Monday, September 1, 2014

The Greatest Hero of Them All - Legion of Super-Heroes 37

Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume III) #37 (August 1987)
"A Twist in Time"
Paul Levitz-Greg Laroque/Mike DeCarlo/Arne Starr

Doug: Among our readers, both those who comment and those who lurk (c'mon... what are you waiting for?) there's a sizable Legion following. For most of us, our comics' understanding was shaken by DC's Crisis On Infinite Earths event, as heroes we'd loved met their demise and the wonderful mythology of the multiverse came to an end (well, a temporary end from what I know of today's DCU). But for those who loved the Legion, the now-fact that Superman had never been Superboy rocked us. Rocked us hard. Although the Legion had been "on their own" for many years by the time the Crisis happened, we all knew that their sole reason for existing was through the inspiration of The Greatest Hero of Them All. And, if there had never been a Superboy, what would that mean for Mon-el, whose very name had come from a young Clark Kent? And Supergirl...? We saw what happened to her in the Crisis. Did that wipe out her previous adventures with the Legion, and her relationship with Brainiac-5? Oh, what a mess this was turning out to be. What we have before us in September, then, is DC's answer to this quandary, and to some of the specific questions raised. Next week we'll head over to John Byrne's revamped Superman book, and in that post I'll quote from Byrne himself as to how he was told all of this would turn out, and then how it actually went down. We'll finish the storyline with Byrne's Action Comics before heading back to the Legion of Super-Heroes for the conclusion. I hope along the way we'll get some nice conversations going on retcons, cloudy continuity, creators directing titles/characters, editorial decisions, etc.

Doug: This was the first Legion book I'd purchased in close to eight years, so as I entered past the front cover I soon found that this wasn't the Legion of Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, and James Sherman. Well, it was -- but with some add-ons. New to me were Blok, Tellus, Sensor Girl (I didn't know yet that she was Princess Projectra), and the fact that some of the Substitute Heroes were now actives. So all this wasn't bad, just different. And it gave me a real sense that I'd missed some fun along the way. We open with a very cool splash page -- any time there's a giant doing his thing, I'm hooked. And how about the dialogue? No decompression here, my friend -- six word balloons and a narration box ensures that! The Legion is assisting in the repair of the Time Beacon at Metropolis University. The big guns are out, with Mon-el (my personal fave Legionnaire), Ultra Boy, Colossal Boy, Sun Boy, Light Lass (called Lightning Lass here), and Brainiac-5. The Legion works with a sense of urgency, as time travel is in jeopardy after the events of the Cosmic Boy mini-series (which spun out of the Legends mini-series, which of course was an epilogue of sorts to the Crisis, laying the groundwork for the new DCU -- got all that?). Cos had fought the Time Trapper in that story, and the Legion was here afraid that he could attack if they were vulnerable. Fixing the time travel possibilities was essential.

NOTE: For anyone wondering, as was I, the Time Trapper debuted in March 1964; Kang the Conqueror first faced the Avengers in September 1964. There's no point to me saying that, other than trivia.

Doug: Brainy orders the new-and-improved time bubble be brought up. Blok and Timber Wolf oblige, and Lightning Lass remarks at how much larger it looks than their old models. Of course Brainy has little patience for his teammates, much as we've seen from Reed Richards whenever Ben was asked to do the heavy lifting. Cos and Night Girl are also present, and Cos remarks how powerful the Time Trapper has become. Brainy says it will take the power of the entire Legion to put him down. But as he readies to use his flight ring to send out an alert, his hand is iced over by Polar Boy, now leader of the Legion. Brainy's urged to stop -- Polar Boy doesn't want to send everyone off and leave the Earth unprotected. He'll instead choose a team to go. Sounds like a plan.

Doug: There are some brief interludes in this book that deal with plotlines from the past few issues. For the sake of relevance to our September theme, I'll be skipping over those. Just FYI.

Doug: So Polar Boy chooses a mighty fine team, anyway, despite Brainy's protestations. Entering the time bubble are Invisible Kid (the new guy to hold that moniker), Blok, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy, Cos, Night Girl, Brainy, and Mon-el providing the lift from the outside. So Mon picks up the bubble and away they go, looking for the end of time and their purple-robed nemesis. Leaving 2987, they soar past the rainbow of dates we've come to know, but in descending order. Suddenly the bubble hits a "time storm" and all sense of direction is lost. From inside the bubble Brainy tells Mon to just keep pushing -- he'll use his instruments to keep them on course. We cut away to the end of time, where the Time Trapper is fully aware of what is transpiring (he's a master of time, get it?). He says cryptically, "I shall grant their secret desire -- let them travel to the one time they surely felt was denied them -- and in granting their wishes, I shall achieve mine." Back in the time stream, the team struggles against the storm, when the bubble suddenly pops out of the turbulence. Only then does Brainiac realize that they had not been going forward in time, but backward. Blok asks if it matters -- if the end of time could not be reached at either end of the time stream (man, that's deep). But while Brainiac does some deep computations, Night Girl blurts out that they've arrived in Superboy's time! Briany is incredulous -- until we pan back and see Mon setting the bubble down just on the outskirts of Smallville, Kansas (does anyone know when it was decided that Smallville is in Kansas?).

Gratuitous Dream Girl shot
Doug: We get a one-pager of the ever-scrumptious Dream Girl awakening from a cloudy dream -- not clear, as usual. Whatever is about to happen she doesn't like it. Back in Kansas, a small team of Legionnaires comprised of Mon, Cos, Ultra Boy, and Night Girl has strolled into town. I'd encourage you at some point, maybe this point, to make the leap to our reviews of Adventure Comics 369 and 370 for a previous Legion romp in Smallville; it's a story that was particularly endearing to me early in my Legion learning. The boys have all been to 1950s Smallville before, but not Night Girl. She's a fish out of water, as she walks right in the path of an approaching police car. But it gives Mon a chance to reintroduce himself to Chief Parker, who surely must remember Bob Cobb, a friend of the Kents. The team is very puzzled, as their history is telling them that Superman was never Superboy, yet here they stand in his home town, among people who know the Kents -- who the Legionnaires know! Mon remarks that everything is as it should be, down to the sights, sounds, and smells. And then who should approach but Pete Ross! Pete greets the team by name. Ultra Boy says that everything must be alright; Pete says it sure is, since Superboy saved the town from some eerie red skies and an energy field. There's a mystery deepening here, as Pete says Superboy won't talk about that episode. So the team heads to a source for answers -- the Kent General Store!

Doug: The Kents immediately recognize the three boys, and are introduced to Lydda. Let me make one comment about an interlude that's in the middle of this scene -- Wildfire went through a big change looks-wise in this story, as he ditched the helmet for a really odd (to me at least) look of a "normal" face and long flaming "hair". Not sure how long that lasted; it's a cinch it wasn't an improvement on Dave Cockrum's design. But anyway, the Legion is invited to the Kents for dinner while they wait for Clark to return home. Ma stuffs them with a big country spread, and suddenly Clark walks in. The team is really excited to see him, as again -- they'd thought he never existed (in spite of their own memories). But Clark's reserved, and quickly invites the Legionnaires to the basement to talk while Ma cleans up the kitchen. Clark distracts them by directing their attention to a shelving unit with statuettes of the Legion members. But while their backs are turned, Clark pulls out a device that looks like the Phantom Zone projector; instead, it's a Time-Stasis ray and freezes the teen heroes in their tracks. We find that Ma and Pa Kent were in on this. Clark knows of the Legion members who remained with the time bubble, and says he must stop them as well. But before he can leave, Lana Lang barges in, wanting help with her algebra! I love it! Back in 2987, Polar Boy confides in Element Lad that h'es not sure of his leadership abilities. They talk, and run through the last several Legion leaders and how all of them, in their own way, proved themselves.

Doug: In 1950-whatever, we drop in on the boys at the bubble. They're a little bothered that they haven't heard from their teammates yet. As they small talk the difference between their time and their present, Pete rides up on his bike. He warns them that something has happened at the Kent house, and that the Legion and Superboy may have been defeated! Brainy wants Pete to accompany them as they flee to plan, but Pete says he'll go back and see if he can find out any more information. So the team launches the time bubble, and as they leave Smallville they spy Superboy trailing the bubble, the time-stasis ray in hand. The Legionnaires look right into Superboy's eyes as they speed into the time stream. They are alarmed that Superboy would try to harm them. Sun Boy says they couldn't have been in the real Smallville. Brainy says they may have just witnessed the extent of the Time Trapper's corruption of history. Back in Smallville, Superboy pledges to save the Earth, Smallville, and the universe if need be. He says he won't let Ma and Pa down -- that if it means he has to track the Legionnaires through time until he's trapped each and every one of them, he will. Hmmm... And back at the end of time, the Time Trapper guffaws as only a megalomaniacal super-baddie can guffaw.

Doug: Paul Levitz crafted a nice little mystery here in this first installment, didn't he? I really loved the sense of nostalgia generated by this story -- as I said above, it really dovetails nicely with those much earlier Adventure Comics issues I linked to. I thought the art in this story was really "grown up", mature past what we might have seen in the Bronze Age. That is not at all to denigrate any former Legion artists (or any other BA artists, for that matter)... but I think it's safe to say that there was just something about the entire art job that was somehow evolved from what we'd seen in years prior. I will comment that Greg LaRocque seems to favor the profile shots used by Keith Giffen, although not to the same extent. Do you think some of the faces seem elongated? I think that's just LaRocque's style, but it was noticeable. But overall, I enjoyed this "updated" version of "my" Legion, and I'm excited to take you into the next three chapters!


Redartz said...

Nice review of a good story! I stopped reading the Legion right before Crisis hit, so am unfamiliar with this storyline. Paul Levitz and Kieth Giffen produced my favorite Legion tales, but Greg Laroque does a fine job here. Looks like another back issue to hunt down...

Edo Bosnar said...

Nice review, Doug. It's certainly piqued my interest in this story, which looks really intriguing. Otherwise, at this point (i.e., post-Crisis) I pretty much avoided anything having to do with the Legion, just because it seemed like the DC reboot pretty much screwed that franchise over pretty irreparably...

Eric C said...

I was primarily a Marvel comics reader when Crisis took place so the impact was not that great for me. Years later when I obtained this issue in my fondess for the Legion, it felt sad, but there were still great stories ahead for the teenagers from the future.

Doug said...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I hope you'll enjoy the reviews this month. The two Superman issues with John Byrne on the pencils are really nice.

Is there another character or team that has been seemingly more disrespected by editorial, yet with a larger fan base than the Legion?


Ward Hill Terry said...

This cuts pretty close for me. This is from the time and events that marked the end of my regular comics buying. This storyline is one of the reasons. The Crisis "event" took away most of what I enjoyed most in the DC books. Earth 2 and Superboy's Legion. Paul Levitz did an admirable job at crafting a story around the editorial dictates, and I expect to write more about that later. Still, the notion that this huge chunk of narrative was being discarded was too much for me. The legion especially had, over the previous 6 or 7 years, carefully crafted, character-driven, textured well-developed stories. It had been respectful of its past. Previous stories were acknowledged, but not to the point where a reader felt lost. The inter-relationships among the Legionaires had become wonderfully developed. Each member had a distinct personality. Relationships had grown, changed, and evolved. Taking away the legend of Superboy was like pulling the thread that unraveled the entire tapestry. I have some real loathing for some of the upcoming stories to be reviewed. Even though I haven't read them in 25 years. Finally, what really galled was the inking. AS if things weren't bad enough, I never liked DeCarlo's inks. He single-handedly ruined a lot of books for me at that time.

Steve said...

Part of the charm of the pre-Crisis Legion of Super-Heroes tales, was that, even though they ostensibly took place in the future of the DC Universe (or at least the future of Earth-1), the Legion inhabited their own little corner of the DCU. Post-Crisis, the future-time of the Legion was forced to "fit" with the post-Crisis timeline leading to complicated reboots.

The pre-Crisis future-time of the Legion was also optimistic whereas the "5 Years Later" Legion was darker and more dystopian, which was disappointing for me.

I wish at some point DC would collect the pre-Crisis Legion into affordable softcovers - but DC Editorial probably doesn't want to draw too much attention to the Legion, a property they have managed to colossally muck up over the past 10-15 years.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of this series either; I read all the Superboy/LSH stories up to #325, and I always intended to carry on with this series (since I liked the way Levitz wrote the Legion), but I never got around to it. Looks pretty cool though, so I think I'll check it out. That also gives me an excuse to re-read all the Legion stories from Adventure and Superboy, of course!

Mike W.

Unknown said...

I appreciate all the comments here, so I cannot resist adding my own 2 credits. I was one of those who were not upset with the Superman re-boot and the removal of Superboy from continuity. As a young teenager, I was never really that attached to Superboy’s appearances in the LSH. (After all, how did he find the time to go hang-out in the 30th century, save Smallville, go to school, work in the family store, ect. ?) With Mon-El (my favorite) and Ultra Boy on the team, Superboy was kind of redundant, IMHO. I guess the main purpose of him appearing in LSH stories were to appear on the cover (for sales purposes) and to be the eyes of the 20th century reader, gasping at all the marvelous technology and wonders of the 30th century.

That being said, without the LSH riding on Superboy’s coattails (in Adventure Comics and S/LSH) during the 60s and 70s, the Legion would have never become as popular as they were. And that’s why I enjoyed this 4-part series when it originally came out—it gave proper respect to the Legion’s Superboy, while allowing the LSH to operate in the post-Crisis universe without missing a beat.

Now the less said about the “5YL” Legion, the better. (Though I would enjoy discussing the “rebooted”, Zero-hour LSH... which I believe really tried to reflect the early LSH for a current audience…)


Murray said...

If only, IF ONLY, DC Comics back in 1985 had had the wit and the grit to do a full reboot of their universe after Crisis. As they so very belatedly tried with "New 52".

But no. Some heroes, like Superman, started fresh as a new duckling and others, like this Legion story, were all tangled up in pre-Crisis lore. What. A. Mess.

I just can't read this issue with objectivity. All the tangled misfires and deadend efforts inflicted on the Legion in the months and years that follow won't stop reverberating in my stomach.

Murray said...

kkovats said...(After all, how did he find the time to go hang-out in the 30th century, save Smallville, go to school, work in the family store, ect. ?)

WELL, that's the easiest explanation ("easy" in terms of superheroic-scifi argle bargle) possible.

12:01 pm - Clark Kent comes home from school for lunch. Sits down to some leftover fried chicken and chats with Ma and Pa.
12:17 pm - the Legion alarm signals from the basement. Clark excuses himself and goes downstairs.
12:18 pm - Superboy crashes the time barrier, following the beacon to the moment of the emergency in the 30th century.

One day, multiple days, weeks follow where Superboy helps the Legion, enjoys their company, marvels at the future world, helps with another emergency

12:20 pm - Choosing a precise destination two minutes after he left, to give plenty of pad to avoid any awkward overlaps with himself, Superboy returns thru the time barrier to Smallville and the 20th century.
12:22 pm - Clark comes up from the basement to have a piece of pie for dessert.
12:50 pm - Lana picks Clark up on the way back for the afternoon at school.

That's how.

Unknown said...

That explains why Clark Kent was biologically 30 years old on his 18th birthday... :)

I guess Kryptonians age slower, so he HAD to time travel, just to keep his age aligned with his high school peers!

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