Thursday, June 16, 2016

Legion of Super-Heroes #284

Legion of Super-Heroes #284
February 1982
"The Soul Thief from the Stars"
The Great Darkness Saga Part One
Written by Paul Levitz
Pencilled by Pat Broderick
Inked by Bruce Patterson
Lettered by Ben Oda
Colored by Gene D'Angelo
Edited by Mike W. Barr
Cover by Pat Broderick & Romeo Tanghal

Roll Call:
Blok, Bouncing Boy, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Dawnstar, Dream Girl, Duo Damsel, Element Lad, Karate Kid, Lightning Lad, Light Lass, Mon-El, Phantom Girl, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass, Shrinking Violet, Star Boy, Sun Boy, Timber Wolf, Ultra Boy, and Wildfire.

Beginning a new weekly issue-by-issue look at "The Great Darkness Saga." It starts here with the gathering darkness---! 

The story opens on a Legion of Super-Heroes amidst a period of transition. Long time members and married couple Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel announce to Legion-leader Lightning Lad that they will be retiring from the Legion of Super-Heroes. Of course, being a married man himself (to former Legion leader Saturn Girl), Garth totally understands his friends' reasons for retiring and wishes them all the best. The Legion meeting is cut short with an alarm that the premiere null-gravity space hospital is under attack by Organleggers, a group of armed thieves intent on stealing organs to sell on the black market.

Unknown to the Organleggers (as well as most of the Legion members), Timber Wolf and Light Lass were already aboard the orbiting hospital, meaning Brin quickly makes short work of most of the armed invaders. Answering the distress call, a squad of Legionnaires of Wildfire, Dawnstar, and Ultra Boy clean up the remaining Organleggers attempting to flee the scene.
Meanwhile back on Earth, while Bouncing Boy & Duo Damsel sit on monitor duty, they take a call from Karate Kid, who informs them that he and Princess Projectra have returned to her homeworld, and will out of touch for a while. Back at the Medicus One orbit hospital, the Legion finishes cleaning up and fixing the damaged hospital, and Garth gets clued into why Timber Wolf and Light Lass were on board at the time of the attack. We then see Timber Wolf wake up from his 30th Century Plastic Surgery, which restores his human look.

While Ayla paces outside the recovery wing worrying about her man, danger strikes once again when a strange creature named Organus breaks loose and begins draining the life energy from all of the sentient beings in his proximity. He captures Light Lass in his alien tentacles, but before he can completely drain her, Timber Wolf springs to her rescue. But---the creature is too powerful and dangerous for even two Legionnaires to defeat!

Luckily, the cavalry comes to the rescue, as a squadron of Legionnaires composed of Cosmic Boy, Sun Boy, Brainiac 5, and Blok come bursting in with their incredible powers blazing. Despite their amazing power set, the Legionnaires' attempts to defeat Organus fail. That is, until Organus makes the mistake of trying to drain Blok's life force. It seems Blok's inorganic rock form is undigestible for the strange vampire-like creature, who at the touch of Blok's skin withers away and shrinks into nothing.

The Legionnaires regroup, lick their wounds, and head back to headquarters, where they finally wrap up and adjourn their meeting from earlier, seemingly ending their day with a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Obviously looking at this story again through the lens of hindsight, and knowing the dark times that lie ahead, you see just how early Levitz starts to chip away at the Legion, and show the cracks that will erupt into major fault lines a few issues down the road. There are some very nice subtle story elements that really frame the story nicely. For example, the opening title page splash is Bouncing Boy looking at the bronze statues of his fallen Legion teammates. The Legion is often dismissed as a light-hearted, whimsical Silver Age concept, and so Levitz shakes us out of that on the first page, reminding us of how lethal Legion membership can be, and how death occasionally rears its ugly head to claim members of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Levitz and Broderick do a great job of packing some action into what could have easily been a pretty boring, text heavy Legion meeting. Instead they treat us to some dissent amongst the ranks and a little clash between Wildfire and Sun Boy. Just another example of this more "grown-up" Legion, full of clashing personalities, explosive tempers, and more cracks in the Legion's foundation that will be exploited later.

We get to see Timber Wolf in action, as well as getting a deeper look at what's going on inside his head, which has some really nice character development. You don't have to look to hard to see the obvious similarities between Timber Wolf and Wolverine: their hair, demeanor, and costume colors are the same. Levitz gives us some nice character beats via Brin's relationship with Ayla to give us more to grab onto than just a Legion Wolverine analog. We'll see their relationship explored more in subsequent issues.

Then we move onto Karate Kid calling in, saying he and Princess Projectra are going to be preoccupied for sometime on Projectra's home world of Orando, leaving the Legion even more short-staffed. You really can see Levitz carefully plant the seeds of the disarray in the Legion, setting them up to be rocked by the threat that lies ahead.

The art is pretty solid throughout. I love the cover. I think that Tanghal's inks on the cover may be a little better fit for Broderick's pencils than Patterson's inks inside, but that might be a bit of an unfair comparison. The colors on the original cover aren't done any favors by the printing process limitations at the time; the recoloring for the collected Great Darkness Saga HC & TPB make this great cover even better.

Inside the book on the interior art, there are a few glaring panels where anatomy gets a little wonky and faces get a little muddy. I'd be curious to see Broderick's pencils on this, and how tight they were compared to the finished product under Patterson's inks. I'm sure they share in both the brilliant aspects of the art as well as the poor instances (like Element Lad's face in most panels). But when you consider there's typically 5 panels per page in this 27 page story, and how many characters and how much action is packed into each panel, there's bound to be some corners cut here and there.

One final quibble, and this is probably much more speaking to my personal taste versus any flaw of art, is I can't get over just prominent "nose shadows" are in each panel. I'm not sure if this is a Broderick thing, a Patterson thing, or something both artists focus on, but at times it actually took me out of the story just how prominent the shadows were on every single face, especially around the nose, in every single panel.

Despite my quibbles, you still have to love the energy and dynamism of Broderick's page layouts and sleek figures. This is very early 1980's, but you really see the influence of Broderick's character anatomy on what would become the DC house style later in the decade. Looking at Broderick's art here, I see a lot of similarities in the style that Dan Jurgens would adopt and hone in the mid to late 80's and use throughout the 90's. In my book, that is definitely a good thing!

The true test to any Legion story, at least for me as a reader, boils down to three things. Is it exciting and have at least two action beats? Does the story engage me on more than just a visual level? And finally, is the large cast of characters distinct from each other in both look and character voice? And for Legion of Super-Heroes #284, the first chapter in The Great Darkness Saga, I am happy to report that this action-packed adventure succeeds on all three levels.


  1. I must be missing something. Why is this the first chapter of the Great Darkness Saga? Is it collected in the TPB, and if so, why? I don't understand the connection, as He Who Shall Not Be Named doesn't show up for another three issues atleast....?

  2. It's collected in the Trade Paperback, and is key in showing the fracturing of the Legion. Many pillars of the Legion are being pulled in different directions, some retire, some go off world, as relationships start to strain and then all hell breaks loose. If the issues of Great Darkness Saga where it all hits the fan once "he who must not be named" shows up is Captain America Civil War, then these first couple issues like this one here are Avengers Age of Ultron setting the stage.

  3. So do we mark this as the start of Second Levitz, or do we have to count two issues back and "Here's all the explanation you're going to get"?

  4. Huh, when Dr. Gym'll showed up in the Reboot I had no idea he was based off of an old character. This one looks a lot more alien, though I can clearly see the basis for the character design in the reboot in that panel.