Friday, January 23, 2015

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #19

Legion of Super-Heroes #19 is something of a return to form for this groundbreaking Legion series. After 4 issues away from Earth, away from 9 panel grids, away from Keith Giffen's art, this nineteenth issue brings all those things back. And I for one am glad.

I know that Giffen has been plotting this thing since the beginning, I know that last story arc with the Khunds and the Dark Circle was a very good story. But there was something different ... something vibrant ... about the Giffen drawn, 9 panel, innovative beginning of this book.

Maybe 1990 wasn't ready for this book. Maybe Legion readers weren't ready for this book (the letter column seems to show that). And I don't mean to say that this isn't a good Legion book. I enjoy this entire run. I just think there is something breath-taking and daring about the first year of this book.

We sort of recapture that here. One thing that Giffen set forth to do in this series was to show that the future might not be as bright and shiny as we think it will be. And nothing can say that more than a massive planetary disaster. The cover is almost the first panel of the book, as we see pieces of the moon plummeting to Earth.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg, tips that will set up the next major arc. But then the creative team of Giffen, the Bierbaums, and Gordon make another bold decision. After showing us the scope of this disaster, they leave that plot. Instead they finish up the Jo Nah subplot which has been percolating through the last issues. I love the Jo story. But I also, almost immediately, wanted to know more about the disaster plot. Nice way to whet the appetite!

The 9 panel grid has been a mainstay of the book, with Giffen reserving the splash page for only the biggest moments.

Here is page 1 of LSH #19, a splash page of the moon exploding, incinerating a nearby satellite.

There is going to be obvious fallout from such a disaster, from the initial shockwave, to the physical strikes of the massive fragments, to the obvious impact on Earth's orbit.

Remember, the Legion is off-planet, wrapping up the Khund war efforts or on their asteroid headquarters. They simply aren't around to help.

Earth is on its own.

The Dominators have been 'secretly' running Earth for some time now but they have been inhospitable masters, running the place with an iron fist.

Now we find out that this destruction of the moon was a portion of some doomsday self-destruct plan called Triple Strike. The destruction of the moon was the first strike and interestingly enough, the Dominion did not authorize it. It happened for some other reason.

The second  strike is the depowering of the Earth's electro-shields. The chunks of Luna are going to fall to Earth unabated.

Unfortunately, the Dominion Battle Wagon that has the override codes that can shut down the remaining strike gets destroyed by Lunar debris. It explodes in the atmosphere releasing an EMP which shuts down tech. This is a threat on a planetary level.

And yet, even amongst the chaos, Giffen et al sow the seeds of future plots. What are these chambers the Dominators are so worried about?

Now one thing I have noticed in this series is that minor characters should be worried about their health. I don't know if it is a way for the creative team to show us how dark and deadly this 5YL universe is but things can be deadly for the characters on the periphery of the Legion mythos.

Power Boy and Northwind both recently got killed in the Khund war. Rond Vidar was tortured. And here we see the final moment of Brainy's old friend Circadia Sensus. 

Circadia knows something must replace the moon gravitational influence on Earth. He fires a replacement device into space, calculating the trajectory by hand!! Moments later the site is incinerated by a chunk of the moon.

I have to admit that is a pretty great moment for Circadia, an unsung hero. And it is these powerful small character moments, even if it is their last, that adds depth to this book.

We then learn what the third strike of Triple-Strike is ... the detonation of fusion power spheres on the planet.

That is some list of cities in which a nuclear explosion occurs. The use of white space here, as in the first page, as in the universe rewrite segments, is powerful. There is nothingness here.

The moon is gone; without electroshields, the Earth is pulverized by the fragments. And now the fusion spheres blow. Earth is going to be in chaos with much of it a wasteland. If this is how the Dominion treats its prize, I would hate to know how it treats things it doesn't cherish.

But we shouldn't be surprised by any of this. The 5YL universe is a dark place where evil has flourished. And Earth, with its rejection of the Legion, its acceptance of Dominion rule, and its dingy politics has allowed it to thrive.

This is a mid-issue cliffhanger though. Just when we see this utter devastation, Giffen shifts the story to Jo. We are going to have to wait a month to get a sense of just how bad things are.

Remember, Jo was struck with a time grenade by Roxxas way back in LSH #10! We knew Jo had been shunted back in time. And now we get a sense of the 'when'.

Jo has limped his way back to Earth hoping to find himself at home. Instead he is way back in time. That old man in the third panel? It's Nabu!! We are talking ancient Egypt!

Giffen has a history with Dr. Fate so I was glad to see him working on the character, in his original identity of Nabu, again.

But this is Jo's story.

He runs into a pile of decomposing corpses and then a ravishing young woman named Asherya who hopes he will protect her. She says the villagers think she is a demon. It seems a bit too convenient that she looks like Tinya and even more insane that her village is called Bgztl, Tinya's home planet. Jo seems to fall in love immediately.

Certainly my spider-sense was tingling about this woman. And it seems that Nabu's is as well.

It is hard to know how long Jo is in this time. Giffen shows the passing of time by showing weather changes around the fence surrounding their home. But it is long enough for Asherya to get pregnant! And Nabu thinks he has seen enough. While Nabu was hoping that Asherya would lead him to bigger fish, he needs to step in now.

It is an interesting artistic choice to just draw a fence to show the passing of time. I suppose that Giffen knew that there was going to be a lot of word bubbles in these tiny panels to show how the Jo/Asherya relationship was progressing. Why put in a lot of detailed or character art that would just be covered up.

Still, the material here is so dense that it works.

As expected, Asherya isn't what she seems to be. Nabu shows up in the original (I suppose) Dr. Fate costume. In his presence, she reveals her true self ... a Chaos demon. And she has her hooks in Jo.

But her threats are pretty empty. With one blast, he vaporizes her.

Now Jo has been lost for so long. He was just looking for some comfort, someone to be with. And his slipping Tinya's name in his grief shows that it isn't Asherya he is crying for. That one little word makes this so much more powerful!

But in the end, anger is one of the stages of grief. Jo loses his temper and is about to engage with Fate. Nabu knows Jo doesn't belong in this time and so ... hurray magic ... sends Jo back.

I absolutely love the epilogue of the issue where we finally see Jo mourn the passing of his beloved Tinya. The rough pirate exterior, the gruff attitude, the macho brawler ... some of it was a shield to cover up his pain.

He finally can cry.

So it is these moments that make this 5YL series so powerful. This is half an issue, a subplot that reaches its end in ancient Egypt that just makes Jo a more complex and more believable and relatable character. I have never been a big Ultra Boy fan but this story made me care.

But that subplot puts Earth's devastation on hold for a month.

The backmatter shows that revolt is about to happen. Earth knows the Dominion created the Triple Strike. The SciPo are finally going to fight back against the Dominators. Nothing will be the same.

The Earth in this 5YL period was dark before. Now it is going to be darker.


  1. And with that, the good part of the 5yl era is over. All downhill from here, pretty much, until DOA/EoaE which rises above the intervening material on nostalgia value mainly.

  2. You really need to read Adventures of Superman #478 or the Time and Time Again TPB for the full story.

  3. Thanks for comments. I read Adv of Sup around this time. WIll need to find that issue!

  4. There went Medicus 1. Was it ever specifically stated to be the recreated JLA satellite from JLA 147-148, or was that just something I assumed?

  5. I was going to mention Time and Time again, but LLM beat me to it. It's also interesting to see how other artists handle the 5 years later look (in this case, Jurgens).
    I simply love the "flashback" panel of a youthful Tinya as drawn by Giffen.

  6. I am reading these in the 5YL Omnibus, which includes Adventures of Superman #478, so I had context for the Moon's destruction here. It was a confusing issue, though, because in it Superman talks to the Legionnaires about the Pocket Universe Superboy... who I thought had been removed from history and replaced with Valor by Glorith and the Time Trapper?