Friday, November 7, 2014

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #8

Reviewer: Anj
Superpower: Microscopic vision to see tiny changes in Legion Lore

With this review of 5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #8, I will be 2/3 of the way through the first year of this book. It has been quite a roller coaster ride. The universe has been re-written ... twice! There is a tiny group of Legionnaires trying to reignite the light of the Legion. There is another group congregated on Winath, in mourning. We have a few elements of those universal re-writes now appearing in the book. We have just scratched the surface of what happened in the five years since The Magic Wars and the Baxter series.  And all of this had been done with some experimental artistic choices. Despite all of that tumult, I was completely invested and intrigued. This was a captivating new Legion and I wanted more.

But I wonder if the creative team of Keith Giffen, Tom and Mary Bierbaum, and Al Gordon realized that maybe they were going too fast. The continuity carpet had been pulled out from under the feet of the Legion faithful. And Legion fans live on continuity. The Legion universe, the foundation of its history, needed to be stabilized ... at least a little ... so that the unstable current universe, the dark dingy Dominated Earth, could stand as a contrast to a simpler, happier time.

And so, in 5YL LSH #8, we get a retelling and re-imagining of the very origin of the Legion. And it all starts off with this split-down-the-middle cover showing what is and what was. On the left, a classic Silver Age Legion, all bright skies and primary colored HQ, drawn by legends Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson (with an assist from Al Gordon). On the right, the new Legion, in musty coats and rusted environs, as drawn by Giffen and Gordon. Is there a better image to let us know that this isn't our fathers' Legion? I think this sort of cover is a great example of how Giffen wanted to both break free from but also honor the Legion's past. It shows the artistic risks he was willing to take.

How could anyone not love this book so far??

We start out in the present, Giffen art, 9 panel pages ... all par for the course so far.

Reep (Chameleon Boy) Daggle is reporting back to Marla Latham, currently in charge of the Brande/Daggle fortune. Cham is thrilled after the little dustup with Mordru. Despite a small group and not much power, they outsmarted Mordru leaving with both Mysa and Rond Vidar!

This little interaction with Reep reminds Marla of how shy Cham was initially and how he even got involved with the Daggles. And just like that we are out of the framework and into a flashback.

We are sent back to the docks of Metropolis circa 2949, right at the moment of the before mentioned Phantom Girl/L.E.G.I.O.N. Durlan time switch. The L.E.G.I.O.N. Durlan becomes R.J. Brande. It is this moment in time that is the key to the formation of the Legion, the containment of Mordru, and years of prosperity.

And Marla is there! He runs the docks, sees the Durlan appear, and rescues the confused 20th century Durlan from xenophobic dock workers.

The only other Durlan Marla knows is a smuggler named Theg. Doing his best to help someone, Marla offers to help pay part of the price to get this new Durlan back to Durla. It shows how noble Marla is, and why he becomes a mentor for young Legionnaires.

One thing I love about this is that the flashback pages are artistically very different from the current time. There is no 9 panel grid here. We are in more standard comic pages here, with different panel sizes, etc. The art is done by a young Chris Sprouse, so we don't even have a similar style to Giffen.

This feels like a 'regular' comic and not the 5YL chaotic brew we have been reading up til now.

Now long time readers will know that Brande lost his Durlan shape-changing powers because of Yorggian fever.

Theg and Brande contract the fever when back on Durla. There was no easy cure. Brande's wife dies. Brande and Theg would need to leave Durla and head back to the United Planets and pick a shape to stay in for the rest of their lives. The decision was made to head back to Earth and assume human forms.

But we do see something key. Brande's son Reep ... that's right Chameleon Boy ... is given to Brande's sister-in-law.

Back on Earth, Brande and Theg (now called Doyle) start his star-building business and make a ton of money.

One of the things we see is that desire to do good by Brande. He wants to help those who helped him. He remembered that Marla helped him out when he needed it the most. So Brande hires Latham. Thus starts a great friendship.

But Doyle didn't adjust to wealth in a constructive way. He leads a hedonistic life of booze, women, and gambling. It reaches a point where Brande buys him out.

Doyle is initially happy by the lump-sum settlement. But when the money dries up, he becomes bitter.

Despite death threats by Doyle, Brande goes about his business. Part of that is a flying coach on a rocket flight. A flight that includes passengers Garth Ranzz, Imra Ardeen, and Rokk Krinn.

One of the questions I always had as a fan is why multi-gajillionaire R.J. Brande would be riding coach on a standard flight and not on his private jet/rocket. We finally learn the answer. Brande considers himself a common man and likes to rub elbows with people.

Of course, fans will know that an attempt on Brande's life while on that flight is foiled by the three youngsters. Using telepathy, bio-lightning, and magnetism, the assassins are captured. Brande is saved.

I did like this scene as we see it from Marla's perspective. He heard about it on the news, dropped his coffee, and took off.

Folks, we just saw the birth of the Legion.

Remember, Brande is from the 20th century. And this is the re-written post-Glorith timeline.

What I like is that Brande being from the 20th century explains why he is so obsessed with the idea of 20th century heroes, selfless people inspiring others. He was one of those people himself.

And this being the new timeline, his inspiration isn't Superboy from a pocket universe. Now the inspiration is Valor ... Lar Gand.

Just like that, Brande finances and Marla trains a bunch of kids. We see the addition of Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl. We see Brande praise everybody's power as being special and most likely needed at some point. We see the need for flight devices and the changes in uniforms. We see the earliest adventures and slow acceptance from the Science Police.

It is the earliest days of the Legion, decked out in there Silver Age costumes. It feels like a simpler time.

And so we have an established and beloved Legion. Only one thing is missing from the team ... a Durlan.

Brande sends Marla to recruit Reep Daggle, an outspoken young Durlan who is looking for equal rights and open communication between the UP and Durla. What better platform than the Legion to ease prejudices against Durlans?

And that is how Brande's son became Chameleon Boy. Of course, Reep and the Legion don't know this familial relationship. And won't for some time.

The flashback ends. And suddenly we are back to the current 5YL timeline. Mordru, as a final little show of power, teleported the Legionnaires on Tharn to the end of the galaxy. The group then headed to Zirr for some rest and relaxation. And while there Rokk, Rond, and Laurel head out on a 'secret mission'.

During this epilogue, we learn more about Laurel. She has been fighting the Khunds at the front and has made quite a name for herself. The Khunds hate her and she hates the Khunds.

But the secret mission? To get Laurel's daughter Lauren. Laurel Gand is a mom! And she has to pummel some Khund warriors here, basically rescuing her child.

Any guesses on who the Dad is?

The back matter includes a page about Brande's financial history.

And then there is this page, a communication from the Khunds, calling Laurel Gand a 'she-demon' who uses her powers to remove the 'virility' of the Khund warriors, 'emasculating' them. As a result, they will try to attack her through her one weakness ... Lauren.

And so, another issue of the 5YL Legion ends. After a dizzying 7 first issues, I think Giffen et al made the right decision to tap the brakes a bit. Readers of this book probably felt slightly adrift. They were in an unsure time with Dominators, Khunds, and Legionnaires scattered. And they had an unstable past given the historical resets in issues #3 and #4. Readers needed something they could hold onto. And retelling the origin at least gave a foundation to build upon.

The art in the flashback story is a little rough. It was Chris Sprouse's third published work. I love Sprouse's current art, so it is also historically interesting to see how much his style has grown.

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