Sunday, December 27, 2015

5YL: Legionnaires #1

Legionnaires #1 (April, 1993)
title: "Baptism by Fire!"
writers: Tom & Mary Bierbaum
penciller: Chris Sprouse
inker: Karl Story
lettering: Pat Brosseau
colorist: Tom McCraw
assistant editor: Eddie Berganza
editors: Michael Eury, KC Carlson
cover: Chris Sprouse & Karl Story
reviewer: Siskoid

Mission Monitor Board:  
Andromeda, Apparition, Alchemist, Brainiac 5 (SW6), Catspaw, Chameleon, Computo II, Cosmic Boy (SW6), Dragonmage, Ferro, Gossamer, Inferno, Invisible Kid (SW6), Leviathan, Live Wire, Matter-Eater Lad (SW6), Saturn Girl (SW6), Shrinking Violet (SW6), Triad, Ultra Boy (SW6)

Guests: 
Mega (1st appearance, dies), Tyroc

Opponents: 
The Hand, Mano

Recap: 
The Legionnaires' first issue came out in February of 1993, between issues 41 and 42 of the Legion of Super-Heroes' fourth volume. Previously... Earth has been destroyed, but New Earth survives as an assembly of domed cities under President Tyroc, protected by the Legion of Super-Heroes. But who are these youthful Legionnaires seemingly pulled from the true Legion's history? Dominion clones dubbed Batch SW6, or something else? Regardless, they mean to do right by New Earth, with the help of the adult Chameleon Boy to help them adjust to the "future", a new HQ that looks a lot like the original clubhouse, and new members recruited from the Dominion's labs.

Synopsis: 
New Earth is still unstable, and domed cities are crashing into each other, specifically Melbourne and Jakarta. Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Live Wire are on the scene to help people escape collapsing buildings. It is new member Computo, however, who manages to stabilize the domes with her computer skills/empathy. She also discovers the problems - explosions, black-outs, etc. - are being caused by a terrorist street gang called the Hand.
Since Ferro and Ultra Boy are close to the culprits, they are dispatched to stop a Hand member, and with the help of the Cos, Imra and Garth, they apprehend a girl called Mega wearing the gang's colors. She claims to have bombed a building under duress and allows Saturn Girl to telepathically probe her mind. As soon as the Legionnaires help with the clean-up, they'll bring her to the clubhouse. In the meantime, Live Wire forces Cosmic Boy to say he thinks Saturn Girl is attractive, and immediately gets jealous.

At the clubhouse, Mega shows signs of having been abused and the Legionnaires decide to trust her. The membership meeting begins once everyone gets there, and they choose Cosmic Boy as their leader (Live Wire frowns), and Computo as their deputy leader, though other names are thrown about. Then Mega gives the Legion a briefing on the Hand and its mysterious leader.
Armed with that information, Apparition is put in charge of a team consisting of Ultra Boy, Triad, Shrinking Violet and Mega that goes undercover (well, wears jackets over their uniforms) as Hand members from another dome, and infiltrates the secret Hand HQ. They're convincing, but Triad does get into some trouble when a gang member tries to have his way with her and her three selves beat him up. Their covers are blown anyway when the gang leader proves to be Mano of the Fatal Five, someone able to recognize them, though from their perspective, they haven't met him yet. With a touch, he disintegrates Mega, and aims to do the same to Ultra Boy! To be continued.

Commentary: 
Though it's the Reboot Legion that gets called the "Archie Legion" because of its more youthful dynamic, clear lines and wide-eyed art, that aesthetic properly starts here (or rather, in Chris Sprouse's chapter in Legion of Super-Heroes #41). The Reboot will, in fact, owe a lot to Legionnaires, adapting the look as well as several of the new code names and costumes to suit its purpose. But we're not here to compare with a future that's still a year and a half away. Not yet. My point is, the art sure is pretty.

Batch SW6 is such a weird idea, but one that's a breath of fresh air after over three years of very dark, often relentlessly opaque Legion stories. That was allowed to continue, and still a shock a minute, but I must confess that today, this book is more re-readable. We're seeing the Legion from the late 60s, before Ferro Lad died, before the Legion lost its innocence, in a way. Of course, it's a modern interpretation, so their personalities are more fully developed. The Bierbaums are keen on making them act differently from one another here, giving them many occasions to shine as characters regardless of their powers.
In the field, Live Wire acts before he thinks, in action as much as in romance. Cos is more level-headed and has to clean up after his friend. Ferro is the kind of guy who would totally throw himself into a Sun-Eater, while Ultra Boy obviously came up from the streets (is that pirate earring here to stay?). Apparition has to stand up to Jo and remind him that she's in charge. Violet is timid, a far cry from what Vi has become in the adult era, but in keeping with her personality from the early stories. And there's the election, which like all Legion elections (even if this isn't quite an "election"), reveals allegiances and friendships. Brainiac 5 wants fellow scientist Invisible Kid to be leader, for example, while Imra sponsors her co-founder Cosmic Boy, as Live Wire boils. (They're setting up that romances need not go the same way they did in normal continuity.) And I love Cham as the mentor who inspires the kids, but doesn't want to make decisions for them, and yet, is a little put out when they start doing so. I work with youth, and yes, that's exactly the dynamic.

It's a pleasant surprise to see Computo get as much play as she does, seeing as she's a newbie (although not completely new, we met Invisible Kid II's sister a long time ago). That she's so instrumental to the Legion's success early on, and is then rewarded with an important role, is pretty great. Catspaw is less interesting, a one-note character that purrs at all the guys and that's it, while Dragonmage has yet to do anything. He's not alone; while all the Legionnaires appear, there are too many for them to all be active in the story. That's fine.

With the adult Legion's story playing out in the larger universe, I'm more than happy with the SW6 Legion protecting New Earth. The opening issue shows there's plenty to keep them occupied here, at least in the short term, and for us to discover. Besides, the soap opera elements are at least as important as the superhero plots, so there's that too. Instability, crime, new neighbors, technical problems, they can all supply story hooks. In this case, a gang called the Hand turns out to be the work of Mano? That makes complete sense, and it's quite interesting to use classic Legion villains in this series, especially those Batch SW6 has yet to meet. It must, per force, lead to the villains having an advantage, or else the kids surprising the villains and us by being their own people. There's a metaphor in there, somewhere.

Science Police Notes:  
  • All Legionnaires except Chameleon (formerly Chameleon Boy) are part of Batch SW6. Some have new code names, others kept the old ones. Only in the latter case has the Mission Monitor Board made a notation.
  • The issue was polybagged and came with one of several free Skybox Legionnaires trading card.
  • At the back of the book are three pages of "A Guide to the 30th Century", featuring character profiles of Alchemist, Andromeda, Apparition, Brainiac 5, Catspaw, Chameleon, Computo, Cosmic Boy, and Dragonmage.
  • Flying in the face of Legion tradition, the leader and deputy leader are informally chosen, not elected. These are Cosmic Boy and Computo, respectively.
  • The series is set on New Earth, comprised of the 94 city domes that survived Earth's destruction, home to some 50 million survivors.
  • The issue is dedicated "to Carl", Tom Bierbaum's brother who had recently passed away.

Milestone: 
This is the first issue of the only series to date to be titled "Legionnaires" (though it bears a similarity to the Legionnaires 3 mini-series), running contiguously with Legion of Super-Heroes (vol.4) every month. It is not, however, the first or last time the Legion will have two simultaneous monthly series on the stands. Legion of Super-Heroes (vol.3) and Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes preceded it; Legion of Super-Heroes (vol.6) and Adventure Comics (vol.2) followed it; Legion of Super-Heroes (vol.7) and Legion Lost (vol.2) were the latest.

4 comments:

  1. So glad you're covering this corner of the 5YL universe - Chris Sprouse's work on this title was something else, and the tone established here really did provide a template of sorts for the next 5-6 years of Legion storytelling.

    I look forward to reliving this era through your recaps!

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  2. Thanks Mark! For many 5YL fans, the Legionnaires were a distraction created for all the OTHER fans who perhaps didn't like the dark, dense direction the book had taken. I liked both!

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  3. I collected the first year and a half of this and liked it as a diversion, a throwback book. And I loved Sprouse's art.

    You already know I lived 5YL.

    So happy you're reviewing this!

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  4. I wonder how much the Birnbaums disliked Lighting Lad? Between the way the younger version here is written and the Proty revelation we saw with the adult version, they really must have hated him. And definitely didn't seem to like the idea of him and Saturn Girl as a couple.

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