Thursday, July 7, 2016

Legion of Super-Heroes #287

Legion of Super-Heroes #287
“Save the Suicide Squad”
MAY 1982
The Great Darkness Saga Part Four
Written by Paul Levitz
Pencilled by Keith Giffen
Inked by Bruce D. Patterson
Lettered by John Constanza
Colored by Gene D’Angelo
Cover by Keith Giffen and Romeo Tanghal

Roll Call:
Blok, Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, Lightning Lad, Lightning Lass, Saturn Girl, Star Boy, Sun Boy, Timber Wolf, and Yera (her first appearance).

This time out we dive into part four of our coverage of the Great Darkness Saga story arc, which is collected in the Great Darkness Saga HC & TPB. Once again we have two stories, a lead feature running 18 pages with Keith Giffen taking over as the artist, and an 8 page back-up story following Shadow Lass and Mon-El drawn by Pat Broderick.

Our adventure picks up right where Legion of Super-Heroes #286’s main story left off, with a very angry Lightning Lad bursting into Legion HQ in search of Chameleon Boy, who left the Legion high and dry on RJ Brande’s world amidst a nuclear crisis. A host of Legionnaires, including Cosmic Boy, try to calm Garth down, but he insists that his anger is justified, and that the Legion has a deep-rooted problem. Speaking of Chameleon Boy, he and his band of Legionnaires approach the destination of their seemingly suicidal, high-risk espionage mission, the Khund homeworld! Cham uses his shape-shifting abilities to assume the form of a hollow meteor, with Shrinking Violet and Timber Wolf concealed inside, they streak to the surface of Khundia.

Back on Earth, Lightning Lad has finally managed to get a Legionnaire to squeal on Chameleon Boy’s location, which angers Garth even more. Worse yet, the due to current peace negotiations between the Khunds and the United Planets, the Legion is forbidden from showing up near the Khund world, ruling out a rescue mission.  This finally pushes Lightning Lad to the brink, and so he resigns as leader of the Legion of Super-Heroes, turning the reigns over to Element Lad!

Meanwhile, on Khundia, Chameleon Boy uses his shape shifting abilities to disguise himself as a Khund, while Shrinking Violet and Timber Wolf use Brainica-5’s 30th Century Distorter technology to masquerade as Khunds as well. Chameleon Boy briefly opens up to Shrinking Violet and reminds us readers that the reason he stormed off on this mission with Violet and Timber Wolf in tow is due to his inability to cope with the revelation that RJ Brande is his father. The trio then begin their reconnaissance trek through Khundia, when a collision in the street between Timber Wolf and a native sets off a heated dispute that culminates in violent combat.  

The Khund who took offense to Timber Wolf’s bumbling is Kharlak, a champion of the gladiatorial Challenge Courts.  He selects his weapon and prepares for lethal combat. With their cover blown, the Legionnaires drop their disguises and Timber Wolf engages Kharlak in savage battle. Timber Wolf’s incredible agility and fighting skills prove too much for the Khund warrior to handle. But there’s no time to pause for celebration; when Kharlak falls, the Legionnaires are instantly confronted by a Khund Battle Cruiser. Chameleon Boy and Violet use their powers to hitch a ride on Timber Wolf as he uses his agility and acrobatic skills to out-maneuver & evade the Khundian ship just long enough for the Saturn Girl and Colossal Boy to come to their rescue. They take off out of Khundian orbit, and just as they exit warp speed the ship’s damage alarm goes off, indicating that the Navigation Computer is dysfunctional, just as they collide with an asteroid….TO BE CONTINUED

“Prologue to Darkness”
Written by Paul Levitz
Pencilled by Pat Broderick
Inked by Larry Mahlstedt
Lettered by Adam Kubert
Colored by Gene D’Angelo

Roll Call:
Mon-El & Shadow Lass

Our second story opens above a cold, desolate planet, which seems to have been scrubbed from the memory of the universe around it. This planet has suddenly shown up, meandering through high traffic areas of United Planets controlled space, disrupting many trade and travel routes in the process. After six United Planets’ Robo-Probes disappeared while investigating, Legionnaires Mon-El and Shadow Lass, who were on vacation together, are called in to investigate. As they stroll around the strange world, they are attacked by machinery safe-guarding the planet. Mon-El strikes back, ripping the machines apart, but there are too many of them, even for his incredible Daxamite powers. Shadow Lass throws a shadow field to conceal the two Legionnaires, and that does the trick. The death machines appear to be puzzled by Shadow Lass’ seemingly impenetrable field of darkness, causing them to retreat. Just then they receive an important message from Legion HQ via their Legion Flight Rings (seemingly the call from Element Lad to send them to Orando to check on Karate Kid & Princess Projectra, as was mentioned in the lead feature). As they leave the strange cold planet, they miss the true secret the machines sought to protect. The awakening of a powerful being that hasn't been seen for centuries…the awakening of Darkseid….

I don’t have too much to say on the cover by Giffen and Tanghal. We get a scene of Khulak mopping the floor with the 3 Legionnaires while other Khunds earnestly watch the conflict. It’s a perfectly fine cover, but it doesn’t really scream “buy me!” at least not for me. I typically thought Tanghal’s inks on the Broderick art worked really well on our last 3 covers, and in most cases seemed like a better fit for Broderick than whoever was inking him on the interiors. I can’t say the same here. Tanghal’s inks don’t seem to bring out the same crispness from Giffen’s pencils that Patterson managed to do on the interior art.

Levitz really put his foot on the gas pedal this time out! We see the further erosion of the foundation the Legion is built on, which is all leading up to the dark times ahead. Lightning Lad resigns his post as Legion Leader! Chameleon Boy’s inability or unwillingness to deal with emotions jeopardizes not only his own life, but the lives of his fellow Legionnaires as well. It’s bad enough that he stormed off on an ill-conceived espionage mission with Timber Wolf and Shrinking Violet in tow. Now, his actions required the Legion to intervene, possibly jeopardizing the peace negotiations between the United Planets and the Khunds, as well as endangering the lives of his rescuers Colossal Boy and Saturn Girl, as seen in the last page of the lead feature.

The Legion of Super-Heroes is definitely fractured; there are the 5 Legionnaires-Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, Saturn Girl, Shrinking Violet, and Timber Wolf at the very least stranded in space with a broken navigation computer, if not worse. There's also Karate Kid & Projectra, who per last issue appeared to be on the losing end of a seemingly lethal conflict with Projectra’s cousin on her homeworld of Orando. The lack of contact from them prompted Element Lad to send Mon-El, Shadow Lass, and Ultra Boy to investigate.  So you have ten Legionnaires currently disposed of in various capacities off in other parts of the galaxy. This leaves the fractured Legion short-staffed under the new leadership and incredibly vulnerable.

The action is heating up and we continue to build closer and closer to the breaking point that is going to rock the Legion at its core. And how about that reveal in the back-up story?! The dial just got turned up to 11, as we learn the shocking secret of the mysterious planet, it contains a sleeping Darkseid (and thus is apparently the forgotten world of Apokolips). As much action and stress as we’ve seen the Legion put through in the last four chapters, with Darkseid now finally on the table, we know that the Legion of Super-Heroes' darkest hour will soon be at hand.

From an interior art standpoint, we have Keith Giffen taking over the penciling chores in the main story. He had drawn the last couple back-up stories while Pat Broderick drew the main feature, those roles have now flipped as Broderick gears up to pencil the new ongoing Firestorm series. This 8-page back-up story would mark the end of Broderick's brief Legion of Super-Heroes run. Sadly the art on this back-up story doesn't hold-up to the same caliber that Broderick gave us in Legion of Super-Heroes #286. Some of this may fall more on inker Larry Mahlstedt; I’d be interested to see what the workload breakdown was between the two artists. I can’t help but wonder if Broderick simply did looser layouts with Mahlstedt taking a more heavy-handed approach to the finishes. I say this because of some of Broderick's technical and style issues that have bugged me in the past, don’t exist in this story. The art seems a bit off in new, different ways. The art definitely seems like Broderick may have turned in a little looser pencils than normal, which would make sense if he was crunched for time to get this one out as he was gearing up for Firestorm. Now that said, the majority of this wonkiness is primarily confined to just the first three pages of this back-up story. The last five pages are pretty stellar, especially the scenes showcasing the cold machinery of the mystery planet. Overall, the art on the back-up story is okay, it has its low points, but there are definitely some very strong panels as well, and really, let's be honest, the story is carried by the plot, narration, and big reveal at the end. That reveal more than makes up for any art shortcomings or inconsistencies in this 8 page feature.

The art on the main feature is fantastic! Keith Giffen really brought his best work to his  30th Century lead-feature debut here in Legion of Super-Heroes #287. It’s amazing to think that this issue here serves as ground zero for his reputation as an artist. I think when most people here Legion of Super-Heroes or think of Keith Giffen at the height of his game as an artist, the first thing to come to mind is this era of the Legion, and it all starts right here. This is before he got into his experimental phase, and so we have just fantastic, well rendered figures in action-packed, engaging layouts. He is a master story teller as an artist. The scenes on the Khund homeworld, at least for me, invoke this classic 1970’s Fantastic Four house style feel. Take for example page 8, the great, clean style Giffen uses here reminded me of some of the amazing work we saw out of George Perez, Keith Pollard, and John Byrne being inked by Joe Sinnott. It’s super-hero comic art at its finest! 

I can’t wait for the dangling threads to progress further, but we’ll have to wait another issue for some of those, as next time out, in Legion of Super-Heroes #288, we’ll get a full-length story set on Orando!

1 comment:

  1. I recently picked up this issue to fill in my LSH's collection !

    Great story & artwork !

    The difference between the outstanding artwork done earlier by Dave Cockrum & Mike Grell carrying a lame Cary Bates story !

    Here the story and artwork complimented each other !