Friday, January 30, 2015

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #20

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #20 is one of those issues in this run that makes me smile as a critical reader. This series has sort of pushed the boundaries of comics since its inception, making creative decisions that were interesting and innovative. And this issue showcases that sort of elan.

Last issue, the Dominators' Triple-Strike, a sort of doomsday plan to raze Earth should they be in danger of losing control, was accidentally triggered. We see the moon destroyed, the debris from Luna smashing into the planet. We then learn that all the fusion power-spheres on the planet explode. We just get a sense of how horrifying the devastation is on planet when the story shifts to Jo Nah's adventure in the past.

With that issue behind us, I assumed that this twentieth issue would exclusively focus on the destruction and chaos on Earth. But we again only get a sliver of what is happening on Earth. Instead, much of this issue is spent catching up with all the different Legionnaires who are recovering from the Khund War. There are deep character moments (like Venado Bay as seen on the cover) and humor in the Legion HQ while we cut back and forth to the anarchy on Earth. It is a fascinating decision and as a reader is different than what I am used to. It is odd to laugh at Kono's antics and then watch Dominators slaughter SciPo officers.

Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum, and Al Gordon are all on board this issue. 9 panel pages are here. And the wonderfully dense feeling of the book is there as well.

One thing the book may have introduced to comics is the concept of text pieces and back matter.

In this issue, it isn't back matter. It's front matter. We open with a decree from the Dominion.

Their fleet is to abandon their missions in space and come to Earth to quell rebellions that are occurring in the face of the Triple Strike fallout. But the Dominators want to somehow maintain a 'behind the scenes' control. Keep Earthgov 'in power' but submissive. Keep the propaganda going. Keep the Science Police active as riot control, working for the Dominion. It shows just how much Earth is under the thumb of the Dominion. How did it get this far??

I think it would be hard to maintain a level of invisibility when a fleet of Dominator battle wagons are in orbit above Earth. And the creative team knows it too ...

The other thing that the creative team has done is upped the ante in terms of the danger of this new universe. In the old Legion, it was rare for there to be a death or maiming.

In the 5YL universe we have seen Blok, Power Boy, and Northwind die. We have seen Vi lose a limb. We have seen Celeste beaten to a pulp.
Now we see Sun Boy dying. The null radiation from Triple Strike has made his powers go out of control. He is burning himself up from the inside. Awake, in agony, slowly losing his life ... brutal.

Of course, Sun Boy's character in this series isn't great or heroic. He is the voice of the Dominion, living in opulence while acting as a shill for the fascist aliens. I was disgusted by him and how far he strayed from the Legion code. But I don't think I would wish this on him.

Unfortunately, the Dominion propaganda machine continues to churn, even if no one else in the universe is buying it.

When the United Planets want to come to the aid of Earth given what is going on, they are rebuffed. "Earthgov" sends a message telling the UP to stay away. The Dominion will help Earth recover from this 'Khund' attack.

Maybe in an older Legion story the UP wouldn't care and would swoop in to help. But this is a more serious, more realistic interpretation of things. Their hands tied, they can only sit back and watch.

On the planet itself, between blackouts, SciPo rebellions, and general disasters, things aren't going well.

Legion friend Devlin O'Ryan is injured, bleeding out, and trying to find help so he can report on the Dominion death squads.

Before he can find safety, he runs into .... someone.

Cloaked in shadows, this group knocks him out with some sort of blast, but then tends to Devlin's wounds.

We only see a snippet of leg coloring in that first panel. We get a sense of their attitudes in wondering why someone attacked him, of wanting to help him. Who are these people??

Way back in 1991 ... I had no idea.

But I was able to figure out that they must be from the mysterious chambers we first read about last issue. Right after seeing them knock out Devlin, we get a page where the Dominators learn that the Chambers were breached and the 'perfect specimens' within are on the run, and before they could be mind wiped.

So within the destruction, a very very large subplot begins to take root.

Once again, just as I am ready to dive into the Earth disaster, Giffen and the Bierbaums take a left hand turn. We head to the Legion HQ where the team seems blissfully ignorant of everything that is going on back home.

We leave this mystery, this devastation ...

And we see that Brainy teleports Celeste to the HQ because he wants her quarantined. But the teleportation leaves her clothes behind.  Meanwhile, Kono is phasing into the men's shower to catch a peep of Kent Shakespeare.

Locker room shenanigans and nudity jokes.

After we see SciPo getting gunned down.

Yes, this is funny. But the juxtaposition is stark.

Meanwhile, Mysa has a dream that insinuates that Amethyst and the Gem World, or maybe Wizard's World, is still out there. It is great to see Mysa smiling again.

And we see Vi and Ayla flirting with each other while Vi models her new smooth blue artificial leg.

And we learn that Imra delivered healthy twins - Dacey and Dorritt.

And we see that Night Girl has moved into the Legion headquarters.

At least Cham seems to be aware of Earth's issues.

For the second time this issue we see that there is footage of Superman on the moon when it exploded. Could he have caused it? Cham chooses to simply ignore the footage. You can't sully the image. This universe needs its symbols of heroism and goodness.

In my mind, I think this somehow tied into the Time and Time Again arc in Superman. There was an explanation why he might be visible. But he didn't do it.

In the most poignant vignette, we see Rokk visiting another soldier who had been at the Venado Bay battle in the Imsk-Braal war. We have heard about this fight. We know both Rokk and Vi were there. We know the Braalians were slaughtered. That Rokk lost his powers. But now we see it up close.

The Imsk army fires its power damper which makes the Braalian magnetic powers seem to go amok. The soldiers bodies compress, explode, fry. Rokk is knocked into a ravine ... by a piece of someone. And that somehow lessens the effect on him. He survives ... barely.

Giffen does a fine job in the panels here. You have to look closely to understand what you are seeing. It mirrors the chaos of the scene. And keeping it all in rust tones, even the gutters, gives it a scab-like feel.

Dazed, he stumbles back to his basecamp only to find it overrun with Imskians.

He is saved from death by Vi who is a commanding officer here. But then, in his incoherence, Rokk lashes out with the one weapon he has, slashing Vi in the face.

Rokk gave Vi her scar.

Whoa ...

No wonder they have felt so awkward and sad around each other. It is this depth of character and nuance that makes me love this book.

Plus, having the Imsk army have violet visors is a nice touch. Having them colorful in the brownish-reddish background is also a nice touch. They aren't effected by this as much as Rokk and his men.

But who was this little trip down memory lane for?

Even Rokk knows that this was Brainy's way of examining him ... not the other patient. I love Rokk in this book. He is powerless. But he has skills that are incredible. And this back story of tragedy is a great wrinkle for him.

So we have caught up with just about everybody. There are some funny scenes. We get great personal character moments. Some new subplots are introduced. All this while Earth burns.

I think the purpose of these vignettes of the Legion show that they simply cannot rest in this 5YL universe. There is no downtime. This 'rest' is the calm before the newest storm.

But then we are back to Earth.

Things are unraveling. Weather is horrific with a planetwide cold snap effecting everything. Riots are everywhere. Science Police officers are being murdered in the streets by Dominion death squads. The Dominators are crushing opposition violently.

But their grip is slipping. The resolve of those who worked with them is slipping. And no  scene shows that better than this one. Circe, one of the Dominators patsies and Sun Boys paramour, kills a Dominator official. These SciPo troops were under her charge. She isn't going to work for these bastards any more.

And there is Bounty, watching the whole time, intrigued by this change in loyalties. But look closely. Bounty is looking through a scope, holding a rifle. Was she there to assassinate Circe?? This is a darker world. Heroes might just have to be killers in this war.

So this is a great issue and sort of reignited my love of this title. There is story progression and new subplots and wonderful character moments that give depth to the cast members. The creative team really shines here, giving us just enough of each are to tantalize us and make us want more.

How is this run not beloved by everyone??


  1. "Guess who's back? Wrong!"

    There is no imaginable amount of goodwill that could possiblllly have been amassed that would not have been burned to a crisp by that cover. So there's you're main answer, on top of the overall post-Giffen aimlessness about to set in.

  2. "One thing the book may have introduced to comics is the concept of text pieces and back matter."

    Watchmen may have had a little to do with it as well.

  3. I think one of the keys of this run is how it mixed the sublime, the light and the horrifying (such as Dirk’s fate), sometimes all in the same issue.
    I remember on seeing the cover, bracing myself for a heart breaking story, yet (although I did find that) having all the light touches and the new mysteries brewing (I didn´t have a clue either, Anj…)

  4. Thanks for comments.
    And yes, Watchmen was the first with backmatter. Surprised I forgot. Maybe because I think of that almost exclusively as a trade these days.