Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Legion of Super-Heroes (v3) #38

Legion of Super-Heroes #38 (September, 1987)
title: "The Greatest Hero Of Them All"
writer: Paul Levitz
penciller: Greg LaRocque
inker: Mike DeCarlo
ink assist: Arne Starr
lettering: John Costanza
colorist: Carl Gafford 
editor: Karen Berger 
cover: Bill Sienkiewicz
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Superboy, Brainiac 5, Sun Boy, Blok, Invisible Kid, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, Wildfire, Dawnstar, Dream Girl, Polar Boy; cameos by the entire Legion

Cosmic Boy, Night Girl, Pete Ross, Lana Lang, Ma & Pa Kent

The Time Trapper

Leaving post-Crisis 1987, Superboy and the remaining Legionnaires head back to Smallville. During the trip, Superboy explains how when the Crisis occurred, the Time Trapper offered to save his world if Superboy would promise to help the Time Trapper defeat the Legion. 
We then cut to the Time Trapper already in Smallville, telling his captive Legionnaires the same conversation from his side. He promised to save the "pocket universe" that he had created if Superboy cooperated in capturing the Legion for him.

Back in the 30th Century, Wildfire energy body freaks Dawnstar out. She flies away from him, leaving him more frustrated than ever.
Back in Smallville, the four Legionnaires are only pretending to be paralyzed by the Time Trapper's stasis ray. When Superboy brings them to the Smallville High School gymnasium, the Trapper insists that Superboy murder all of them. Superboy refuses, and while he battles the Time Trapper Brainiac 5 is able to free Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Cosmic Boy, and Night Girl.

During the battle, the Time Trapper goads Superboy into destroying the machine that is keeping the Crisis from destroying Smallville. As soon as the machine is damaged, the skies turn red again and Smallville is in danger of being expunged.

Back in the 30th Century, Polar Boy frets that he made the wrong decision to send only a small group to face the Time Trapper. Dream Girl supports him by telling him he is doing fine.

Back in Smallville, the Time Trapper is satisfied that the Crisis will destroy Smallville and the Legion. The Time Trapper admits that the Legion never actually travelled in time; it was all a jest for his amusement. As he and Brainiac 5 argue chronal theory, Cosmic Boy angrily demands that something be done NOW to save Smallville.
When Brainiac 5 admits that he can't re-connect the Time Trapper's machinery to its power source, Superboy decides that he can be its power source instead. He steps in and acts as a conduit, allowing the machine to "push" Smallville into some safe parallel universe away from the Crisis. Mon-El and Ultra Boy step up to help, but Superboy pushes them away with his super-breath.
As soon as Smallville is "safe," Superboy guides his friends' time bubble through the time stream into the 30th Century, where he expires in Mon-El's arms.

The Legion vows revenge on the Time Trapper as they hold a somber memorial for Superboy. Mon-El eulogizes him as his brother, and Cosmic Boy calls him The Greatest Hero Of Them All.

This is one of the few comic-books that can still bring a tear to my eye no matter how often I read it... and not just for what it is, but for what it isn't.

The most important part of this that Paul Levitz gets right is Superboy's nobility. He doesn't want to risk injuring his friends, so he takes it upon himself to be the conduit to the Trapper's machine. He doesn't want to risk his friends being stranded in Limbo, so he takes it upon himself to "guide" the time bubble through the time stream. In doing these things, he kills himself, but he sacrifices himself for the sake of his town and for the sake of his friends. That's what a true hero does.

Compared to that bit, the rest of the story is a hot mess. Blok and Invisible Kid do absolutely nothing in this story, cementing (for me) their positions as Worst Legionnaires Ever. Night Girl attacks the Time Trapper by...hitting the building he's standing on? Huh? No wonder she's not a Legionnaire. Brainiac 5 stands around arguing with the Time Trapper like he is having some sort of temper tantrum, instead of trying to fix what is broken. Mon-El and Ultra Boy offer to help Superboy save Smallville, but when they are rebuffed, they then stand around and basically watch him die?! You can't see this, but I am shaking my head, "No, no, no."

Other things that bother me every time I re-read this: 1) Time Trapper "finishing" the story begun by Superboy (pages 4-5). This is creepy. Levitz should have left Superboy as the narrator there.

2) The Legionnaires were frozen by Superboy in their civvies (last issue) but now they are in their uniforms. Superboy changed his friends' clothes? Super-pervy.

3) In general Levitz is able to juggle various plot-threads and "keep us posted" in most stories by doing cut-aways to various Legionnaires not involved in the "main" action. This issue, however, we get cut-aways to the the soap opera antics of Wildfire and Dawnstar, and the self-confidence problems of Polar Boy. The story would have been better served without either.

4) Time Trapper kept Smallville separate from the "real" time-line...for 20 years?! Why? His plot was never really explained. If he just wanted to kill the Legion, surely there would have been an easier method than the time and effort expanded to create a pocket universe and populate it with pocket people which then eventually became a pocket....Earth-1? And I asked last week but I'll repeat myself here: where does this "plot" leave Supergirl? Was she a "pocket universe" character, too? No matter how many times I read this I just don't understand what Time Trapper was hoping to achieve. Not DC's grandest achievement.

And I hate to say it, but except for the cover, the art this time out is terrible. Bill Sienkiewicz turns in a fantastic cover, made all the better when compared to the interior art. I know that sounds harsh, but some of this is really, truly bad. I think LaRoque or maybe DeCarlo was trying to be Perez-like in some of their layouts, which actually works some of the time, such as on pages 15 and 21. But the static poses and postures the Legionnaires find themselves in....not as good. Worse, the horse-like expressions on most of the men, and the odd grimaces and expressions on Superboy throughout. Take a look at page 21 (reprinted above) and tell me why you think Mon-El is so calm in panel 3, but then is wide-eyed crazy in panel 6?

While the actual death scene of Superboy is done well enough, the ceremony on pages 25-26 is very bad. On page 25 we get the back of White Witch's head as the center of the panel, followed by Polar Boy's elbow in the next. The characters are in shadow; I get it, they are in a dark place emotionally, but the lighting should be dimmed or something. Otherwise it looks like Phantom Girl's uniform simply turned black. And the full-page funeral ceremony features a close-up of Mon-El's cape? Surely editor Karen Berger should have ordered the camera-angle switched to the other side so we could see Mon-El crying over the casket, with the Legionnaires behind him. This is just an awful, awful perspective.

This story is, arguably, The End of The Legion As We Know It. Therefore it's a shame that the story itself isn't better.

To honor The Boy of Steel, the rest of this week we here at Legion of Super-Bloggers will present several individual posts on what the death of Superboy meant to us. Join us, won't you?

Science Police Notes:  
  • This story continues from Action Comics #591
  • Legion Reservists Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Matter-Eater Lad, Star Boy, Bouncing Boy, and Duo Damsel attend the funeral. 
  • The Time Trapper story would conclude in next year's Legion #50.   
This story has been reprinted in Superman: The Man of Steel vol 4 TPB  

This is the last ever appearance by Superboy, Smallville, his foster parents Martha & Jonathan Kent, Pete Ross, and Lana Lang in Legion continuity. 


  1. I'm pretty sure that the Time Trapper's reason for doing all this was to prevent the Legion from getting into contact with the actual 20th century. Why he wanted to do that is another question, but fooling them into thinking they'd already done it makes Brainiac 5 stop trying to do it.

    Why was that important? Who knows, the Trappers motives are always inscrutable. There was one story where he tried to kill five specific legionairres because they would, in the future, be critical to his defeat, but nobody ever followed that up, which was a bit of a shame. (I think that most of them actually did end up dying, so there could have been a real story there if anyone had bothered...)

  2. Yes, I remember the story you are referencing, Superboy and Karate Kid for sure died...I think of the Time Trapper as one of those great villains that writers just didn't know what to do with.

  3. The panel reproduced above with Ma and Pa is pretty darn heartbreaking too. "Don't cry Ma, he might hear us" It's like they know their son is going to die saving the world but they don't want him to worry about them on top of everything else.

    For all the flaws in the story, moments like this just make Byrne's later massacre of the pocket universe even worse.

    Way too many weird/bad art choices: Like why is Mon-El holding Ultra-Boy back instead of the other way around? I know Jo spent a brief time in the 20th century too but still.

    1. Yes, that panel as well as the panel with Lana and Pete, and later the page with Mon-El are all very well done. But yes, Mon should have had an even bigger role in this story, as Superboy and the Kents really were his foster family, AND if you think about it, he alone watched the Pocket Universe grow for 1,000 years so he *really* knows what we're losing. This time paradox should have really played with his head...oh, wait, I guess it did.

  4. Thank you.

    I never got a chance to read this issue. I subscribed at the time and the screwball at the comic store missed this one on my pull list. By the time I got to the store they were sold out, as were the other 3 comic shops in town. Though I prefer my legion without kryptonians present, it's not the same if you try to wash out the influence entirely. The flaws pointed out were entirely valid, but it still would have been nice to get a look when it came out. (That's why I HAVE a pull list you idiots!)

    1. As badly as it was done, it still makes me teary-eyed to re-read it. You did eventually get a copy, right? ;-)

    2. Nope - or I would have read it by now.

  5. IIRC in issue # 4 of the 5YL series, the Time Trapper explains that he manipulated events to create the Legion so that the team could prevent Mordru from fulfilling his destiny of ruling the universe. Part of that scheme included the creation of the Pocket Universe Superboy as the team's inspiration. The Trapper's battles with the Legion were a ruse to keep Mordru from suspecting anything. Now, I'm not sure whether this was Levitz' original idea or just something Giffen made up on his own Either way, though, it makes for a very compelling story.

  6. This mini series should be part of new Superman sequel...It would be awesome expanding of DC Universe.

  7. Indeed a touching story. I liked the panels where some Legionnaires say what Superboy meant to them. Mon-El saying the he treated him like a brother (well, except for banishing him to the Phantom Zone for a thousand years).