Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes 1980

Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #1-3 (Jan/Feb/March 1981)
plotter: E. Nelson Bridwell
writer: Paul Kupperberg
penciller: Jimmy Janes
inker: Frank Chiaramonte
letterer: Ben Oda
colorist: Gene D'Angelo
editor: Jack C. Harris
covers: Jimmy Janes & Dick Giordano (#1), Dick Giordano (#s2-3)
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

part one: "The Past....Seen Darkly" 
On Earth, the entire membership of the Legion shows up at the hospital because their benefactor and friend RJ Brande is dying. He has Yorggian Fever, the first known case on Earth. He is only the second Earthman to ever suffer from the disease!
Meanwhile, at Legion head-quarters a man and a woman dressed all in black "break in" using a passkey, registered by the security system as "allies." They go straight to the computer banks and begin to review the secret origins of all of the Legionnaires. They begin with the three founders and how they came together to create the Legion. Then they watch a re-telling of the Legion's first big case, when they solved the theft of the Quintile Crystal and was granted deputized Science Police status as a reward. Then the two strangers watch as Duo Damsel (formerly Triplicate Girl) and Phantom Girl join as the first new members.
I'm sorry, but the inking and backgrounds on this page are just awful
The two strangers review how these first five Legionnaires battled a mass-murderer named Lucifer Seven, who used a power-dampening machine to destroy the Eyth system.
the design of these panels and this page is just bad!
what is happening in the last three panels?  
After that mission, the Legion was given a time bubble by RJ Brande, created by his research lab. They went back in time to recruit Supergirl, but because she was exposed to Red Kryptonite during her initiation test and aged into an adult, she could not join. Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, and Invisible Kid joined without her. Star Boy joined next.
The Legion returns to their head-quarters and finds the strangers in the computer room. One is Marla Latham, former Legion advisor, and the other is Arlayn, an associate of RJ Brande's. The Legion demands to know what they are up to, but they refuse to explain. Brainiac 5 thinks perhaps one of the Legionnaires are suspected of trying to kill RJ Brande....?!

part two: (untitled)

The Legion has returned to their head-quarters to find Marla and Arlayn looking for information that could help save RJ Brande's life. Although they refuse to explain why, the Legionnaires agree to help them. Brainiac 5 tells about how he was the next member to join, with Supergirl. Next came Shrinking Violet and Sun Boy. Then in rapid succession various Legionnaires reminisce about Ultra Boy, Bouncing Boy, and Matter-Eater Lad joining.
Hooray! We now have backgrounds. 
It was at about this time that Lightning Lad "died" fighting Zaryan the Conqueror. When Brainiac 5 finally came up with an antidote for Mon-El's lead poisoning, he came out of the Phantom Zone and joined. Then Lightning Lass joined to take her brother's place. She was only a member for a short time before Lightning Lad was resuscitated through the sacrifice of Proty. Element Lad joined next. Then one of Triplicate Girl's bodies was killed by Computo, Star Boy was expelled, Bouncing Boy lost his powers and had to quit, and Matter-Eater Lad was blasted into a grossly obese version of himself.

Karate Kid and Princess Projectra tell that they were the next members, followed by the return of Dream Girl and Star Boy and the induction of Shadow Lass. Then Timber Wolf, who had met the Legion several years before as Lone Wolf, finally joined up.
Fed up with the secrecy, Saturn Girl announces that she has read Marla's mind and knows that RJ Brande is the father of one of the Legionnaires!

part three: Revelation! 

The Legionnaires find it hard to believe that one of them is the child of RJ Brande. But his doctor tells them that if the child can be found, and a blood transfusion can be done, the Yorggian Fever can be cured and Brande can be saved.
This background work is actually pretty impressive!
The story doesn't make any sense, but you can't have everything....! 
Wildfire tells his story to Marla and Arlayn. Then he also tells about Tyroc, who is now back on his home dimension.

Suddenly, Commander Hagbard contacts the Legion. He warns that the sun around Varltul 16 is unstable and could go nova. There are too many people to evacuate, so he asks the Legion to come immediately. Wildfire grabs Shadow Lass, Element Lad, and Chameleon Boy to help him, and they race off.

The Legionnaires continue their history, telling Marla and Arlayn about Dawnstar, who is the last new member. Then they talk about Ferro Lad, Invisible Kid, and Chemical King, who all died in the line of duty.

Then Dream Girl introduces the Legion of Substitute Heroes: Polar Boy, Night Girl, Flame Boy, Chlorophyll Kid, Color Kid, and Stone Boy. Then they review the Honorary Legionnaires: Elastic Lad, Pete Ross, Lana Lang, Rond Vidar, and Kid Psycho.
Suddenly, Saturn Girl realizes that she can help if she can communicate telepathically with RJ Brande. Although he is in a feverish coma, she is able to understand from his sub-conscious that he is not actually from Earth, and that he once had powers.

Out in space, the solar flares from the sun knock out the Legion Cruiser's sensors. The Legionnaires don't know how to re-stabilize the star before it goes nova!
Armed with Saturn Girl's knowledge, the Legionnaires are able to compare the races that have contacted Yorggian Fever with the membership of the Legion, and by process of elimination realize that RJ Brande's child has to be Chameleon Boy.

A confused Cham rushes back to Earth, and his blood is transfused quickly enough to save Brande's life. Saturn Girl then reads his now-clear mind and tells Wildfire's group how to stabilize the sun.

Later, RJ tells Cham that he, his wife, and his cousin contacted Yorggian Fever after Cham was born. Cham's natural mother died, but Brande and his cousin decided to leave Durla in order to avoid exposing more of their family to the disease. Brande left baby Chameleon Boy in the care of his sister.

Due to the disease, they were losing their shape-shifting abilities, so they changed one last time into Earthlings. They then made their fortunes as RJ Brande and his cousin, Doyle. However, the threat of the disease lying dormant was too much of a burden to lay on Cham, so Brande kept quiet about their actual relationship. Cham's "mother," actually his aunt, arrives to share in the reunion.

Commentary: 
I remember seeing the ads for this mini-series and thinking WOW! The first cover, by Jimmy Janes and Dick Giordano, definitely hooked me. "What in the world could the Legion's secret be?!"

Unfortunately.....!
This mini-series could have been a great, straight-forward review of the Legion's history as narrated by any or all of the twenty-plus members. Instead, we get a completely artificial "drama" about a "secret" that can't be shared. By the end of the first issue, we don't even know what Marla and Arlayn are looking for. So naturally (?) Brainiac 5's thoughts turn to murder!? Come on!

By the way, we also get this cool illustration of the Legion's head-quarters, just dropped into the middle of the story. There is no credit given, so we must assume it is by Jimmy Janes and Frank Chiaramonte.

In the second issue we get another "he did this, she did that, they did this" story (using the term very loosely) and then FINALLY learn that one of the Legionnaires is related to RJ Brande.

In the third issue we finally get through all of the members and hangers-on, and the Legionnaires get down to the work of saving their friend's life. Of course, there is another convenient "drama" of the unstable star, and that works as a plot device to get the "hero" off stage to create even more "drama." Ho-hum!

The problem with this whole set up is that this makes everyone involved look like an idiot. Let me suggest this scenario to you: the doctor tells the Legion that RJ Brande has been babbling about being the father of one of the Legionnaires. They sit around the HQ and talk amongst themselves, telling us basically the same story we get anyway, but we know the reason and we are emotionally invested in the outcome. Intelligent Legionnaires such as Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, and Mon-El are front and center in the investigation. Grand-standing members like Wildfire are told to shut up and stay out of the way. If any action is required, we have a few Legion teams out in the field, and when the identity of the child is revealed, he has to be called in urgently to save RJ Brande's life.

I don't know about you, but treating the Legionnaires as "the help" like Marla seems to be doing here is absolutely the wrong way to go about this story.

As for the story itself, for a re-telling of 25 years of history, it is pretty dull. The second issue especially has an awful "this happened, then this happened, then this happened" feel to it that reads fine as a history book but not as an adventure. It doesn't help that the art, by Jimmy Janes and Frank Chiaramonte, is never great and sometimes plain awful. (Although in their defense, the worst is in the first issue; the later two issues are a little better.)

Now let's talk about the sun going nova plot device. It is not clear when the SP calls the Legion to "help" what exactly the Legion is supposed to do. If they are supposed to "re-start" or stabilize the star, why in the world would Wildfire take Chameleon Boy and Shadow Lass with him? If the issue is solar power why wouldn't Sun Boy be first on the list? Then for sheer power Mon-El and Star Boy or Light Lass would be more logical choices. It just seems odd.

Lastly, the "secret" that Brande is Chameleon Boy's father.... I guess it makes about as much sense as anything else would, but....wouldn't the doctor be able to tell that Brande was not an "actual" human? It's been argued in fandom that Durlans don't actually "turn into" what they are appearing to be, but here Brande is clearly diagnosed as a human. Yet, his son's Durlan blood will save his life? Huh? Maybe we all know more about how transfusions work than we did back in 1981, but this doesn't make sense to me. Either the doctor is an idiot, or any "clean" blood transfusion should have been able to save Brande. Besides, an "A" blood type can't be transfused with a "B" blood type, relative or not.

And I don't really understand why Brande didn't ever tell his son the truth. Was it still possible to spread the Yorggian Fever to Chameleon Boy? If so, wouldn't that risk occur anyway, regardless of whether he told him that he was his son or not? And if that was the risk, couldn't Brande have infected any of the Legionnaires, not just his son? Because this wasn't made clear, the conclusion just sort of landed with a big thud.
Note the first caption, "....followed shortly after Colossal Boy...." 
For those of you who are as uber-geeky about the Legion as I am, there is a jarring mistake in issue #1. The narrative tells us that Star Boy joined "shortly after Colossal Boy." Chronologically, he did *appear* next, but in the stories it was usually explained that Star Boy joined *after* Colossal Boy, Invisible Kid, Supergirl, Brainiac 5, Superboy, and Ultra Boy, but before Shrinking Violet. The letter column in the very same issue has them listed in that order!

Science Police Notes:  
  • This mini-series is set before Blok joins the Legion (LSH (v2) #272) but went on sale at the same time as that issue (an ad calls out the "Dial H For Hero" free insert in LSH (v2) #272).
  • The "narrator" in the first issue starts out as the computer, but eventually shares information that it would be impossible for the computer to know. 
  • Triplicate Girl is from a world with three suns, but only two suns are illustrated. 
  • Marla is shown to be on the Legion cruiser during their approach to attack Lucifer Seven, but is not shown to have escaped its explosion. 
  • There is no explanation as to who Arlayn is. 
  • Tyroc, Superboy, and Supergirl appear at the medical center at the start of the first issue, even though Tyroc is in another dimension, Superboy has a mental command NOT to return to the future, and Supergirl does not re-appear. Wildfire tells us that Tyroc managed to stop by, but this goes against the story as told in LSH (v2) #265. 
  • Shadow Lass appears on the covers of #s 2 and 3 without her cape, as artist Dick Giordano tended to draw her. 
  • Wildfire tells us in #3 that he is an orphan, with adopted parents, which refutes what he told the Legion in LSH (v2) #263. 
  • Although not named here, per LSH (v2) #263 Chameleon Boy's "mother" (aunt) is named Ji Daggle. 
Status: 
This mini-series has not been reprinted.

Milestone: 
This issue reveals that RJ Brande is really Chameleon Boy's father. His Durlan name is given as Ren Daggle.

3 comments:

  1. One of the WORST mini series of all time and another Jimmy Janes piece of work !

    I'm working on putting this on a roll and using it as toilet paper.

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  2. I loved the Giordano covers, especially the image of Violet on issue #2

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  3. For a three issue recap it still seems rushed and the stakes are nebulously sketched in.
    As for Brande being Reep's father. I guess my feeling at the time was "He what? Eh, well why not just roll with it.
    And I have to say though it's an abrupt turn, It has paid off in many stories since then, so there's no real reason to hate on it either. I guess it happened so we all just move on.

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