Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Legion Annual #3 (1987)

The Legion of Super-Heroes Annual (v2) #3 (1987)
title: "There's No Substitute For The Real Thing"
writer: Paul Levitz
penciller: Greg LaRocque
inker: Mike DeCarlo
ink assist: Arne Starr
lettering: John Costanza
colorist: Carl Gafford
editor: Karen Berger 
cover: Ken Steacy
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
This story features cameo appearances by Dawnstar, Mon-El, Wildfire, Polar Boy, Timber Wolf, Blok, and Shrinking Violet.

This story features Reserve Members and Legion Academy members Cosmic Boy, Night Girl, Bouncing Boy, Comet Queen, Karate Kid (II), Visi-Lad, Duo Damsel, and cameos of several others including Laurel Kent, Power Boy, Shadow Kid, Lamprey, and Nightwind.

The Dominators

On Kathoon, Cosmic Boy and Night Girl are enjoying their vacation after the traumatic mission against the Time Trapper. They discuss rejoining the Legion but history-buff Cosmic Boy wants to spend time investigating the fall-out from their Time Trapper adventure and their altered history first.

On Earth, Bouncing Boy is leading a group of Legion Academy students to the Nile Irrigation System to help repair damage to the pumping station. The second Karate Kid busts open the drain, not really fixing the root cause. They are then called back to the Academy on urgent business.

Back on Kathoon, the two vacationing heroes are asked to investigate a power theft. Because energy use is monitored on Night Girl's planet, the Science Police can see that someone or something has been siphoning off excess energy. Cosmic Boy sends out magnetic patterns to find discrepancy in magnetic fields, thinking he will be able to feel where the stolen energy has gone. Sure enough, he finds a big warp signature outside the city. The two investigate and find Dominators, so Cosmic Boy calls in the Legion. 

Back on Earth, Bouncing Boy's team has been asked to stay on Monitor Duty. All available Legionnaires are dispatched to Webers' World to ceremonially attend a new treaty signing between the United Planets and the Dominators, so Polar Boy calls on the Reserves. As soon as all of the Legionnaires are gone, however, Cosmic Boy's emergency signal arrives. Bouncing Boy decides to answer it with Karate Kid and Comet Queen, leaving Visi-Lad behind.

On Kathoon, the Dominators have been using the extra energy to power a "star-striker," a ray powerful enough to destroy Webers' World.

When Bouncing Boy's team shows up, Cosmic Boy initially doesn't want to use them due to their inexperience. However, he remembers that when the Legion began he and the other founders had less training then these Academy students, so reconsiders. He leads their attack on the Dominator base, but one of the Dominators uses a weird whirlpool device and catches the heroes, sending them to another dimension.
In the "under dimension" the heroes find themselves lost and confused. This is the "worm-hole" method of travel that the Dominators use to bridge long distances in a short period of time. Karate Kid figures out where to go due to his familiarity with this mode of transport on his home-planet, Lythyl. They soon come across a Dominator base, but Comet Queen is able to stop them and they continue to their destination: the Dominator home-world.

As they head towards the "exit," Cosmic Boy is concerned that they are probably expected. Bouncing Boy suggests they create a diversion, so Cosmic Boy patches together a metallic ship that goes through the stargate first. It is blasted to bits, and then the heroes emerge, capturing the Dominators using the element of surprise. When the leader announces that the "star-striker" will destroy Webers' World regardless of what the heroes do, they check back in with Kathoon and find Duo Damsel has brought another group of Academy students with her who have taken care of the Dominator base.

A few days later, the six main characters get together and decide to informally re-form the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

This story is all over the place. I can't tell if it is trying to be a comedy (Bouncing Boy and, especially, Comet Queen) or if it is supposed to be a serious drama (life and death stakes). Cosmic Boy's point that the Legion founders were less experienced and less trained than the Academy students is valid, but on the other hand, Comet Queen will never be on the same level of professionalism as Saturn Girl, no matter how many missions she goes on. She is, literally, an airhead who acts first and thinks later (if at all). The mission here succeeds solely because of Cosmic Boy and Bouncing Boy, and their level-headedness and abilities. It's also a shame that Duo Damsel doesn't have more to do.

Speaking of Duo Damsel, she is a good example of a problem that I think either Paul Levitz or Karen Berger seems to be having in this last 2 years of Levitz' run: namely, unclear plot points. Levitz has Bouncing Boy rush off to answer Cosmic Boy's alert, leaving Visi-Lad on monitor duty. However, at the end of the story, Duo Damsel shows up and talks about how he called her, and they conferred, etcetera. None of that interaction was shown! Either a word balloon or scene was lost, or Levitz/Berger is playing fast and loose with the plot. It feels like cheating to me...Similarly, Karate Kid clears the flooding at the Nile Irrigation System by destroying the drain cover. I don't see how that will "fix" the problem. Am I missing something?

I have nothing to say about the artwork of Greg LaRocque and Mike DeCarlo (and Arne Starr) that I haven't said already. Their characters' postures are off, their use of "long" distant POV shots are terrible, and their characters' faces are either wonderful or awful, with no happy medium in-between. And I know this is just a personal preference, but the new Karate Kid uniform is just plain ugly. And lastly, why is Bouncing Boy inflated in every scene he is in? Shouldn't he be de-flated when he's not doing anything but flying or standing around? Or is he simply excessively overweight now?

Speaking of Bouncing Boy, I always preferred his collar to be white and his chest to be light blue. Colorist Carl Gafford colors it the other way. I have seen both versions, but I wonder if this was the first time the coloring was reversed. And why in the world is Cosmic Boy's dark black hair colored a different shade of blue than Night Girl's, Bouncing Boy's, and Karate Kid's? Is it supposed to mean something?!?

Still, overall this story is entertaining. I always had a soft-spot in my heart for the Substitute Heroes. I truly believe that everyone has something positive to add, and that everyone can be a "hero" of some sort. While I'm not sure I would have picked these specific characters to reform the team around, I am sorry that we never got to see them again.

The painted (?) cover by Ken Steacy is by far the best part of the issue. It's truly spectacular.

Science Police Notes:  
  • This story takes place after the events of LSH (v3) #38, as Cosmic Boy and Night Girl reference that mission and the repercussions following it. 
  • When Cosmic Boy calls in, the word "Alert" is shown in Interlac on the Monitor Board. 
  • A throwaway comment has Cosmic Boy and Night Girl say that they have been waiting for the Legion to respond to their signal for TWO days!?! 
  • Bouncing Boy mentions going on a mission against the Dominators where he learned about their "under dimension." Anyone know where/when that adventure took place? 
  • The Dominators' word-balloons are consistently shown as being "translated" (English written within parenthetical brackets) but when the heroes fight them, everyone understands each other. 
  • Laurel Kent is shown wearing a Superman uniform, something she never did while Superboy was alive. 
This story has not yet been reprinted.  

This story features the "return" of The Legion of Substitute Heroes to the Legion continuity. Polar Boy had disbanded it prior to his joining the Legion (LSH v3 #14). 


  1. While I always liked the Subs, I also wondered why these characters were picked to reform them. Three of them are already reservists, so they are on call if needed.

    If I had been asked to create a new team of Subs made up of six members at that point in Legion history, I would go for people with little or no chance of joining because their powers already duplicated other characters or because they were simply minor characters needing more exposure.

    My choices would have been: Night Girl, Shadow Kid, a trying-to-reform Quicksand, Proty 2 (or a new character named Proty 3), Immorto and Psyche (of the Wanderers). I would also want to gradually add characters like Calorie Queen, Crystal Kid, Porcupine Pete and Infectious Lass.

    Who would you choose for a new group of Subs?

  2. Good question! I like your choices, but I never understood why the Subs resembling the Human Torch, Poison Ivy, and Blok couldn't be treated as semi-professional.

  3. They WERE semi-professional in the Silver Age, up through the Great Darkness Saga. I trace their ridiculousness to Keith Giffen's character assassination in DC Comics Presents #59.

    My ideal "new" Subs, meaning I couldn't use anyone already in the Subs (including favorites like Pete and Infectious Lass)? Not sure. Possibly Laurel Kent. I'd like to see Nightwind and Lamprey actually DO something. There are a couple of Heroes of Lallor I'd like to see there like Evolvo-Lad, maybe Gas Girl or Beast Boy. Wanderers need not apply. What about Psycho Kid? Or one of the descendants of the Justice League seen in the Annual where Laurel gets shot? A 30th century Batman might be a neat twist. (Resurrect and de-Manhunterize as need be.)

  4. It's not an offensive story, but it's not memorable by any standard.
    Polar Boy pulled the entire Legion from Earth? I love him, but maybe he IS as bad a leader as they say. I actually like that as it adds to his characterization; a great cheerleader but not so good in charge.

    You're right in this incarnation of the Subs never gelling, they were all tied to the Legion anyway so it just felt off.
    You're also very right on Myg's costume. Probably not the only reason he never took off though.

    @Tomg a Subs alt I'd like to see is Stone Boy (leader), Rainbow Girl, Proty (Lad), and picking from other continuities may be a cheat but Turtle (Boy) and a totally-in-no-way-connected-to-Jeckie version of Sensor would be cool.

  5. Since Laurel was still presumed to be human/Kryptonian at this point, adopting the costume of the late Superboy makes some sort of sense.

    1. Yes, I thought so, too. Unfortunately, she too is about to go bye-bye.

  6. I liked this story. DeCarlo doesn't ruin the art as much as he usually does, and it's nice to see Cosmic Boy leading a team.

    And I liked Comet Queen. Too bad she got killed off during the 5 Year Gap.

    And yes, KKII has a really ugly costume.