Thursday, April 21, 2016

Legion of Super-Heroes (v3) #63

The Legion of Super-Heroes (v3) #63 (August, 1989)
title: "Where Has All The Magic Gone?"
writer: Paul Levitz
co-plotter/layouts: Keith Giffen
finished art: Mike DeCarlo
lettering: John Costanza
colorist: Carl Gafford
asst editor: Art Young 
editor: Karen Berger 
cover: Steve Lightle
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
All the current Legionnaires (in order of appearance) Lightning Lass, Polar Boy, Chameleon Boy, Sensor Girl, Blok, Wildfire, Tellus, Ultra Boy, Element Lad, Shrinking Violet, Colossal Boy, Phantom Girl, Dawnstar, Saturn Girl, Invisible Kid, Timber Wolf, Sun Boy

Guests: 
Brainiac 5, White Witch, Dream Girl, Star Boy, Duo Damsel, Bouncing Boy, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Night Girl, Karate Kid II, Comet Queen, Harlack, Amethyst, spirit of Zerox

Opponents: 
The Archmage, Atmos



Synopsis: 
Above Sorcerers' World, with the sacrifice of Magnetic Kid,  the barrier around the planet has disappeared. The Archmage stands revealed. He attacks the Legion with magic, and they respond with science. They seem evenly matched, on different spheres. He quickly tires of them, so attempts to encase them in magical darkness.
Why is this a 9-panel page? 
Ultra Boy, Wildfire, Dawnstar, and Sensor Girl escape his spell before the others do. Projectra takes advantage of the Archmage ignoring them; instead of continuing the attack or saving the others ("leave them to their own powers") she decides to send for help. She wants the three Legionnaires to seek help from others already seeking them. Sensor Girl makes the decision to face the Archmage here, thinking that if they fail on Zerox, the universe would fail, too. So she wants reinforcements.
On Xanthu, Dream Girl finally realizes that Atmos has been mentally controlling her. She decides to go with Star Boy and Dawnstar, knocking Atmos out before departing.
Back at Sorcerers' World, the others start to escape from the Archmage's darkness. He is surprised to see that his magic is "not binding on them." Sun Boy's team arrives, and Sun Boy leaps from the cruiser to light up the space with his power. He actually manages to hurt the Archmage, who counter attacks. The Legion steps forward together to protect Sun Boy.
Another 9 panel page....why? 
Wildfire arrives back with Brainiac 5 from Colu. Brainy apologizes for quitting the team, then suggests that they head down to the planet. His rationale is that if the Archmage doesn't want them there, that is where they should be.
At Legion HQ on Earth, Ultra Boy shows up to get the Substitute Heroes. Lightning Lad apologizes for not going to fight the Archmage because he has to stay behind to protect his sons; the others understand. Cosmic Boy realizes that there is something Ultra Boy isn't telling them, and pushes him for an explanation. Ultra Boy then regretfully tells Cos that his brother, Magnetic Kid,  is dead.
Giffen makes some very odd artistic choices here....
The Legion rushes to the surface of the Sorcerers' World, where they meet White Witch. She explains that all of the inhabitants are leaving via a magic portal. They know that there is no way to stop the Archmage, so have decided to abandon their world. The Archmage swoops down, laughing, dramatically destroying their portal. The Legion moves to protect the White Witch and the last remaining inhabitants. Ultra Boy's team arrives, including Cosmic Boy, who wants revenge for the murder of his brother.
White Witch leads the charge for one last attack when Blok gently stops her. Saturn Girl and Tellus also "feel" something telling them to stop fighting. The spirit of Zerox appears in corporeal form to tell White Witch to "let her go." Trusting in this spirit, and in Blok's advice, White Witch reluctantly agrees.
The Legion leaves the surface of Zerox and heads back into space, protected by a spell from the White Witch. Overjoyed at his apparent victory the Archmage finally lets loose his power, happily destroying his prison planet. Suddenly, he realizes too late that he was physically and magically linked to Sorcerers' World. As the planet fades to nothingness, so does he.

Nearby, the Legion stands together again, ready to help the universe rebuild.


Commentary: 
And with that, the Legion of Super-Heroes that we all knew and loved was no more....!

At the time of this story, I obviously had no idea what the future held for the Legion. I knew that they would be back "Five Years Later," so that tempered my feeling of dissatisfaction with this story arc in general and this issue in particular. It was only later, after actually reading Five Years Later Legion and its descendants,  that I realized that this issue really was an end of an era.

Generally speaking, this story doesn't do the series justice.

Last issue there was a very specific feeling of traveling; of moving forward or towards something, as we were shown various places in the Legion's universe and we got to see and symbolically say good-bye to many of the supporting characters. This time, we spend time with the myriad members of the Legion of Super-Heroes only, which is good. But instead of various moments where each hero gets a panel or a word balloon all to themselves, we get indiscriminate "group shots." Please look at the very last page of the Baxter Series and tell me why we couldn't get every Legionnaire included in the shot!?! Was Keith Giffen SO busy working on 5YL that he couldn't be bothered to draw in, say, Saturn Girl? Even if that were true, couldn't Mike DeCarlo have spent the extra time to pencil them in himself? Instead we get huge asteroids. As soon as I started to re-read this issue for this review, my animosity towards Giffen and DeCarlo came flowing back to me. Like a cancelled TV series or Broadway show on its last legs, nobody here seems to be giving it their all any more; they just want out. Atleast, it feels that way to me. It makes me mad, and sad. The Legion as a team and The Legion of Super-Heroes as a title deserved better than this half-hearted send off.

Specifically, take a look at some of the pages I've reprinted here. Pages 4 and 10 are both 9-panel pages, but why? As the Legionnaires are surrounded by the Archmage's tendrils, why in the world should the page be broken up? And when Sun Boy confronts the Archmage with his sun-light, why is the action BROKEN UP by the 9-panel grid? This is just...weird. It's almost like Giffen had only 9-panel or full-panel pages on hand to use, so had no choice but to stick to his designated pattern. It takes you out of the story in the worst way.

Likewise, look at what should have been one of the two emotional kicks of the issue: Cosmic Boy learning that his brother is dead. Instead of showing Ultra Boy struggling to get the news out, or the camera staying on Cos as he slowly processes the fact that his brother is dead, Giffen chooses to show us the same extreme close-up of Ultra Boy. I swear this is a photo-copy of the same one drawing! Then when we see the moment Cos hears the news, we don't even get any emotional pay-off: we get his face in heavy shadow, and then a pull-back for a full group shot......with Night Girl and Lightning Lad not even consoling him as he cries! Excuse me, but what the hell kind of choreography is that!? Also, a question. I always thought that panel 8 was Cos "It should have been me---!" but....look again. It's colored as if it were Ultra Boy! Cosmic Boy is not wearing gloves in this scene. So the emotional anchor of this scene should be Ultra Boy? I really don't think that is what Levitz intended, but nobody paid enough attention to make it crystal clear that this was Cos regretting his decision to let his little brother take his place?

As for the denouement, there is a certain spark to the return of Brainiac 5, clearly one of Giffen's and Levitz' favorites. His scenes with the White Witch are great. On the other hand, the rushed conclusion to the Dream Girl-Star Boy-Atmos story-line makes me want to punch someone myself. So Atmos basically raped Dream Girl, both physically and mentally? That seems like a very VERY bad thing for him to have done. Couldn't they have grabbed another page to explain a little bit more of this? Plus we get Star Boy for what, two panels? Then no reunion scene with his old friends at all. Thanks....?

The cameo slash guest-appearance of the spirit of Zerox also left me confused. Never having read Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, I had no idea who or what this spirit was supposed to be. I still don't. I like my continuity to be a little less ambiguous, so this whole bit really doesn't work for me. I simply ignored the implications and took it at surface value: the spirit of the planet was ready to die, and she knew that she would kill the Archmage when she died, too. It could have been more of a dramatic death, but why would Giffen and Levitz show any emotion now, when they hadn't up to this point?

I don't even want to talk about the cover, which follows the "bare bones" style of the story in the most dull and weird way. Whose eyes are those supposed to be in the background, anyway? Why couldn't we have ended with one last Hoo-Rah Legion cover, perhaps similar to the very first issue? Steve Lightle is a great artist, but this is just not one of his better pieces.

On the letters' page there are two good-bye letters: one from Paul Levitz, who had written this version of the Legion continually since 1980, with a year-plus run before that, and the other from editor Karen Berger, who had come aboard in 1982. For those completists in the audience, I include them both here. Re-reading them now, it just makes me feel even more nostalgic for what is gone....


Join me again on next week, back on our normal Tuesday, for a special commemorative look-back on the series itself. I just don't want to let it end....!

Science Police Notes:  
  • Shadow Lass and Mon-El do not appear in this issue. 
  • The "spirit" of Zerox has been called Amethyst, but not having ever read her series, I cannot verify the validity of this assumption.  
Status: 
This story has not yet been reprinted.  

Milestone: 
This is the last issue of Legion of Super-Heroes (v3). It is the last Legion story edited by Karen Berger, and was the last regular Legion story written by Paul Levitz for more than 20 years. 

14 comments:

  1. Ug. What person in their right mind would have thought that an appropriate grand finale to this Legion run should involve a fight with an enemy never seen or mentioned before (and, even though, yes, Levitz had been spending the last couple years writing definitive stories about and/or killing off most of the great Legion Villains, come on, Mordru was right there, one of the few biggies who never got a serious Levitz story. If you want to do a big Legion magic story, there are better ways to go about it than to have a semi-major twist ending being that Mordru is completely and totally uninvolved.) Where was I? Oh yes, then having that villain be defeated by a third party that the Legion had little to do with enabling, in a way that suggests that if they hadn't even bothered to show up, leaving Pol Krinn alive, things would have gone more or less the same way.

    Ug. Ug Ug Ug.

    Also, the Archmage is, from visual cues, probably some kind of Lord of Chaos. Which makes everything just so much worse.

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    1. A serious second Levitz story, that is.

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  2. If I'm understanding this right, if the LOSH had just stood back and done nothing, the villain would have destroyed himself? That just makes Pol's sacrifice completely pointless.

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    1. Yes. This whole story was POINTLESS! Take the Legion out of it. Take the sorcerers of xerox out of it. Take the guest stars out of it. Take everybody out of it. Just let the "Grin" eat the Planet and die without all this delay. That way i don't waste time reading this issue. In fact don't waste my energy reading all 4 issues!

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    2. Yeah, *that's* the conversation with Cosmic Boy they should have shown. "Sorry about Pol, but without him, we wouldn't have been able to get to Zerox to stand around doing nothing while watching the Archmage kill himself." "I hate you all so f***ing much."

      (Hey, maybe that should have been why the Legion disbanded in 5YL. Cosmic Boy just got so pissed off he decided that, as a founding member, he could unilaterally disband the entire team. It worked for Aquaman and the Justice League!)

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    3. Oh, don't remind me of that Justice League monstrosity. That was total travesty too. If it weren't for the stupid writers, (if it really happened that is) the REAL Justice League members would have said to Aquaman: Fine. Keep the JLA. We've just started our own new team: The JLA* minus Aquaman.

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  3. Looking back, I really have to wonder about some of the things done near the end of this run. In particular, the new costumes really stand out as strange. Whose idea was it to give everyone completely new costumes? I can't imagine it was something Levitz pushed for, since they're not really that important to the story. The most likely source would be Giffen, I'd think (especially since he obviously designed them all), but as soon as we go into his 5YL mode, all the new costumes are gone, never to be seen again. So what was even the point of introducing them in the first place? (And I actually *liked* the new costumes - well, most of them, at least - but I just don't see what the point was...)

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    1. I guess he thought, "Well, the series is going to be relaunched soon, so why not change up the costumes a bit?"

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    2. I assumed it was to wean us off the old looks - a midpoint between the classic costumes and their 5YL costumeless looks.

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  4. And so the series ends with a wimper. The story was lackluster. The best highlight was Dreamy and Star Boy reunited, while still wearing their classic uniforms. The art for the rest of the issue was just awful, I still hate Giffen's new uniforms. If there was any blessing to come from the Legion's demise, it was that these uniforms would be no more. At least when the Legion returns in the Retroboot era, that is one mistake corrected.

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    1. Of course, the next time we'll see Star Boy and Dream Girl, they're not together any more, Star Boy's married someone else (and is... managing a baseball team? Whatever.) and Dream Girl put on more than a few pounds. Granted, different writers, but... it kinda takes something away from even that...

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  5. I had soured on the Legion long before the end came, the stories and especially the artwork hadn't done it for me for some time. But I didn't realize just how badly they limped to the finale. Everything seemed rushed, and that final parting shot of the Legion is so lackluster...most of them just black silhouettes? Come on! Oh, and the Archmage always looked like bad animation from that old 70s kid's show Vegetable Soup. I'm not kidding, look up the intro on Youtube!

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  6. I think this story suffered a lot from dull art that lacked detail or inspiration. I think the appeal of the Legion throughout my time reading it was the amazing art which transported you into the 30th Century. Grell and Cockrum did this so well as did Giffen in his initial run on the series.

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  7. Some amazing moments in an otherwise mediocre story:
    1. Brainy returning - "I'm sorry I was away. Call it morality or ego and hope that we may discuss it another day" His face in those panels and just what he says. It felt so right so have him back.
    2. White Witch - "that is the difference between us that we can never bridge" delicious ambiguity. Was this Mysa returning and accepting their differences or just closing the door on her return?
    3. That 9-(well 6) panel shot of Sun Boy zapping the ArchMage. I understand the criticism but even when I read it the first time, I thought that arrangements had a dynamic nature that I still find hard to quantify. I almost "see" the Arch Mage recoiling.
    4. Dream Girl and Star Boy back. Forget about the Atmos mind rape for a moment. Dream Girl finally wakes up and closes the door on one final mystery from the Universo Project - They were taken because of will-power, not smarts. (Makes total sense since it was Universo and the whole GL connection)
    5. Terrible art aside on that page - "We live and we are reunited and as long as there is a Legion of Super-Heroes all else can surely be made right" (putting a pin in Levitz skimming over Pol's sacrifice for a moment). That line left me so excited for 5YL to come. It's a line that I believed then until the threeboot. it's a sentiment I think the retroboot started off with but ended up missing.

    So yeah, not a great story, but nonetheless some great memories for me at least.

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