Friday, October 10, 2014

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #4

Legion Reviewer: Anj
Super-power: Devourer of Crisis style timeline destruction

Just when you thought the 5YL Legion couldn't get any crazier, Legion of Super-Heroes #4 was released. The first three issues were something of a whirlwind tour of the state of the universe, a dingier place in the embrace of evil and violence. The United Planets and Earth were under the fascist regime of the Dominion. Mordru had risen to power and was controlling a large portion of the universe. The Khunds were running previously free states. And the Legion were scattered and dealing with significant personal issues, the result of 5 years of war, bootlegging, and biding time. The snowball of stories was just starting to roll down the mountainside.

This issue, incredibly, jumps rails a bit. The main Legionnaires of the first three issues - Rokk, Reep, Jo, Vi, Ayla - are nowhere to be seen. Instead we meet up with Querl Dox (Brainiac 5), Tasmia Mallor (Shadow Lass), and a suddenly, very much alive, Lar Gand (Mon-El). And the universe will never be the same after this issue ... and that is no hyperbole. The creative team of Keith Giffen, Tom and Mary Bierbaum, and Al Gordon destroy all that we know in 22 pages.

Readers should have been able to tell something big was going to happen in this issue. After 3 issues of dark tones and dark themes on the cover, we get this image of power - a strong, posed Mon-El standing in front of a bright color. Things seem different ... things will be different.


Our first stop is Talok VIII, the home world of Shadow Lass. Despite it being years since Mon-El's death, at least 5 if not more depending on how you time the end of the Baxter series, she is still deeply grieving her beloved's passing. Garbed in black and gray, covered from head to foot, she mourns him and prays for his soul.

But you can't be sidelined by sadness and be a planetary champion. The time has come for her cousin, Grev Mallor, to take over the title.

Grev had been a member of the Legion Academy and at one point (I thought) had been named champion so Tasmia could remain in the Legion. Perhaps with the Legion disbanded the title slipped back again to her?

I love Giffen's clothing designs in this new universe.


But we saw last issue that someone emerged from Mon-El's grave, alive.

Here we are seeing the universe from his viewpoint. He is streaking to Talok VIII to be reunited with Shadow Lass. It is interesting to take that point of view, but we get a sense of his speed here. The distant circles in panel one are a planet/moon suddenly up close.

But not only do we see what Mon-El sees. We learn and hear the voices in his head. Three voices.

In purple, it is the Time Trapper. In orange, Mon-El. And in pink?? A more tortured soul? Who is it?

And now we learn the Time Trapper's plan. He was supposedly killed in the Baxter series. But he left a spark of himself in Mon-El's body. He actually manipulated time to create Mon-El to be a vessel to live in should his other essence die. Mon-El has simply been a puppet, an escape clause for the Trapper to manifest in should he need to.

And since the Trapper made Mon-El's body, he can change it. Gone is the weakness to lead. Suddenly, Mon-El is one of the most powerful beings in the universe.

Now ... I don't know how I feel about the Trapper's tight connection to Mon-El.


Once reunited with Shady, once the truth of his existence is revealed, the two head to the only person they think is smart enough to help them. Who else but Brainiac 5.

This is our first lengthy look at Brainy. We see that he is dedicated to one thing only in his life as a researcher - the Validus plague. He is trying to isolate and find a cure.

There is something amusing at his dry response to overhearing that Mon-El is hoping Brainy can drain the Trapper away. It's never easy.

But if the Trapper isn't stripped away from Mon-El, then the Trapper exists. And the last thing the current universe needs is another source of evil.


Now this whole plot about The Time Trapper and Mon-El is a new one. So Giffen has to use much of the early part of the issue explaining just what the heck is going on. We need to understand just what the Trapper meant to do with Mon-El. This idea as a hidey-hole for a spark of his soul is odd.

But what about that other voice? Giffen dusts off an old story from Action Comics #384, a story in which Mon-El's relative Eltro Gand took his place in hopes of saving him from dying (Dream Girl had a vision). Of course, Mon-El does indeed die. Eltro, feeling responsible, sacrifices himself in some life-switching chair to revive Mon-El at the cost of Eltro's own life. As I said, this creative team is wedding some Legion minutiae (for the old fans) with a new vision (for new readers).

But then Giffen just has the Trapper erase Eltro's whining voice! Why add it ... unless it was to appease the continuity-obsessed Legion fans?


But now we begin to hear more about the Trapper and his universal machinations. He knew from his throne at the end of time that Mordru was destined to arise and rule the universe. If the Trapper wanted control of reality before entropy took over, he needed to create another force to knock down Mordru. And that force was the Legion.

The Legion were created by the Time Trapper. Chew on that for a minute.

Their adventures were their own. But they would not exist if it weren't for one of their greatest enemies.


Turns out, as you can see from the last panel of the previous picture that Brainy has deduced a way to remove the 'soul' of the Time Trapper from Mon-El's body.

It leads to a two front fight. Brainy and Shady have to fight a possessed robot drone. They win.

But Mon-El is brought to the end of time, there to physically fight the Trapper for control of his body.

It is an absolute slugfest amid the dust. But we learn more ...


Okay. So after a issue which has been tricky to follow, even as a veteran Legion fan, Giffen decides to give us some exposition. And somehow he is able to explain the pocket universe and the Trapper's plan in 6 tidy panels. That is a feat!

The Trapper needed to stop Mordru from rising. So he created a pocket universe in the past, complete with a Kryptonian inspiration for young heroes, and then made every time traveling expedition go to his pocket universe instead of the real world (of the Byrne Superman).

With Superboy in place as an inspiration, he shunted RJ Brande into the future (in the Phantom Girl time swap), thus setting up someone to bankroll the Legion.

And then ... as planned ... the Legion arose, became a source of good, and defeated Mordru time and again. But the Trapper's plan was too good, his 'puppets' too powerful. The Legion held the Trapper in check too!

With the Legion dispersed in the current 5YL timeline, the time had finally come for the Trapper to resurrect himself in the body of Mon-El.

Whew! Did everybody follow that temporal travel troublesome timeline?


Okay, all of this has been a lot to swallow, even as a Legion reader. With the revelations we have learned this issue, everything we have known about the team has been cast in a new light. The Time Trapper has played a more massive role in their history than imagined. But the tiny bit of essence he kept alive inside of Mon-El is still relatively weak. He cannot defeat Mon-El in combat. And Lar looks like he is ready to finally and completely eliminate the threat.

Leave it to Giffen to throw in one more large monkey wrench into the works.

The Trapper warns Mon-El about the repercussions of destroying this last vestige of the Trapper. Should the Trapper die, his last wish is to undo everything he has ever done. If Mon-El strikes the killing blow, it will be as if there never were a Trapper. No pocket Universe. No Superboy. No RJ Brande. No neutralizing force to stand against Mordru.

NO LEGION!

Could Mon-El take that risk? Would he ever undo everything? You only need to see the art in these panels to get your answers. Mon's face is in shadows, a dark appearance.


Did you guess he would kill the Trapper?

Well he does.

And just like that, the Universe and history as we know it fades away. In classic DC style, the universe fades away to a blank white page. Things have changed forever. How can there be a Legion if there was never a Legion?

This was a mega dense issue spent explaining the Time Trapper, his role in the Legion's history, and then throwing Legion continuity ... beloved by Legion fandom ... into a blender and hitting frappe.

How bold was this move? Four issues into a brand new direction of the Legion, Giffen and the Bierbaums hit the reset button. And to hit that button, they had to acknowledge, explain, and then erase one of the most convoluted and confusion parts of Legion history ever ... the pocket universe. And they did it all in one issue! Incredible. Entertaining. Powerful.

In this day and age, this would have been a 6 issue arc, built for trade. Instead, Giffen rips the band-aid off, getting all the pain of this retcon done quickly.

I can remember being dismayed and discombobulated when this issue was over. What did it mean to Legion lore??

We'll find out next issue, an even crazier issue than this one.

9 comments:

  1. There are so many things of this issue that have stayed with me over the past (25!) years: the amazing cover (best Mon-El portrait ever, wonderfully homaged by Lee), Brainy's throaway line, Eltro's insecurities.
    And then, the amazing page with Mon's head in each panel, and the "maybe the best man I ever knew was your creation..." monologue.
    Still powerful as it was back then.

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  2. That did it. I'm pulling the 5YL run when I get home - or at least, the first 5 issues. That must have been exhausting for you to review!

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  3. I am really appreciating these reviews/recaps! This run of the Legion was a big favorite of mine for a while, and it's nice to see it get such well-written attention. :)

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  4. Oh, wait: one thing nags at me. How could Brande have been inspired by the legend of the Trapper's pocket universe Superboy? Wasn't this Brande from the L.E.G.I.O.N. series, which took place in the "real" non-pocket universe DCU?

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  5. I always thought there were a lot of last-minute changes to this issue, as evidenced by the change in lettering styles in a few boxes.

    (I deleted my comment about Eltro as it's spoilerish for people who haven't read this series yet.)

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  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Max, I have never solved that little conundrum about Brande either. The pocket universe was challenging!

    I am loving reviewing this series here. Part of it is that I can take a big picture look at series pacing and creative decisions knowing what is coming next.

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  8. I hated this first time around. Just hated it. It wasn't the Legion to me. I dropped the book, not to pick it back up until the SW6ers were revealed (once a Legion fan...).

    Now, of course, I wonder how past me couldn't love this run. It was throwing the Legion on its head yet using the past as building blocks (Eltro Gand? How could I not love the use of him?).

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  9. A bit late to the party, but one thing to bear in mind: this wasn't planned by Giffen. DC editorial decided that in the end, they wanted no trace of anything related to Superman tied to the Legion. It wasn't enough that post-COIE Superboy had to wiped away. By the time this volume of the Legion started, there couldn't be any reference to anything Superman related. So it wasn't enough that the Legion's Superboy had to be from a pocket universe, DC editorial mandated that there could never be a Superboy, in any shape or form (and no Supergirl, etc).

    So Giffen did the best he could, I suppose, even if it made things worse for the Legion, continuity-wise.

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