Mythmaking ETC is a weekly column about comics books and related pop culture, primarily focused on comics published during the 1980s and ’90s. Check out the column index for past installments, subscribe via RSS, send an e-mail and follow Mythmaking ETC on Twitter!
“Space Circus of Death!”
Gerry Conway / Ric Estrada / John Calnan / Gene D’Angelo
For many years, the Legion of Super-Heroes were tied to Superboy and did not adventure without a young Kal-El accompanying, but all that changed in issue 259. Superboy departed and the Legion were left to fend for themselves in the 30th century. Writer Gerry Conway’s first story for this newly Kent-less band of 30th Century super-kids involves, of all things, a space circus. To be more specific, a “Space Circus of Death!” as the title of issue 261 goes.
Last issue found the Legion discovering that the Bacaro Barley Interstellar Circus was not exactly a safe place to perform. That part of our tale was depicted by Joe Staton, but this time out we’ve pencils by Ric Estrada. Normally, a change in artists mid-story, especially between those of different styles, makes this man moody, but Estrada’s art has such a unique flavor, the swap proves a welcome one. Would that he would stick around, but such it not the case; it seems that a regular artist was a rare thing at this stage in the Legion’s history: a letter published in this issue even complains about the problem.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got 17 pages of Ric Estrada art to enjoy before we move on.
Thankfully, those pages conclude the storyline concerning Aton Gissark and his circus planetoid. That’s not as much of a criticism as it might sound like: I merely think two issues is sufficient and I’m relieved the next installment of Legion of Super-Heroes will bring something new. Who wants to read about circuses in a science-fiction comic for ages and ages?
Fortunately, for two issues, the concept of a futuristic big top proves entertaining enough, especially since we have a murder mystery on our hands or, rather, on the many hands of the Legion. Our favorite 30th Century heroes are on-hand at the Barcaro Barley Interstellar Traveling Carnival and Sideshow to investigate the death of several of its members, including Imik, a native of the circus’ home world of Cyngus IV, who, until his demise at the beginning of the issue was a suspect. Back to the drawing board, eh?The shadowy figure seen lurking in… well, the shadows at the end of last issue continues with the sneaking about, until Timber Wolf, having had enough, tackles said figure and it turns out to be not only shadowy, but masked as well. The killer, as it is quite clear the figure is the perpetrator of the deaths about Bacaro Barley by this point, manages to escape. This occurs on page 7 of 17 story pages, after all. What do you want, more Hostess ads?
Instead of too many Twinkies, we get an investigation of the third of three suspects that Brainiac 5 identified last issue, a strange creature named Tyrus. It should be noted that Tyrus’ shape looks nothing like that of the masked figure, so the whole sequence comes off as a bit perfunctory. Yet, remember: there are pages to fill. At least these ones are filled with Ric Estrada art; it could be worse.In the end, the reveal of the killer elicits little surprise since we’ve spent several pages during these two issues systematically eliminating all the other suspects. Nevertheless, the final confrontation involves a fun use of Princess Projectra’s powers (proving, I suppose that her moniker was not derived from attributes of her costume) and, I repeat, Estrada’s art provides good value for your dollar (or 40 cents if you bought this in 1980); the rest is just gravy… maybe not the best gravy, but gravy nonetheless. So when the murderer’s confession amounts to essentially a direct inversion of his reasons for bringing his circus to the United Planets in the first place… ah, spoiler. Well, I did warn of such in the column header.
Speaking of admissions, I’ve one of my own to make. In general, I avoid looking too far ahead into the upcoming issues of comics read for Mythmaking ETC. After reading this issue, I looked ahead to find out how much longer Gerry Conway would be writing Legion of Super-Heroes. Ironically, these last two issues of this title are probably the best story I have read by him, but I wanted to remind myself of when Paul Levitz would be taking over. Well, it turns out that it will be awhile, about twenty issues or so… but at least we’ve got some different artists, including Steve Ditko, as well as some writing contributions from J.M. Dematteis and Roy Thomas along the way.