Thursday, May 24, 2018

Super Blog Team-Up: Time, Clock of the Heart




All-New Collector's Edition C-55, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes (1978)
"The Millennium Massacre"
Paul Levitz-Mike Grell/Vince Colletta

Doug: I'm penning my part to today's post in mid-April. The last time I did something like this was right around a year ago when I contributed a guest review for our buds over at Back in the Bronze Age. So I'd lie if I said I wasn't just a wee bit a) rusty and b) nervous about getting this right. Not only am I back on tour with my longtime (like, for 11 years if you're new in these parts) partner Karen, but we are part of a much larger event today. Super Blog Team-Up is an occasional get-together of blogs from across the Geekosphere, and we've always maintained a sense of honor for being asked to participate. I suppose at the worst, we can make everyone else look great. Hopefully we compete a little better than that today! You'll find links to our three partners at the conclusion of today's post. We'll also be tweeting links to our past SBTU posts throughout the day.

Karen: 11 years? That just took me by surprise. It has been something of a journey, one I am truly glad to have gone on with Doug. Little did we know back when we met on the old Avengers Assemble message board that we'd find out we were so simpatico, and enjoy writing and working together. And despite the BAB morphing into more of a Twitter presence, we stay in touch. So when he told me we had the chance to participate in another Super-Blog Team-Up, it just seemed right. So yeah, we'll give it our best!


Doug: You can find the official title of today's comic of choice in our nuts and bolts section, just above. To me, this was always "the 2nd Legion treasury". Yeah, I know that's heresy to our hardcore DC readers, but it's how I rolled when I was 12 years old. According to Mike's Amazing World of Comics, this lovely would have been on sale just ahead of Christmas, 1977. I don't recall receiving it as a gift, but rather plucking it off a magazine rack at the Belscot discount store in Kankakee, Illinois. Funny how after all this time we can often picture the when/where of key comics purchases! And this one is a key, as it features not only all of the Legionnaires of the latter Bronze Age, but also the wedding of two of the founding members - Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl!

**For those wanting to read this on their own but not in possession of the original oversized comic, this book was recently reprinted in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, volume one. And an additional programming note - all images in today's post are photographs from Doug's copy of this super-tabloid. Apologies up front if some of the images aren't square.**

Karen: I have to admit, your memory is better than mine, but I recall that these treasury size books could be particularly hard to track down at times. I don't recall exactly where I got my copy of this Legion one (which I no longer have) but it's entirely possible I might have had to go to three or four stores before I located it. For our review today I am using the  hardcover book you mentioned. 

Doug: I cannot recall that I ever knew of a Treasury Edition (or Limited Collectors' Edition) before it hit the newsstands. These things had a somewhat magical quality of just showing up - and then the begging of my mom for $2.00 commenced... 


Doug: We open with a great two-page splash of Superboy streaking into the timestream while imagining how cool it's going to be to witness the nuptials of his longtime friends. As a point of information for newer readers, the Teen of Steel reminds us that, like Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel before them, our young heroes will have to resign from the Legion once hitched. As Superboy exits the timestream in 2978 he is shocked to see Metropolis transformed into a city rife with military presence. He's almost immediately accosted by some Science Police who don't exactly have "polite" on their day's agenda. Superboy's chastised for not knowing a password they think he should know, and the police brutality commences. Wrong guy to try to rough up... Soon after, a team of Legionnaires comes by. Sun Boy, Cosmic Boy, and Ultra Boy are all equally brusque and it's pretty obvious that something's not as it should be.

Karen: One of the conceits of the Legion was that Superboy was able to travel through time unaided, and he did it simply by flying really fast, I suppose, and the effect was that  of a multi-colored tube (a rainbow tunnel?) with the years, the actual numerals, flashing by. The whole thing is completely silly when you say it out loud, but as a kid, I just accepted it and loved the idea. The switch to the altered future is not exactly subtle, with the Science Police having skull insignias on their helmets!

Doug: For some reason, I've always felt that Dr. Doom got it right with his time platform. Why, I don't know, but that looked cool. The rainbow tunnel (love it!) was effective as a visual, but I agree with you - for all of the science DC writers at times took the pains to explain, Superboy's journeys were left completely to our imaginations.

Doug: The team finally makes it to their headquarters after fighting off a warship of the Lunarites. Apparently this has become commonplace, these attacks, and it's Princess Projectra who is charged with bringing Superboy up to speed while the rest of our friends scuttle away to ready for the wedding. I found it interesting that the ceremony is near the beginning of the story rather than climactic near the end. The narrative Projectra tells is depressing, but oh-so-awesome in the oversized format. (I also have a copy of the aforementioned Superboy/Legion hardcover and it's not nearly as spectacular in the standard 7"x10" size.) Superboy doesn't like what he's hearing and is convinced that there are nefarious forces at work. He defers to the wedding, yet his uneasiness will need to be rectified at some  point - and soon. The wedding is a bit ho-hum, as we get just a 2-page splash with the bridal party and guests. Notably absent is Supergirl, but the rest of the gang to this point is here. Oh, and Paul Levitz and Mike Grell were also invited, apparently, in a bit of an artistic conceit.

Karen: I would agree with you that the wedding is ho-hum; but I'd go further and say that the overall look of the issue seems uninspired, which is disappointing since it's Mike Grell drawing it. There just seems to be lost opportunities. We're in an alternate future -but everyone's costume is exactly the same as always (except for the occasional weapon holster). And the wedding is notably under-attended. Think of all the guests Dave Cockrum crammed into the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel. Of course, who knows who might have been there that Colletta could have erased.


Doug: As long as we're on the subject of the creators, it would be worth mentioning a couple of nuggets. First off, Paul Levitz was very new to the book at this time. I know many'a Bronze Age Baby thinks of Levitz first when they recall the team's scribes. But when All-New Collectors' Edition C-55 saw the light of day Levitz had only been on the monthly for a few issues, supplanting Jim Shooter. Grell, on the other hand, had been the Legion's regular artist for a few years before switching to covers-only duty in the months leading up to this book. I wanted to bring up the fact that Grell's tenure on the Legion to this point was basically split between two inkers - himself, and Bob Wiacek (almost equally). Only once in the monthly were his pencils subject to the will of one Vincent Colletta; I would say overall that the quality of the art in today's book is uneven at best. At times we get vintage Grell, but at others we definitely feel the influence of Colletta's feathery inks. Perhaps Wiacek would have brought a boldness to the story that is sorely lacking at times.

Karen: I've really come to feel that with the exception of those early Kirby Thors, Colletta really does no one any favors.

Doug: Yeah, and regarding our complaints about Grell's job on this book, maybe he was just so fully invested in his Warlord mag by this time that the Legion had become second banana?

Doug: Right after the wedding, the cake frosting barely wiped off our teens' faces, Garth's and Imra's honeymoon cruiser is attacked by Lunarite fighters. Mon-el (man, I love that dude - my favorite Legionnaire!) orders the team into battle, but it's quickly determined that the Lunarites were ready for the counter-attack. While the Legion begins to regroup, Superboy breaks rank and says he refuses to join any rescue mission for Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. Team leader Wildfire loses his cool (as usual), but Superboy insists that his uneasy feeling about the overall state of affairs is the true problem. Shadow Lass agrees, and the team splits into factions - one group taking off to save their teammates, the other heading back into the timestream. And it should not go unnoticed that a trio was left home to guard the HQ: Dream Girl, Star Boy, and Tyroc. Paul Levitz is on record as stating a strong dislike for Tyroc. And the character gets virtually no screen time in this entire tale!

Karen: Wildfire has always been a favorite of mine (along with Brainiac 5) but he should never have been a Legion leader. It was only because they let readers vote for leaders that they got stuck with an erratic, emotional hot-head as their boss for a while. Must have been fun for the writer! Sure it was. In any case, this plot development follows the typical DC-split the team into groups pattern. Heck, I guess Marvel does it too. I want to note too that great panel of the Legion flying up into the heavens which you first spotted and posted on the BAB twitter feed, which sure seems like inspiration for the famous Alex Ross illustration of the entire Legion flying up as a one into space. 

Doug: Chapter 2 of our tale takes us to the Lunarite capital, on the moon. We're told that the Chinese colonized the moon in 1985, and the Lunarites have a yellow hue to their skin. C'mon... I'd have thought stereotypes like that went out with the comics-as-propaganda of the World War II era. Guess not. Anyway, Garth and Imra are having none of this captivity thing and fight their way out until they're forced to crash land their getaway ship. But have no fear - Wildfire's cavalry shows up in the nick of time... in the capital. It's looking grim, as Garth and Imra are about to run out of oxygen in their damaged vehicle. But have no fear - in a wonderfully almost-plausible deus ex machina, Phantom Girl arrives just as Lightning Lad is about to commit a murder/suicide and stops him. Turns out Cosmic Boy could track Garth's lightning, as it is electromagnetic in property. Whatever. While the team celebrates being reunited, Wildfire exclaims that he's going to make Superboy pay for his insubordination.



Karen: You know, I just assumed the Lunarites were aliens, until it was explained they were Chinese. I try to look at things like this from the time period in which it was produced, but even then, surely this must have seemed racist. Well, it either didn't occur to any of the people at DC putting these comics together that bright yellow-skinned Chinese villains named "Khan" might possibly be seen as offensive, or they just didn't care  about the people it would offend. I have to say, it was difficult reading this stuff. I was just hoping to get past it.

Karen: Another thing I found weird was that Lightning Lad was so ready to just blast him and Imra to atoms to spare them a slow death - hey, let's not look for a way out til the last, let's just kill ourselves!

Doug: Our next installment follows Superboy, Mon-el and Shadow Lass, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra, Sun Boy, and Brainiac-5 to 1978. According to Brainy, it's the year the United Nations broke up and he's seeing some readings about the timestream that seem askew. Brainiac benches Superboy due to the "same person in the same place twice" rule. If you've been around, you get it - it's an old comic book trope (see Avengers 56). The team seemingly employs Nightcrawler's image inducer and goes incognito through the streets of New York (I will never understand why the DCU has Gotham City, Metropolis, and New York City. Dumb). After some investigation, the super-teens determine that there are three factions wanting to dissolve the UN, all united by a certain shady character. The Legionnaires track the do-badder to an abandoned building once used at a World's Fair, and engage.They face more traps than the Home Alone kid could rig, but eventually fight their way to... the Time Trapper! He defeats the Legion, and then cackles that super-villain laugh as he declares that he's making tracks - to the end of time!

Karen: The time bubble was another piece of Legion tech that I adored. Why would a time machine be a huge glass bubble? How did it work? It seemed to have a propulsion system too... these questions were never answered but I didn't care, it was fantastic. The team's investigation is pretty mundane. It's not a lot of fun seeing the Legionnaires outside of their uniforms. But the Time Trappers' lair is a kick. There must be some huge warehouse where all the bad guys buy their traps: giant mechanical arms, check; laser guns, check; spiked walls, check.

Doug: Yeah, regarding the team in civvies, it wasn't nearly as compelling a scene as when they were in Smallville hiding out from Mordru. Now that story had some tension!

Karen: I remember it fondly... how could I forget Bob Cobb??

Doug: Scene shift to 2978 at the Legion HQ as both teams of Legionnaires return. Wildfire can't wait to light into Superboy, who pushes back hard. Saturn Girl intervenes, saying both of them fully believe what they're saying, so convene a meeting of the whole team and sort it out. Rond Vidar is able to adapt his hypertime drive based on information received from Dream Girl. Tyroc draws the short straw (guess they didn't think they'd need any yelling in the far flung future?) and gets monitor duty for the second time in the story. As the team arrives at the end of time, I have to comment again that the art is pretty uneven. At times in this book I've felt like Grell did layouts only; most of the time I thought he did full pencils. For having so much time off the monthly book ahead of this, I guess I'd have expected a bangup job. The Time Trapper finishes the Legion pretty easily, but feels the need to narrate his origin story. We find out that he's a Controller - and those guys go all the way back to the early Adventure Comics days! And worse? He is in possession of the Miracle Machine (basically, it's the DC version of the Cosmic Cube, Marvelites!).

Karen: I love how Wildfire is threatening to throw Superboy out of the Legion.  Sure, that's going to happen. To pick up on your comments about the art, one thing that I became very aware of was the lack of backgrounds, which may be partly due to a rush job, but you have to wonder how much of it was due to that frequently-used eraser of Mr. Colletta's.

Karen: I know I must have read the Sun-Eater story that introduced the Controllers but re-reading this story, I couldn't remember a thing about them. So the recap in the story was helpful. I did recall the Miracle Machine -and I suppose it's just my Marvel Zombie prejudice showing that I think the Cosmic Cube looks a lot sleeker and neater than this contraption!

Doug: I totally agree on those old Adventure Comics tales and trying to remember them. I know I've read that but also could not come up with any plot points.

Doug: A meeting of the minds, or I should say a battle of the minds begins as the Time Trapper starts his final play. Superboy orders his teammates to combine their thoughts, focusing on the Miracle Machine in an effort to "turn that damn thing back!" Yes, that's right -- Superboy swears. It's about as bad to me as watching him snap Zod's neck -- totally out of character. And in a story that was long but seemed to end all-too-quickly, the Time Trapper is defeated by good thinking, the timestream is restored, and all those not involved in the adventure forget what was going on in the first place. It's almost anti-climactic.

Karen: Good thinking, but not clean thinking, is that what you're getting at? Again, I have to agree, Superboy's cussing seems incongruous (and unnecessary). It's certainly not the most exciting ending: you have the whole Legion of Super-Heroes facing a villain, and do we get to see them exhibiting their amazing powers? Nope. Instead, we get treated to a staring match. Perhaps not the best use of these characters. It does wrap up way too quickly.

Doug: My reservations about the art and ending aside, this book still holds a special place in my heart and in my memory. Few things hearken back to my peak buying years like the treasury-sized books. Megos, too, but for comics the treasuries are such a part of the 1970s. I cannot dislike this book; the story, maybe. But the wraparound cover, the sheer size of the tome, and the extras included after the main tale make this a special keepsake. And although I have a shiny new reprint in the Superboy hardcover, I'm glad I've held on to the original edition. It feels right.

Karen: All of my treasury editions were tossed in the trash (!) when I was a teen as they had become infested by some sort of critters. No lie. They had been on a shelf in the garage and the little buggers had eaten chunks out of the books, so away they went, with a tear or two shed. So it was a pleasure to be able to get this story in this hardcover edition, even if it was in a smaller size. The story may not live up to the memory, but it's got a lot of nostalgia value. And to be honest, I think I enjoyed the 8-page extras feature illustrated by James Sherman, covering all of the Legion members, the Subs, and their HQ and equipment, more than the story! If I could get a poster with those features, I'd jump for joy!

Doug: As a public service to our readers, you can check out those very bios right below this text. Thanks to all for stopping by today, and as was our hope in the past, please leave us a comment about this issue or our review.




Wait! You're not done yet! Be sure to patronize our three partners today -

I'm the Gun
Chasing Amazing
Back in the Bronze Age

You won't be sorry you did!

14 comments:

Mark Sweeney said...

Great read - and fair criticism! This was such an important era in Legion history but I think this Treasury's reputation has gotten a little unfairly inflated - it lives very fondly in our memory, but going through it today . . . ? Mike Grell's designs should have leapt off these tabloid pages, and in some cases they do, but ultimately I think the illustration would have benefited from a different artistic pairing.

I appreciate you reproducing those James Sherman profiles - THOSE leap off the page!

Doug said...

Thanks for the comment, Mark!

I couldn't agree with you more. It should have been an "ooh, ahh!" moment to have Mike Grell back on the Legion. I really think that Vince Colletta had something to do with our perception of the final presentation. I'd have to dig back into the monthlies to see if there were backgrounds in many of the panels - it's certainly noticeable here that there are not.

Those little Legion bios are cool, aren't they? As a kid, I think I spent as much time on those pages as I did the rest of the book!

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Great review and discussion of a book I only remember seeing in DC house ads. I never saw this on the magazine racks at the time. If I had seen, like a young Doug, I would have begged for the money to get it, as even the regular issues of Superboy and the LoSH were infrequent on the spinner racks where I was growing up (cue the sad violin music to lament spotty 1970s distribution...) and that cover is spellbinding.
Too bad, though, that the actual content doesn't live up to the packaging and hype.
And I'm going to agree with Karen, and everyone else apparently, when I say that those bonus bios and other info at the end are probably the best part. I'm pretty sure those were later shrunk down and reprinted in one of the digests a few years later, because I specifically remember having those in one of the books I owned. By the way, did Element Lad ever appear in that costume anywhere else? It looks like something designed by Jack Kirby...

Doug said...

Hi, Edo -

I don't think you're on Twitter, but I have to laugh... your last two comments about the bios being reprinted in the digests and about Element Lad's Kirby-like togs were brought up by separate people earlier this morning! Great minds and all that.

When I sold my comics a few years ago, I was surprised at the gaps in my Superboy/Legion collection. For whatever reason, I think the distribution problems seemed to affect the DC books more than the Marvels. At least that was my experience.

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, yeah, I'm not on Twitter, but I do occasionally check out the BAB feed to see what's up and read some of the comments. You just made me go check that post - also interesting to see that someone else remembers the bios being reprinted in a digest later.

Mike Wilson said...

Yeah, for a wedding issue it's not as spectacular as it could be. It's been a long time since I read this, but I don't remember seeing those back-ups before; I must've read a reprint.

Anonymous said...

Great seeing the "dynamic duo" back together again. And a great review. I think I have that treasury edition in a box somewhere. I'm going to see if I can find it.

Tom

Graham said...

Grell was at his best when inking his own pencils. I can remember getting issues of Green Lantern's book back then, seeing that usually excellent Mike Grell cover and being disappointed when I saw that Colletta was inking. I did like him with other artists, but he didn't do Grell many favors.

Nice to have y'all back for a bit.

Martinex1 said...

Karen and Doug - thanks for jumping back into the blogging fray, even for a short time. It’s good to have you back.

I’ll be the first to say I know almost nothing about Superboy and the Legion. I wonder why it was that I never recall seeing them in any form on the spinner rack when I was a kid. I literally only became aware of any details about them just a few years ago. Question - to long time followers, was the size of the team and number of characters distracting? Was it typically well balanced and was most of the time spent on team interaction?

You mentioned that Grell and Wiacek split inking chores - who did you prefer? Or did they stay fairly consistent in style with each other?

Redartz said...

Great review, Karen and Doug! Detailed, insightful and entertaining. It's just like the Golden Age of Bronze Age Babies!

That looks like a nice package, even with the story flaws. I never really picked up on the Legion until the Levitz/Giffen run, so this treasury went under my radar. Kind of a contrast with the memorable wedding of Queen Projectra and Karate Kid in Legion Annual 2...

Oh, and wonderful mention of that Mordru story in Smallville. That book is special to me as well, it was one of my earliest comic purchases as a youth and my first Legion story. Still love the bit with Shadow Lass and the ink.

Karen said...

Hey everyone, thanks for stopping by!
Edo, I can't recall ever seeing Element Lad in that costume anywhere else. I wonder if there were plans for it that got scrapped right when the book went to press? It's not a bad costume but it doesn't say "Legion" to me. It does look Kirby-esque.

Martinex, typically the team was not so huge in individual issues. They would be pared down to a more manageable 6-8 characters or so for each story, with other Legionnaires floating around in the background. But never knowing the mix you might get made it exciting!

Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex's comment about never seeing these on spinner racks, which is similar to my experience of only seeing them occasionally, makes me wonder: did Superboy and the LoSH have lower circulation in the early to mid-1970s? I recall that I only began seeing the Legion on the spinner racks regularly, like every month, sometime in the later '70s, just before Superboy was taken off of the title.

Doug said...

Good morning (to those of you still reading) -

For some reason I quit getting email notifications of comments midday yesterday. From Tom on down through Edo I had no idea! Talking about missing out on some conversation!!

Edo, I would agree that Superboy/Legion, along with many DC books, were much more subject to the distribution woes of which we often complain than were Marvels. I remarked above about this - I know I had a hard time finding Secret Society of Super-Villains and even Batman and Detective. But if I went to a different store, who knows? You could find Giant Super-Team Family sitting there just waiting to be scooped up! So I'm not sure what the deal was. Did retailers place specific orders for books? Or did they just check a box and the distributor sent out whatever they felt like? One of childhood's mysteries.

Anyway, thanks to all for the comments and for welcoming us back. It's been so good to hear from all of you. And yes, we're missing a few, but it's been a fun week!

Doug

marvelboy74 said...

I have recently read this story in the HC version. Levitz's early stories really relied on people being idiots, as in, why did the Controller not destroy or at least capture the downed Legionnaires at the end of chapter 3? Superboy couldn't stop him.

Also, Levitz did very little to elevate the female Legionnaires at this time. Saturn Girl could sense the Lunarites minds, but she couldn't sense when the Legionnaires were close by and summon them? Also, I don't like the limitation that Dawnstar can't track on a planet or moon. I guess he needed to give her a limitation so she didn't just become a plot voucher. But Cos (a man) saves the day with some weird psuedo-science that Ayla has residual EM powers. ALTHOUGH I guess it can explain how she got her lightning powers back. I doubt Levitz would have remembered that though. Same for Jeckie who actually gets used more effectively in chapter 3 as she is able to hide their presence from human perception, which she would later do as Sensor Girl.

I am not a fan, however, when Tinya and Vi are both taken down easily by the Controller. Tinya should literally be immune to such things in her phantom form.

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