Monday, October 24, 2016

Dawn, Go Away - Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes 226


Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #226 (April 1977)(Cover by Mike Grell)
"The Dazzling Debut of Dawnstar!"
Paul Levitz-James Sherman/Jack Abel

Doug: Isn't that a typical DC cover in terms of the happenings? We often joke about DC's stable of characters as being pretty white bread. You know what they also were? "Mean girls". All of 'em. If you were to hit up one of the cover-heavy sites, like Cover Browser, and tour some Silver and Bronze Age DC comic books I think you'd find scenes like the one above were pretty common. Rude, rude, rude. Or, in other cases, playing some stupid "gotcha!" game or gag.

Karen: This does seem like a recurring theme, and not just with the Legion. We all know Superman can be a ...uhm, jerk.

Doug: So we're back with another look at the Bronze Age Legion of Super-Heroes. Two weeks ago we checked in on a tussle with the Fatal Five as drawn by Mike Grell. Karen remarked at the time that Superboy #219 was somewhat of an oddball issue in that it contained a feature-length story. This book, then, would be more along the lines of "status quo" at DC in the 1970s. Whereas Marvel had for the most part eschewed the split books or back-ups, DC remained committed to the concept. We'll only be reviewing the cover story (@11 pages), as the back-up (@6 pages) is actually the first part of a story that continues into the next issue. Of note, however, is that that back-up (starring Brainiac-5) was penciled by another successor to Mike Grell in Mike Nasser. Both James Sherman and Nasser were capable artists, and today we'll inspect Sherman's work.

Karen: I liked both Sherman and Nasser, and I feel like they are unfortunately under-rated, and somewhat forgotten.

Doug: I concur. I personally think of Cockrum and Grell first, and I know many of our friends who are a few yeats younger think of Keith Giffen.

Doug: "Lay that 100-Word Review on us, Doug!" As you wish...

100-Word Review:

The “Raiders”, interstellar thieves, break out of a Legion containment cell. Although soon corralled by Sun Boy and Star Boy, the young heroes lament that Lightning Lad has not been able to track the course the Raiders had been on. In walks Wildfire, brusque as always. He tells that he has someone who can track anything in space – Dawnstar! The Legionnaires are skeptical, and moreso when she apparently leads them to nothing. But Saturn Girl detects a convoy, and the Raiders soon attack it. The Legion battles, but loses contact with the bad guys. But Dawnstar tracks them again… to Earth!


Doug: I've said before, and will repeat -- it cannot be easy writing a self-contained story to be told over only 10 pages. Even though I said this tale was 11 pages, it was DC's modus operandi in the Bronze Age to make the splash page like a second cover and never the launching point for the plot. My misgivings about the story length are, I'm sure, skewed by my general favoritism toward Marvel's style of rolling plotlines. Anyway, we should be thinking about some analysis of this yarn.

The Good:

Doug: I liked that the line-up was a manageable size of six Legionnaires plus Dawnstar. But for those fans who like the team big, we also got glimpses of Timber Wolf, Colossal Boy, Chameleon Boy, Ultra Boy, and Mon-el. That's a dozen heroes in an 11-page story -- definitely bang for your Bronze Age buck (or a quarter + a nickel, as the case may be). I was never a big booster of either Sun Boy or Star Boy, but I thought the creators did a nice job of making them relevant right away in their securing of the would-be prison breakers. They didn't factor into the big battle at the end, so I'm left wondering if Paul Levitz (and others) made a conscious decision to cycle our young heroes through the roll calls.

Karen: It's a minor thing, but I like the little "roll call" box on the splash page. It let you know who would be the focus of the issue. "Sun Boy" and "Star Boy" - they're both named after the same thing! But very different powers. And Star Boy started out as another version of Superboy before he lost all his powers except the ability to increase gravity on people and objects. In the review of issue 219 we briefly discussed how some Legionnaires are 'A-list' and others are below that. I'd say these two are B-listers. I did like the fact that you might get Sun Boy and Star Boy one issue, then Chameleon Boy and Phantom Girl the next.

Doug: The Legion seemed to have a roster flow that the Avengers (for example) didn't enjoy. That being said, writing done-in-ones was a major plus factor to the Legion scribes as compared to their Avengers-writing brethren. Concerning pictures, the art team in today's story did a nice job. James Sherman was often able to incorporate some very cool lighting effects. We saw that in our review of Superboy #233 in some of the images featuring the Infinite Man. Here Dawnstar has some nice lighting while in space flight. And I'm just a sucker anyway for winged characters. She truly was the focal point of the story, to the point that she was at the center of every panel in which she appeared! One of the issues with characters who have a distinctive feature, such as large wings, is keeping the size and span consistent from panel to panel. Sherman and Jack Abel do just that, so there's a really nice flow with no distractions along that line.

Karen: I think James Sherman was a dynamic artist, but Abel was not a good match for him, with his thin lines. The figures have no weight. Looking at issue 233 where Bob Wiacek inked him, the art is much more appealing. Still, I appreciate his layouts and storytelling, but wish we'd gotten a more compatible inker.

Doug: Levitz was efficient in introducing us to Dawnstar. We got a full-figure look at her when she entered the story, followed by an image of her in flight right away. We know she's being brought to the team as a "tracker", and then Levitz has Wildfire say that not only can she track in space, but "fast enough that she'll outdistance this bucket of bolts--!" in reference to the Legion cruiser. After only five panels, I felt like I had enough information to make a judgment of her potential.

Karen: None of the Legionnaires had much depth at this point I'm afraid. The Grell-designed costume was pretty standard for him. It screamed a cross of 'hippie/Native American'  which I suppose was still popular in 1977. I also notice that the Legion cruiser looks bigger here, drawn by Sherman, than it did when Grell drew it in our review of issue #219.

Doug: One aspect of Legion stories that I like is that there isn't always a need for a formal top-flight bad guy. With a futuristic interplanetary setting, the sky was the limit for the sorts of menaces they could face. This particular story was merely a vehicle for Dawnstar's introduction, but it worked. The meatier plot actually rested in the second story in this book.

Karen: The Raiders were always sort of goofy. I thought they looked a bit like ants, at least their heads did. Their leader -the big disembodied brain and eyes in a tank -is a great sci-fi pulp trope and I got a kick out him. I also noticed that some of the spaceships looked like submarines, which was also a laugh.

The Bad:

Doug: I mentioned above that I didn't really care for DC's trope of having its heroes treat each other so poorly, often as a plot contrivance. Regarding the Legion, you can trace this all the way back to Adventure Comics #247. Anyway, Dawnstar did exactly what Wildfire brought her aboard to do, and that was to track the Raiders and their pals for the purpose of putting them out of business. Yet when the Legion arrived and ended up in a surprise battle, Lightning Lad severely rebuked Dawnstar for doing her job! His take on it was that she left too soon and the team did not have the opportunity to formulate a battle plan. Well... I'd argue that it was more Wildfire's responsibility, and he does get some blame. But there wasn't a conversation of "What if this or that?" on the cruiser as the flew through space? Shame on them, if that was the case.

Karen: It did seem like the Legionnaires tended to snipe at each other a lot, but then this is a quality of a lot of Marvel titles too. But I'd agree that Dawnstar really did nothing to deserve a tongue-lashing. It seemed like a ginned up conflict.

Karen: One thing that I find cringe-inducing now is Dawnstar's powers. She's Native American, so of course, she can track people. Because, you know, that's what Native Americans are good at, even mutant ones with wings who can fly through outer space. I know, it was 1977, there wasn't the sort of cultural consciousness then that we have now. But it's still hard to take. But probably not as hard as Tyroc.

Doug: Stereotypes are too easy for writers. I could also suggest doing characters justice by writing them out of the easy mold. If I missed it, pardon me -- I don't think I did. Was there no mention of the Legion's transuits for space walking? The team had bubbles on their heads, but nowhere could I ascertain that anyone was wearing a transuit. I do wish it had been explained how Dawnstar could survive space with no equipment whatsoever. That was a stretch. I have a hard enough time with Superboy in that regard. Can't be a yellow sun everywhere.

Karen: I noticed that too. I guess Dawnstar can exist in space, which must mean she has some limited invulnerability, right? But they were inconsistent -Saturn Girl doesn't appear to have a bubble around her head, although she certainly should be wearing a helmet and a transuit.

Doug: Wildfire's personality. I really don't like jerky characters. I understand that's the point -- to create conflict. Trouble is, they usually create that conflict with me. How's that for being invested?

Karen: I'll admit he seems like a doofus here, but as time went on, Wildfire became one of my favorites. He was given more depth than most of the Legionnaires. He was probably more Marvel-like in many ways - a tragic character, given his energy form, and pining for Dawnstar later on.

The Ugly:

Karen: I don't think I'd call anything especially ugly, but the art was not as strong as it could have been, and I do find the racial stereotyping of Dawnstar unfortunate at best.

Doug: Agreed on both counts, although I may actually suggest that I thought the overall execution of the art in this issue was more to my liking than what we'd seen from Mike Grell in our review of a couple of weeks ago.

7 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Nice review, Karen & Doug. I really like these glimpses into the Legion at a time when I was only randomly picking up an occasional issue here and there.
Sherman's art - what I've seen of it - is really nice, but I don't think Abel's inks here are doing it any favors. But then again, I'm not the biggest fan of Abel's work; a little bit later, when I become a more regular reader of Superboy & the LoSH, I recall that his inks tended to overpower Joe Staton's art a bit too much.
As for Dawnstar, I've always liked her: she has a great look (yep, I like winged heroes, too) and a rather unique and interesting set of powers/abilities. But yes, I agree that the whole Native American = natural tracker concept just screams stereotype. At least by the '70s, and even '60s now that I think of it (Wyatt Wingfoot), the Native American characters that appeared in comics (Red Wolf, Thunderbird, Dawnstar) were at least not portrayed speaking in that obnoxious pidgin (e.g. "Me track-'em bad men for you").
And Karen, good call on the 'Native American hippie' chic aspect of Dawnstar's outfit. Man, I have vivid memories of those buckskin jackets with fringes back in the '70s - although where I grew up (a ruralish area in Oregon) you could see both the hippies as well as the more conservative country/western types wearing variations of that fashion.

By the way, Sun Boy has always been one of my favorite Legionnaires - like his costume, like his powers, I even like his name...

Redartz said...

Fine review, folks! I fully agree with you both regarding the tendency of DC covers to show the 'less civil' aspect of superheroics. Whether it's the Legion or the JLA, these covers often depicted heroes showing more pettiness than a Fox reality show. And Doug, I too wondered how Superman remained powered in space far from any yellow sun..

At any rate, this looks like a decent issue, with some nice Sherman art. Abel's inks aren't what I'd have chosen, but they still look pretty good in some of those panels. And Paul Levitz is always solid storytelling.

Karen and Edo- Yes, those 70's 'hippie/native American' fashions really stood out. Fringe and lanyards, everywhere...

Anonymous said...

Always dug Abel-- much underrated, not bad on LSH but not great either. Much better with Sherman on the 'Challengers' strip in SUPER-TEAM FAMILY. But Abel was like that. Superb over Gene Colan in the '60s 'Iron Man'...not the same just a few years later in TOMB OF DRACULA or DAREDEVIL. Very good with Curt Swan, Dick Dillin and George Perez. He had some range, as those are extremely varying styles.

Martinex1 said...

Nice review as always Doug and Karen. I kind of like the angelic Dawnstar flying through space unaffected. Just that she can flap her wings and move through the void seems to imply there is more to her powers.

Even though I am less a DC follower, they were experts in the short page count story. Beginning, middle and end along with some character development packed into 10 pages.
Hard to believe how frequently they mastered the short stories.

Something I notice when you post these is that the DC color pallet is a little different than Marvel from the same period. I notice more deep greens and purple in the DC fare.

Anonymous said...

I liked Dawnstar, at least in the beginning. Later on they got her into that interminable love triangle storyline, with (I think) Wildfire and that guy from the planet full of Native Americans (speaking of casual racism).

I remember those buckskin/fringe jackets too, though I never had one.

Mike Wilson

johnlindwall said...

I was still reading LOSH at the time this came out, but soon after when I finally realized that I was getting sweet Grell covers but not-so-Grell interiors, I had to finally bail. I like Sherman quite a bit with the proper inker. Jack Abel sadly is on my list of very much unfavorite inkers, so the final artwork here as not to my liking.

I also an annoyed by the bulk of the outer space backgrounds being kooky colors like forest green or purple. And when there is a starfield, it seems too busy and packed with superfluous stars. Am I losing it here? I know that what I am saying may seem insane, but just take a look at a Cockrum or Grell starfield and you'll see what I mean (I hope).

I did like Dawnstar at the time and appreciated the attempt at diversity. Looking back now, as you folks point out, it was largely misguided.

Kenn said...

I've always sworn that DC artists created the covers first and dared the writers to come up with a story to fit, because there were some dramatic covers and some very contrived stories! And, yes, the social ostracism was the worst fate a kid in school could imagine, so it's not surprising a comic involving kids and aimed at kids used it as a gimmick so frequently. As far as I can recall Dawnstar's power levels were ill-defined, but it seemed that she could travel through space unencumbered and at speeds beyond even the Supers, which implied also an invulnerability. The tracking thing seemed to be simply because of her ancestry. Technically, Saturn Girl should have been the GPS of the group, but everyone's skills were always determined by the writer's needs of the moment. What I DID like about Dawny was that her introduction led to further stories about the Legion Academy.

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