd never grasped how macabre AND silly the scene on the planet of the metal people is, with Super-Moby flying down to snack on the aliens there. I went back and there was still all this wonderful STUFF on the page waiting to be recognised.

      Odd how much more inventive and imaginative it now seems when compared to all but the first division of the Marvel Comics of the era. And I'd take Super-Moby Dick over Fear Itself any day ......

    2. "Super-Moby Dick" over "Fear Itself"?

      Hell, yeah!

      Any darn day of the week!

      You'd have to be a SUPER super-moby dick not to see that!

    3. Hello Hoosier X:- It's true, isn't it? Any day of the week at all! And that's hardly nostalgia on my part. I didn't enjoy the Forte stories at all when I was kid. It's not a desire to retreat into kidhood which motivates my belief that the Hamilton/Forte stories are far more worthwhile than a great deal of modern-era pap.

      But - gosh - SUPER Super-Moby Dick must be so fearsome that he eats Sun-Eaters for mid-morning snacks ...

    4. Here's something I've been wondering about for years: If there is a Super-Moby Dick of Space that is known for harassing the Legion (and eating Lightning Lad's arm), is there also a Regular-Moby Dick of Space, who does something somewhat less villainous? (Maybe he, for example, designed Polar Boy's costume.)

      P.S. Sorry I have nothing but jokes today, Colin. I actually have a lot to do today. Thing is, I could get started on The Legion in this period and how much I love the work of John Forte (you also see him occasionally in proto-Marvel monster/horror books like "Tales of Suspense") and I would never stop. One of my favorite comic book epics of all time is the two-part Computo story, with the death (sort of) of Triplicate Girl, the solemn moment on Shanghalla (the planet of dead heroes), the Weirdo Legionnaire (I love the Weirdo Legionnaire!) and all manner of King Hell Capers.

      Cry havoc and let slip the super-moby dicks of war!

    5. Hello Hoosier:- Well, it's the Legion's doctor who names the creature, bless him, saying "But I fear it will devastate space-shipping the way Moby Dick did with ocean ships long ago!" His declaration gets a little confused, and it's unsure whether Moby Dick actually existed in the 19th century of Hamilton-continuity DC or not. So, although I love the idea of a fiendishly insensitive tailor of a monster, I suspect that the Regular-Moby Dick was actually Moby Dick. It all sounds very E. Nelson Bridwell, doesn't it?

      I very much doubt many folks will be looking fondly back on Fear Itself, just as few seem to regard the Crossing with any affection. There's a certain level of Rumpishness that means that a superhero comic just stays inert on the page, going though the motions without ever engaging upon the imagination. Those Hamilton/Forte stories are so alive with ideas and absurdities that they constantly generate questions for the reader. There's few creators today who aspire to that many ideas as well as that much silliness on the page, and that's a shame. At his best, Grant Morrison is out there, trying to smart and daft at the same time. Bless him, because for all some of his work passes me by, he's doing the right thing, and often doing it very well too.

  2. As a long-time LSH fan, and now have my own column Tales of a Silver Age Snob in my APA, I cant praise this story highly enough. The Silver Age has alwys held a special resonance for me, a more innocent time when the universe was simpler and more relevant, and this tale does that for me. Never mind all that space whale nonsense - early LSH tales do verge comfortably on the absurd and we're expected to run with it. This fulfills that perfectly; brushing aside its absolute lunacy of what the authorities are actually facing, we have Lightning Lad, in one of his early excursions into reckless behaviour that you just know [!] will inevitably lead into disaster displaying a real humanity here. Waking up in hospital to find his arm missing and even worse replaced by what looks like a tin-metal one mustve been horrific in the extreme, and therefore the previously superficial and remote teenage heroes are faced with real-world problems from then on. I had a teenage friend who lost an arm at 13 [not due to a super-space whale, I hasten to add] and had to face a prostetic limb, with all the problems that brought [and in those days, an artificial limb was pretty basic]. So Garth's situation seemed very real for me, as his stupidity caused him to lose his arm.
    But we also have the concept of vengeance, which for the Legionnaires happened quite often to them, a common teenage trait to strike out in anger, and again Garth demonstrated this very well. Of course Imra had to try and stop him in her 'she knows best' way, but the idea of dismemberment never went away in later LSH stories, with Garth losing again during the reboot and Vi losing hers during the Five Years Later arc.
    But never mind the introspection; these early stories are just wild and absurd sci-fi concepts without much concept and plenty of unintentional humour. I mean, who wants to be treated by medical personnel who look like that?!?

    1. Hello Karl:- That's a lovely expression of respect and love for The Super-Moby Dick Of Space, and indeed for all of the Legion comics of the era. I think, if I read you correctly, that I came to the Legion somewhat later than you, and those few years meant that I found it far more difficult to switch from the likes of the super-books of the lare Sixties to those of earlier years. Only a few years seperated one from the other, and yet the difference was often so marked. Forte's work was so different from the art I was used to that it essentially denied my ability to make any sense of it at all. And so I struggled for a very long time to find anything that I could celebrate in the Forte-illustrated tales, for example, although those pencilled by Curt Swan seemed more sympathetic to me. Yet over the past few years I've developed a huge admiration for those John Forte issues, and through that I've learned to admire Mr Hamilton's work too. I don't find it easy to disassociate the absurd from the - to me - compelling aspects of the stories, but that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy and admire those tales. In fact, I enjoy the clash between those two aspects of the narratives; it means that I'm both enjoying the stories as a reader would and yet forever asking questions of just what it is that I'm looking at too.

      I hope I've accentuated something of the virtues of thsse books. I very much didn't want to avoid the problems I have with these early LSH stories, and yet I did want to sign up how envigorating and intense they could be too. And those haunting scenes of failed civilisations which pepper the Hamilton/Forte stories are for me some of the most strangely unsettling of any to be found in the super-book. If I can't empathise with the characters from those years as you can, I can certainly value the tales they starred in very highly. And though my Legion is really the Bates/Cockrum and Levitz/Giffen eras, I've come to believe that in many ways the definitive Legion remains that of the Hamilton/Forte years.

      Which I never would have been able to imagine believing even just a few years ago ...

  3. I know almost nothing about the LSH (except I have seen many references over the years in various scholarship, esp. how it was unusually popular with girls), but am grateful for this opportunity to learn about this story.

    I have a friend whose dissertation is on Moby Dick. I'd love to be able to send him a reprint of this as a laugh. . . any clue on where one might be printed?

    1. Hello Osvaldo- The cheapest reprint that I can think of is that in Showcase Presents The Legion Of Super-Heroes Volume 2. It's in black and white, but much of the story's charm is intact. And it is great fun too!

      Legion fandom still contains an uncommonly large number of women, as the APA I contribute to can be used to prove, although the number of Legion fans has declined with the years. As with the X-Men during the 80s, it was a comic which really did reach beyond the typical blokeish fan.

    2. If $7.50 isn't too much, you can get a beat-up copy of the original on eBay!

      Do it!

  4. I can still remember when I first read this; it was reprinted in the back of on of those DC "Super-Spectaculars" in the early 1970s, along with the first Teen Titans story (sans wonder Girl) and possibly the Boy Commandos. The contrast between Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin's run-in with Mr. Twister and the Legion saga was extreme. The proto-Titans story was great fun, particularly the novelty (to young me) of seeing the sidekicks get together for the first time--great action and wisecracks, but little sense of danger. In the Legion tale, things happened that one simply didn't see in the other stories. A major ongoing character loses his arm--painfully!--in battle, and then seems to go off his rocker in search of vengeance. And in spite of the smiles at the end, which I was relieved to see, the guy's arm stayed gone for years! It was epic! That's really how I remember it: the titans had fun, while the Legion had a life-changing saga.

    With their adventures set a thousand years in the future, it was somehow okay for the Legionnaires to encounter greater dangers, and to be permanently affected by them. You discussed the resurrection of Lightning Lad; there was also the death of one of Triplicate Girl's bodies by Computo and Star Boy's trial and dismissal after killing in self-defense. And one could write a thesis on occasions in these stories when one hero or another seemed to go crazy--sometimes it was a ploy, but other times not: Last night I happened to be rereading a story that I think precedes this one, wherein Sun Boy becomes completely unhinged as he leads a rescue mission: he accuses other members of treason and leaves them to die in a life-boat. He's the villain of the story. One waits to find that it isn't him, or that he's been hypnotized by the Time Trapper or something--but no, he's just been overworked. The story ends, unconvincingly, with Sun Boy recovered with the aid of a "scalpel ray" that relieved pressure in his brain, and with a new rule stating that legionnaires must take a break after every five missions so that this doesn't happen again. Everybody smiles, but...on one hand, there's that optimistic futurism, where science (scalpel ray!) can quickly cure such an affliction. On the other hand, it's unsettling. It would be hard to sit across the cafeteria table from the guy who left you to die in space.

    The point is that in the Silver-Age Legion, more than in any of the comics it shared rack space with, any damned thing might happen! It's commonplace now, of course, for characters to be killed, maimed, and emotionally traumatized. It sure wasn't then.

    By the way, I wasn't old enough to snigger at the title "Super-Moby Dick of Space" when I first read it, and however cartoonish the whale-creature looked--very--it's appearance was counterbalanced by the sight of Lightning Lad's arm turning green, then removed, after his encounter with it. =Brrrr=

    I've dredged up 40-year-old memories, for whatever they're worth, than respond in detail to your own observations, but be assured I found the latter to be thought-provoking indeed. The blogosphere will be a much, much poorer place if you decide to stick to your original "three years and out" plan re this fine blog.


    1. Hello Mike:- One of the privileges of blogging is getting to share and exchange memories such as those of yours. It's not just that the whole process is both touching and enjoyable, but also because it generates ideas which help me see my own experiences in a different light. And so, to take but one example, you're quite right that the Legion of the period was far, far more likely to be extremely serious than the Titans, and that Hamilton and Seigel both were far more likely to be dealing with some genuinely heavy-duty matters than most teen books were. (To say 'heavy-duty' in the context of kid's comics isn't in any way to put those scripts down. Kid's fiction has a habit of working best, and speaking to an audience beyond that which it was aimed at, when it does deal with darker themes.) And although I did enjoy the early Titans stories, there was often a sense that there was less going on there than met the eye. Pennies drop, eyes open, now I can see what was and wasn't going on. Not that death and sacrifice etc has to be the headline issue in a text, but it helps if there's something going on in the text which isn't fluff. Not to replace the fluff, but to anchor and augment it. By the time the Titans started to take on serious "issues", much of the charm of the book has disappeared. It became VERY SERIOUS and therefore somewhat dull. If the early Legion suggests anything, it's that the daft and the meaningful aren't opposites, but part and parcel of the same business.

      I remember the Sun Boy story. In retrospect, it actually makes sense that those teens who be terribly traumatised. After all, they're constantly engaged in the most terrible conflicts in the most hostile of environments and there's nothing of support for them beyond each other. Not that I'm suggesting that Hamilton was writing a tale that was commenting on that, though he may well have been in a playful way for all I know. But his stories, like those of colleagues such as Kanigher, did focus on real-world human emotions, even as they were blown up into barely recognisable caricatures of themselves. The alienation and longing of the Subs, the stoicism of Mon-El, the Legion's obsessive desire to police their own rule and ostracize regulation-breakers; it's a much broader pallet of emotions and ideas than many later comics have been concerned with.

      "It would be hard to sit across the cafeteria table from the guy who left you to die in space."

      And of course part of the fun of Legion fandom was speculating on what REALLY happened in and after these stories. With the tales being on the one hand so dramatic and on the other so emotionally flat, and with few if any signs of previous events returning for all but a handful of characters such as Lightning Lad, the audience was left to imagine what was really going on. The best comics are often those which by chance or design leave space for the reader to collaborate with what's going on.


    2. cont;

      You're quite right, of course, to focus on the jeopardy which the Legion faced and the fact that it was often unpredictable and severe. And the world they moved around was often so disturbing; the different ways in which the people of the future attempted to bring the dead back to life in the wake of Lightning Lad's sacrifice were unsettling and suggested a universe of morbid alchemists far more than a super-scientific future. The contrast between the shiny pulp visuals and the fairy-tale content could be very effective, and I wish I'd brought that out more in the piece.

      Thank you for your kind words as well as your interesting ones. It's hard to come to terms with having written TooBusyThinking for more than two years now. But it's been good for my writing and helped me sneak into a few opportunities which I'd never have dreamed of being able to stumble into through these pieces. And it's been both enjoyable and heartening to make the acquaintance of generous folks such as your good self. At the moment, the three year/10 000 hour plan is still in place, because it's still paying dividends - and because I want to finish the job too! - but it will be, if and when it happens, a wrench to think about signing off here. And I never expected that either :)

  5. I came to the LSH around 1975ish, I was a Marvel man [well, boy; hey, Marvel Boy!] before that. It was around the late Seventies I started collecting all the old Adventure and Action comics featuring the LSH, plus the digest reprints. Thats how I came to fall hopelessly in love with the Silver Age and the delights of Forte, Sekowsky, Colan, Heck, Steranko and of course King Kirby...
    My early LSH experience was similar to yours, very Mike Grell orinetated. My first issue was the one with Soljer, the cop/soldier who came back to life thought he was fighting his war again [I remember him stabbing Phantom Girl, quite shocking for me at the time].
    Throughout the Nineties , I used to get a LSH Archives Edition every Xmas as a present - apart from the last one I now have the full set!
    But those Forte stories are evocatively moody; lost planets full of the strangest aliens, from giant-like children to entire robot civilisations to seeing planets devoid of what seems any life, after odd disasters. I always got the feeling the 30th century of Forte's was a quiet, nerveless place, full of the most curious oddities going on in the background. It was a curiously disconnected kind of science-fiction for young minds to process as each adventure made you wonder what would pop up next.

    1. Hello Karl:- Ah, well, my presumption about age was quite inaccurate. And as I was saying to Mikesensei in the above, it's always interesting to hear how others came to certain properties and how they became involved in some narratives and not others. One of the things which the late Sixties and the first half of the Seventies did which later eras haven't was, as you suggest, produce a huge amount of very cheap reprints, and they were often placed in comics - particularly with DC - where new stories of frontline characters appeared. Today the reprint is something for expensive editions produced for older readers, and although I do understand all the economic reasons for that, I think the sub-genre is considerably weaker for the loss of historical memory which that produces. By the time I was into my teens, I was familiar with the Kirby/Simon DC stories of the forties as well as the Fourth World, I knew my early-Sixties Marvel tales perhaps even better than I knew the undistributed contemporary titles. I've never seen it articulated before, but I wonder whether one of the reasons why today's market is so resistant of anything other than present-day styles is because its rarely exposed to them. It's more than just a little shame ... I too built up a run of Legion Archives over many years, and I've used them quite frequently here, but that's not the same thing as coming across reprints in 80 page giants and 52-pagers and learning to take the differences between the past and present in my stride. I may not have warmed to Forte's work for a long, long time, for he was and is a very idiosyncratic artist, but I learned about his work and accepted it as occupying a particular place in the development of the super-book. It was, in retrospect, a wonderful way of learning about the past.

      It's telling how many different responses there can be to Forte's work even amongst fans of his work. I found his work to be quite disturbing, and often for the very reasons you mention, and yet simultaneously ridiculous. Of course, a fusion of those two qualities is now something which I find quite beguiling.

  6. Oh, I'm going to enjoy this one ...

    1. Hello Martin:- Well, I hope so, but there was a great deal of having bitten off more than I can chew about it, I fear. Still, I hope there's an idea or two there, and it's always good to be able to speak well of Hamilton and Forte's work. Perhaps I might try to make the piece work better for the APA which we both contribute to ... :)

    2. Read, enjoyed and commented upon!

    3. Hello Martin:- I'll just finish off the column I've got to get in and then I'll be over to enjoy swapping words about the Legion with you. Thank you :)

  7. That's the first I've heard that the Legion of Superheroes had a lot of girl fans. It makes sense, in exactly the same way that the X-Men of the early 80s did too.

    Still, I've also seen the LSH described as a metaphor for the core obsessive fan community too. The describer didn't elaborate and while I can see his point, I'm wondering about the specifics of it: The elite club with complicated rules who are constantly ensuring that not too many people are allowed in. The elaborate backstories of a huge cast of characters that mean so much to the fans, but look a little silly to outsiders. The constant hand-wringing about continuity and reboots - the franchise for which the term Three-boot was coined no less!

    I love the Legion, in principle, but DC comics were hard to find in my part of the world. Occasionally I saw glimpses of Superboy's friends from the future and thought that was cool, and also just 'natural'. Of course he would have friends like that!

    So far the only stories I've read systematically are the first 2 Showcases, really as part of my Silver Age Superman Family reading. The stories are charming and fun, but I can't remember all the details of them and rave about them the way lifetime fans do. They probably lose a little in black and white. Perhaps the lack of colour also makes it harder for me to start to tell the characters apart and engage with them as individuals. Thinking back now, the character I liked the most has to be Night Girl of the Replacement Legion. They were a plucky gang!

    I've been overdosing on often extremely disappointing 21st Century comics for the last few years (The local library has so many of them collected!) and now find myself looking at further LSH and Supergirl Showcases to read as I think about winding down my engagement with current Big Two comics.

    I'm looking forward to reading the Super-Moby story again, and then checking out your commentary.

    1. Hello Figserello:- It's often forgotten today that Legion fandom was a substantial and influential grouping right into the eighties. In many ways, it was the Legion fans who set the scene for modern fandom. I recall attending a Con in London around the time of the 5-Years-Forward reboot and being pleasantly, inspiringly surprised to find that there were still very smart and engaged female Legion fans around opening up interesting debates.

      Of course, the Legion of the period can be read as compromising a welcoming elite or an exclusive Fraternity. I tried to touch on this, and it's a conflict which again makes the stories rather unsettling. Combine that with the depth of the continuity - which reboots have done nothing to deal with, although they've undermined much of its appeal - and, yes, the Legion can be off-putting. The truth is that the Legion is really the "Justice League" or "Avengers" a future universe, but the problem is that there's few other books to share in the universe-building. For the Legion to really work, it needs an Ultra Boy title and a Legion Espionage Squad and so on, just as the JLA draws off the solo adventures of its members. Instead, the Legion is a book that has to carry an incredibly complex continuity pretty much in its own pages, and that's just almost impossible to do. I do believe that it could be done, but it would be a tough job to do. Sadly, those endless reboots have pretty much destroyed alot of people's interest in the title without producing a notably simpler title; no matter how the title is rebooted, it's still a huge cast of characters carrying a fantastically complex backstory with them. Yet by constantly throwing out the past, DC have elbowed out a great many of those who don't have an emotional connection with the revamps, while never managing to produce a comic which is immediately understandable to outsiders. It's a terrible shame, and it's not one which DC seems to be able to learn from. Reboot after reboot has done little for the company since Crisis, and, as predicted here as well as in many places elsewhere, the New 52 hasn't produced the promised line-wide boost in readership. The initial surge has seen the rump settle themselves in a narrow range of titles, most of which - GL and Batman - were already doing well before the reboot. As nearly always with these situations, the rich heritage of a continuity established by a range of creators over time is replaced by a jerry-rigged take which inevitably starts to creak once a month or two has passed.

      I think that raving about the older stories may well, as you suggest, rely on being exposed to them to a degree when younger. They were so different, and that's especially true to those who came across them while also being exposed to the Marvel comics of the period. Certainly colour helps, because the colours of the costumes were actually key in helping establish one character as being distinct from another! However, I'm glad you generated a fondness for the Subs. Is there anyone who doesn't like the Subs? And of course, Night Girl was cool and that's the end of it.

      Those thin 21st century comics come from an industry set on cutting its own throat, I fear. It's a terrible shame. Three cheers for those who resist the process of grim'n'gritty, faux-widescreen homogenisation. A bucket of stinky space-fish for those who only want to be hailed by the Flakkers of the Rump.

      Well, if there's a Super-Moby Dick, there HAS to be space-fish.

    2. Just read your piece. Really enjoyable, and I'm glad of the excuse to reread that tale.

      I'm the type of reader that gets more out of a text if I have good criticism of it on hand to open it up a bit.

      I missed in my Showcase that Ligntning Lad's arm went green! That was probably something of a shock for young readers.

      Leafing through the Showcase, I realised that these collections are a mixed blessing. I did read the whole of the second volume, and really enjoyed it, but very little of it stuck. That's not a criticism of the stories themselves, but probably comes from the fact that they weren't meant to be read 6-7 at a time. They are full of incident and intense drama, but reading a whole series of stories at that pitch kind of negates the effect.

      I can see that much of the attraction people have for these stories stemmed from how they engaged with the spaces in the narrative, and discussed them in the weeks between issues!

      The MiS Adam Strange stories have a lot in common with the LSH, don't they, in terms of the clean-cut utopian Sci-Fi setting barely concealing existential anxieties about holocaust and, in his case, invasion.

    3. Hello Figsrello:- Thank you for taking a look at the post, and for speaking generously about it.

      Your point about the function of - for want of a different word - 'criticism' is one I've been thinking alot about recently. The Blogosphere often seems to think of criticism as a matter of agreement or disagreement, as if a good and/or valid critic is only worthy of attention if they reinforce pre-existing beliefs. But I don't want criticism to make me feel that my beliefs are right, and my favourite critics are contrarians who I rarely agree with about anything. As you say, criticism that's helpful opens up a text, but to want it to rather close it up and stamp it with a reassuring "Reader-you-were-right" mark seems to me to miss the point entirely.

      I do agree with you about the curate's egg nature of the Showcases starring the Legion. That's particularly true when the tales come from other titles beyond Adventure, where the Legion tended to used in far lighter ways. (That's not always so, of course, but as a rule of thumb.) But as individual and intense tales, they're splendid. Unlike most of today's stories, which often seem to have been written to be read in a second, Hamilton and Seigel wrote stories which were designed to deliver a significant measure of value in themselves.

      On your point about the "spaces in the narratives"; yes, you're quite right, and how telling that in today's market, where those spaces are all mostly avoided or explained away, there's far few readers getting involved. (I notice a contradiction in my own thinking there, because Jonathan Hickman's work, which I struggle with, does leave those spaces, to use your shorthand. Mmmmmmmm .... more thinking on my part needed there, I fear.)

      And yes, those Adam Strange tales do indeed share those anxieties, although the parallel had missed me until your mentioned it. Mind you, it shouldn't have; Alan Moore's wonderful two-part tale of the Swamp Thing on Rann exploited exactly that point!

  8. The first thing that occurred to me in looking at the panels you posted was "What a waste! Think of the visceral thrill you could generate by changing angles and making SMD more terrifying! How senseless to create a concept so ripe for exciting visuals and depict it in a flat, silly, non-threatening fashion! Oh, how Kirby would have done it! A monstrous SPACE WHALE OF DOOOOOOOM!"

    But, as you point out, the story told with cooled-down visuals is one that a more lurid approach couldn't tell. If the monster were frightening to the reader, it would change our reaction to Lightning Lad's thirst for vengeance, as well as our acceptance of the story's outcome. The story would be far less about a good man gone around the bend by tragedy and far more about scary monsters. Interplay between the Legion was the heart of the story, not a monstrous SPACE WHALE OF DOOOOOOOM!, and the published art fit that accordingly.

    We don't see Ahab's mauling in Moby-Dick either. That part's not important. The story is the obsession, not the monster.

    Though I would love to see a Kirby monstrous SPACE WHALE OF DOOOOOOOM!. Or Gil Kane's.

    Didn't Ultra Boy's origin involve being swallowed by a giant space whale? Whole lotta space whales out there in the thirtieth century, I gather. Come to think of it, "Outer Space as the Greatest Ocean" is a nifty metaphor that isn't used enough these days.

    1. Hello Harvey:- I do love the idea of, as you say, a monstrous SPACE WHALE OF DOOOOOOOM! which isn't the point of the story. And of course in the difference between the story obsessed with monsters and their fearsome bity-ness and the Legion's avoidance of such lies a major difference between then and now. Since the Super-Moby Dick wasn't as fearsome as it was supposed to be, the universe could be returned to a status quo that was beneficient. The status quo at the end of Fear Itself is one of death, disaster and blah-blah-blah. There's no normality to return to in the modern era, which is another reason not to worry too much about those books.

      I think every artist of consequence should gave had to produce a monstrous SPACE WHALE OF DOOOOOOOM!story. I do have a terrible idea that Rob Leftfeld's version of the Super-Moby Dick would be just like Forte's, but with drool ..

      You're quite right about Ultra Boy. That's one of the most endearing aspects of Hamilton's story for this issue. He plucks Jo Nah out of the background, has him swallowed up, and moves on. Ultra Boy's own terrible experiences set up what will happen to Lightning Lad if he screws up.

      I have a terrible sense that I know just about everything that can be found in the space epics of the 21st century. Against that backdrop, the wonders of Space-Whales seem all the more enticing ...

      Outer Space As The Greatest Ocean? I like it! Let's have Space-Aquaman riding into battle on Super-Moby Dick's back. The sub-text alone could power years and years of tales ...

  9. If nothing else, John Forte's artwork (which I liked in the Bizarro World stories) reminds me of Sal Buscema or Richard Case dutifully bringing to life the wilder, wackier ideas in Steve Gerber's Defenders and Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, respectively. One of the things I've always liked in comics is the.communication between script and art. I would love to see Kirby' s interpretation of the story. I'd love to see the Neal Adams version, with the realism and experimentation screaming "DRAMA!" I'd love to see what Mike Allred would do with the story, or Marcos Martin or Francis Manapul or Art Adams or Jeff Smith... While I wouldn't want an entire series of comic book remakes, I think the occasional "cover version" of less famous older stories (maybe as 10 page back-up strips) could be fun.

    - Mike Loughlin

    1. Hello Mike:- We've discussed those wonderful Bizarro World before, haven't we? How dumb must I have been, to miss out on Mr Forte's work for so long. As for your choice of journeymen - a phrase which was anything but derogatory until modern mangling - such as Buscema and Case, the comics industry is poorer for their absence in any great number. True, Mr Buscema's work could be terrible generic, but as he himself has said, that's what he was being paid to do; it was his skill at storytelling which Marvel valued and he was encouraged to charge through a mass of work in order to exploit that ability. I've read many stories in which Steve Gerber praised SB's contributions to the skies in relation to those Defenders stories. I'll take the bare bones of the storytelling over the flash anytime.

      I would love to be rich enough to commission a gaggle of artists to each produce a version of the Super-Moby Dick. I'd go much further than you in wanting to see such a thing :) I recall my very first lesson with my secondary school's art teacher, in which, after setting the first homework, he discussed how a thousand creators would produce a thousand quite different works. It was one of those "gosh" moments which has always stuck in my mind, one of those no-doubt often-trawled-out phrases which he used which worked with my 12 year-old self. I've always wanted to see all the different ways in which a single assignment could be interpretated ...