Monday, August 28, 2017

Legion of Super Heroes S02 E04: Chained Lightning

"Chained Lightning" was written by Matt Wayne and directed by Brandon Vietti, original airdate: October 13, 2007, review by Glenn 'Continuity Kid' Walker

Mission Monitor Board: Lightning Lad, Superman X, Brainiac 5, Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy.

Opponents: Lightning Lord, Imperiex, the Dominators, Validus, Destructo-Bots, and three Lightning Beasts of Korbal. 

Guest-stars and cameos: Ayla Ranzz (pre-Lightning Lass/Light Lass), Superman (mentioned).

After a brief interlude spotlighting Timber Wolf last episode from the ongoing season-long struggle against Imperiex, we're back in the business of that villain's war, but with a twist of Legion lore in the mix. We finally meet Ayla Ranzz officially, get a rerun of the Ranzz family's secret high voltage origin, and see the return of Lightning Lord. It's a very unorthodox family reunion for the Legion!

We open on the origin of Lightning Lad, Lightning Lord, and Lightning Lass, in progress. The animated series takes some liberties, just as the source material of the comics themselves have over the years. The three Ranzz siblings are much younger and have been stranded, their ship out of energy, on a strange planet, assumedly Korbal. Garth notably has no lightning bolt scar through his eye, but young Mekt does have lightning bolt eyebrows. Ayla, while the same age as her twin Garth, acts much younger, clinging to a stuffed monkey as her brother gets her to sing along to the stuffed pet to calm the young girl down.

After the song, Garth and Ayla hide as Mekt lures a Lightning Beast into attacking their ship and therefore re-energizing it with its electricity. Oh, that Silver Age technology and logic. More concerned with not getting into trouble from absentee parents than the task at hand, or protecting his siblings for that matter, Mekt lets the Beast get the better him as it smashes their ship. When two more Beasts arrive on the scene, they discharge their lightning into each of the Ranzz siblings.

When the smoke clears, the Beasts have fled, and Garth and Mekt are alive - Garth with his scar and Mekt's hair gone white, both of them have changed, charged white eyes. Ayla is gone, only the torn and burned stuffed monkey remains. As the adult Garth screams and bolts upright in his bed, we know it was a dream, or a dream memory. After the opening credit sequence, Kell-El (honestly I don't know which name I hate more, Kell-El or Superman X, so I'll just use them interchangeably) asks Garth who Ayla is, super-hearing, you know, but he ignores him and they go to the meeting they're late for. It's just another subtle case of how much the showrunners dislike Cosmic Boy - here Kell-El gets on fine with the abrasive Lightning Lad, but last episode nearly came to blows with level-headed Cos.

Apparently Lightning Lad isn't the only one who got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, as Brainiac 5 grumbles about Superman being on the other side of the galaxy, and his replacement is Shrinking Violet. "Let's see, replace the powers of the greatest hero ever with the ability to become smaller… sounds like a fair trade to me." Normally I think Brainy's crush on Superman is amusing and cute, but that remark made me want to slap him around. I didn't know Super-Dickery was one of Brainy's powers. Shrinking Violet is played by Kari Wahlgren, who also voices Saturn Girl, but with an emo/goth twist, nice.

The mission at hand involves a weapon the Dominators are after. For those who remember, the Doms are working with Imperiex. The Legion are going into a region of space plagued by storms of pure energy; storms that if harnessed could power a tachyon (also sometimes spelled takion, is it related to the New God?) cannon capable of destroying "cities, planets… Wednesdays," to quote Bouncing Boy. The gig is to disperse the energy field so no one can harness it and do bad things. Lightning Lad however is having trouble concentrating because he's hearing voices. Ayla? Yeah, you see where this is going, but still, it's pretty cool, and moody for kids animation. The show may be geared for younger audiences, but most of the time, it didn't talk down to them. And did I mention the region of space coincidentally contains the planet Korbal?

Another scene break and a flashback from before the ship crashed on Korbal proves to be a dream of Mekt's, who like his little brother, awakes with a start. When he rises to go to work, we find that Lightning Lord (have we ever heard him actually called that in the animated series yet? I think not) is working with Imperiex and the Dominators. It becomes clear in their conversation that Imperiex has hired Mekt to take care of the Legion, and give a definitive end to his sibling rivalry - that's kids cartoon code for kill, folks.

Visually, while I have liked how the show puts Mekt's eyes in shadow in his previous appearances, I have to say I don't dig his pseudo-evil-jedi Doctor Doom outfit. I'm a traditionalist and I would prefer his red and green costume and variations from the comics of the Silver and Bronze Ages. It's like Electric Superman or stealing the Man of Steel's undies, it just ain't right.

Whether you know the story of the Ranzz siblings or not, even with this new twist of the lost Ayla, it's obvious that that is the real story here, and that the MacGuffin of the tachyon cannon, the storms, and fighting the Dominators are all bit players to that. And while the showrunners might not like Cosmic Boy, they do love Validus, as he is shown on the side of the bad guys in this one. On a side note, it's interesting that Validus is here, as he's also Garth's time-tossed and altered son, so it really is a bit of a family reunion. In the ensuing fight, we get to see Kell-El throwdown with Validus but also Shrinking Violet prove herself to Brainy. Still the real fight is between Garth and Mekt.

Both brothers are distracted by memories of Ayla, her image is even appearing in their lightning strikes. Imperiex enters the battlefield himself however and interrupts the family reunion. The villain lets loose a major blast at Lightning Lad, who nearly explodes in electrical energy, before calling for a timely retreat - after all, the Legion weren't going anywhere, and were no longer a threat after the blow dealt them. When we see that Garth takes the brunt of the blast with his right arm, Legion fans know what has happened, in the same way we all cringe whenever some says the name Computo.

Lightning Lad has lost his arm. In the original comics, he lost his arm to the 'Moby Dick' of space, and in a later reboot, similar to what happened here, he lost it in combat with Lightning Lord. In both cases, as here, his arm was replaced by a cybernetic one. In the episode, Shrinking Violet further impresses Brainy with her expertise in installing the new arm, the Cybernetic 4000. The arm also fires lasers and explosive charges, so new powers. The way Vi hypes it one has to wonder if her family owns stock in the company. I do hate her snort however.

Meanwhile the storm is out of control, and Brainy finds a way to hear what it's saying, and it's Ayla's voice singing the monkey nursery rhyme from that fateful day on Korbal. Brainiac 5 theorizes that the same energy that gave Garth and Mekt their powers turned Ayla into pure energy. But you knew that all along, didn't you? Garth contacts Mekt to tell him, but Imperiex refuses to stop powering the weapon. The Legion determines the stop the cannon, reverse the polarity, and transform the storm back into Ayla.

Once the plan is in action, Mekt turns on his former teammates to help the Legion restore Ayla, as we all knew he would. He may be evil, and he may be a non-twin in a twin world, but Mekt still loves his sister and wants to make right what he messed up all those years ago. Once the cannon, and Imperiex's ship go boom (don't celebrate too much, he teleports away), the brothers are able to return Ayla to her humanity. The trick, however, is that she is still the same age she was when the accident happened, ten years younger than her twin brother Garth.

Now while I like when the animated series veers from continuity and surprises me, even in an episode like this where much of the plot is telegraphed and predictable, I disliked this. With Ayla just a kid, and we're left in the dark as to whether she has powers of any sort, she cannot take her proper place as a member of the Legion, as Lightning Lass or Light Lass, and that's just a damn shame. I did like that Mekt stops running and turns himself in, and that fences seemed to be mended between the brothers, but… I still would have rather had Ayla at the right age.

Even though this episode has the overbearing continuing threat of Imperiex, and was predictable at points, and tried to squeeze so much Lightning Lad history from the comics into it, I still liked it, and it was one of the better ones so far. Although I have to say, I wonder about the convenient excuse of Superman saving the universe on the other side of the galaxy. Will we ever know what happened there? Also, Imperiex seems to have gained a snappy wit, and when did the Dominators bulk up like that? With stories now being told without Superman (Kell-El doesn't count as Superman, he's more of a cypher than anything else most of the time), do we really even need Superman anymore? Just a thought.

Next: The Karate Kid! 


  1. "I still would have rather had Ayla at the right age."

    Agreed. I liked most of this episode (especially the "perky goth nerd" take on Vi), but that ending kind of hurt it. I wonder if it was part of what the show's runners talked about where they were specifically asked by the WB execs to "play down" the female Legionnaires as much as possible, so they decided to demote Ayla as a result.

  2. I've never seen this series, so I don't know how the Ayla plotline, if there was one, played out. But on the surface, I don't see a problem with Ayla being a literal "baby sister" to Garth. Sure, it upends Legion continuity. But Light Lass-type powers are dramatically limited, and dueling Lightning Lad/Lass stories would've gotten old quick. Also, having Ayla being a child has/had lots of light-hearted, even comedic, potential. Imagine an abrasive, battle-hardened Garth needing to find a sitter for Ayla, or talk to her about a sensitive matter, or her pestering him with non-stop "Garth!", "Garth!", "Garth!" (Any parents reading this KNOWS what I'm referring to.) Putting a child Ayla in harm's way would also have created dramatic storylines. So, the potential was there, and many possibilities as well.