Friday, May 8, 2015

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #34

Recap: The Dominators, who have secretly been controlling Earth for the last several years, find themselves suddenly fighting a two-front war. Their domination of Earth, as well as the atrocities they have committed, have been revealed to the universe. Rebel forces on the planet as well as the United Planets fleet in orbit above the planet are fighting to free Earth. With a bulk of the Dominion military near Earth to defend their position there, the Dominion homeworld of Elia is vulnerable and the Khunds have taken advantage and started a war there. The main Legion has been sitting out this war, but the SW6 Legion on Earth have been getting more and more involved. Something has to give.

After last issue's side trip where we met Kid Quantum, Legion of Super-Heroes #34 brings us back to the war on Earth and it is clear that the slow burn of this Terra Mosaic storyline has finally reached a boil. There are multiple factions who have been circling this confrontation with the Dominators. The Rebels led by the Substitute Legion, the SW6 Legion, the United Planets, Universo, the Dark Circle, even the Khunds in their own way, have all been getting more and more involved.

With battle raging over the planet, the time has come for this war to reach a breaking point. The time for diplomacy, brinkmanship, and subtlety is over. Now, it is time to fight. And things are getting ugly.

Despite the klaxon call to arms and the brutal action of this issue, we still have those quiet, small moments which show great characterization of the Legion characters.

Writers Keith Giffen and Tom & Mary Bierbaum continue to juggle the massive cast of characters, giving us wartime action, and still giving us great character moments. There are many reasons why I love the Legion, but one of the main reasons is the three-dimensional nature of the characters which is built on continuity. And Giffen and the Bierbaums lean on that history to show us just how many of these characters would react to the devastation of war. War is complicated. And we see that in how the Legion responds.

Artist Jason Pearson continues to grow and shine on the book. His work is becoming more detailed and more expressive with each issue. And I can't help but believe that being constrained to conveying the story in the tight confines of the 9-panel grid forced some of that growth. It might help that Karl Story is on inks here.

On to the issue. And settle in, because this one is dense even by 5YL standards.

While the bulk of this fight involves the Dominators, the Khunds, and the United Planets, there are vultures circling the battlefield, looking for ways to capitalize on the carnage. Not everyone is interested in freedom.

Some, like Leland McCauley IV, seen here talking to UP Ambassador Anton, are interested in the almighty dollar. McCauley's Omnicom is a ubiquitous communication device on the planet. He can pierce the Dominion's communication blackout allowing the UP to use the devices to get messages to the rebels. And McCauley will allow them to be used that way... for a price. If the UP won't pay, he'll bring his tech to the Dominators. McCauley has always been a creep.

We have seen McCauley Omnicom as the medium of communication in much of the back matter of the book. I am amazed how much it seems to function like an iPad. Giffen and the Bierbaums were ahead of their time.

Another one of the wild cards in this war has been Universo. He has been working with the rebels and courting the Dark Circle. We have seen him working with thugs and heard his plans to utilize this planetary war to increase his own power base. He is playing all sides here hoping to eventually put himself in power. And here we see how low he will go when things don't work out in his favor.

With the Dominators reeling and their control on Earth slipping away, the Circle thinks it is time for their troops to mobilize and try to grab the planet for themselves. That won't suit Universo however.

So he triggers a post-hypnotic suggestion in his Circle comrade, and the Circle sycophant shoots himself in the head.

Lesson for the day: Never trust Universo.

Below the surface of Metropolis, Circe, Spider Girl, and Bounty have been working their way to the Dominion military headquarters in hopes of assassinating their army's leader, Pinnacle Command.

Two issues ago, the SW6 Legion demolished the place. Working their way through the subterranean rubble, the trio finally gets there. They come across a Dominion programmer working on the computer system and Bounty immediately slaughters him, emptying a clip into him.

Earlier in this arc, we saw Universo toady Grinn do the same thing, killing a Dominator lab tech. He was chastised by the Subs. Here, the "hero" Bounty does the same thing and is chastised by, of all people, Circe... someone who had until recently had been working with the Dominion.

This is war. Casualties will happen. But Circe makes a great point. How far can you slip to attack a monster before you become one yourself? And all along I have thought that Bounty was Dawnstar. How do I feel about a killer Legionnaire? And how does this make me feel? I hated Grinn's act. I loved Sade's recent actions. And now this by Bounty. War is murky and my reactions to its violence aren't clear or consistent.

At the very least, this gives Circe access to the Dominion computer system. And she begins purging the mainframe.

I have talked about the risks that this creative team has taken. One of the big ones was the decision to keep the main Legion, the stars of this book, away from this Earthside war. Would new fans of the Legion be interested in reading a book where the Legion isn't involved in a meaningful way?

I was a bit irked that they weren't involved. Much of that consternation was that Rokk seemed so non-committal about whether or not the team should be involved. That didn't sound like him.

At least here we get a throwaway line that he has been told by the UP to have the Legion not get involved. And it frustrates Cos. I do like that he is given support by Laurel who knows Rokk is a great and trusted leader.

This whole idea about what is right and wrong during war is a running theme throughout this story. Right after my conflicted feelings about Bounty's murder, I cheered when I heard Sade threw Grinn out of a moving spaceship. Maybe it is because Grinn was clearly a bad person who (as Tyroc puts succinctly) committed atrocities of his own. Maybe it is because I don't mind it from a badass character like Sade... I just don't know if I want my real "heroes" acting that way.

But Jacques knows that the abyss can look back. Has he let this things become too chaotic, too bloody? Should he have acted earlier?

And then one more interesting ripple in the wartime pool.

Here is Sade, a vicious and efficient murderer who asks Valor why he simply doesn't end the war by disabling the entire Dominator fleet. He doesn't want to rule or be looked at as a god or even decide the fate of the galaxy on his own. To him, this war needs to be decided by the combatants. The fate of these worlds needs to be decided by their own.

Of course, that means he is allowing a protracted war with countless casualties to occur. And Sade calls him out on it. He can end this... but he won't.

And there is something about the pupil-less blank face of Valor in that middle panel that is almost chilling. He seems inhuman, bloodless. And hearing him say he will let these millions die left me cold.

The Dominion fleet is losing the overall war in the space surrounding Earth. The UP ships, led by Tellus, has been breaking through.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So Pinnacle Command has the Dominator fleet retreat to Earth's atmosphere. It now becomes risky for the UP to fire on the Dominion ships because a miss would mean destruction on the planet.

It is brilliant and cunning. But it also shows that the Dominion doesn't seem to care too much for what happens to the planet. So why hold on to it so tightly??

The SW6 Legion suffered their first casualties when Projectra, Cham, and Karate Kid all died while rescuing the Subs. This is a new experience for this young team.

In a great scene we see Element Lad dealing with his emotions. He mourns his friends' deaths. In a touching moment, Duo Damsel comes up and talks about death, how it is harder for those who survive and must deal with the emotions of loss. But she knows that their friends would want them to move forward.

Luorno knows death intimately, losing a third of her soul at the hands of Computo. And this Element Lad witnessed genocide on Trom and just recently learned a hard lesson about the horror of war and the temptation of rage. So while this didn't push the big storyline forward, it still was powerful.

For me, these moments are what make the Legion, and especially the 5YL Legion, such a great book.

Contrast that to the older Element Lad's reaction. He has been planetside, helping Schvaughn/Sean.

Initially we see how he is uncertain of what to do. But then he sees the Dominator ships swarming the skies and he remembers. He remembers seeing Roxxas slaughter his people. And he won't sit by and see that happen again.

It is so fascinating to see this spiritual Jan decide to pick up the gauntlet.

Another small moment which was just incredibly significant:

And now let's contrast Valor's statement about not getting involved to this moment.

Circe has wiped out the Dominator's computer system. Their ships are in disarray. And then the flagship, helmed by Pinnacle Command, is suddenly powerless.

Laurel Gand has gone into the ship, destroyed their engine, and has taken Pinnacle Command as a prisoner of war.

She isn't going to let people die. She isn't going to sit by and watch. She is going to be proactive. That half smirk in the middle lower panel is so perfect. It just resonates with me the way a young, brash Supergirl does. She wants justice and doesn't mind getting her hands dirty to achieve it.

Just perfect.

And Pinnacle Command shouldn't be looking for the cavalry. The Dominator homeworld has been invaded. Elia is more important than Earth. Despite the Dominion craving Earth since the Invasion event, they can't abandon their seedworld. The Dominators on Earth are on their own.


It is issues like this that remind me just how great and rich a universe the 5YL Legion book gives readers. It reminds me how dense this title was, a heavy comic meal that needed to be ruminated on and digested. And I have to believe that the 9-panel grid forced the creators to give us more story. As a reader I am exhausted and exhilarated.

It feels like this war is nearing an end. But these things never end cleanly.

1 comment:

  1. The Lar-Sade exchange could apply to the whole Legion, and it's a reasoning that applies to so many super hero mythologies, starting with Supes, of course.
    On the other hand... Laurel. But I like that she's the hotehead of the family, which changes de kal/Kara dynamic it's sort of based upon.
    And how lovely is that Laurel cover?