Saturday, May 4, 2013

Legion of Super-Heroes - Series 5

The Legion of Super-Heroes has been around for a long time.  First appearing in Action Comics and Adventure Comics, the team of teenage super-heroes from 1,000 years in the future made regular appearances alongside Superboy.  They had a very short-lived (four issue) series in the 1970s, which we will not count as a "series" because of its brevity. Eventually, the Legion found a permanent home in the Superboy comic, which was re-named Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and then, eventually, simply Legion of Super-Heroes.  This series, which eventually went past issue 300, is known as the first series.

In the 1980s, +DC Comics decided to experiment with high-quality format, direct-sales titles, and the Legion was chosen for the experiment.  The series was re-numbered to issue 1 (without a reboot of continuity, since the tendency to do that had not begun yet in comics), and this was the second series.  Then, after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC moved the Legion timeline five years into the future, making all the Legionnaires adults instead of teens.  The series was re-started again on number one.  This was the third series.  Eventually, a companion title, called Legionnaires, was begun, following a younger team (the older team was revealed to be clones of these younger kids).  This is not considered a "fourth" series because it happened concurrently and the stories crossed between the two series.  Finally, the third series ended, and a new version of the team, in a book simply called The Legion, was published.  This was the fourth series.

Then, in 2004, +DC Comics rebooted the Legion yet again, as part of one universe-spanning crossover or another (I have no idea which -- they all blur together in my mind at this point), once again naming the series Legion of Super-Heroes.  Written by Mark Waid and drawn by Barry Kitson (for the first 2.5 years), this version of the Legion is now available in eight trade paperbacks that encompass the eight story arcs of the entire series -- you won't miss a single issue if you buy these as trades.  This series is distinguished by having two different names.  The first two, and last two, trade paperbacks are sold under the name Legion of Super-Heroes.  The third through sixth, however, are sold under the name Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes. In this article, I will review the full series.

Story arc 1: Legion of Super-Heroes - Teenage Revolution

In the 31st Century, the galaxy has known peace. War has ended, and computers help in every aspect of our lives.  People don't meet face to face anymore, instead staying home and interacting via holograms.  Food is delivered by replicators.  Everything is safe and secure.  To many, especially adults, this condition is seen as utopia.  But to the teenagers, it is viewed as stagnation.

As the story begins, thousands of young people have gathered outside of Legion headquarters, to simply be a part of the movement.  The core members of the team are, of course, young super-heroes like Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Light Lass, Shadow Lass, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and all your favorites from the Legion's earlier runs.  The team battles rogue "macrobots" that the Science Police have been unable to stop, stops a rebellion on Lallor, and foils an attempted assassination of U.P. diplomats.  Meanwhile, Dream Girl has a vision of someone causing death and destruction.  Brainiac 5 begins trying to find out who he is, and what he is up to.

As the story continues, the U.P. passes legislation against the Legion, and the Science Police (S.P.s) try to capture them.  After a protracted fight, the U.P., unable to defeat the Legionnaires, agrees to a truce.  While this is happening, Lightning Lad takes a contingent to Rimworld 19, to defend them against an attack.  They end up battling a group with Legion-like powers called Terror Firma.  After fighting the Legion to a standstill, Terror Firma returns to a secret base, where their mysterious leader prepares them for the coming war.  Following this, Princess Projectra's world of Orando is destroyed by Terror Firma, throwing the U.P. into financial chaos.

As the story arc ends, the mystery man shows up to gloat before Brainiac 5.  He explains to Brainy that he is Praetor Lemnos, and his power is to delete evidence (and memory) of his existence from anyone and anything (people's minds, computer chips, etc).  He does what he wants and then erases evidence he was ever there, making it impossible for anyone to catch him.  He wants to end the time of peace, because he, like the teens, believes it leads to stagnation. However, unlike the Legion, he's willing to destroy worlds and slaughter billions to do it.  He leaves Brainiac at the end with no memory of the encounter, implying that he will have a free run of the galaxy in the future.

Story arc 2: Legion of Super-Heroes - Death of a Dream

The second story arc continues the struggle between Lemnos and the Legion (even though they don't quite know they are fighting him).  Brainiac managed to leave himself a message within some computer code that Lemnos didn't know to erase, enough to tell the Legion that Colu (Brainy's homeworld) is next on the list. Unfortunately, by the time they get to Colu, a virus has already damaged the high-level intellect of the population.  Light Lass uses her powers to trick Lemnos into appearing after Cham's sense of smell detects him, and now the Legion knows their enemy.

In the mean time, Cosmic Boy uses Brainy's absence to sneak into his lab and find out what the "twelfth level intellect" is up to. This leads to a massive rupture, with half the team siding with Cos, and half with Brainy.  The battle is aborted by word that Cosmic Boy's world is seceding from the U.P. and sealing itself off, and he has been summoned home. Cosmic Boy departs for home while Brainy leads the Legion to the planet Helegun. There they are attacked once more by Terror Firma and the fight goes badly. Seeing this on a monitor at the trans-station, Cosmic Boy returns to the Legion to help out.  In the end, Cos and Brainy decide to work together against Terror Firma and Lemnos.

As the Legion regroups, Lemnos orders a final attack. Bombs go off both outside and inside Legion H.Q.  The building is destroyed, and collapses, harming many and killing Dream Girl. Brainy refuses to accept her death, and traps her in a force field to prevent her soul from escaping her body, with the plan of eventually, somehow, bringing her back to life.  Meanwhile, Phantom Girl leads a strike team to Lemnos' base, where they prepare to attack his invasion army. Praetor Lemnos' forces are defeated, and Lemnos captured, thereby ending the threat of galactic war.

Story arc 3: Supergirl/Legion - Strange Visitor

The Legion of Super-Heroes, recently endorsed by Earthgov and the United Planets, has been alerted to a powerful missile-like object heading toward earth.  The entire Legion tries to stop it, but only succeeds in slowing it down.  Then, zooming in to save the day, Supergirl appears.  She smashes the missile, saving 31st-century Metropolis, and the Legionnaires, being big fans of the heroes in our time, immediately recognize her. Supergirl thinks she's dreaming the whole thing, and the Legionnaires are not entirely sure she's who she says she is.  But eventually she asks to become a member of the Legion, and they accept her.

Story arc 4: Supergirl/Legion - Adult education

Supergirl remains in the 31st century, working with the Legion while at the same time causing them concern, because she continues to believe that she is dreaming everything, including them.  As the Legion continues to face an increasing threat from a mysterious group that seems almost like a mirror version of themselves, several of the members finally take Supergirl to the re-enlarged city of Kandor, which is now on a planet with a red sun.  They finally convince her that the events around her are real, and not a dream, and the Kandorians attempt to keep her there permanently.  However, Cosmic Boy invites her back to the Legion, and she re-joins them.  Together with the Legion, she continues to battle against their counter-parts, who we learn are called "the Wanderers."  The leader turns out to be Lightning Lad's brother, Mekt (who in previous incarnations of LSH used to be called "Lightning Lord").  Meanwhile, Braniac 5 frees Mon-El from the Phantom Zone, which has all been part of Mekt's plan.  Mekt then reveals that the Dominators, an alien race who have threatened earth before (in the 20th century), are out to do so again, and he's trying to stop it.

Story arc 5: Supergirl/Legion - Dominator War

In the third of Supergirl's four story arcs with the Legion, all-out war breaks out between Earth and the Dominators.  Mekt Ranzz, leader of the Wanderers, claims that there is going to be an "A.I." attack in Tokyo, and Supergirl, Ultra Boy, and others are sent to investigate.  A giant robot emerges, which proves to be easily defeated. However, upon destruction, it spews out a massive cloud of nano-particles that contain an A.I. virus. In short order, the entire planet Earth has lost all A.I. and computer power, as the virus takes hold.  Other planets seal off the Earth, refusing to accept transmatter portals for fear of infection by the A.I. virus.  The Dominators invade earth, scattering the Legion and the Wanderers and taking control.  However, the captured Cosmic Boy and Triplicate Girl trick the Dominators into opening a transmatter portal to their homeworld just long enough for Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy to fly there and start an attack.  The Legion defeats the Dominators on their world, and Mon-El uses a special device created by Brainy to suck the entire Dominator homeworld into the Phantom Zone (re-trapping himself in the process).  As the clean-up begins, Supergirl finally starts searching for a way to return to her own time. At the same time, Cosmic Boy is visited by people from 1,000 years in his future (the 41st century) who take him forward in time to help them.

Story arc 6: Supergirl/Legion - Quest for Cosmic Boy

Suprgirl's final story arc in the 31st century starts with a bang, as she is elected leader of the Legion and sends three teams in search of the missing Cosmic Boy.  Unfortunately, after about the first 10 pages, we hardly see her again until the end of the arc. It's fairly clear that Tony Bedard, the new writer, had no interest in retaining Supergirl as a major Legion character, and she's not the only Leggionaire to suffer from his neglect in this arc.  Many other important team members are nowhere to be seen in this arc, including Dream Boy, Triplicate Girl, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Light Lass, Element Lad, Karate Kid, Cham, and Colossal Boy. Bedard clearly has favorites, such as Timber Wolf and Atom Girl, and focuses large hunks of the narrative on them.

Bedard also seems to have decided he didn't like Mark Waid's direction in the earlier arcs, and by the end, Brainy's machinations, rather than leading to the discovery of Cosmic Boy, lead to the undoing of almost every major plot consequence of Waid's preceding 30-issue run.  Supergirl is returned to her own time.  Cosmic Boy's name is cleared from the "destruction" of the Dominators.  Mekt Ranzz and the Wanderers are removed as Legion allies.  And the Legion, by befriending prosecutor Tenzil Kem (Matter-Eater Lad), end up on the "good side" of the U.P.  Whether Bedard did this because he disliked Waid's direction on the series, or was ordered to do so by editors who felt that way, the effect was the same. In one fell swoop Bedard erased Waid's entire run on Legion up to that point, and booted Supergirl out of top billing and off the team.  As an added bonus, he erased her memory of her entire time with the Legion, and did not bother to explain how she had gotten to the 31st Century in the first place.

As a Legion story arc, this is the worst of volume 5.  As a Supergirl story arc, it's not even worth buying.  Nothing will be explained to you about her presence in the 31st Century; her return home is abrupt, contrived, and clearly done just to get rid of her; and you hardly see Supergirl after the first issue.  The irony is that, after achieving his goal of wiping out as much of Waid's run as possible, Bedard was booted from the series himself.

Story arc 7: Legion of Super-Heroes - Enemy Rising

Jim Shooter, who wrote for the Legion decades ago, returns for two story arcs.  The story arc begins with Phantom Girl, Karate Kid, and Triplicate Girl battling space monsters at a mining outpost in the solar system's Oort cloud.  A second team is sent to Triton, where the same monsters soon attack. Meanwhile, back at Legion H.Q., Lightning Lad argues with politicians and deals with the fact that the Legion's budget has been frozen. Elsewhere, Projectra battles to regain her royalty status, which the U.P. has revoked because the planet over which she was a ruler no longer exists (from back in story arc 1), and Colossal Boy's team in Beijing tangles with and defeats some ruffians from the lower levels of the city.

Finally, the teams all return to Legion H.Q. There, they learn that despite all the alien attacks, only one specimen was captured -- all the rest have self-destructed.  And that one specimen is held by the S.P.s, who refuse to allow Brainy access. Meanwhile, Projectra leaves the court, where she is accosted by tourists, and loses it, attacking them.  Saturn Girl appears before too much damage is done, and manages to calm Projectra down and smooth things over.  While this happens, the Legion sends Invisible Kid into the examination room to spy on the autopsy of the alien, which wakes up and tries to kill everyone.  The Kid takes him down, but is then arrested for spying.  Before the Legion can figure out how to free him, Ultra Boy's world of Rimbor is attacked by the aliens.

On Rimbor, Ultra Boy's team battles the aliens, ultimately defeating them.  As they do this, on Earth, Brainiac and Lightning Lad are tricked by a U.P. official into sending more Legionnaires away, leaving the S.P.s an easy task of serving the Legion with warrants.  Things then go from bad to worse as the S.P.s on Rimbor attack the Legion and try to arrest them, the other team gets captured by pirates, and the Legionnaires at H.Q. are threatened with arrest.  Finally, however, a new Leggionaire named M'rissey solves most of the trouble by engaging a PR firm and lawyers to sue the U.P.  The S.P.s are forced to back off, giving the Legion back their independent status. As this happens, Invisible Kid saves the remaining Legionnaires from the pirates, and everyone transmatters home.

Story arc 8: Legion of Super-Heroes - Enemy Manifest

Jim Shooter remains as the writer of this, the final story arc of the fifth Legion series.  The arc begins with an alert from Earthgov.  A large planet has materialized in the solar system and its gravitational pull is threatening to destroy the orbits of many planets, including earth.  Brainiac 5 is dispatched to assist, along with the two gravity-powered Legionnaires, Light Lass and Star Boy.  Brainiac uses an amplifier to channel the powers of these two characters, and he traps the planet in a gravity well, thereby protecting the solar system.  From there, Earthgov tries to make diplomatic contact, while Brainy starts trying to figure out how to get through the planet's shield.

Meanwhile, the Legionnaires spend their time recovering from their previous missions, healing up, and interacting with each other.  Invisible Kid walks in on Saturn Girl and Ultra Boy about to have a fling.  Projectra and Phantom Girl read old earth comic-books.  And Brainiac 5 tries to find a way to have a more "meaningful" relationship with the spirit of Dream Girl that seemingly lives inside his unconscious mind.  Indeed, Projectra ends up using some Orandian survivors to attack Dream Girl's spirit, and partially succeeds, destroying her precognitive abilities.  Projectra's reason for doing so is that she plans to attack the Legion to get revenge om them for not protecting Orando, and she doesn't want Dream Girl to warn Brainiac.

As the story nears its climax, delegates from the intruder planet arrive, and point an energy capturing device at many items.  Brainiac scans what they are doing, and finally figures out that the alien enemies actually are virtual-space beings for whom the universe is their computer, and what we see in the universe is just their avatars (essentially reversing the normal situation where a human plays a computer game and the avatar is inside the computer).  This means the Legion will have to find some way to attack them in virtual space.  Unvortunately, the intruder delegates "download" the U.P. secretary of state (which kills her).  Meanwhile, the legion adds several members to its reserve roster, and Projectra is nowhere to be found.

In the end Brainiac 5 discovers a way to have a small team of Legionnaires enter the virtual space of the invaders.  Unprepared for an attack on their own soil, the battle goes badly for them. Then Brainy uses a lock-on to the Invisible Kid to gain control of the entire virtual world, and uses his control to delete the enemy invasion and save the universe.  At the end, he uses the aliens' "copying" device to make Dream Girl a new body, and uploads his memory of her back into it, which essentially resurrects her.  Here, the series ends.

Reflections on Legion series 5

The fifth Legion series, which lasted for about four years, spanning eight story arcs that lasted 50 issues, had three different authors, who set three different tones.

Waid/Kitson - The series began extremely well, with the first 30 issues being written by Mark Waid, drawn by Barry Kitson, and (by Waid's own admission) co-plotted by the two of them.  The characterization was strong, and given the size of the team, Waid and Kitson did a remarkable job of making everyone count.  Perhaps most significantly, these two creators realized that with a huge team, all action all the time would not work, because the characters needed time to develop. Thus, each character had some down time on stage. We see Phantom Girl romancing Karate Kid but being distracted by her own dimension. We see Triplicate Girl dating three male Legionnaires at once.  We watch Projectra go from a spoiled princess to a lost girl mourning her planet and her family. Throughout these first 30 issues, Waid and Kitson establish the humanity of the Legionnaires, while at the same time telling exciting, action-packed stories on a galactic scale.  The whole time I was reading the Waid/Kitson trades, I kept thinking to myself, "This is what the Legion should be."

Tony Bedard - The sixth story arc was written by Tony Bedard, and was the worst of all eight arcs.  Bedard only lasted 6 issues on this title, and it's really no surprise.  Rather than continue with Waid's brilliant stories, Bedard spent his entire 6-issue run doing his damnedest to erase everything Waid had developed. Additionally, he did hardly anything to develop the back-stories of the Legionnaires, with the exception of the Ranzz siblings, and even then, his main focus was Mekt, who is not even a Legion member. He made Supergirl the team leader and then promptly wrote her out of the entire arc, until the final "Epilogue" issue, in which he sent her back home and wiped her memory.  But perhaps Bedard's worst offense of all, was that he flat-out ignored half of the Legion for six issues. Nowhere in his entire arc do Colossal Boy, Phantom Girl, Karate Kid, or Triplicate Girl appear.  Ultra Boy is seen in one panel.  Princess Projectra is completely ignored.  Instead, we get page after page of Mekt Ranzz and Tenzil Kem, neither of whom is even in the Legion.

Jim Shooter - The final year or so of this series was written by Jim Shooter, who at least did a better job with characterization then Bedard, and used more of the characters than Bedard did.  Interestingly, the very first scene of Shooter's run focused on Karate Kid, Phantom Girl, and Triplicate Girl -- three characters who had been very noticeably ignored by Bedard for 6 months.  However, although Shooter used more of the Legionnaires in each story arc than Bedard used, he was not able to achieve the delicate balance of Waid/Kitson, who consistently managed to give an equal amount of spotlight to all 20 or so Legion members.  Like Bedard, Shooter did not bother to explore the back-story of the Legion characters, although unlike Bedard, he did delve deeply into the interpersonal relationships of at least some Legionnaires.  Shooter's also a good deal funnier than the other writers, at least in his first arc, and his levity can be quite enjoyable.  At the very least, it helps make the characters likable.  However, he fails to use the Legion to its full potential the way Waid and Kitson did.

And so, the fifth Legion series, which had such high sustained quality for over two years, fizzled out by the end. After reading the first couple of trades by Waid and Kitson, I found myself wondering why on earth this series would ever have been canceled -- it was so good.  But having gone through the last three story arcs, I can absolutely see why the plug was pulled, and the reins turned back over to Paul Levitz.  I haven't read either of the next two series, so I don't know how they are, but if Levtiz is anything like his old self, they can't help but be better than the mediocrity turned out by Shooter, or the absolute sewage produced by Tony Bedard.

And so, the fifth Legion series drew to a sad close, and DC had no choice but to re-launch this storied but often editorially challenged super-hero team yet again. And not for the last time.

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