Blok, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Cosmic Boy, Dawnstar, Dream Girl, Element Lad, Invisible Kid, Lightning Lad, Lightning Lass, Mon-El, Phantom Girl, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Star Boy, Sun Boy, Superboy, Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, and Wildfire.
Once again this issue returns to the two story format, a lead-story by Levitz & Giffen where the Legionnaires are once again challenged by Darkseid's growing forces of darkness, and a seven page back-up feature by Levitz and artist Howard Bender, following the three founding members of the Legion, Cosmic Boy, Lighting Lad, and Saturn Girl.
We pick up right where we left off last time, with the female servant of Darkseid in Legion custody and undergoing a series of tests under the supervision of a very anxious Mon-El and Shadow Lass. Their tests yield bizarre results...it seems that this mysterious servant of darkness is an "inanimate matter" clone of Shadow Lass's ancient ancestor, Lydea Mallor. Meanwhile, Darkseid and another one of his servants travel to Avalon to unleash Modru, another of the Legion's most deadly villains, held captive on the magical world.
Back on earth, at the United Planets' government complex, Chameleon Boy awaits his trial, and it looks like it'll take a miracle to get him off. Back at Legion Headquarters, the Legionnaires are convened once again for the election of their new leader, and once again that election is interrupted! This time by a Dream Girl premonition and the trouble alarm! Dreamy senses great danger awaiting sister on Naltor, and the trouble alert from the Science Police informs the Legionnaires that there's been an attack on Takron-Galtos, where many cosmic super-criminals are imprisoned. Brainiac 5 then informs his fellow Legionnaires of a third crisis that needs the Legion's attention, their monitor on Avalon indicates that Mordru has been freed!
So the Legionnaires divide themselves into three groups to deal with the threats, each group containing one of the three candidates in the running for new Legion leader.
The first group, comprised of Leader-hopeful Ultra Boy, as well as Mon-El, Phantom Girl, and Shadow Lass, head to the prison world of Takron-Galtos to investigate. On site, they rescue a dazed Science Police Guard and quickly recapture the escaped convicts. Mon-El and Ultra Boy then locate the source of the calamity, a very weakened and disoriented Time Trapper, who can do little more than babble on about "the darkness." They are then attacked by another of Darkseid's shadow servants that we saw last issue. The combined might of Mon-El and Ultra Boy seem to have the creature on the ropes, but the creature manages to escape through a warp gate.
The second team of Legionnaires, led by interim Legion Leader, Element Lad, and also featuring Brainiac 5, Dawnstar, Star Boy, Timber Wolf, and Wildfire, heads to Avalon to check on Mordru. They aren't met with any conflict, as they find his magical prison destroyed, leaving only a crater, with a very weakened and weary Modru barely alive, laying abandoned in the center of it.
The third and final team of Legionnaires, headed up by Dream Girl, seem to have arrived early to the scene of the crime, but just as Dream Girl is reunited with her sister the White Witch, Deamy's terrible premonition comes to fruition! A warp gate opens, and they are attacked by the darkness! One of Darkseid's servants attempts to kidnap the White Witch, but thanks to the efforts of Blok, Lightning Lass, and Sun Boy, that attempt is thwarted. While the battle between Darkseid's servant and the Legionnaires transpires, Invisible Kid attempts to sneak into the warp gate undetected, but once inside the gate, he is met by the omnious Darkseid himself, leaving him stumbling out of the warp gate, disoriented, and simply murmuring about the cold darkness. Darkseid's servant flees, and the warp gate closes. It seems the Legion has won the day....that is until Dream Girl is rocked by another premonition....it was of the Legion battling the servants of darkness once again....and this time, they lose....
"Leaders and Lovers"
Written by Paul Levitz
Pencilled by Howard Bender
Inked by Rodin Rodriguez
Lettered by Janice Chiang
Colored by Carl Gafford
The back-up feature opens inside the living quarters of Lightning Lad and his wife Saturn Girl. SG is attending to her husband, frustrated that Dr. Gym'll can't do more for him, and frustrated with herself on how distant and absent she's been during her husband's time of need. Using her telepathic powers, she attempts to reach out to his mind and help him find his way back to her, when suddenly she is interrupted by a transmission from Cosmic Boy, who is located elsewhere inside Legion Headquarters. He gives her an update on the three teams of Legionnaires we followed in the lead-story. Just then Cosmic Boy is attacked by darkness, causing Saturn Girl to rush off to his aid, oblivious to her husband's emergence from his coma-like state.
It seems the source of the attack is none-other than the servant of darkness they captured last issue and held captive within their lab. She has broken free and intends to kill all three Legionnaires inside their headquarters. Saturn Girl arrives on the scene to aid Cosmic Boy, but she too is dispatched with ease. Just as it looks like Darkseid's servant will kill two of the three founding members of the Legion, Lightning Lad stumbles into the room, and unleashes a strong enough barrage of lightning to incapacitate their attacker. He then collapses to the floor from the exertion. It seems that his release of energy, while taxing on his weakened body, was enough to overcome the electrical imbalance in his brain that had been plaguing him. It appears that with a few days of rest, he'll be back on the road to recovery.
The story concludes with Cosmic Boy relaying the results of the quick vote on Legion Leader over remote connection, and the winner is Dream Girl!
Starting with the cover, this is another great eye-catcher that has a very unique and untraditional feel. The bright color palette and power emanating from Darkseid in the center of the cover definitely invokes a nuclear mushroom cloud aesthetic. One thing that has also always struck me about the cover is the way the light is reflecting off of Wildfire's facemask; at first glance it looks like the Legion "L" symbol, giving his facemask an appearance, at least to me, that is very similar to the face of a Legion flight ring.
On to the lead feature, as I've come to expect out of this stellar Levitz & Giffen team, this one is another really enjoyable read. Darkseid continues to build his power from the shadows. He's no longer interested in hunting down artifacts and totems of power, no this time out, he's intent on capturing and absorbing the powers of some of the Legion's toughest foes in Modru and the Time Trapper. And while he has yet to take on the Legion directly, the issue is loaded with fast paced action that accounts for nearly 2/3rds of the lead-feature. It almost seems like a quick read, but honestly I think that just boils down to a very tight pacing and well drawn story that hook you from the opening splash page and keep you engrossed for the full 18 page duration. Once again Levitz and Giffen are totally in sync in their storytelling, and it makes for one engaged reading experience!
That said, as far as advancing the ongoing Great Darkness Saga goes, this is definitely more of a middle chapter. Yes we see Darkseid's power is growing, as he makes very short work of both the Time Trapper and Mordru and adds their immense power to his own, which unfortunately takes place off-panel in both instances. But in the lead feature, the other subplots remain relatively un-forwarded or even unaddressed, from the previous issue. The Legion still hasn't elected the newest leader, Chameleon Boy is awaiting trial, Lightning Lad is still out of commission, and we still have yet to see any real sort of confrontation between Lightning Lass, Saturn Girl, and Timber Wolf over what happened, or was about to happen on that icy asteroid. The fact that this issue is still such an engrossing and enjoyable read, really speaks to the strength of Levitz's script and Giffen's pencils and layouts, which of course have very strong finishes once again provided by Larry Mahlstedt. His inks continue to be a fantastic fit for Giffen's pencils.
Moving onto the seven page back-up story, this one was quite the pleasant surprise. At first glance the art style shift seemed very jarring. You have a much more stylized and unique approach than Giffen's clean & more traditional super-hero comic art style. Bender & Rodriguez's approach seemed very stiff compared to the smooth fluidity of Giffen's work in the first 18 pages, which at first glance definitely seems like an odd choice for a story featuring the three founding members of the Legion of Super-Heroes. You would think traditional super-heroic styled art would be the way to go on this one, and yet the further the story progressed, and the more the tension and action increased, the more I fell in love with Bender & Rodriguez's work! It ended up being quite the perfect pairing for the story Levitz had to tell. In just seven pages it manages to address a number of sub-plots, give us a nice chunk of action and suspense, and still find room to squeeze in the Legion Leader election results. Now that is a fast paced back-up feature! It wraps up some things nicely, and actually ends the issue on more of an up-beat, positive note.
So overall, as should be no surprise, Legion of Super-Heroes #291 is another thrilling, action-packed issue with 25 great pages and two fantastic stories starring our favorite team of super-heroes from the 30th Century.