Thursday, September 1, 2016

Legion of Super-Heroes (V2) #294

Legion of Super-Heroes #294
DEC 1982
The Great Darkness Saga Part Twelve
Written by Paul Levitz
Pencilled by Keith Giffen
Inked by Larry Mahlstedt
Lettered by John Constanza
Colored by Carl Gafford
Cover by Larry Mahlstedt
Laurie Sutton Editor

Roll Call:
Blok, Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Chlorophyl Kid, Color Kid, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Dawnstar, Dream Girl, Duo Damsel, Duplicate Boy, Element Lad, Evolvo Lad, Fire Lad, Gas Girl, Karate Kid, Life Lass, Lightning Lad, Lightning Lass, Mon-El,  Night Girl, Phantom Girl, Polar Boy, Princess Projectra, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Star Boy, Sun Boy, Superboy, Supergirl, Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, White Witch, and Wildfire.

As seen last issue, Darkseid has finally revealed himself and the future of the universe hangs in the balance! The situation is so dire, that even the Legion of Substitute Heroes has been called in for assistance. It's all hands on deck as the 31st Century faces the wrath of the Monarch of Apokolips. It's the thrilling conclusion of the Great Darkness Saga!

The story opens on Brainiac 5's realization on the identity of their mystery villain, but it seems the name Darkseid doesn't carry any weight with any of the other members of the team. So Brainiac 5 gives them a brief history lesson on the ruler of Apokolips, who has not been seen nor heard from since the 20th Century, and thus thought to be merely a myth.
Knowing that it will take everything they have to stop Darkseid and his army of three billion Daxamites from tearing the universe apart at the seams, the Legion calls in every remaining contact they have, even calling Supergirl from the 20th Century and the Legion of Substitute Heroes to join in the cause.

Meanwhile, all across the galaxy, the destruction has begun. Hordes of brainwashed Daxamites are ripping apart whole star systems. In one such corner of the galaxy, the Heroes of Lallor have saved Dev-Em (a kryptonian by heritage) from the onslaught, and recruited him to their cause in defending Weber's World from their barrage. The Legion of Substitute Heroes have also taken a stand on Weber's World, but despite their best efforts, are little match for the Daxamite Army.

In another corner of the galaxy, a ship full of Legionnaires can only watch in horror at the carnage, as they have been tasked with an important mission, protecting the precious child that came through the warp gate a few issues back. The child now merely hours old, has aged to a nearly a teenager. But they are then pulled into the fray when a battalion of Daxamites rips their ship asunder in space, leaving the crew completely incapacitated save for the White Witch, who uses her magic to shield the crew from the radiation and cold vacuum of space. Despite this shielding, Darkseid's forces still manage to steal the child away when the ship is destroyed. Eventually the strain proves too much for her, as she slips into unconsciousness, while still maintaining her shield of protection for the others.

White Witch awakes onboard a new Legion cruiser, exhausted from her spell that kept the team alive long enough for reinforcements to arrive. But the universe can't afford her time to rest, they need White Witch's vast power to transport the cruiser directly to Daxam and get to the child before Darkseid can kill it. To her surprise, she manages to pull off the amazing feat, and the Legionnaires engage the brainwashed Daxamites on the Darkseid's stronghold beneath a yellow sun.

With seemingly no other option, Element Lad transforms matter on Daxam to one part per thousand lead, which decimates the Daxamites due to their lead vulnerability. Meanwhile the White Witch, still recovering from her transport spell, finds herself approached by a benevolent power source that guides her in transporting the Daxamites to Apokolips, which sits in place of Daxam's native coordinates. Back under a red sun, the brainwashed army of Daxamites no longer pose a threat to the universe.

This enrages Darkseid, after talking about having had enough of the Legion's interference for the past three issues, he finally acts, and with a mere thought, attacks the Legionnaires directly. He destroys Lightning Lad's arm, dissipates Wildfire, kills one of Duo Damsel's bodies, eliminates Bouncing Boy's power, rapidly ages and disfigures Dream Girl, creates a monster to swallow Ultra Boy (again), strips the newfound humanity and sanity of Timber Wolf, and telepathically beams all of this pain and suffering directly into the mind of Saturn Girl. He then makes his move to capture and kill the child directly.

But he is met with Shadow Lass's darkness powers, which engulf his servant, and when it surrenders to a wave of light, the child is no more, he has aged to maturity, and we see it is none other than the Highfather of New Genesis. He has undone Darkseid's corruption, and turned the servant into the source of it's genetic material...Orion!

Together they stand, Orion and Highfather, and they're here to stop Darkseid, once and for all. Orion tackles Darkseid, while Highfather, sensing his time is running short, uses his power to repair the damage Darkseid has done and restore the universe. He also restores the Legionnaires who have suffered at Darkseid's hand, enhancing their power for one final push against Darkseid. This is Highfather's parting gift. Darkseid gains the upper hand against Orion, even after Highfather's power, Orion is still but a clone, and thus his power pales in comparison to the true son of Darkseid.

And so Darkseid defeats the Orion clone, but with the universe and Legion repaired, the Legionnaires are ready to do what they must to defeat Darkseid. No longer does he have powerful servants or three billion Daxamites to do his bidding, it's just him against the Legion at full power. And so they begin their barrage, Superboy and Supergirl soften him up, and then he is hit with the full array of  Legionnaire powers. The battle seems to be at a standstill, when the Heroes of Lallor arrive with a whole army of pissed off Daxamites in tow, turning the tide. Darkseid's power over them has ended, and they're none too happy about being used as pawns for his destructive game of chess.

Seeing that he is outgunned, Darkseid vanishes, and Apokolips with him. But he leaves one last warning, that he has cursed them all, his departing gift is one of inner darkness, growing inside each one of them, and one day it will consume even the most pure of them.

The battle is over, as is the Great Darkness Saga, and the Legion has won! And so the issue, and story ends on a lighter note, with some flirtation between Supergirl and Brainiac 5, as she heads back to the 20th Century, and Brainy questions his terrible timing.

The cover is another iconic one, right up there with the cover to the previous issue and the cover to Adventure Comics #247, as some of the most iconic covers in Legion lore. This one is another well-rendered piece of the Legionnaires kneeling in servitude to a giant Darkseid head amidst a field of red Kirby-Crackle. This definitely invokes a very creepy, perverse religion aesthetic. The Legionnaires seem to be worshipping Darkseid's head, which has a shadowy cross visage across his face. It's very unnerving...which is perfect for a book where Darkseid seems to be moments away from enslaving the universe.

The cover isn't the only art that invokes a disturbing take on religious iconography, the double page splash that makes up pages 24 & 25 of the story sees the familiar "Creation of Adam" pose done by Michelangelo interpreted here by Giffen with Darkseid in the role of the Divine. It's a very chilling take on this familiar moment in Christianity that has been immortalized in the Sistine Chapel. That just speaks to Giffen and Mahlstedt's work on this story, culminating in this issue, it's extremely moody and downright creepy at times. Their perverse takes on familiar iconography is a great use of visual shorthand, invoking dark takes on familiar scenes, that left me with an uneasy, foreboding feeling while reading the issue.

This is a 41 page epic, that leaves you absolutely exhausted when the Legion finally win the day. Every time they seem to gain the upper hand, Darkseid bounces back, and the odds look even more insurmountable. That's how it's been since we started our coverage back in Legion of Super-Heroes #284, and it's been amped up (for the most part) each chapter along the way. When you finally get to the final few pages of this one, you feel almost as drained as the Legionnaires do. Man it was an enthralling read and journey along the way, but man am I glad it's over! The Legion win day, light triumphs over darkness, and the universe is safe again.

Does this story hold up almost 35 years later? Absolutely! Giffen's art is amazing, and Levitz's story is an emotional roller-coaster jam-packed with action. It's easy to see why this is still hailed as one of the all-time great Legion stories and one of the most famous Bronze Age epics published by DC Comics.

Now there are definitely some subplots still dangling, and Legion of Super-Heroes #295 & 296, where those subplots are explored and wrapped up as the Legion finally gets a chance to decompress a bit and process everything that's happened over the last 12 issues.
some threads to be explored coming out this story arc. And that's why the Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition also collects the next two issues of the series,

1 comment:

  1. The cover alone was well worth the dollar cost !!!!

    Giffen's art was outstanding as was Levitz's storytelling !

    They don't make comic books like this anymore and a main reason I stopped buying new books several years ago.

    Today I've reallocated those funds to fill in back issues of 1960', 70's and 80's DC & Marvel titles!