Obviously, we will start with Legion of Super-Heroes #301, a story that focuses mainly on Chameleon Boy, his quest to regain his powers, and his somewhat turbulent relationship with his father RJ Brande. But the creators, as usual, give us a couple of pages to build up other plotlines and check in on other characters. No one is left untouched for too long.Everything feels smooth and planned out.
And, while Giffen has changed his art style many times over the years, this is the style I like the most, a very smooth, very organic feel with innovative panel layouts. While I loved the 5YL 9 panel grid for what it was, these pages really sing and allow Giffen to stretch his legs.
Okay, enough introduction to the run ... on to the issue itself.
Much like the nods given in Legion of Super-Heroes #300, this shows Levitz and Giffen's love of Legion history. And Legion fans love the team history as well. So those who knew about the Adventure cover in those pre-internet days must have been beaming. Would it have been cool to have this on the LSH #300 book, matching 300's? Maybe. But the jam cover worked so well, I think they played it out right. Especially given how the characters on this cover are the main players in this issue.
As was the norm for the time, Levitz has Encyclopedia and Travel-logue blurbs about planets and cultures sprinkled throughout the issue adding some nice dimension to the setting. Durla was once a high-technology planet but a 6-minute nuclear armageddon leveled the place and sent it into a darker time. The radiation triggered the ability to shape change and therefore adapt to this horrific landscape. That sort of background info, I believe, is better suited for a text box than as dialogue from a character. And they were always appreciated.
This was 1983. The Brande revelation came out in the Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series from 1981. I am glad that Levitz and Giffen thought that this was an important enough nugget to explore more, especially given how long it went unaddressed.
And yes, personally I love that Levitz and Giffen brought Supergirl back to the book. We see her here sitting with Brainiac 5. We also see some nods to ongoing stories here as well. The Proteans are now recognized as sentients and demand being treated as equals. And some team members are sick of how Dream Girl leads the team.
But the main plot is Cham. He and Brande are captured and brought before a group of elders. Without their ability to change and without their willingness to adopt the Durlan culture, Cham and Brande are felt to be superfluous. The two are dropped into a crater where the nuclear missiles detonated. The radiation here is so concentrated it doesn't bestow powers, it simply kills.
Despite both being powerless, they aren't helpless. And it is Brande who breaks them out of their bubble prison and forces them to move on.
Giffen shines in this section as we see the cowled Durlans shape-shift into dragons.
Gigi Cusimano is part of the Science Police Executive Branch. She becomes a SciPo who interacts with the team quite a bit, ends up having a back story with Colossal Boy, and is a love interest for a couple of Legionnaires.
But we see how great Levitz and Giffen were at imparting unique personalities into all these characters. Element Lad is all business, even when his girlfriend Schvaughn brings someone new around. Meanwhile Sun Boy stops short to introduce himself to the new pretty girl on the block. Oh Dirk!
I said that Giffen really shined here. Look at this page of narrow panels without gutters. It gives this vertical climb some visual pizazz. And the lack of gutters makes it almost claustrophobic.
Throughout the story, Brande and Cham are working their feelings out. Cham even invites Brande to join him so Brande can regain his powers too. I like that Brande says he has been too long stuck in one shape to go back.
Nice coloring here by Carl Gafford.
Luckily it works.
Again, as a Supergirl fan, seeing her together with Brainy just made my heart sing. And you can see how happy yet awkward he feels. Giffen sells the emotions with that expressive work.
But the cruiser is blown out of the sky bu unknown assailants. The Legion flies out and easily dispatches the enemy. This might be the first time that the concept of a transsuit is used.
One thing to note here is how Giffen has Kara hold her cape out as a shield. We'll see that plenty over the next couple of issues. I love it as a visual.
It turns out that the attacking ships were an overzealous Science Police security team patrolling and protecting the nearby Weber's World. Ontiir, the head officer, apologizes and asks the team to join him on Weber's to recover.
Hmmm ... more on this later.
In the end, Cham not only regains his powers but defeats a Durlan elder in shape-shifting combat. By doing so he earns the right to choose his destiny. He chooses to return to the Legion. This is one page of four where Giffen shows just how crazy a skirmish between two shape-shifters would be. Really beautiful, innovative stuff.
The book ends with the announcement that Karate Kid and Princess Projectra are getting married. Timber Wolf wonders if he should have left with Ayla and kept their relationship intact. I have an answer for you Brin ... yes! Yes, you should have left with her.
Overall, this is a great issue, bringing Cham back into the fold, exploring his relationship with Brande, and setting up a couple of plots which will come to fruition soon.
Reading this was such a joy, reminding me of how spectacular this book was and how effortless it seemed to Levitz and Giffen. Much more to come!