Friday, February 9, 2018

New 52 Legion of Super-Heroes #20

We knew the end was coming. The feel of the story had that 'last ditch effort' feel to it. And now, around the release of New 52 Legion of Super-Heroes #20, the news was official. The book was cancelled.

Now all that was left was wrapping up the ongoing Fatal Five storyline. Unlike prior issues, Keith Giffen's name is nowhere on this. Was there a falling out between Levitz and Giffen? Did Giffen leave the sinking ship before it went down? Did he just have other things to do? On his own, Levitz does his best to keep the story moving along. I was very happy to see so much dedicated to the Black Witch, someone with great potential who was left a bit on the back burner.

That said, there is still the wonkiness of this arc that irks me. People dead are back. Powers that were gone are now back. Phantom Girl continues to not act like Phantom Girl. There are a few 'easy' answers to difficult problems. It just feels a bit slipshod, as if Levitz is careening down a hill.

Thankfully,. Francis Portela is back and the art is just stupendous. In particular, his Validus and Mysa are gorgeous. And the splash page where Mysa reveals the plot to the Legionnaires is just fantastic.

On to the old review.

Legion of Super-Heroes #20 came out last week, on the heels of the announcement that Legion would be cancelled in August. It brings another layer of commentary to this current Fatal Five story. Let's face it, this is the end of this title and this Legion. What will come out of this story? Is it going to be a reboot meaning we won't see these particular Legionnaires again? Will it be a sort of house-cleaning by DC, trimming the 'fat' of the team, culling it down to only seven members as rumors state?

Of course, this story can be both a house-cleaning and a pre-reboot arc at the same time. Maybe this is the last chance writer Paul Levitz has with these characters and he wants to write their ultimate fate. We have seen death and disappearance here. It all is leading up to the cancellation. And this issue continues to breakneck pace of the prior issues as we reel from one catastrophe to the next.

Let's face it, this title has been treading water for some time now. This arc has ratcheted up the action quite a bit. And yes, it has included the deaths of a number of Legionnaires, making it seem 'relevant'. But maybe an injection of new creative juices will help.

One thing to cheer about with this issue is the return of Francis Portela on artwork. His style is so slick and polished, it just works perfectly on a Legion book. In particular, I loved his Validus in this book as he looked gargantuan and monstrous.

We saw last issue that Glorith was able to take Ultra Boy and Chameleon Boy off of Rimbor and back to the Sorceror's World.

I had completely forgotten that Glorith was basically banished off of the Sorceror's World by the Black Witch. I have said from the beginning that Glorith is a super-villain in waiting. This banishment certainly does add something to that.

More on this a little bit later.

As I said above, Levitz certainly seems to be clearing the deck for the next version of the Legion. Sun Boy is dead. Star Boy is presumed dead.

Here, in a last ditch effort to get away from the Promethean Giant, Phantom Girl escapes in a way that means she is 'never coming back'. I suppose the implication here is that she has irrevocably returned to Bgztl's home dimension.

But why? Why not just go phantom here and let the Giant's fingers run through you? If this is true and she is really gone, this is a pretty lousy way for Tinya to end her Legion career. It is especially distasteful given that she never even got a chance to act as a true leader.

If dead, it really seemed like a forced way to trim the roster.

But maybe she isn't really dead. Polar Boy and Invisible Kid seemed pretty dead last month, crushed by the Promethean Giant. Instead, we see that Invisible Kid has shunted them to a sort of dimension of the near dead/limbo. We see the two Legionnaires near the ghosts(?) of the original Invisible Kid, Ferro Lad, and Earth Man.

In a nutshell, this is something of the problem with the Legion. This scene is riffing on a little known power that Jacques manifested way back in the early 80s Legion, perhaps best seen in Legion of Super-Heroes #299 when he needed to fetch Wildfire's spirit. So I know that, as a guy steeped in Legion lore for decades. But would new readers know it? Or would it drive new readers away?

Meanwhile, on Sorceror's World, the Legionnaires link up with the Black Witch and Blok. The Black Witch, you might recall, is housing Mordru's spirit inside herself, acting as a living prison. The devastation by Validus on the planet has shaken the planet but not Mysa's resolve. She is, at least for now, able to hold Mordru inside her.

With technology down around the universe, Mysa is able to fill in Cham, Jo, and Glorith about all that has happened. She shows them the Promethean Giant, Validus, and the death of Sun Boy. Yes, it is a bit of exposition. But what a lovely page by Portela. I love this sort of up-shot with Mysa's arms outstretched. Lovely colors here as well.

It is hard to know if the next Legion will be brand new or picking up the pieces here. But if we are carrying on from here, I think it is clear that Cham and Ultra Boy will survive this mess and move on.

As I said, it is hard to know how many of the Legionnaires (outside Sun Boy) who appear dead or gone are actually dead or gone.

Here, I found it very interesting that he states that Phantom Girl was the one Legionnaire he feared. So maybe Tinya isn't really gone. Maybe she will come back to save the day and sort of salvage her term as Legion Leader.

What I don't know is just why Tharok fears her the most. Could it be that in phantom mode she can somehow disrupt Tharok in his own tech-ghost form.

It turns out that Tharok is in control of Validus (a nice flashback to their very first appearance way back in Adventure Comics #352.

Validus' mission is to head to the center of Sorceror's World to destroy the gem at the heart of planet. It reminds me that I need to review just how closely linked Amethyst's Gem World with the Sorceror's World. But somehow destroying the gem will destroy the world.

As I said earlier, Portela's art is incredibly slick here and his Validus is unbelievably wild. Look at that second panel. You just sense the power and rage here as he splashes in the lava.

Now we have only seen four of the Fatal Five. And Mano hasn't been seen or heard from in this arc.

So who is the fifth member?

I am calling it now. It's Glorith.

And if it isn't her, it is someone within the Legion.

It turns out that the only way to defend the gem at the core of Sorceror's World is for Black Witch and Glorith to unite their powers and basically teleport everyone ... Validus and the Legion ... away.

I thought it was great to see Blok actually try to hold off Validus here, allowing Mysa the time to get the spell together. I thought for sure he was going to die in this arc and maybe he will. But there would have been no better time for him to get killed than here. So maybe he survives.

The one thing I didn't like here was that Validus appears about 15 feet tall here, as opposed to the more gargantuan size I have become used to seeing.

So Validus is suddenly in deep space.

And Cham and Ultra Boy are teleported back to Earth, to the Legion Headquarters.

No surprise, the headquarters is in ruins. Everything seems to be falling apart in the universe right now. Unfortunately, there is more here than just decay. The Persuader is there. And it looks like he has killed (or nearly killed) Luornu. I mean it would be hard to easily survive a chunk of rebar through the abdomen as well as other debris embedded in you. That is some cliffhanger! Who else is dying in the debris?

Again, I love Portela's look here in his chain-mail, tunic, and skull mask. Fantastic.

So the action and death and craziness certainly continued in this issue. But it has a different feeling now that I know that the title is ending in a couple of issues. Is this the end of this continuity? Are we simply erasing the blackboard to write a new history? Is this some editorial mandate to reduce the roster and make the universe darker?

All that said, I have to say this wild ride is probably the most memorable Legion story that has come out in the last 3 years or so.

Overall grade: B

Glorith never became a villain. Tinya never came back (perhaps the biggest sin of the book). Luorno survives but that is one grievous injury. Validus is a bit easily removed from the board. Yes, a lot happens. But it feels scattered and in some ways wrong.

Today I think I'd given it a C-.


  1. Anyone else think it’s messed up that Luornu is supposed to be dead/dying/wounded but is posed like a bathing beauty?

    I’m still ticked about Tinya being replaced by Cowardly Lass. She’s been the biggest Legion stalwart behind the founders, and this plot line felt like a spiteful response to fans voting her in as leader, shoehorning her into a story never meant for her character.

    1. I scrolled down to make the same comment (less eloquently) – Luornu’s pose is absurdly inappropriate.