Friday, September 12, 2014

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Legion Reviewer: Anj
Super-power: Super-vision to see in darkness

Hello everyone, it's Anj, one of the Legion of Super-Bloggers, and tasked with reviewing Legion of Super-Heroes volume 4, also known as the 5YL Legion. Tasked might be a strong word. I asked for the job because, of all the runs of the Legion, I feel this one is the most under-appreciated, the most vilified, and absolutely one of the best.

For those who haven't my reviews before, I tend to be lengthy so settle in. I will recap the plot, but also point out parts of the book I love - dialogue, art decisions, homages, etc.

Legion of Superheroes #1 was released in 1989 and was a product of its time ... with a caveat. As I said in the introduction post, this was the time in comics when things started to get darker and grayer. Grimmer and grittier if you prefer that nomenclature. And nothing was looked upon as being brighter and cheerier than the Legion, a glimmering near-perfect future. That sort of book would be scoffed at in a time when X-heroes were skewering people with double-bladed swords. A strict 'no kill' clause in a Constitution where heroes would be held accountable for their actions was an anachronism in a more cynical world.

And so Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Al Gordon, and editor Mark Waid decided to move the Legion forward, move the themes to more current ones, and shove the book 5 years into the future. This leap in time allowed Giffen, the captain of this ship, to make wholesale changes to the Legion universe. This is a darker place, with moral uncertainty. It is a place where Dominators and Mordru and Khunds have won. A place where the Legion was disbanded by Earthgov and the individuals have scattered. It isn't the beautiful shiny future we read of in the past.

But here is the caveat. It isn't all dark!! The Legion ends up being the light to pierce the blackness. This volume is how, despite everything falling apart, the Legion can be an inspiration of goodness, a beacon for people to rally around, a way for evil to lose and goodness to win. This book is the gospel of the power of the Legion ... not just its members, but as a concept.

Let's start the review with a look at this cover. It is a perfect opening image for this volume. The back colors are a deep purple. The Legion headquarters is rusted and broken. A Legion flight ring is in the foreground, but dented, scratched, and tarnished. And there in the background is Rokk, the backbone of the Legion, his face in shadows, clothed in a tattered, grimy coat. There is nothing optimistic about this image at all.

As if that cover wasn't enough to let us readers know it is time to turn the page on the old Legion universe, Giffen starts the book out with a series of television screens, a look at the media in this new world.

The first page is the briefest of recaps of the Legion in sunnier times. Their victories over evil were many. Their symbol bright and gleaming like the ring (so different from the cover).


That show is over.

Its time has passed.

The Legion fell.

Time to move on.

Powerful isn't it? A great combination of art and words to convey something to the reader.
And then the next page which shows Science Police battling the Khunds. Universo being on the loose. Move to some vapid look at a pleasure vacation. And then a look at Sun Boy, looking quite healthy and happy, working with the EarthGov 'happily'.

In a series of panels we see that things are rougher on Earth now. People can only dream of escaping. And Sun Boy somehow escaped the turmoil. In fact, we hear him deride Polar Boy for trying to keep the Legion together, for not changing with the times.

In three pages, we have a sense of this new universe. And we already seem to know that Sun Boy is something of a traitor to the dream.

But remember, Giffen wants the Legion to fight against this new dystopia. And so in this first issue we travel around the galaxy to look in on some old friends.

First is Chameleon Boy. As Reep Daggle he took over his father's business on Durla. And looking around at things falling apart around him, he knows it is time for him to 'tend to his father's other dream'.

That's right ... he is going to try to reform the Legion! It is great symmetry that Reep, son of R.J. Brande would bankroll the Legion.

Giffen throughout this series throws bones to the old-time Legion fans. Here, without much exposition, Reep hands things over to Marla Latham. Legion fans know who he is and nod. New fans might shrug and be able to move on. This effort to woo new readers while satisfying the demanding older Legion fandom is a tightrope walk that Giffen seems like he might be able to handle.
And Rokk Krinn? He is on Braal. The planet looks like a hellhole, as if the entire planet is in a massive economic depression, with the govenment ruling in a martial state to keep everyone in line.

And Rokk is dealing with nightmares from a military skirmish he was in ... Venado Bay. Braal was at war with Imsk (Shrinking Violet's homeworld) and Rokk, free from the Legion, was in Braal's army.

When awake, away from those nightmares, we see that Rokk has married Night Girl. They are expecting. Their love for each other is obvious. But Rokk's happiness when he looks at the world ... the universe ... around him, is not present. How did things get so terrible? He wonders if things could have been different if the Legion was still around, if he held it the team together.

I love Lydda here. She recognizes the weight on her husband's soul, how he somehow holds himself responsible for the dark times. She implores him to lighten his load a little.

And Venado Bay? It looks like it was a horrible experience. We see glimpses of it. But Giffen ups the ante here. We hear the screams. But all we see are the blood splatters. The horror of this fight is only in the readers' minds. And sometimes that is more powerful than simply being shown everything.

We learn more about Venado Bay soon enough ... but it is always out there ... an example of what is wrong in this new universe.

Remember, this was a Braal/Imsk war. And, unbelievably, Talu Digby (Shrinking Violet) was there, fighting with her native world's army. Vi and Cos fought each other in a war. Dark times indeed.

Vi refuses to be quiet about Venado Bay, unwilling to compromise her ideals to sweep the ill deeds of that fight under the rug. So she is shown the door, dishonorably discharged.

Vi was skirting towards a darker, cynical personality in the prior incarnation. The fact she wears her hair so short and that she keeps the scars of war is completely in line with who she is. She'll show her ugliness and emotional scars for all to see.

But, she isn't without hope. She writes to Ayla, tells Lightning Lass that it was her letters that kept her going. The Vi/Ayla relationship was hinted at in the prior incarnation. Here we see their love for each other. Vi is heading to Winath to be with Ayla.

And so the first Legionnaires are put on the board.

And the first steps towards reforming occurs. Reep knows he needs Rokk there. Rokk is the foundation of the Legion. He is the role model.

Even when we learn that somehow Rokk is powerless, Reep does not relent. He needs Rokk. And this universe needs the Legion.

You can't kill a dream.

You can't expunge everything that the Legion represented, the good they did, the inspiration they were. And Rokk, magnetic powers or not, embodied that.

I get chills reading it.

And with that Rokk does remember, the simpler times, soaked in sepia like old photos. How as youngsters they saved worlds. They made a difference.

With promises that Lydda will be safe, and with Rokk's buddy Loomis joining in, Cos agrees.

It is time again for a Legion to exist.

Now they just need members!

This was a near perfect opening issue for me, laying out the state of the universe, showing us some of the Legionnaires and what their lives are like, and showing why we need a Legion.

I was hooked.
I haven't commented on some of the more stylistic parts of this book.

Remember Watchmen was just in the rear view mirror. I thought the strict nine panel layout worked very well in this comic. With a draftsman like Giffen, a lot can be put into a small part of the page. It allows for more story to be stuffed into the issue ... and these read dense. You couldn't skim these issues. You needed to devour them.

But Giffen also had the brilliant idea to put in back matter ... newspaper articles, letters from Legionnaires, Earthgov releases. Yes, they are text. But they deepened the experience incredibly. You got a sense of this new world by reading these releases.

Here we see the Earthgov president's personal letter explaining how she is going to disband the Legion. And the notes on the bottom, explaining why the time is right, is fantastic. The next page was Polar Boy's response, disbanding the Legion but blaming the UP. Great reading.

And so we see how Reep Daggle decided to reignite the light of the Legion, to inspire and improve. Despite the horror around them, he knows Long Live the Legion!


  1. "No. You can't kill the dream".
    25 years later, still gives me the chills. This is my favorite Legion.

    Great review, look forward to the rest of the series.

  2. Not my favorite era, but I am stoked to go back and re-read them...!

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    I have several 'chill' moments coming up.

  4. As much as I despise the back half of this era, the year or so where Giffen was there to counterbalance the Bierbaums were great comics. Probably should be second on my "why hasn't this run been collected yet" list behind Ostrander's Suicide Squad.

  5. The seeds of Salu's transformation into a badass came from her imprisonment at the hands of Imskian rebels, and replacement by Yera, Colossal Boy's Durlan wife.

    One thing a lot of long time readers disliked was that they never really went back and explained what happened during the Gap.. Most of that information was published, but you had to dig through the backmatter, as well as the letters pages and the 2 Legion sourcebooks for the Mayfair RPG.

    1. Yes, the 2995 Sourcebook is probably the best resource available that fills in the events of the 5 Year Gap. It was written by the Bierbaums, so apart from the RPG number & stats, there's quite a bit of character revealed through some supplementary material in the profiles (amusing Tiger Beat-type questionnaires from the Legion's early days, etc.). Very hard to find, but I'd say this is essential reading for the 5YL fan.

  6. It's very dense. It's a full experience, not just comics, but prose, like Watchmen, I suppose.