It’s half an excellent issue. The first story is a big success, an And Then There Were None type mystery set at a research hospital on Mercury. It’s the done-in-one feature. The second story’s a little shorter, but with the cliffhanger. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of bad. The writing’s not terrible, but the art falls apart during the big fight scene, and the story can’t recover. The pacing’s all off.
What’s strange is both stories have half the same art team; Joe Staton pencils the feature, and he pencils the backup. Only on the feature, he’s got Dick Giordano inking, which makes the art look nearer Gil Kane or Carmine Infantino than anything else, and quite good. The expressions on Phantom Girl are terrible, but otherwise, the art’s aces. On the backup, Murphy Anderson inks Staton. While Anderson’s inks aren’t Giordano’s by any stretch, they’re better than last time. But once the action starts, Staton’s layouts start crapping out, and Anderson’s inks aren’t any help. It’s fascinating to see the two examples of different inkers consecutively, but it would’ve been much better if Giordano had inked both stories.
Paul Levitz gets a credit on both: the feature’s plot and the backup’s script. Len Wein scripts the feature. It’s a good mystery with a solid sense of humor. It opens with a mini-mystery—the Legion lost track of Karate Kid after the previous issue’s big battle, and it turns out he’s in the medical lab on Mercury. Except people only go there when they’ve got a terminal disease. It’s unclear why the lab is on Mercury—the doctors are insect people who aren’t native to the planet—so maybe part of the research involves saunas.
After the heroes discover what Karate Kid’s actually doing there, one of the doctors asks if they can investigate missing persons. Insects, actually. It becomes an engaging mix of mystery and action, with the solution not entirely unexpected but well-told. Wein’s got great pacing and does an excellent job with the investigating without feeding the reader red herring. There are actual good clues throughout.
It’s an impressive story; as I was reading it, I kept hoping it’d somehow go on for the whole issue, even though a cover blurb promised the backup. So I hoped they’d have Giordano inking on it too.
The second story is about how Legion villains The Fatal Five accidentally reformed and started shepherding a developing planet. Naturally, they want to join the Federation or the Union or whatever it’s called. Except no one trusts them because they call themselves the Fatal Five, so the Legion has to go investigate this new planet.
Superboy leads the team.
Levitz also structures it as something of a mystery, but not as well as Levitz does in the feature; the two stories contrast on multiple levels.
There’s an okay reveal (kind of out of “Star Trek”) and then a big action scene. The action’s not good. It’s also a dramatically inert action sequence and probably reductive (we won’t find out until next issue).
So half a good comic. But, wow, what a good first half.