Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #271

Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #271 (Jan, 1981)
title: "What IS the Dark Man?"
writer: Gerry Conway
penciller: Jimmy Janes
inker: John Calnan
letterer: John Costanza
colorist: Gene D'Angelo
editor: Jack C. Harris
cover: Jimmy Janes & Steve Mitchell
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Timber Wolf, Light Lass, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Colossal Boy, Princess Projectra, Wildfire, Mon-El, Shadow Lass


The Dark Man, the Fatal Five (Emerald Empress, Mano, Persuader, Tharok, and Validus)

The story picks up right where we left off last issue, with Timber Wolf confronting the Dark Man, a fully human Tharok. Timber Wolf tries to think how this could be possible, but while he is trying to make sense of it the Dark Man shocks him with his photon field. The Dark Man then reads Wolf's mind as he escapes. The photon blast knocked out his Legion flight ring, so Timber Wolf uses his acrobatic abilities to reach the floor. Immediately upon landing, however, he is ensnared in energy cuffs.
Elsewhere on the Dark Man's space ship, Light Lass encounters the Emerald Empress. She manages to use her anti-gravity powers to divert the attention of the Emerald Eye, allowing her to cover her escape.

In the make-shift jail on the same ship, Saturn Girl uses her mental powers to search for any of the other Legionnaires. However, she finds Tharok instead. As he is in a weakened state due to his run-ins with the Dark Man, Saturn Girl is able to take control of his mind and order him to shut off the ship's power.
In the North Atlantic, the six Legionnaires who have just escaped from the Fatal Five's energy globe prison summon a Legion cruiser to them. Oddly, it is the same cruiser that Light Lass and Timber Wolf had just been using to attack the Dark Man's space ship. The Science Police communicate that their earlier flight path had not been cleared. Wildfire and Princess Projectra apologize, and head back to those coordinates.

Back on the Dark Man's ship, Light Lass in her search for Timber Wolf comes across the ship's computer room. She tries to activate a computer to search for Timber Wolf and the others, but instead she accidentally activates a memory program that shows her Tharok's origin.

We watch and hear how several years ago Tharok was a thief on Zadron trying to steal a small nuclear device. When it was exploded by the Science Police during the robbery attempt, the left side of his body was atomized. Zadronian scientists then built up a make-shift cyborg body to save his life, but it was a rush job and therefore ugly. Light Lass acknowledges that this is the story that she is familiar with.
We also learn that one scientist took some DNA samples from Tharok during the operation in order to grow a clone of Tharok. Mutated from the nuclear explosion, the brain stem lives, continuing to mutate into an energy vampire. It takes control of this scientist and orders him to work to improve its life. After a protein bath and consuming the life essence of the Zadronian scientist who "made" him (it?), the creature takes on the shape of Tharok. As the memory program ends, Light Lass is shocked to see the Dark Man standing behind her.
Elsewhere on the space ship, Blok comes across the imprisoned Timber Wolf. Wolf is afraid that Blok will take advantage of the situation and kill him, but Blok reminds Wolf that he promised him and Light Lass that he would help them capture the Dark Man. So Blok frees Timber Wolf without harming him and together they search for the Dark Man and Light Lass.
Back in the make-shift jail, the Fatal Five arrive to free Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad. They hope that Saturn Girl's telepathic powers can help ease Tharok's mental pain. She enters his mind (again!) and is able to calm him. He suddenly realizes that his pain is because the Dark Man is trying to mentally control him. He asks the Legion to help them take down the Dark Man, and Lighting Lad and Saturn Girl reluctantly agree.
In the computer room that is also a hydroponic garden, all of the cast comes together in one last confrontation. Wildfire and Mon-El try a direct attack, but the Dark Man has taken mental control of Light Lass, who stops her friends. Timber Wolf and Blok are able to shake her up, literally, and free her. The Dark Man falls out of the tree he had been in and comes face to face with Tharok. As they trade punches, both cease to exist. Confused and out-numbered, the remaining members of the Fatal Five surrender to the Legionnaires.

Later that night, the Legion learns that Colossal Boy's mother has won the Presidency of Earth.

Well....hmmph. I am not sure what to say about this issue because it is just SO bad. Usually there is something redeemable about Gerry Conway's stories, but this time out....well, let's see if I can come up with something.

The idea that Timber Wolf would be so shocked by the true identity of the Dark Man that he would allow himself to be blasted....? Okay, maybe, but then how convenient is it that the blast shorts out his flight ring, and he has to show us his acrobatic stuff. Like I said last issue, the Legion stories should have plenty of built-in drama; you shouldn't have to short out a flight ring to create drama. As we will see, the plotting of this story is awful. Maybe we could have lost these pages and used them better elsewhere. On the other hand, I suppose I should be happy that Gerry and editor Jack C. Harris remember Timber Wolf *has* a flight ring!

The scene between Light Lass and the Emerald Empress is probably the best part of the issue. Light Lass knows that she is out-classed, but instead of panicking she thinks fast and confuses her enemy so that she can escape. Well done, Light Lass. 

On the other hand, in her very next scene Light Lass turns off her professionalism in order to, basically, watch a horror holo-film, casting herself as the beautiful victim. Way to go, Light Lass.

I have to say that as soon as Tharok's extended origin began I started to think that the story would have to continue into next issue so we could learn all about Tharok and the Dark Man this time, setting up a helluva confrontation next time. I was absolutely okay with that. After we get his (their?) origins, though, and THEN still head towards the conclusion....? Yeah, I got a bad feeling in my stomach that never went away. I actually still have it.

Because next we see the Legionnaires from last issue as they join the mix, but----look! They're missing somebody! Gerry and Jack have forgotten that six Legionnaires went under water, but only five came up. There is no scene this issue of Shrinking Violet, although she was with the others at the end of last issue. This is just poor editing. I can imagine Gerry forgetting her if she has nothing to do (none of the six five really do anything this time out), then if Gerry forgot her in the script the artists aren't going to know to draw her. But it's the editor's job to keep track of the characters, right, Jack C. Harris? You should have known that there were six Legionnaires on duty. Maybe you should bring back the Roll Call, if only for YOUR use?

Before I get to the two equally awful scenes that end the story, I should touch on the appearance of Blok. At this point we don't really understand his powers, but he clearly is super-strong. He's visually different than the other Legionnaires, and he interacts well with Timber Wolf. I can remember thinking the first time I read this story that I hope he didn't join. We all know how that turned out.

As to the conclusion, it fails for me for one major reason: the Fatal Five did not live up to their dreaded reputations. They break into the prison area to free Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, which is fine under the circumstances. What is NOT fine is the WAY they did it! Wouldn't they be a touch more dangerous? Like, maybe, threaten to kill Lightning Lad if Saturn Girl didn't help them? Wouldn't they threaten and pose just a LITTLE BIT before tucking their tails between their legs and begging for Legion help!? They're the Fatal Five, for crying out loud, not the Super Friendly Five!

So of course I am disappointed that as soon as Tharok and the Dark Man meet, they both disappear. We don't get the cosmic confrontation that Gerry was promising us! And even worse than the story's climax being in one small panel, next we get....NOTHING? We have the Legion facing off against the Fatal Five and what we get is Lighting Lad telling them they have to surrender, so they..... surrender?!?

Part of the problem with this story is clearly the pacing. When we spend way too much time talking about the past, we don't have any time to deal with the present. If the face-to-face between Tharok and the Dark Man was shown as being more of a big deal, i.e. not one panel and then a sound effect, the ending would have been (much more) dramatic. And if pacing had been better handled, we might have had enough time for a Fatal Five Four vs Legion showdown! In fact, up until that panel (reprinted above), I totally expected this story to continue into the next issue, where we would finally get the showdown we were hoping for.

Instead we get an election party at Colossal Boy's parents' apartment, which is all well and good but could have been the ending of NEXT issue.

Clearly neither Gerry nor Jack knew enough about the Fatal Five and respected them enough as killers to present a good story. In fact, they ruined these characters so badly that none of them re-appeared for more than four years.

As for the art.....for the first time I got the impression that Jimmy Janes simply was over his head. John Calnan clearly did the lion's share of the work on this issue. I half-expected that this would be Janes' last issue. Maybe DC simply didn't have any other replacement artists.....? This is his first cover, but the layout is dull and the situation is just stupid.

So, yeah, this issue is a major disappointment. Long Live the Legion?

Science Police Notes:  
  • Although Shrinking Violet was one of the captured Legionnaires last issue, she makes no appearance in this story.  
  • Shadow Lass is mis-colored in this issue again. Her mid-rift is colored a different hue of blue than her skin color, as if she was wearing something over her space bikini. 
This issue has not yet been reprinted.

This issue features the death of Tharok, and the election of Marte Allon as Earth's President. He would remain dead for the remainder of this series' continuity, and she would remain the President until Legion (v3) #10 (May 1985).

No comments:

Post a Comment