Monday, January 26, 2015

The Legion of Substitute-Heroes Special

Legion of Substitute-Heroes Special #1 (April, 1985)
a review by Siskoid
title: You Can't Keep a Good Villain Down
storytellers: Paul Levitz & Keith Giffen
inker: Karl Kesel
letterer: John Constanza
colorist: Carl Gafford
editor: Karen Berger (she's sorry, she swears it won't happen again)
cover: Keith Giffen & Karl Kesel (signed)

Mission Monitor Board: 
Matter-Eater Lad calls in Polar Boy, Chlorophyll Kid, Color Kid, Fire Lad, Stone Boy, Infectious Lass, Porcupine Pete

Proty, Gigi Cusimano

Tusker, Eyeful Ethel, Pulsar Stargrave, Computo
The Subs are called to Bismoll on Matter-Eater Lad's hunch, and end up saving the planet from Pulsar Stargrave. If you can believe it.

Out on the week of April 1st 1985, The Legion of Substitute-Heroes Special is a sequel of different sorts. First, it's a sequel to DC Comics Presents #59, in which Keith Giffen first turned the Subs into a joke of near Ambush Bug proportions. Based on the popularity of that issue AND that of the Sword of the Atom Special's format, DC commissioned (or allowed to happen, depending on how you want to see it) the Subs' own special. Its reuse of classic LSH villains, and our catching up with the retired Matter-Eater Lad, create sequels for those characters as well. Even if the canonicity of this story is in doubt. Well... you decide.

Giffen and his word-slave Paul Levitz quickly catch us up to who the LSubH are, and why Matter-Eater Lad, currently a drafted senator in Bismoll's government apparatus, would call them in. For me, this issue is pure gold if only for the insight it gives us into Bismoll.
Matter-Eater Lad has a bad case of not seeing the forest for the trees, but he knows SOMETHING is up with the computerization bill.
The reader is likely more astute. That's right, Bismoll just acquired a pile of Computos to run the planet'a infrastructures. Nothing good can come of this. I'm actually relieved M-E Lad didn't call in fellow loser Legionnaires Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel. If you know what I mean. Back on Earth, the Subs are getting ready to go to Bismoll, their new Science Police liaison in tow - one Gigi Cusimano, quite clearly being punished by Chief Zendak for something. Alas, she'll be mostly wasted on this trip. But then, this isn't a particularly good story for the female characters. Gigi is largely useless and Infectious Lass is the only Sub not to make it on the surface of Bismoll, leaving all the female action to... Color Queen?
Color Kid caught a bug from Infectious Lass, you see, and woke up with a different gender. And then didn't notice in the shower. Meanwhile, back on Bismoll, Tusker and Eyeful Ethel, two Legion rejects who turned to villainy, are going to sabotage the new computer central to make their reputations.  They get there just in time to see a powerful figure materialize. This is Pulsar Stargrave, a possibly Coluan villain from the Jim Shooter age, called by Computo to help subjugate Bismoll.
Well, he doesn't know it's Bismoll. I'm pretty sure he was expecting a better planet. Giffen really is poaching from all across Legion history, and one classic bit he brings back is the Planetary Chance Machine, which the Legion once used to select their leader. The Subs aren't questioning Polar Boy's leadership, of course, they just want to use it to decide who gets to land the cruiser.
It doesn't really matter, because the cruiser's run out of gas. As the action continues Sub-less down below, the planet's power grid is shut off and Stargrave starts making demands. It's up to Matter-Eater Lad - whose costume still fits thanks to Bismoll's stringent calorie control laws - to do something.
And that something is biting off Stargrave's nose. Was it worth it? No, it was not. It just makes him angrier, and he's ready to blow the planet to bite-sized smithereens. M-E Lad could sure use some help, even from the Subs, but where are they? Well, co-writer Paul Levitz would like them to be on the planet already.
Writer's fiat, if you will. Before Karen Berger gets involved. So suddenly, the Subs start popping up on the planet as if they'd been infected by something Ambush Bug had left behind in their previous engagement. POP! Fire Lad is in a huge garden sneezing up an inferno. POP! Stone Boy crashes through the trees and a few buildings, sleeping through the experience. POP! Color Kid finds him/herself in a veritable death trap.
Or something. POP! Chlorophyll Kid appears at a weighing station and is promptly taken away by the Calorie Patrol. POP! Officer Cusimano drops into the sea. POP! One of the few Legionnaires to pop up close to Pulsar Stargrave's position, Porcupine Pete is the first to engage him in battle.
Polar Boy's around here somewhere as well. Look, here's a map. Maybe it'll help you get your bearings.
Even Tusker and Ethel try to stop Stargrave, but to no avail. He's even able to bust out of Polar Boy's absolute-zero ice. So how do they beat him? Would you believe team work? Of a sort.
Brittle from the ice, Pulsar is no match for Stone Boy falling on him from a great height. So basically, the day was won by Matter-Eater Lad pushing a big rock off a ledge. Sounds about right. So what happened after? Fire Lad was arrested for arson, Chlorophyll Kid was sentenced to mandatory jogging, Color Kid became a dude again, the incident was expunged from Gigi's record, Porcupine Pete struggled to get out of a hole, Stone Boy got a medal, Polar Boy reconsidered what he was doing with the Subs (does this lead directly into his re-application to the Legion? Better not put it on his C.V.), Infectious Lass was left wondering how it all ended, and editor Karen Berger apologized profusely and made sure to tell us the regular LSH books were nothing like this. And all you got, gentle reader, is this lousy HQ blueprint:
A few snarky laughs to be had, but perhaps it didn't trust its audience enough. There's just one too many moments where the editor has to tell us not to judge the Legion based on this. Well, I thought it was pretty clear this was a spoof just from the cover. Was there really a concern at DC that this Special would somehow drive sales DOWN on the LSH? It was greenlit because of the characters' comedic appeal in DCCP, after all. Well, had this been my first Legion book, it would have made me buy more, not less. But then, I'm that kind of Legion fan.

1 comment:

  1. "one classic bit he brings back is the Planetary Chance Machine"

    I remember that story. The machine didn't pick the permanent leader, it was to pick the squad leaders for a certain mission. There was a citadel on a planet that would shoot down starships, and the Legion was sent to take care of it. Instead of attacking the citadel en masse, they attacked in teams of 6 or 7 members, so the PCM was used to pick the leaders of each assault team. Naturally, each team got zapped by the citadel (it even had a giant robot that beat the crap out of Colossal Boy).

    The irony is, in that same story, the Substitute Heroes were the ones that defeated the citadel and saved the day! They even got a ticket tape parade for their actions.