Sunday, December 6, 2015

5YL: Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1

The Legion of Super-Heroes (v4) Annual 1# (1990)
title: "Charade"
writer: Tom & Mary Bierbaum
penciller: Dougie Braithwaite
inker: Doug Hazelwood and Larry Mahlstedt
lettering: Todd Klein
colorist: Tom McCraw
editor: Michael Eury
cover: Adam Hughes and Al Gordon
reviewer: Siskoid

Mission Monitor Board:  
Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy, Duo Damsel, Invisible Kid, Laurel Gand, Light Lass, Lightning Lad, Matter-Eater Lad, Phantom Girl (dies), Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Shrinking Violet, Star Boy, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy, Valor, Wildfire

Guests: 
An Ryd, Crav Nahm, Marla Latham, Mytra Nah, Phase, R.J. Brande, Reflecto, Rond Vidar, Si

Opponents: 
Dominators, Glorith, Mordru, Omega, Sygyn


Recap: 
Hi, and welcome to the recap. Siskoid here. I want to preface this, the first of my 5YL recaps, by thanking fellow Super-Blogger Anj for his passionate and dedicated work on the whole of the volume 4 of the Legion of Super-Heroes, AKA the Five Years Later era. After 61 issues of that very dense book, he is taking a well-deserved break from the weekly recap/review grind. But that doesn't mean we're done with 5YL! Not only will Anj be doing a few fun pieces before the end of 2015, but we still haven't covered vol.4's Annuals, the 18 pre-Reboot issues of Legionnaires (plus Annual), or the issues of Valor that crossed over into the end of the era. That task falls to me, and I'll be filling your weekends with these comics (though perhaps not in the sheer detail Anj was known for). And because these were published DURING vol.4, the recap portion of the article will place the issue in context and give you any information required to make sense of it. In this case...

Vol.4's first Annual came out in July of 1990, between issues 11 and 12 of the main series, though the events pictured occurred a year before the end of Vol.3, and supersede them. The Annual is really an attempt to retell parts of the Legion's history after Glorith changed it by replacing the Time Trapper in issue 4 and 5.

Synopsis: 
Back in 2988, a year before the so-called Great Collapse, the Legion fought Glorith, mistress of time, following her genocide of the planet Daxam. That battle cost the Daxamite hero Valor his life, and Duo Damsel one of her two selves. This is known. What wasn't known to the world at large or even the Legion, at least until Ultra Boy let Saturn Girl into his mind, was that Glorith was responsible for the Legion's creation.

As we jump from memory to memory inside Ultra Boy's mind, we learn how he left a promising acting career back on Rimbor to join the Legion after gaining his amazing powers, and how his membership test was to go back in time to discover how the Legion's heroic idol Valor disappeared from history. Ultra Boy did meet Valor, but had to leave before he discovered his fate, wondering later if he'd created the history that led to the Legion's founding, somewhat responsible for Valor intervening on his behalf against a Dominion fleet holding secrets about the nature of the galaxy's varied super-powered races. Though Ultra Boy thought he'd failed, he nevertheless was inducted into the Legion for his valorous behavior.

Saturn Girl also learned how Ultra Boy discovered a time anomaly in 2949, the year R.J. Brande first appeared, and how he confronted the Legion's financier and got him to admit he was a man out of time. Further evidence of a temporal iron curtain in the near future, preventing anyone from seeing more than 30 days into the future, led him to understand that Glorith was behind it all - that she'd created the events necessary for Valor to inspire a legend that would last 1000 years, and sent Brande forward to help found the Legion. Ultra Boy kept all of this to himself to protect his friends from Glorith's power, often playing dumb so as to hide his manipulation of events to keep the balance between her and her rival, the powerful wizard Mordru.

It is further revealed that Brainiac 5 DID put the pieces of the puzzle together and was immediately visited by Glorith, who proceeded to tell him how she created the Legion as a weapon against Mordru, the only being who could prevent her from gaining total power, but he would not remember any of it. She wiped his mind and made him go mad, which certainly explains an important part of his history. This also explained why Ultra Boy made the "stupid mistake" of helping Earth sign a treaty with powers allied with Mordru, thus preventing the Legion from ever attacking him unless he attacked Earth first, something that did not make him popular with his fellow Legionnaires, with perhaps Phantom Girl the only exception. A slow-burning romance between the two finally blazed.

Back in the objective present, Saturn Girl beams Ultra Boy's story into Glorith's head, causing the time witch to be distracted and allowing Laurel Gand to hit her from behind, hard. Glorith is forced to retreat into the time stream to lick her wounds. In real time, Ultra Boy asks Phantom Girl to marry him, but Glorith takes her revenge by eliminating PG from history.

Commentary: 
A massive retcon, essentially, and not an easy one on the brain if yours isn't holding all of Ultra Boy's key stories. Mine certainly wasn't when I read this at the time. Having done a lot of research on the Legion since, for this blog and other projects, I'm doing a little better, but not much.

That doesn't mean it isn't an engaging story, but it reads like an issue of Secret Origins that tries to recap too much history. The opening chapters, set on Rimbor, are comparatively slow, and meant to set up that Jo Nah had the natural talent to make the world believe he was something of a brawny dunce, when in actual fact, he'd stumbled onto a conspiracy early on and had become a major behind-the-scenes player in its undermining. It's an "everything you thought you knew is wrong" type of story, which tends to have varying mileage for different readers. I like it, personally, as there are plenty of dumb jocks in the Legion, and one less won't be missed. That he would have to pay for his interference with Glorith's plan, with the life of his beloved (OUR beloved) Phantom Girl is heart-wrenching as well.

But while the various retcons are pretty cool, especially the bit about Brainiac 5's madness (a redemption for a much maligned character) and retelling the Time Trapper story from Legion of Super-Heroes (vol.3) #50 with a different antagonist (all the changes to the story are well thought-out), I definitely had the feeling that some scenes needed a little more (Tinya's funeral, Jo and the Ultra Energy Beast, an explanation for Reflecto), and that others were taking up room that could have been used for that (an enigmatic conversation with Shrinking Violet, and Matter-Eater Lad's bad joke about Jo's sexual orientation, come to mind).

But then, that's the structure of the comic, jumping as it does from memory to memory, with floating thoughts taking us to and out of each one. It's the way WE time travel, and makes perfect sense in the context of a years-long covert battle with Glorith.Part of the game, of course, is making sense of a Ultra Boy and the Legion's history without a Superboy, without even a Pocket Universe or a Time Trapper. But continuity games, while they can be fun, can also be an exercise in futility (just count the number of Legion reboots AFTER this). At the back of the book, the Bierbaums admit to wanting to shoehorn their favorite fan theories about the Time Trapper into the story, with Glorith as stand-in. But by focusing on a single character, and giving him a real emotional through-line, they succeed in making this better than it ought to be.

Still, a dense read, one that references way too many things for the casual, or even the less-than-casual reader, with unremarkable art (beyond the Adam Hughes cover). But as readers were trying to decode the Legion's future in the main series, looking back at its past, through that same lens, made for an intriguing change of pace.

Science Police Notes:  
  • Ultra Boy's introduction and first meeting with Superboy is replaced with a mission to the past to meet Valor, superseding the original story from Superboy (vol.1) #98.
  • The story of Ultra Boy's romance with Phantom Girl during his first charade as the "Rogue Legionnaire" originally occurred in Adventure Comics #316, and was retold in Secret Origins #42.
  • The attempt to frame Ultra Boy for the murder of former girlfriend An Ryd occurred in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #239.
  • Brainiac 5's madness leading to the "Omega saga" happened in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #250-251.
  • The battle with Glorith that frames this issue supersedes the Time Trapper story from Legion of Super-Heroes (vol.3) #50, which bore similar results. 
  • It was originally believed that Phantom Girl did not die but was switched in time with R.J. Brande, turning up as the amnesiac Phase, a member of L.E.G.I.O.N. Not so. Phase was actually Tinya Wazzo's nevertheless time-displaced sister Enya Wazzo. During Zero Hour, Phantom Girl was briefly brought back by a resurrected Time Trapper before the entire timeline collapsed.

Milestone: 
Phantom Girl dies in this issue, at Glorith's hand. The issue also retells the deaths of Mon-El (Valor) and of one of Duo Damsel's bodies, killed by Glorith instead of the Time Trapper.

3 comments:

  1. I remember picking up this issue when it came out and absolutely hating it. I wasn't a big fan of the Time Trapper story in LSH (v3) #50 story anyway, but to find it messed with and revised just hurt my head. And the murder of Phantom Girl just seemed arbitrary....which is fine on the one hand, but very painful on the other.

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  2. Thank you for finally getting around to the Annuals.

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