Blok, Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Dawnstar, Dream Girl, Duo Damsel, Element Lad, Invisible Kid, Karate Kid, Lightning Lad, Lightning Lass, Mon-El, Phantom Girl, Princess Projectra, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Star Boy, Sun Boy, Superboy, Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, White Witch, and Wildfire.
Fresh off the battle on Sorcerers' World where the Legionnaires managed to hold off Darkseid's forces, the Legion regroups, licks their wounds, and goes on the offensive. However, Darkseid manages to enslave an entire planet of super-soldiers to spread his darkness throughout the universe, and the Legion comes to the revelation that they may be too late to stop him...
Our story opens the day after the conclusion of last issue, and the Legion wastes little time celebrating their minor victory in defending Sorcerers World from Darkseid's forces. They realize a change of tactic is in order, and decide to go on the offensive and seek out these forces and attack. Unfortunately, Mon-El is still in a comatose state, meaning that perhaps the Legion's most powerful member is out of commission and off the table for the battle looming ahead. One of the Legionnaire search parties, consisting of Phantom Girl, Shadow Lass, and Ultra Boy, stumbles across Apokolips as it floats freely through the cosmos. They are ambushed by a warp gate and quickly decimated by Darkseid's servants.
Meanwhile, on the prison world of Takron-Galtos, Chameleon Boy wards off an attack from his fellow Durlan prisoners. He is then summoned by a guard to the visitation room, where he comes face-to-face with his father RJ Brande. Finally, after so much turmoil and angst, he opens up to his father, and they have a much needed heart-to-heart.
On the other side of the Universe, Darkseid visits Daxam, where he uses his immense power to brainwash and enslave the entire 3 billion Daxamite population. He then uses his power to transpose Daxam's location with Apokolips, which bathes his new army of Daxamites in yellow sun radiation, turning them into an unstoppable force capable of decimating the galaxy.
While this is transpiring, the reserve and off-duty members of the Legion that were summoned by Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl last issue, all converge on Legion Headquarters, as the Legion prepares to strengthen their numbers as much as possible for the imminent conflict. Meanwhile, the miracle child that appeared out of the warp gate last issue, has noticeably matured, progressing from an infant to toddler in a mere 24 hours.
Out in space, in orbit around Daxam, at least where Daxam should be, Dawnstar and Wildfire stumble across the cold remains of Apokolips inhabiting the space where Daxam should be. Before they can ponder on this puzzling development too long, they discovered their incapacitated teammates Phantom Girl, Shadow Lass, and Ultra Boy. They call for assistance from Brainiac 5, Element lad, Star Boy, Superboy, and Timber Wolf, and are attacked by Darkseid's minions. After multiple encounters with these dark, powerful beings, the Legionnaires have finally begun working together as a team to stagger their opponents with a barrage of attacks from multiple members. Because of this, they are finally able to defeat, and seemingly destroy, all four of Darkseid's remaining cloned monstrosities.
Just as it looks like the Legion may be gaining the upper hand in their battle with the mysterious dark forces, Brainy pieces it all together. He realizes that the planet they are on is in fact the long, lost Apokolips of legend, and that the true identity of the threat they face is Darkseid. And while they may have just defeated Darkseid's four cloned minions, with Daxam missing, Brainiac 5 correctly suspects that Darkseid had little use for a mere four servants, when he now has 3 billion super-powered Daxamites at his command.
After a somewhat lackluster issue last time out, everything about this issue is better, it returns to the top notch quality that we had grown accustomed to in our coverage thus far. Starting with the cover, how can you not be sucked in by this stunning image? This may be one of the top 5 most iconic Legion of Super-Heroes covers of all time. Giffen depicts the Legionnaires struggling to hold back the forces of darkness and prop-up the cracked font of their namesake, which serves as fantastic visual allegory for the Legionnaires struggling to support the cracked foundation of their team that's been crumbly since we started our coverage of this saga back in Legion of Super-Heroes #284. You can't help but see the parallels to this cover and no doubt Giffen's inspiration for it, Steranko's cover to Incredible Hulk Annual #1.
Inside this fantastic issue, everything is back to top-tier, from a writing standpoint, this issue is once again well-paced, the ongoing narrative that we've been following now for eleven installments picks back-up and progresses nicely. We finally get a nice moment between RJ Brande and his son Chameleon Boy, as Cham finally comes to grips with the revelation that set him down a path of rash decisions that landed him in prison. While that quiet character moment is happening on Takron-Galtos, back in the universe outside, all hell breaks loose, the stakes are once again raised, as Darkseid's forces decimate the Legionnaires while he is off enslaving the three billion inhabitants of Daxam. After exposing the Daxamites to yellow sun radiation, Darkseid unleashes them on an unsuspecting universe to wreak havoc. And we finally, after so much build-up, get a full-on reveal of Darkseid in the story, and thanks to Brainy's deductive skills, the Legion is now fully aware of how awful of a threat they face from this mysterious "master" who's been hid in shadow. Things look pretty bleak with just three chapters of our story remaining.
From an art standpoint, we get back to that classic, iconic balance of art between Giffen's tight pencils and Mahlstedt's inks that were absent last week when it seemed that Mahlstedt was tasked with more complete rendering responsibilities. Giffen might actually have stepped-up his penciling in this issue even more, and Mahlstedt really hammered home the polished art with his precise inks. There are some panels that seem almost down right John Byrnesque, which is definitely a very high compliment (as he's my all-time favorite superhero comic artist). The page layouts are dynamic, all characters are on model, the action scenes are well choreographed, and it's all balanced perfectly between the action set pieces and the quieter character moments. This may be a damn near perfect issue from an art standpoint.
One final note, is that this book comes from the era of the "insert previews" and so if you picked this issue up off the stands when it went on sale August 19th 1982 (thanks to Mike's Amazing World), you would have also had a 14-page Masters of the Universe preview by Paul Kupperberg and Curt Swan, which for obvious reasons, won't be covered here. But I will say this, Superman & He-Man are two great tastes that taste great together!
We're getting into the real heavy-hitting chapters of this saga that rocks the Legion at it's very core, you can bet the next three weeks are going to be more of this fantastic serialized storytelling! So come back next week for Legion of Super-Heroes #294, with a 41 page story that is wrapped in an equally iconic cover by Giffen & Mahlstedt.