Friday, June 19, 2015

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #39

Recap: Due to environmental indiscretions from the past and the toll of the Dominator war, Earth became unstable and exploded. Just under 100 cities were able to launch successfully from the planet, under protective domes and connected like a massive flotilla. An odd New Earth now exists... but the physical and emotional fallout from the tragedy still needs to be dealt with.

I spoke at length in my last review how Legion of Super-Heroes #38 was aptly named The End as it represented not only the end of the long-running Dominator War story but also, in many ways, the end of the tone and feel of the book. Keith Giffen's presence on the title is ending. The 9-panel grid slowly slips away. Back matter and other creative risks all seem to have reached their end as well.

I therefore think that it is appropriate that Legion of Super-Heroes #39 carries the cover tag of Beginnings. Last issue was a finale of sort. This issue is something of a premiere. Tom and Mary Bierbaum take over control of the book here. Keith Giffen has some role in this issue but it seems as a way for him to wrap up a couple of lingering plot lines before he exits. Jason Pearson's one year commitment ended and he moved on.

In his place come another new-comer... Stuart Immonen! Immonen has become something of a superstar veteran in comics. So it is great to see how he cut his teeth on this book.

Now I know my discussion about this book has bordered on funereal in recent reviews, knowing this shift in tenor of the book was about to happen. But I want to be clear, this is still an excellent Legion book. But there was a more daring nature, an elan to the book, before this.

On to new beginnings ...

One of the things that I love about this issue is that the Bierbaums recognize that there was still more of the story of Earth's demise to tell. We saw the broad strokes last issue. We needed to see the personal stories, see how this tragedy affected people individually. You cannot bear witness to the death of billions of people without there being some emotional impact.

So while Jan Arrah leads a ceremony of remembrance for those who were lost, we see the demons the Legionnaires are dealing with. We see how haunted they are. And they are haunted. These sequences are chilling and beautiful.

First off, we see the exhausted Rokk, trying to stay awake during Jan's speech but dozing off. And in those moments between sleep and waking, he sees the horrific dead, staggering and stumbling towards him.
Celeste Rockfish tries to console him.

But she also is haunted. She was manning one of the rescue ships. She had to shut the door when the last ship was filled, dooming those left to die.

She is haunted by this face. She tells this man to wait for the next ship but she knows another ship isn't coming. And he knows it too.

Where do you draw the line? When do you do it? How do you know who to save?

Laurel Gand, still recovering from the brutal beating she got from BION, still tried to help with the evacuation as the planet was falling apart. Her teammates tell her she can't push herself... but she knows what a hero needs to do.

Despite her best efforts, she couldn't save everyone. A ship she was near is crushed by a falling tower, the occupants dying, screaming. She has to bear witness to their deaths. She blames herself.

Vi and Ayla aren't at the ceremony. But they are still reeling.

In an interesting turn, we see that Ayla is the rock of the relationship, needing to be strong for Vi's sake. But even Ayla isn't strong enough to be immune to the grief. Instead these two need to rely on each other to get through this.

But this is my favorite page of these reactions.

Brainy keeps playing the destruction over in his head, trying to figure out if there anything he could have done to stop the reaction. With two Trommites at his disposal, we see him running through scenarios, reactions and counter-measures.

Even his intelligence can't unravel this enigma. The planet is doomed. He cannot save it.

I found these vignettes powerful as we see our heroes dealing with perhaps their biggest defeat, ruminating over the things they did and did not do.

Even the usually chipper SW6 Legionnaires are reeling, maybe more than their older and more grizzled counterparts. When the young Matter-Eater Lad makes a joke, the young Sun Boy slugs him.

It is up to Ferro Lad to remind Dirk that everyone deals with grief differently. Some people need humor to help move past the sadness.
We leave New Earth to head to the last Keith Giffen pages of the title.

A few issues back we saw Chameleon Boy, R.J. Brande, Quantum Kid, and the sentient Proties hijacked by a Universo-controlled pilot.

We learn they are being kept as statues in Leland McCauley the IV's private collection of suspended animation statues. Powered by the Emerald Eye, Leland flaunts his power.
Leland McCauley the III, revolted by his son, gets a message out about this place. The news is received on Earth by the Legion who organize a rescue party.

We finally get a SW6 mission! Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, and Light Lass head to Gallen.

In the span of one page, we go from classic Giffen art for this book to something more akin to his work on Trencher. I thought this was a step back for Giffen art-wise.

But even worse, I felt like in this issue of "Beginnings", Giffen and Bierbaum wanted to clear the slate a bit. And this plot line gets resolved almost ludicrously fast. McCauley releases his prisoners willingly. He avoids a battle by bringing out his secret weapon of lawyers who threaten to sue.

Just like that, the Proteans are heading back to Antares. Cham is back on Earth. R.J. Brande decides to try to rebuild Earth.

Neat, clean, quick. Maybe too quick? Am I just a bit too used to the "long run" pace of this book?
The issue ends nicely though. Rokk is still haunted by visions of the dead and decides he needs to embrace life instead.

He calls Lydda to catch up. He sees how big their son Pol is getting. He has a brief moment of happiness.

I thought this was a decent issue to kick off the new direction of the book. It felt like the transition issue. Between some 9-panel pages, the Giffen art, and the aftermath of The End, it felt like the old book. But the new art and its lack of 9-panel pages, the absence of back matter, and the quick resolution of an old plot, made this feel new too.

All that said, the opening pages of the Legionnaires' reaction to Earth's destruction was just compelling character work.

Welcome to the "new" 5YL Legion.

And now, one more surprise... this time from the letters page!

Look who else loved the 5YL Legion!
David S. Goyer!

Could this be where his darker interpretation of heroes was born?

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