Sunday, December 20, 2015

5YL: Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3

The Legion of Super-Heroes (v4) Annual #3 (1992)
title: "Full Moon Fever"
writer: Al Gordon, Tom & Mary Bierbaum
pencillers: Rob Haynes, Ian Montgomery, Joe Phillips, Brandon Peterson
inkers: Al Gordon, John Dell, Scott Hanna
lettering: John Workman
colorist: Tom McCraw
editor: Mike Eury
cover: Keith Giffen and Al Gordon
reviewer: Siskoid

Mission Monitor Board:  
Blok (statue), Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5 (also as cartoon Proty form), Celeste Rockfish, Chameleon Boy (flashback and cartoon), Colossal Boy (also as cartoon), Cosmic Boy, Dream Girl (also as cartoon), Duo Damsel, Ferro Lad (statue), Kent Shakespeare, Kid Quantum (statue, technically 1st appearance), Kono, Light(ning) Lass (flashback, also as cartoon), Lightning Lad, Projectra, Polar Boy (cartoon), Saturn Girl (flashback), Shadow Lass, Sun Boy (flashback and cartoon), Shrinking Violet (also as cartoon), Star Boy, Tellus, Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, Valor, Wildfire (cartoon)

Guests: 
Aria/Gemini, Chameleon Girl, Dacey Ranzz, Doritt Ranzz, Garridan Ranzz, Holt, King John of the United Planets, Lauren Gand, Lightning Lord, Loomis, Night Girl, Proty I (flashback, also as cartoon), Proty II, Rond Vidar, Tab, Yvyya Kallor

Opponents: 
Emerald Empress (flashback), Jean-Claude, Thrust (1st appearance)
Recap:
Vol.4's third Annual came out in May of 1992, between issues 30 and 31 of the main series, though the next issue in sequence, according to the letters page, is 32. Previously, Brin London (former Legionnaire Timber Wolf) had spent years in an animalistic "Furball" state before being returned to his human form by Darkseid. But with that return, the physical deterioration Brin had experienced in earlier years resumed. Meanwhile, Lydda Jath Krynn (Night Girl), wife of Rokk Krinn (Cosmic Boy) has been pregnant with their first child for the past two years, the standard Kathooni gestation period. Also, ex-Legionnaire Imra "Saturn Girl" Ardeen Ranzz has recently given birth to her second set of twins. One of her older twins, Garridan, has been diagnosed with the Validus plague, often deadly to Winathians.

Synopsis: 
Timber Wolf may have returned to normal, but he's dying and there's nothing Brainiac 5 can do about it. He is visited by Aria, now "the step between Man and God" who can't seem to heal him either because the Zuunium in his blood is apparently preventing her from doing so. So she decides to bring him to the past to stop him from getting the Zuunium injection in the first place!
Well, since that would cause a paradox, Aria and Timber Wolf are bounced through time and land in San Francisco in the year 1992. This "werewolf" sighting puts the cops and the feds on Timber Wolf's trail, so he hides himself away and a now ill Aria in a warehouse and goes scrounging for food and blankets. When he returns, he finds her at the mercy of criminals who were meeting there. Timber Wolf fights them until the FBI barges in for a raid. He might run off, but an orange-skinned alien punk called Thrust also shows up. But on who's side is he?

A Brainiac 5 Omnicom reveals he is aware of a 20th-century Timber Wolf, and now that he and Brin Londo are one and the same due to Aria/Gemini's time travel abilities. He hints at the fact that Timber Wolf's involvement in certain 20th-century events would be pivotal to the timeline.

Then it's off to Winath, where most Legionnaires are convening for the christening of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl's new twin babies. While there, they reminisce, gossip, get drunk, fool around... Star Boy's batball wins the pennant. Night Girl gives birth to her and Cosmic Boy's baby. The older Ranzz twins fight among themselves out of fraternal jealousy. And shockingly, a group of Proteans ask Lightning Lad to come home and he refuses, which allows Lightning Lass (but not Saturn Girl) to discover that Garth has actually been Proty I ever since his miraculous resurrection 20 years before.
Commentary: 
Let's take these one at a time...

Haynes and Montgomery do a fair Keith Giffen in the opening chapter, keeping to the 9-panel grid that became synonymous with the future, so that, when Timber Wolf gets to our time, the art can explode in terms of layout. Even their own flashback page to Brin and Alya's younger days is a single splash page, the past looms large where the "present" is tight, claustrophobic, and perhaps a little hopeless. The big revelation here is that Timber Wolf has always been in pain, long before he was technically dying, adding to the angst. Make no mistake, no matter how format-breaking volume 4 of the Legion was, it was still a 90s-era book, and its revisionist darkness was part of that aesthetic.

Chapter 1 is really just a set-up for Chapter 2, which itself is a pilot for a Timber Wolf mini-series. It's a ploy that would have worked better had the mini-series been ready to go, but there were delays, and so "Full Moon Fever" introduces a lot of 20th-century characters - cops, criminals, Thrust - that seem to take too much space given they're not immediately followed-up on. By the time the Timber Wolf mini-series premiered, it had to recap a lot of this, and it wasn't that interesting to begin with.

What DO we think of new look Timber Wolf and his trip to the 20th century? This was, according to the mini-series' letters page, supposed to be permanent. DC evidently wanted its version of Wolverine, and while using an actual PRECURSOR of Wolverine is fair play, teaming him up with a guy who turns out to be Lobo's son should tell you just how 90s this all is. He's pulling a Karate Kid, essentially, going back in time to indulge a present-day fad. With Aria in the mix as perpetual damsel in distress despite her god-like powers, the set-up smacks of Beauty & the Beast (the TV series), but I'm not here to review the mini-series. If I'm talking about the Annual and only the Annual, then this feels incomplete, and it feels unnecessary. I don't particularly care for the new feral look, and I tend to think Legionnaires work better in the Legion.

The final chapter is all sorts of crazy, a grand "character building" exercise with no villains and no battles, just as many Legion characters as possible being human, interacting, playing, loving, discussing, with a couple of insane revelations thrown in for good measure. There's so much stuff, it's hard to know where to start. I guess with the bigger events. Obviously, there's the birth of Cosmic Boy and Night Girl's child, not without complications, adding Cos to the list of Legionnaires who have truly grown up. In the 5YL era, everyone's an adult, obviously, and Cos was already a hardened war veteran, but he's still playing at superheroes, and parenthood seems a definite life changer. And it's really rather touching.
Then there's the reveal that Lightning Lad has been Proty I ever since his resurrection back in the 60s, so almost always. Or at least Proty's mind in Garth's undead body, since presumably, his soul had already fled the coop. Saturn Girl didn't marry the hothead from the early series - he was dead - she married Chameleon Boy's "pet" Protean. And how could she not know, being a telepath and all? Ayla says she always sort of knew but didn't want to confirm it, but as his twin, she got a twinge. Maybe I've lived with this revelation for almost 25 years and find it perfectly acceptable. Not sure what I thought of it at the time. I don't think it ruins the character, because I'd never actually known him any other way. (I do wonder about the SW6 Garth however, I guess he's a temporal clone of the Proty-Lightning Lad, so any characterization difference is purely Protean performance.) I do like that this is explored in an issue where Timber Wolf suffers a transformation. No matter how unrelated the stories are, they share a theme. And in the gender-bending 5YL Legion, Garth's secret isn't unlike, say, Shvaughn Erin's. He very much "comes out" to his sister because she catches him chatting with Proteans (is this a symbolic gay club?) and has yet to come out to his wife. Perhaps the analogy is actually cross-dressing, given Proty's shape-shifting powers (though he's lost them by merging with Garth's body). It's not any one thing, but the feeling of it.

The plot also introduces the whole Kid Quantum storyline, which is really better explored elsewhere, so I won't waste time on it, but it's a good pretext for the Proteans to come to Winath, and for Proty II to be present, which at least gives us that fun cartoon Legion performance. Man, Brandon Peterson's human figures as just as ugly as usual, but he's a pretty good cartoonist!
As shocking as Protean Garth story is supposed to be, I think I was more shocked by some of the drunk shenanigans the Legionnaires get up to in this issue. The former Duo Damsel, Luornu, is a particularly strange case. Despite being married to Bouncing Boy, we see her go up to Colossal Boy with what looks like a joint; they are later seen skinny-dipping and fooling around, and other Legionnaires gossip about whether or not Luornu still has three personalities even though she's lost two of the bodies. It's ambiguous because Colossal Boy is married to the Durlan Yera, which means it's more likely that they like role-playing (which is a betrayal of those impersonated, regardless) than they're all swingers/adulterers. And the triple personality thing isn't really followed up on, so it's all character assassination as far as I'm concerned.
Other elements are less interesting, but do create a web of evolving relationships, and really do show the "school club"-like nature of the Legion. Not everyone gets along, romances spring up and die, newer kids (Kono) get to hear old stories (and not necessarily find them interesting), and so on. Dream Girl reminding Star Boy of why she's still hotter than his wife is a good moment. Violet tries to forgive Yera for stealing her identity all those years ago, but only creates anxiety. The Ranzz twins play at Legionnaires or fight because of long-standing jealousies (the most who-cares subplot). And the Legionnaires are generally randy, with the girls mostly hanging out topless as per Winathian custom, and the boys just as naked posing homoerotically. Sexual politics being what they are in this era of the book, especially in a Bierbaum-penned story, you just don't know what could happen.

I think an Annual is a good place for an extended "just hanging out" chapter, especially when there's so much going on in the core book, and so many characters to service. It acts as a kind of "high school reunion"; even Tellus puts in a rare 5YL appearance. But Annual #3 is really a thing of parts, and doesn't come together as a single project. Its job is to reposition Timber Wolf for greatness, except that Brainy's Omnicom report is really just hyperbole, at least in hindsight. The art is all over the place too, so the issue just feels cobbled together compared to previous installments.

Science Police Notes:  
  • There are technically two stories in this issue, but since the second has no title (though it does have a different creative team), this review has chosen to treat is as just another chapter.
  • Timber Wolf reveals that the Zuunium that gives him his powers has always caused him pain, but he never dared tell anyone, not even Light(ning) Lass.
  • There is no explanation as to where Timber Wolf's new costume comes from. He merely materializes in the 20th century wearing it.
  • This is Thrust's first appearance. He mentions but does not name his famous father - Lobo.
  • While the comic says Timber Wolf's story continues in Legion of Super-Heroes (v4) #34, it does nothing of the kind. His story would be picked up in a Timber Wolf mini-series some months later. According to its first issue's letters page, the mini was late because artist Joe Phillips had many assignments to complete before starting work on it.
  • Technically the first appearance of Kid Quantum as a Legionnaire retconned into Legion continuity; he would not appear in the flesh until Legion of Super-Heroes (v4) #33.
  • The story further retcons Lightning Lad's return from the dead from Adventure Comics #312. It is now revealed that he never actually did, and that Proty I's seeming sacrifice in fact imbued Lightning Lad's body with Proty's consciousness. Proty has been living as a human for 20 years by this point.
  • Garridan Ranzz, the older twin diagnosed with the Validus Plague used to be Validus, stolen from his mother's womb by Darkseid, taken back in time and turned into the monster that was a member the Fatal Five. He was returned to normal in Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) Annual #2.
  • The third chapter references many, many Legion stories. Listing them in these notes would prove impractical.

Milestones: 
First appearance of Timber Wolf's new look. After this, he gets his own 5-issue mini-series set in the 20th century, going on sale starting October 1992, after which he returns to the main series in the next Annual. The look will also be the basis for the Reboot version of the character.

4 comments:

  1. Reading this review I am reminded why I hated this run so much. All of that stuff that I'm sure the creators considered "character building" I definitely considered "character assassination." Shvaughn Erin was one thing, but Proty Garth was quite another. Sheesh.

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    1. Oh God yes. Of all the bad fan-fiction-esque retcons this era gave us, this one if definitely in the running for the absolute worst.

      I really don't see what this brought to the character at all. Well, nothing positive, anyway. But hey, good to know Saturn Girl was fcuking Proty and married Proty and loved Proty and had kids with Proty all this time, and might have known she was as well.

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  2. I do think that, whether we liked them or not, the Bierbaums often seemed to operate out of the fan theory handbook.

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  3. The Garth-as-Proty reveal is foreshadowed as far back as issue 4 with Eltro Gand, but my favorite bit from Winath was Tellus trying to convert the other Legionnaires to the Dark Circle.

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