Friday, March 6, 2015

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #25

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #25 opens up the third year of the book and is something of a new direction. This is the first issue where Keith Giffen is not part of the creative team. Tom and Mary Bierbaum are the only listed writers; the artist is Dusty Abell (his only issue on the title). This somehow feels different.

For one, the initial major drive of this book was to define the new darker universe and to bring the Legion back together. After two years, we are there. The Legion is now together, with a headquarters, and established as an entity. We have know about the Dominators and the Khunds.

And the creative novelty ... the 9 panels, the rare and powerful splash pages, the text pages, the universe rewrites, the backmatter ... well, after two years, while still great, they are also established.

That sense of discovery, of peeling back the curtain and learning what happened to everyone over the 5 year break, that blaze of creative fire, is gone. And it should be. We have been here for 2 years. Nothing gold can stay.

Don't get me wrong. I still love this book moving forward. Terra Mosaic, the title of the next year's worth of story, explores a lot of the politics of this universe. The addition of the SW6 Legion is fascinating. We have another contrast point for the new universe. These are young, optimistic, almost naive Legionnaires. To have them react to the dingier Earth is great. In some ways, it mirrored what older Legion fans were thinking when they first read this title.

But we never quite recapture that  dizzying sense of newness of the first two years, especially the creative inferno which blazed brightest in the first 12 issues.

A quick recap to get us all up to speed. After the 'Triple Strike' detonation of the moon and Earth's power spheres, the Earth has been plunged into a nuclear winter. The Dominators are no longer hiding the fact that they are running the planet, instead instituting martial law. The rebel forces of Universo and Jacques Foccart are battling across the planet. And, last issue's cliffhanger was the reveal that Devlin O'Ryan was saved by a group of young Legionnaires, the SW6 clone batch.

And we open up with a version of last issue's cliffhanger! Here are the Legionnaires!

There is a lot to love about this image for old-timers like me. We truly see the Legion as they were in the pre-Cockrum revamp. Colossal Boy is in his 'cowboy uniform'. Tinya is sporting a big P. Chameleon Boy is in his mail-shirt. And Jeckie is in her bathing suit.
Ayla is still Light Lass.
Laurel Gand is in a version of Mon-El's costume, a nod to Supergirl's initial costume.
And ... most fascinating ... there are Legionnaires that have been long dead! Ferro Lad! The Lyle Norg Invisible Kid! Karate Kid!

Drink it in! This is an incredible page that sets up the major storyline in this book moving forward. And, of course, we get Silver Age innocence suddenly thrust into the darker post-5YL universe.

Thankfully we get a little bit of backstory about this Legion.

One of the unintended results of the Triple Strike disaster was to accidentally awaken the SW6 batch from their Dominator pods. They slide out as a group ... completely naked! There is enough peek-a-boo nudity in the first five pages to fuel many 'Hot' posts on this blog. And it is equal opportunity nudity as we see more of the male and female members than before.

Despite the tremendous skin on display (much to the delight of Sun Boy), the group is all business. They quickly note that this is Dominator technology in the lab, that it is 17 years into future for them, and, on peeking outside, that this world is a rustier, grimier, scarier world than they are used to.

There are nice little nuances in this opening scene that helps up triangulate when these Legionnaires are from and what they are thinking. For one, Lightning Lad is surprised that his robot arm is gone. Second, Brainy  wonders if this is "the" Future, a possible future, or an alternate future - classic Brainy. And I love how, on seeing the battered Metropolis skyline, that Matter Eater Lad assumes it is Brainy's fault.

Luckily Brainy is able to use a Dominator synthesizer to create uniforms.

Dressed more appropriately, the SW6 Legion has been skulking about trying to avoid the Dominators. Now with Devlin, they are able to learn even more about this new Earth. For one, Earthgov is the enemy now. Second, their batch isn't the only genetic experiments the Dominators have been conducting. There is brainwashing, mind-wiping, and more.

Despite all they have heard and knowing that an enemy is searching for them, the Legion decides they have no other option but to head to the surface and expose themselves. It is time for them to act. There is something noble about this ... but also foolish and maybe even immature. It is that mindset that makes these Legionnaires feel completely off, anachronistic but immutably heroic.

They are also completely trusting of Devlin. We never see Saturn Girl scan his mind. So are they just taking him on his word.

One thing we do learn is that Devlin is ill. He was blasted with Null Radiation from Triple Strike ... the same radiation that has incapacitated the older Sun Boy. And Lightning Lad knocking him out a few issues ago is only making the injury worse.

As I said in my intro, one of the things that I love about the SW6 Legion is that we get to see their response to the world around them. The Avenue of Super-Heroes is almost empty, the statues of the Legion gone.

Gone, that is, except for Sun Boy's statue. But the graffiti tells the story. He is a disk-licker, a traitor.

These Legionnaires come from a simpler time where they are revered. To learn that they have been kicked off Earth, that one of them has betrayed the team ... it must be devastating.

But then we get a ka-pow moment, one of those scenes from the 5YL series that gives me chills and makes me love it.

This group of Legionnaires, on the run, come across the site of the headquarters, an empty lot. Despite the lack of a building, the lack of a Legion symbol on a flag flying high, they have to stop, stand at attention, and salute.

It is something they say they have to do. Have to do!

This is why the Legion is more than a group of super-powered beings. They are symbolic of what is good and what is right. They need to honor what the Legion means ... and that includes this gesture ... even if it puts them in danger. It is that conviction that makes them an inspiration.

It makes them sitting ducks. The Dominator attacks the group with artillery, injuring Jeckie and forcing the Legion back into hiding. Devlin convinces the Legionnaires that they need to link with the underground. With no other place to turn, they agree.

But the harsh reality of this new world is finally sinking into this group. They are being hunted. They are in danger. And what's worse, with the Dominators mind-wiping technology, they can't trust anyone. Even a telepathic scan might be useless if a mind-wiped person truly believes what has been put into their brain.

This isn't the world of Adventure Comics ... not by a long shot. And things are going to get murkier.

While Devlin leads the Dominators on a bit of a wild goose chase, the SW6 Legionnaires finally reach the Underground's headquarters.

There they discover that one of the leaders trying to free Earth is the Legion's enemy Universo.

How strange ... scary ... unnerving this world must be. Look at Triplicate Girl's expression. She looks scared and confused. And who wouldn't be??

Universo as a friend? Sun Boy as an enemy? The Dominators in charge?

In a test of good faith, Invisible Kid asks Universo to help organize a rescue mission for Devlin (and the Legionnaire Matter Eater Lad who joined him on the diversion).

With some help from the Underground, the Legionnaire Espionage Squad is able to find and attempt to rescue Devlin. But in that battle, we learn that Devlin suddenly has a super-power. The mix of Null Radiation and Ranzz-ian lightning has mutated him.

He becomes a new Reflecto! He is able to send a Dominator blast back at the shooter.

While I will miss Devlin being a 'normal' person hanging with the team, a sort of Snapper Carr, the idea of bringing in a Reflecto .. a name ingrained in Legion lore ... is genius.

There is a beautiful page to wrap up the issue where the Gands openly discuss this terrible world they have woken up to.

Valor's response is so perfect. He doesn't hang his head. He doesn't get angry. He states it simply ... the Legion has work to do. It is as if he cracks his knuckles and rolls up his sleeves. Time to get to work.

And when Laurel, for a moment, wonders if they can make a difference, Lar reminds her that she is the one who always craves a serious challenge. Even if it needs to be rebuilt brick by brick, they can put this broken universe back together.

Now that is the Legion!

And that is two goosebump moments in one issue. Fantastic.

As I have said throughout this review, the contrast of the innocent Silver Age Legionnaires in the grimy 5YL universe is great material for stories. We get a personal look at just how out of place this group is within the backmatter. Here we get the first of many peeks into the SW6 Shrinking Violet's personal diary. Is there any character who has changed more than Vi? What a perfect way to differentiate the two groups than by looking at the young Vi's thought.

From the cute password (Ord is Duplicate Boy's real name - Vi's first boyfriend) to being jealous of Ayla's body to her growing crush on Devlin, this is a young Violet. She is the poster person for how different the pre-Cockrum Legion is from the current mature group.  I love these entries ... a way to show how this team (and comics) have matured over time.

I thought this was a great issue, focusing on the young Legion and setting up the direction of this book moving forward ... the reclaiming of Earth from the Dominion.

Now a favor to ask. In the future, how should I let you know which version of a character I am talking about in the future? Italicize the young Legion? Call them SW6 (insert name)? Call them Legionnaire (insert name)?


  1. Devlin is such a great character to have to interact with the SW6ers... for the "regular" legion, he is the naive one, but for this group, he's the seasoned cynic. Perspective.

  2. It is true. He goes from comic relief to grizzled veteran!

  3. Oh, the SW6. What a misguided addition to the Legion at this point. The wheels start coming off...

  4. I'm a fan of SW6 myself and not a fan of the stuff before it (though I can see why you liked it). Was this issue ever reprinted?