Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Legion of Super-Heroes #304

As I was finishing my take on Legion Secret Origin, I was wondering what would be the next Legion time period that I would review. Russell recommended the last year of issues in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2, covering Legion #300-313.

I didn't know how to respond.
I didn't know if I could do the job.

This book and this time period is revered by me. It is the high water mark for this incarnation of the team. It is Levitz and Giffen and Mahlstadt knocking it out of the park each issue. It is dripping with early  teen nostalgia. Could I do a good job of critiquing books that I inherently will love unabashedly?

Then I thought about Legion of Super-Heroes #304. It is one of my favorite issues in this run, embodying the complexity and depth that Levitz and Giffen were known for. This is an issue almost exclusively focused on the Legion Academy students, little known and seldom used characters that the creators somehow breathe life into. Their interactions with the bigger team and the universe around them shows how vast the Legion mythos is. And, as usual, they reference Legion history, showing how far that reaches. An Legion issue that is about their farm league is one of my favorites of the run! That is heavy praise.

But you be the judge.

'Siege Perilous' is credited to Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, and  Larry Mahlstadt and takes a look at a lot of non-Legionnaires over the issue. We start out in the Legion Academy where we see that Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy have returned to the academy as teachers.

And there might not be a better time to be in the Academy. With Karate Kid and Princess Projectra out of the Legion, there are only 21 active members. That means that there is space on the roster for new blood.

I do have to say that this is a weird opening panel. It gives the appearance of 2 long panels but instead it is a splash bisected by a bar. But so much gives it a duality feel. Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy are on opposite sides. One screen is black; one screen is white. One side has light walls; the other has dark walls. It just is an odd opening.

As I have said ad nauseum since tajubg over these reviews, one of the things I love about this is how Levitz really injects distinct personalities into all the characters. You know who the Legionnaires are, what their quirks are.

But here we see how Levitz gives the Legion Academy students a little personality as well. From Laurel Kent's desire to Shadow Kid's blase nature, you see how excited these kids are.

This design of four small inset panels to showcase characters is a great way for Levitz and Giffen to give us these individual moments. We saw it last week in the Annual.

While the bulk of the issue is about the Academy applicants and life in that school, Levitz continues to keep the characterization for the main team moving along.

We know that Wildfire is in charge of the Legion application process. Here he is at his most Wildfire-y, angsty and angry and irascible. He arrives at the Academy is ticked off at the resources the team devotes to the Academy despite the fact that few students actually make it to the team. He thinks the Science Police should take it over.

But Gigi Cusimano sort of sets him straight. Wildfire has complained the loudest when the SciPo has talked about trying to take over the Academy. Called out on his hypocrisy, he angrily flies out, much the enjoyment of Bouncing Boy.

Still, even for Wildfire, this seems like misguided energy and anger.

And then a bomb drops.

We have been following, albeit peripherally, Element Lad and Shvaughn Erin as they have been investigating a mystery within the Legion, the belief that the Legion has been infiltrated by an imposter. The clues have all been dropping. They have gone to Imsk. They have looked at flights into Earth from Durla.

Finally, in the most hidden section of the Legion HQ, they come right out and say it. Shrinking Violet has been replaced by a Durlan.

I love this page and these panels. Between the small silhouette first panel to the liberal use of shadows in the next, this really feels like a mystery, like a secret cabal. Such a cinematic reveal.

Now that is a dark reveal. Vi isn't Vi. When did this happen? How?

But before you can dwell too much, we get back to the Academy kids. In an absolute trope for the Legion, the animals in an intergalactic zoo have escaped and need to get corralled. The kids head out to do the work. And they are joined by real Legionnaires Invisible Kid and White Witch, the last two Legionnaires inducted but two members who haven't really been trained. They joined in combat.

Again, we get to see some of the personalities of the student. Power Boy just wades in and uses his strength. But Laurel Kent uses her smarts a bit, tricking a giant animal into heading back into the cage.

Laurel certainly has beautiful skin ... and so much of it! There is no way that someone so alive and vivacious could be a robot ... right???? Or am I getting ahead of myself.

With the animals back in their pens, everyone heads back to Montauk point. There Lamprey learns that being a Legionnaire isn't just about heading into battle and stopping super-criminals. Sometimes it is doing diplomatic missions, being a presence in important moments.

It isn't all fun and games.

And Shadow Kid and Magnetic Kid, as relatives of active Legion members and blocked from joining the team given their powers are duplicated with the familial Legionnaires, naturally become friends.

Out in the sun, both talk about their hopes of being a hero, using their powers for good, and maybe becoming a Legionnaire at some point.

In a nice callback to Legion #297, Magnetic Kid reveals that his impetus to train was the fireballing terrorist attack which killed his parents. This is a natural progression for this minor character but shows how nothing goes to waste for Levitz.

Elsewhere in the city, Timber Wolf and Shadow Lass try to take out some criminals. In the middle of the battle, Wildfire swoops in, blasts the baddies into submission, and then flies off with an angry quip.

Brin is pretty ticked off at Wildfire just flew in and left. But Shadow Lass knows that Wildfire is hurting. And, if anyone could sympathize, it is Brin. Now why would she say that? The only thing that Brin has been dealing with lately is the loss of Ayla. He is still hurting from that emotional break-up. How does that reflect on Wildfire?

The topic of Wildfire and his personality is also being discussed in the Academy.

Laurel Kent and Comet Queen are just ripping into him, calling him a jerk.
But Lamprey and Nightwind have heard his sad origins, how alone he feels, how he has no body and therefore can't really interact with someone on a human level. (They heard his origin way back in LSH #283.)

The discussion becomes so heated that the four women start brawling. Maybe this is a little over the top. It is almost too catty. I suppose these are kids ... but still. It's up to Magnetic Kid and Power Boy to come in and break them up.

White Witch and Invisible Kid walk in and discuss how they have the utmost respect for Wildfire. And while she knows it is a violation of his privacy, White Witch uses a spell so they can all see what is happening with Wildfire at that moment. Mysa says it will also teach the students how harsh life as a Legionnaire can sometimes be.

Wildfire and Dawnstar have always had a close relationship. But it couldn't really be called a romance. In a brutally emotional scene, a tear-streaked Dawny tells Wildfire that she must head to the stars to find her soulmate. While she has special feelings for him, there is really no 'him' inside that suit. She hopes they can remain friends.

It clearly is painful for both parties.

And then we have one of those moments that has stuck in my mind for decades.

With Dawnstar in the distance, Wildfire whispers that he loves her.

And then, overcome with sadness, anger, self-pity or all of the above, he blows up his own suit with a loud 'DAMN".

I love this scene.

It gives such dimension to both Dawnstar and Wildfire. It humanizes Wildfire who has been portrayed as a surly hothead the whole issue. It adds a sort of 'star-crossed lovers' feel to these two, destined to love but never be together.

And that 'damn' is a great exclamation point, showing Wildfire's emotion in a way that an unchanging helmet couldn't.

That would have been the perfect moment to end the book on. But Levitz and Giffen top even that.

The Legion took a vote and rather than induct new members who are ill-equipped to be on the team, they settle on the current roster. This slow look at the hall of heroes, seeing the Legionnaires who have died on missions, is a reminder that being on the Legion isn't fun and games. It is dangerous.

I'll just say it again. This issue concentrated on minor characters. But I didn't feel cheated. Instead, I felt like the Legion universe was bigger.

And that Wildfire moment and this ending moment add a level of poignancy that is spot on.

What did you all think?


  1. It was a very good issue and I've been enjoying your reviews. The idea of the Legion being understaffed is one of Levitz's favourites, and he frequently revisits it. The teacher-student relationship between Bouncing Boy and the White Witch is brought back to great effect Five Years Later.

    One detail I'd like to mention even though it's kind of a nitpick. The SP liaison officer's first name is "Shvaughn", a 30th-century phonetic variant of "Siobhan". Her last name is "Erin". It's not "Erin Schvaughn".

    1. Great callback o the 5YL Mysa and Chuck moment!
      It's one of my favorties as well, and had not made the connection until now.

    2. Great moment. I reviewed the 5YL book.
      Here is the review of the issue I think you are talking about:

  2. Shvaughn error corrected. Complete brain cramp. I am a big fan of her!

  3. Not my first Legion story per se, but my first Legion ISSUE and I still love it to bits, especially that soul-crushing Wildfire/Dawnstar sequence.

    1. Wildfire is my favorite Legionnaire so this issue and that moment really sticks in my mind.

  4. Wildfire is one of my top 5 (no particular order), so I loved this issue as well. Him & Dawny's bittersweet relationship was fodder for many great stories.

    Also, I'd always hoped Lamprey, Power Boy and Nightwind (in that order) would graduate to the Big Team eventually.

    1. Nightwind, at least, was a member during the so-called 5 Year Gap, not that we ever saw any of those stories.

    2. Yeah, I knew that. I meant during the Levitz run, and not her 5YL "Adventures in Cannon-Fodder" Giffen stories. :Þ

    3. I'm probably not as keen on Lamprey joining simply because I'd have to actually look up what a lamprey is.
      All I know is that it's some sort of sea......thing.

  5. It's worth mentioning that Giffen gave Lamprey, Nightwind, and Crystal Kid dramatic makeovers in this issue. Talk about a huge improvement!

  6. There's a dangling plotline. Who is the "friend in the special wing" mentioned on page 15?

    1. Yes, I would also like to know who they were referring to... You think they were pertaining to Matter-Eater Lad? His name came up during the girls squabble on page 19...