Friday, December 26, 2014

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #15

Reviewer: Anj
Super-power: He who damns with faint praise

It has been 4 months since I started to review the 5YL Legion book on this site. For me it has been a bit of a revelation. You see, I loved the book when it came out. But now, rereading the first year of issues again ... this time wearing the hats of both fan and reviewer ... I think I achieved a new level of appreciation. Because I suddenly was reading this book from a new vantage point. It wasn't just a Legion book, it was an experimental Legion book. It was daring, creative, and risky. It shook up a mythology that had become stale, making it seem like something dark and grim to fit into the climate of the day but in reality keeping its core intact. And, looking back at it from the safety of decades of time, I can better appreciate everything that the creative team of Keith Giffen, Tom and Mary Bierbaum, and Al Gordon were trying to do.

But how could it maintain that innovative nature?

Legion of Super-Heroes #15 is a fine issue. It starts a great arc that (re)introduces a bitter Legion villain. It begins a brutal series of issues showing that the reformed Legion, while a bright inspiration, isn't quite bright enough to burn away the darkness. There is still war. There are still conquerors.

But this was the first time in rereading these issues that I felt the title was JACB ... just another comic book. The creative team remains the same on the cover but Giffen only does a couple of pages of art. The war pages are done by newcomer (at the time) Brandon Peterson. Gone are the 9 panel pages. It is, as if, the book was greater than the sum of its parts. Change something, like the art or page layouts, and the book seems smaller ... duller.

Is it still a great story? Yes. Do I love this run? Yes. But boy, looking back at issues 1-12 took my breath away. This didn't invoke that response.

The opening pages show the team getting used to being in their new headquarters on the Talus planetoid. There isn't enough power. It is a scrapyard of buildings, ships, and technology. This isn't the shiny beacon of hope that has housed the Legion in the past. And the constant short circuits and power fluctuations are maddening. Still, it feels fitting for this new dingy universe.

The opening sequence of Brainy reviewing the health of the newly emerald-infused Celeste and investigating the whereabouts of Ultra Boy is done by Giffen.

I really love this page as Brainy continually says Laurel or Rond in the place of someone else. He clearly still cares for Laurel and she (and her relationship with Rond) is worming her way into his mind. This small little dialogue is great showing that Querl has emotions and can still be derailed.

But the main plot is about the Khunds. They are aggressively attacking and conquering worlds in the United Planets. And they are using a new weapon ... the Red Terror ... to basically roll over the forces of these outer worlds.

The Red Terror is a gas which incapacitates anyone who breathes it in. Imagine Scarecrow fear toxin on steroids. The opposing armies fall to their knees in terror and the Khunds simply walk in. And to show this, we see the Khundian forces take over Orando (now back in 'regular space') in moments. Jeckie, no longer Sensor Girl, but acting as Queen, is trembling on the throne.
This is one of the missteps for me with 5YL. Sensor Girl was a way more interesting character than Princess (now Queen) Projectra. We never learn why or when in the 5 year gap she shed that identity.

Now even without the Red Terror, I think the Orandian army and their 'muskets' would not have been a threat. Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight. At least the Khunds are led by an honorable man, General Kiritan.

The UP has heard that the Khundian army has been whipped into a religious frenzy because their goddess, the Demon Mother, has manifested. With worlds rolling over before the Khundian armada, the UP asks the new Legion to lend their presence to the defense. It seemed just a little early. I mean, they just got back together a few issues ago. And that was just in the context of beating Roxxas. Are they already a recognized entity? Are they powerful enough to be a vanguard for the UP? I almost wish there was one more 'adventure' solidifying they were back before sending them to the front.

I did like this scene. Cos pulls the team together and asks them if they should help fight the Khunds. He wants a vote. But this Legion knows it's right. Laurel Gand says it outright in that middle panel. Wonderful.
Not everyone is heading to the front.

Cham is using his mercantile powers to work with someone named Orlak. Orlak is a Khundian double agent, selling information and technology. These weapons are alien to the Khunds, gifts of the Demon Mother.

Can you trust a Khundian informant?

Giffen and the Bierbaums do a good job of conveying just how insane and chaotic this war is. The setting changes every other page or so, showcasing just how stretched thin the UP is.

Cham is gathering intel.

Vi and Ayla, meanwhile, are boots on the ground on Venegar trying to hold back the Khundian invasion. And we learn very quickly that this is serious business. Vi's right leg is blasted by a Khundian weapon. It will eventually be amputated. And the Red Terror gas is cause for immediate retreat. Venegar falls.

This is all too easy for the Khunds.

And things are getting worse. Even though they are walking over their opponents, the Khunds are working all the paths the victory. On Talok VIII, they are luring the Hill people to join the Khunds and overthrow the City people. Why not let the people of a United Planet world tear themselves apart instead of losing Khundian troops.

 It is fascinating to see the variety of cultures on all these worlds. Orando was more feudal in nature. Talok VIII is almost nomadic.

Again, the honor of General Kiritan precedes him. He will keep his word and let the Hill People run the world for the Khundian Empire.

And once more it is knowledge of Talok VIII and the politics of that world that show that the history of the Legion is not only known but utilized. The Hill tribes!!

The weapons of the Khund and their apparent military might is making this whole thing look grave. But finally it looks like the UP has something it can use to even up the odds. The Khunds are over-extended. They need pluridium for their starships and they need a supply near the front. That means the next world to fall will either be Talok VIII or Xolnar. And the UP will be ready.
Given the prior scene, it seems that Talok VIII is the obvious target.

It turns out that the leader of Talok VIII, the new Shadow Champion, is Grev Mallor, Shadow Lass's cousin. And his wife is Lady Memory, the former high priestess of the Hill tribes and enemy of the Legion.

There doesn't seem to be too much love here. This seems to be a marriage of convenience of politics. She basically laughs at him and his worries as she lounges in their bed.

And then ... out of the blue ... they show up!

Mon-El and Shadow Lass! Or should I say Valor??

It had seemed that Giffen and the crew were uninterested in using these characters after the universal rewrite and re-rewrite. Remember, in a text piece, these two went into deep space to explore.

To be honest, I wish they stayed away. The Valor story is even more convoluted now. And we have Laurel Gand now!

Well, it turns out that the Talok VIII business is something of a feint.

The Khunds invade Xolnar, an arctic planet and current site of the United Planets Military Academy. This academy is basically the new Legion Academy. Chuck Taine and Luorno Durgo run it. And old friends Power Boy and Nightwind are their drill sergeants.

This isn't the academy though. This is a very real threat. Alas, poor Nightwind, we barely knew ye.

How the heck is the UP going to survive?

And what about Earth in all this?
The Dominators' rule has been exposed. They have been running things from the shadows. But now, with the curtain lifted, they may as well run things the way they want. No more niceties.

So the Legion is finally reformed. But they have little chance to pause and let out a sigh. We are suddenly in the middle of an intergalactic crisis. And all this while the Dominators close their fist around Earth even tighter.

The text piece in the issue is the announcement of the wedding between Lady Memory and Shadow Kid. These pieces deepen the lore of the Legion by adding context beyond the panels.

Time to damn with faint praise.

This is a really good issue. Giffen and the team again shows that they know Legion history inside and out, weaving in old enemies and minor characters to build this Five Years Later universe. With the team finally together, why not make a big splash and have them save ... well ... everyone. And judging by the letter columns, fans were champing at the bit for something just like this.

But this is the first issue, taking place in 'the present' that didn't have Giffen on art, that didn't have the 9 panel format. This was the first issue where we weren't learning what happened in the 5 year gap, that we weren't watching the team come together. Instead, we have a mission, a standard story. Squint away the 5 year differences and this could have been an issue in the prior Baxter series. It felt ... safe.

Prior to this, there was energy and vibrance and ... and newness in this series. Back matter and 9 panel grids. Text pages of Rokk beating Mordru with conversation. Universal rewrites and humor issues. It was just an explosion of creativity.

I love this series. And I even love this arc.

But I don't know if this series ever recaptures the zeal and creativity of that first year.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with this. The invasion of the Khunds doesn't have the oomph it needs to. Obviously it is big, but emotionally it didn't FEEL big in this story.

    Also I'll be honest, I thought after the reset, Mon-El was a figure from the past (Annual #1 reinforced this), not an active Legionnaire, so I was very confused when he turned up.