Recap: The Dominators are fighting a two-front war on Earth, dealing with the UP fleet in orbit as well as the insurrection of the rebel troops on the ground. In deep space, the Dominion homeworld of Elia is being overrun by the Khunds. Their empire is reeling. Meanwhile on Earth, the SW6 Legion has joined the Earth war, aiding the rebels and trying to reclaim Earth for its people. After simmering, and then boiling over, this particular Earthwar seems to be steamrolling to its conclusion.
Legion of Super-Heroes #35 basically ends the UP/Dominator war. After months of buildup, after intermittent skirmishes, after different groups jockeying for position, we get a conclusion. The creators of this book have really done well over the course of this arc, making sure we check in on all the factions, giving everyone their moment to shine, while weaving a complicated story looking at the tragedy of war. But this issue brings us to a sort of conclusion. And it includes one of those "ka-pow" moments that dot this series and make it special.
Despite the overarching story of the war, we still have been able to pause to have some powerful character moments. The power of the Legion is their history, is the three-dimensional nature of these characters. And so moving away from space battles to see how Duo Damsel would respond, how Element Lad would respond, has deepened this arc.
I remain impressed with the writers - Keith Giffen and Tom & Mary Bierbaum - and their ability to alter the pace of this arc effectively. In the midst of this, they continued to take some risks, pausing for character-driven episodes and even leaving the story completely with the Kid Quantum issue.
Artists Jason Pearson and Karl Story have really grown as well.
As much as this has been a war of empires, it also has been an exploration of cultures. The Dominators are completely caste driven. The lower castes never question the upper. There is little initiative in the lower castes as they always look for their orders.
With the Dominator fleet in disarray, lacking computer data, unable to contact their homeworld, and without their Pinnacle Command leader, the lower ship captains don't know what to do. They are paralyzed by their culture, with their inability to question or act.
It is a flaw in their chain of command which aids the rebels and the UP in their fight for freedom.
Here we see the young SW6 Valor joining the battle. Is this the optimism of youth? The impetuousness of the young? The right thing to do? Is this showing that this younger Lar isn't weighed down by his own legend?
It isn't easy though. Valor has to watch people get shot by the Dominator troops without stopping. His mission is to disable the remaining Dominator battle wagons. If he stops to help everyone he passes, he won't fulfill his role in the war plan. But how hard must it be for any Legionnaire to fly by while innocents are being gunned down? That first panel shows just how conflicted he is. Again, we see up close the difficult choices war imposes.
And then, that moment.
We see Ultra Boy and Colossal Boy destroying other Dominator ships. Finally, the SW6 Legion is active and visible. The people of Earth see those classic costumes flying in the air, fighting the Dominators. Suddenly there is hope!
That last panel is brilliant. "The Legion is back!" "God, we are gonna win this thing!"
I have talked at length over these three years of issues about how one of the themes of this book is how the Legion are inspirations in the future. The team's very existence brings people hope, reminds them of their mission of doing good, respecting freedom, and defending the rights of all. The Five Years Later universe is a dark place. And part of that darkness is because the Legion simply wasn't there as a light to burn away the blackness.
Seeing that last panel gave me goose bumps, similar to many of the scenes in 5YL Legion #12.
The United Planets cut a deal with Leland McCauley to use the McCauley Omnicom tablet as a communication device. McCauley has left a backdoor into his technology that allows the UP to cut through the Dominator's communication blackout.
While the war may not be officially over, it is clear the Dominators are being routed, so Chairman Relnic sends out a victory message. It states the Dominators have fallen. And he talks about how the Legion is part of the battle, including two versions of Valor!
I have enjoyed these text pages as back matter in this book. Putting this one in the middle of the story was a little jarring. But in many ways it worked. It put me in the role of the average citizen, reading this story coming through and hearing the news.
In a subplot that has been brewing for a couple of issues, the still alive, self-immolating Dirk Morgna claws his way to the surface and encounters his younger self.
We knew he was having second thoughts about his alliance with the Dominators from his solo origin issue back in 5YL #28.
Here, confronted with his SW6 clone, he collapses. He realizes just how much he was used. The Dominators were cloning, were deceiving him, were performing atrocities.
I very much disliked Dirk earlier in this book. But how can you not feel sympathetic for him here. His gaunt form, on fire, slowly killing himself, realizing he was a dupe who gave into his baser desires... he is pathetic. But this is almost too horrible an ending for him.
And finally it becomes official. Pinnacle Command, captured by Laurel Gand last issue, is faced with the sorry reality of his Empire.
The Dominator fleet and troops on Earth have been defeated. The homeworld of Elia is being overrun.
In a moment of benevolence, the UP offers Pinnacle Command a choice. He can take his remaining army and ships and head back to Elia. The UP won't stop them.
Should they do this? Would it be better to simply imprison them? Slaughter them? Have the Dominators fade from relevance, crushed on both fronts of a two-front war?
But then aren't you simply becoming your enemy? "Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster."
What is the right thing to do?
To paraphrase Jim Gordon in Dark Knight Returns, it's too big for me to know.
Pinnacle Command agrees to leave Earth and return to Elia. Despite being considered a retreat (something unheard of for the Dominators), he knows he must help his seedworld. He broadcasts to his troops to leave.
It is now official.
The war is over.
And yet, Giffen and Bierbaum don't give us the parades and glory immediately. Instead they show us the devastation. Cities reduced to rubble. Bodies littering the streets. The quiet moment among the SW6 Legion, still reeling from this universe they are in. It is the end of their innocence.
Nothing is left but tying up some loose ends.
Jacques Foccart has been elected the new President of Earth!
Laurel Gand gives Pinnacle Command something to mull over on his trip home. He mocks the UP leaving him alive, saying it is the foolishness of humanity. And then she floors him.
"It's our humanity that's always saved us. Just as it's your hatred that has destroyed you."
Maybe, just maybe, she has planted a seed here, showing him the error in his ways, the flaws in the foundation of their whole culture.
That last panel, Command cloaked in shadows, almost whispering that Laurel has a point, is just tremendous, the art speaking as loudly as the words.
And how can you not love Laurel!
And while we do get a panel of everyone on Earth celebrating the end of the war, the book ends ominously.
McCauley and Universo are pumping subliminal messages through the Omnicom tablets. Soon they will be ruling this new Earth. Has the planet thrown the yoke of one master off only to be reined in by another?
I have been enjoying the leaked pages from the SW6 Shrinking Violet's diary as back matter.
It is interesting to see how the creators are showing her dealing with her sexuality, both recognizing how she feels when Saturn Girl hugs her and then immediately denying it.
More interesting is her (and others') idea that this Legion is time-displaced rather than cloned. She is trying to deal with the idea that her parents and her friends might be dead now. How will she cope being in this time if they can't get back. Of course, we know there is no going back.
And so ends, the great Earth/Dominator war. Surely the planet will have some quiet time to adjust to things. Right?