Sunday, January 3, 2016

5YL: Legionnaires #2

Legionnaires #2 (May, 1992)
title: "In Death's Grip"
writers: Tom & Mary Bierbaum
penciller: Chris Sprouse
inker: Karl Story
lettering: Pat Brosseau
colorist: Tom McCraw
assistant editor: Eddie Berganza
editor: KC Carlson
cover: Chris Sprouse & Karl Story
reviewer: Siskoid

Mission Monitor Board:  
Apparition, Alchemist, Brainiac 5 (SW6), 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: 
Arm-Fall-Off Boy (cameo), Cera Kesh (1st appearance), Plaid Lad (1st appearance), Sean Erin, X-Bomb Betty (1st appearance), Science police officer, unnamed try-outs

Opponents: 
Emerald Empress (Ingria Olav, 1st appearance), The Hand, Leland McCauley, Mano, Mordecai (1st appearance)

Recap: 
Following directly from the previous issue, in which the newly-minted Legion of New Earth, investigating the chaos wrought by a street gang called the Hand, fell into the...uhm... hands of its leader, former Fatal Five member Mano!

Synopsis: 
Before Mano can kill Ultra Boy, Apparition and her team spring into action, but all would have been lost if Triad hadn't left two of her bodies behind, close to the exit to call reinforcements. More Legionnaires show up in the nick of time and neutralize Mano. He is completely unrepentant when he faces Police Chief Sean Erin. Cosmic Boy IS repentant, however, taking responsibility for Ultra Boy's injuries, which charms Saturn Girl. She gives him a peck on the cheek, and Live Wire punches him in the face out of jealousy.
Down in the maintenance tunnels under the city domes, a worker has failed to check in and another, accompanied by a Science Police officer, go look for him. But he is dead, and they meet the same fate... but just what lurks down there?
Meanwhile, the Legionnaires can't hear themselves think over the noise outside the clubhouse. It seems that everyone with a super-power on New Earth wants to join, and the mob insists on try-outs. Though leader Cosmic Boy tries his best, the selection is hijacked by some of the randier boys on the team - Inferno, Live Wire and Matter-Eater Lad - who make a buxom would-be heroine called X-Bomb Betty come to the stage. Unfortunately, her power is a one-shot megaton detonation and she is rejected (though Inferno will hit on her later).
Cosmic Boy's first choice for a try-out is up next, but Cera Kesh's telekinetic power is not yet up to snuff. Of course, Inferno and Live Wire don't want her to join for other reasons - they don't think she's pretty enough - and are extremely rude to her. She runs off humiliated and into the sphere of influence of the Eye of Ekron, lurking out in an alley.
After Plaid Lad fails to impress as well...
...Chameleon advises the Legionnaires to stop there and set up a screening process for future, more orderly and more efficient try-outs. Cosmic Boy assigns him this task. Meanwhile, on the prison planet Takron-Galtos II, rich playboy Leland McCauley and the aforementioned Eye's owner the Emerald Empress trick a guard into showing them the Persuader's Atomic Axe. It promptly starts flying by itself, presumably towards its owner. They disappear like holograms.

And back on New Earth, Gossamer and Leviathan are sent into the maintenance tunnels to look for the missing workers. He feels like the Legion leaders don't appreciate him and she gives him some encouraging words which he takes as a sign that she likes him. She rebuffs him. She likes him, but doesn't LIKE-like him. But before awkwardness can set in, they're attacked by a golem-like monster that will eventually be known as Mordecai!
Commentary: 
Emerald Empress' appearance and the big "1" on the cover obviously counting up to 5 marks this as a Fatal Five story in the making, but otherwise, Mano is just here to get his butt owned by the Legion, specifically Gossamer, the heroine formerly known as Light Lass, with a nice assist from fellow "low-powered" Legionnaires Apparition and Triad. I love that the Bierbaums are invested in showing why each Legionnaire is worthy of the name - something that thematically ties into the try-out subplot - especially the ones you could well imagine could have been rejected for being less than useful.
So where Ultra Boy is knocked out easily and guys like Inferno and Live Wire turn out to be made of less Legion-strength moral fiber, the girls with their puny powers born of 1960s sexism make out quite well as brave, smart, competent and feisty heroes. Is this the first time the term "tri-jitsu" is used in relation to Triad's martial arts style? It's pretty amusing.

Speaking of naming things, Mano calls Tinya "Apparition" right off the bat. You'd think his reflex would have been to call her Phantom Girl since he knows her other self from before. Must be the big media machine turning the young Legionnaires into sensations. Because they really are. Everyone wants to be a member.
I was very happy to see some try-outs in the book, something naturally missing from the 5YL era, but perfect for a Legion from another time. It shows how the Legionnaires really are still teenagers better than any other sequence, the more immature boys humiliating a girl who, frankly, isn't "fat" at all, and turning her into a villain. Because try-outs are your #1 villain creation machine in the 30th century. That's perfect. Plaid Lad is obviously the clear winner though, a kind of latter-day Color Kid. Ultimately, the sequence doesn't actually lead to anything more THAN villain creation, because they don't select a new member, and though Cham is given the job of screening applicants, none will ever make the cut. I still get great pleasure from Cos exercising his leadership on the "senior adviser" though.

And then there's romance. If you're going to have teenage heroes, fluid relationships and awkward situations should be part of the formula. They keep hinting at a possible Imra-Cos relationship, and if Garth keeps this up, it'll happen. If his jealous fits don't do it, then his leering at applicants and humiliating those he doesn't find leer-worthy will. Gossamer and Leviathan in the sewers is also a nice moment in this vein, Ayla showing why she's my favorite Legionnaire in any incarnation. It's normal for the insecure Leviathan to mistake her extroverted personality for romantic attention, but the other side of that coin is that she won't manage his feelings; her rejection comes in out in a loud blurt.

A nice issue all around, with a particularly enjoyable throwback to old Legion tropes and a strong focus on characterization. I find some decisions questionable - why send the Legionnaire who can become a giant into cramped quarters, and have the new Legionnaires (even the deputy leader) been assigned seats on the OUTER rim of the conference room? - but as Cos is only coming into his own as leader, those mistakes are justified! Beautiful art from Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, as always. There's always youthful vigor in their work and they can't make anyone not look cute (which I realize could become a problem, but isn't yet). The art is responsible for characterization as well, with distinctive postures and expressions. I like their action as well; those explosive hits also throwbacks to a bygone era, but with a slick modern edge.

Science Police Notes:  
  • The cover is part of a larger picture, connecting with those of issues 3 through 6 to form a complete image of the Legion fighting the Fatal Five.
  • At the back of the book are three pages of "A Guide to the 30th Century", featuring character profiles of Ferro, Gossamer, Inferno, Invisible Kid, Leviathan, Live Wire, Matter-Eater Lad, Saturn Girl and Shrinking Violet.
  • X-Bomb Betty's one-shot power is obviously a reference to Wildfire's own try-out, after which he got rejected for the same reason.
  • Arm-Fall-Off Boy was a Legion reject in Secret Origins #46; they should remember him, as his one story took place in their relative past.
  • In the try-out crowd, one can spot Phade from the Sprouse-pencilled Hammerlocke series, as well as someone dressed in a Catwoman costume.
  • Mordecai is evidently Validus' replacement in the Fatal Five. Legionnaires #4 will provide the identity of the new Emerald Empress.

4 comments:

  1. Arm-Fall-Off Boy was rejected for membership in Secret Origins #46, and a rejected member turned bad in the same story, but AFOB was not that member. The reject-turned-bad was Mnemonic Kid.

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  2. I guess he looked so sour in the story, I remembered it wrong. My apologies!

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  3. Ah, X-Bomb Betty, one of the thousands of teenagers from across the UP subjected to horrific scientific atrocities by their parents, in the slim hope that they could become Legionnaires.

    In the first panel of the sequence where Cera storms off and finds the Eye, is that Kid Quantum, or just a similar looking guy that Sprouse put in there?

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  4. The coloring is a coincidence, as we would see Kid Quantum quite soon in this series, and he's not on New Earth.

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