Monday, January 10, 2011

The Legion: The Great Darkness Saga, part 1

Legion of Super-Heroes #290 (August 1982)
"And the Servant Shall Be A Sign..."
Writer: Paul Levitz
Artists: Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt

Karen: We said we'd review more Legion stories, so here we are. The Great Darkness Saga is one of the best-known Legion tales. I remember when this story was coming out, how exciting it was -even though I knew almost nothing about Kirby's Fourth World at this point. It was obvious something big was happening, and Legion felt very dramatic and exciting.

Doug: This was a review that we'd planned to run way back in the summer. Karen has the comics, but I quit buying Legion way-back-when with issue #259 -- the departure of Superboy from his own book! So, I figured I'd just snag a copy of the tpb. I had no idea it had gone out of print, but did find out that there was a hardcover collection in the offing. So, having picked that up back on December 15, we're now ready to roll. By the way, the Deluxe Edition of the Great Darkness Saga has quite a few extras. First off, it starts out with Legion of Super-Heroes #284, and also includes Annual #1. There are some additional character re-designs by Keith Giffen, and a copy of one of the scripts Paul Levitz wrote. At only $40 msrp, notably cheaper online, it's a solid investment for you Legion fans.

Doug: I also knew very little about Darkseid and the whole Fourth World universe when I was a kid -- I don't think I really had any knowledge at all of it until after I began collecting comics again in the mid-'80's.

Karen: Our story starts with Leg
ionnaires Superboy, Wildfire, Phantom Girl, Cosmic Boy, and the new Invisible Kid investigating an attack on the Museum of Mystic Arts -whose curator, Antonio Stefanacci, looks very much like a certain sorcerer supreme. This mysterious, dark attacker returns and pretty much kicks the Legion's butts. He takes off through a portal that appears in thin air with a powerful mystic wand. There's something very familiar about this creature - it wears a cape, and has a distinctive chest symbol. Hmmm...

Doug: I think the only one of these minions I figured out was the last one
, and that was only because of the distinctive device on which he flew. Like I said, I'm just Fourth World dense...
Karen: Stefanacci tells the Legionnaires that there's been a crime wave of thefts of mystic artifacts, so the Legion heads to England to protect the sword Excalibur! There they encounter another creature; this one looks nothing like the previous one. It has a huge head and spindly body. The Legionnaires fail to stop this being too.

Doug: Question -- w
ouldn't Superboy have been powerless in the presence of these "mystic" artifacts? And I'll say one thing for all of these gatherers -- Giffen sure draws them U-G-L-Y! Hey, I liked in the scene at the Tower of London that there was a Thanagarian policeman, and I also thought one of the creatures in the crowd looked an awful lot like the guy that was on Space Phantom!

Karen: We then get an interlude back at Legion
HQ, where Lightning Lad is suffering from some strange electrical anomaly of the brain. While his sister Light Lass sits by his side, his wife Saturn Girl is dealing with Timber Wolf. There's been some sexual tension between the two, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by their comrades.

Doug: Yeah, I went backwards in the hardcover to see what the heck had gone on while Timber Wolf and Imra were on whatever asteroid they were referring to. Near as I can tell, in Legion #289, there was a moment when it was believed that she would never see Lightning Lad again, and TW wouldn't see Light Lass again, either. There was some close proximity, when Saturn Girl related that once when she'd looked into Ayla's eyes, she could tell how much Brin cared for her. Imra told Brin that although she loved Garth with all her heart, she knew she could never get the sort of love from him that Ayla got from Brin. There was an embrace -- no kiss -- and all of sudden Dawnstar brought an injured Ayla down i
n the midst of this. I guess the jealousies grew out of the innuendo of the embrace.

Karen: The master of the dark servants appears, in shadow mostly. He rants and raves about spreading his darkness across the universe. Again, at this time I was not a huge DC fan, so I didn't know who this ominous figure was...although I'm betting regular DC readers sure did.

Doug: But didn't you think the silhouette morphed somewhat? I only thought when we saw a headshot that it was Darkseid.

Karen: Yeah, I agree, and wha
t was up with that bizarre costume? I'm certainly not a Darkseid expert, but I don't think he's ever worn anything like that before. I guess they were just trying to throw the readers off. We get another attempt by the servants of darkness to steal another artifact, and this time the Legion manages to capture one of them. They return with her to Legion HQ. Meanwhile the other servant returns to his master with another prize, which appears to vastly increase his power. This issue is of course mostly build up. We know something big is going to happen, but it ain't happening just yet.
Karen: I have to admit, I'm not a fan of Giffen's art - and this was in his more conventional period! Maybe it's the inks; it's just very thin and insubstantial looking to me. And everyone has a line down the side of their face -I suppose for shading, but it just looks weird. I much prefer the work Jim Sherman and Mike Nasser had done prior to this.

Doug: I don't care for Giffen's pencils, either, and I was very happy to see that this story predated the really weird stuff he'd do once
the Legion went to Baxter paper and the whole team aged to adulthood. I thought the storytelling was pretty straightforward -- not a lot of risks in panel lay-out or camera angles. Was this an extension of DC's well-known philosophy of marketing their books to kids, and being overly conservative because of that? Because what we've been looking at in the Fantastic Four with Rich Buckler's lay-outs just blows this stuff away! But, hey -- that's funny... Rich Buckler working for DC could be pretty bland, too. Hmmm...


MaGnUs said...

A classic... I'd love an animated film made from it (it's been rumored as a possibility).

C.A.S. said...

One of the great story-arcs I've ever read; but I'll never understand when DC reprints this story in TPBs, they show the villain responsible on the cover! They should keep it hidden, so those that haven't read it are kept in suspense!

MaGnUs said...

It's a moot point. It's a story that's almost 30 years old, and it's not a Superman or Batman story that's bound to be bought off a shelf by a non-comic book reader.

Most people interested in buying it has heard of it, or wants to own a copy because they read it before.

Karen said...

I recall at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con, both Great Darkness Saga and the Judas Contract were mentioned as being possible DC Animated features. However, the recent releases -which I've enjoyed by the way -all seem to reflect more modern story lines.


Edo Bosnar said...

Wow - love the Great Darkness Saga. Great choice! Interesting how neither of you like Giffen's art - it was his art plus Levitz as writer that really made LoSH one of my favorite comics for a time.
By the way, as I recall, not many people figured out the identity of the baddie here before the big reveal (I know I didn't), not even regular DC readers more familiar with the Fourth World stories - except for one astute fan who rather amazingly figured it out on the basis of the character's first appearance in a back-up story. The editors only printed the letter after Darkseid came out of the closet, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

I had been a reader of the LSH during the Bates/Shooter/Cockrum/Grell era and has lost track of it until a couple of issues before this got started. For me, Giffen's art was something of an acquired taste, depending on who inked him.....I liked it during this time. From what I can remember, for me the artist at DC were either very good (Perez, Newton, Aparo) or very average (can't remember any names, I guess that makes sense).

This was one of the better arcs that I can remember. They did a great job with it and until recently, I wondered why it wasn't in print somewhere.

Doug said...

I think for me, my detractions from Giffen's art would mainly concern faces. His figure work is OK. But like I said, at least in this first issue the lay-outs were somewhat bland. Need to mix up the panel shapes/sizes and camera angles.


Dougie said...

I read this serial out of order- I'd got part 2 and 3 in Glasgow and part 1 above on my first-ever trip to London (Wrath of Khan was on at the cinema! What a summer!).
I was wild about Giffen's redesigns but even more so for the cameos of the Heroes of Lallor and the Wanderers in the last installment.1982-83 were some of my favourite years for the LSH.

MaGnUs said...

What do you guys think of the parallels between (not comparing quality, one's a classic, the other was just a good comic) this and what Abnett/Lanning did with The Legion, having Ra's al Ghul be the villain? I didn't see it coming, at least, and I read that when it had just come out, as opposed to the Great Darkness Saga, which I read many years after it was new.

Doug said...

MaGnUs --

I'll have to plead total ignorance. When and where was the Ra's story? Maybe I'm just not recollecting off the top of my head.


MaGnUs said...

It was in The Legion, the last book before Threeboot:

The first storyarc, up to issue 8 (more or less) had Ra's as the villain revealed halfway through it. Good reading.

Doug said...

I may have those -- I know I've not read them, though. I'll check if I can remember by the time I get home :) .


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