Thursday, June 16, 2016
Legion of Super-Heroes #284
Obviously looking at this story again through the lens of hindsight, and knowing the dark times that lie ahead, you see just how early Levitz starts to chip away at the Legion, and show the cracks that will erupt into major fault lines a few issues down the road. There are some very nice subtle story elements that really frame the story nicely. For example, the opening title page splash is Bouncing Boy looking at the bronze statues of his fallen Legion teammates. The Legion is often dismissed as a light-hearted, whimsical Silver Age concept, and so Levitz shakes us out of that on the first page, reminding us of how lethal Legion membership can be, and how death occasionally rears its ugly head to claim members of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Levitz and Broderick do a great job of packing some action into what could have easily been a pretty boring, text heavy Legion meeting. Instead they treat us to some dissent amongst the ranks and a little clash between Wildfire and Sun Boy. Just another example of this more "grown-up" Legion, full of clashing personalities, explosive tempers, and more cracks in the Legion's foundation that will be exploited later.
We get to see Timber Wolf in action, as well as getting a deeper look at what's going on inside his head, which has some really nice character development. You don't have to look to hard to see the obvious similarities between Timber Wolf and Wolverine: their hair, demeanor, and costume colors are the same. Levitz gives us some nice character beats via Brin's relationship with Ayla to give us more to grab onto than just a Legion Wolverine analog. We'll see their relationship explored more in subsequent issues.
Then we move onto Karate Kid calling in, saying he and Princess Projectra are going to be preoccupied for sometime on Projectra's home world of Orando, leaving the Legion even more short-staffed. You really can see Levitz carefully plant the seeds of the disarray in the Legion, setting them up to be rocked by the threat that lies ahead.
The art is pretty solid throughout. I love the cover. I think that Tanghal's inks on the cover may be a little better fit for Broderick's pencils than Patterson's inks inside, but that might be a bit of an unfair comparison. The colors on the original cover aren't done any favors by the printing process limitations at the time; the recoloring for the collected Great Darkness Saga HC & TPB make this great cover even better.
Inside the book on the interior art, there are a few glaring panels where anatomy gets a little wonky and faces get a little muddy. I'd be curious to see Broderick's pencils on this, and how tight they were compared to the finished product under Patterson's inks. I'm sure they share in both the brilliant aspects of the art as well as the poor instances (like Element Lad's face in most panels). But when you consider there's typically 5 panels per page in this 27 page story, and how many characters and how much action is packed into each panel, there's bound to be some corners cut here and there.
One final quibble, and this is probably much more speaking to my personal taste versus any flaw of art, is I can't get over just prominent "nose shadows" are in each panel. I'm not sure if this is a Broderick thing, a Patterson thing, or something both artists focus on, but at times it actually took me out of the story just how prominent the shadows were on every single face, especially around the nose, in every single panel.
Despite my quibbles, you still have to love the energy and dynamism of Broderick's page layouts and sleek figures. This is very early 1980's, but you really see the influence of Broderick's character anatomy on what would become the DC house style later in the decade. Looking at Broderick's art here, I see a lot of similarities in the style that Dan Jurgens would adopt and hone in the mid to late 80's and use throughout the 90's. In my book, that is definitely a good thing!
The true test to any Legion story, at least for me as a reader, boils down to three things. Is it exciting and have at least two action beats? Does the story engage me on more than just a visual level? And finally, is the large cast of characters distinct from each other in both look and character voice? And for Legion of Super-Heroes #284, the first chapter in The Great Darkness Saga, I am happy to report that this action-packed adventure succeeds on all three levels.