Thursday, January 3, 2019

Reboot: Legion of Super-Heroes Secret Files and Origins #2

Legion of Super-Heroes Secret Files and Origins #2 (June 1999)
title: "Unknown Point of Origin"
writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
penciller: Chuck Wojtkiewicz
inker: Dexter Vines
lettering: Clem Robins
colorist: Tom McCraw
assistant editor: Maureen McTigue
editor: Tony Bedard
cover: Chris Sprouse
reviewers: Siskoid & Shotgun

Mission Monitor Board:  
Apparition, Brainiac 5.1, Chameleon, Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, Ferro, Gates, Invisible Kid, Karate Kid, Kid Quantum II, Kinetix, Live Wire, M'Onel, Monstress, Saturn Girl, Sensor, Spark, Star Boy, Thunder, Triad, Ultra Boy, Umbra, Violet, XS

Chuck Taine, Koko, Magno, R.J. Brande, Tenzil Kem; Lycidians; in flashback: Atmos, Atom'X, Douglas Nolan, Konk, Insect Queen, Karate Kid's sensei, Kid Quantum I, King Charlz, Orandans, Prince Willem, Shazam (Captain Marvel), Xanthu scientists

Alien apes, The Blight; in flashback: Brainiac 4, Evolvo, Leland McCauley, Mordru, Tangleweb

Synopsis: A group of Legionnaires from Outpost Allon are heading for planet Lycidas to rejoin the rest of the team for United Planets entry celebrations when they almost slam into a spaceship of unknown origin. Out of control, they crash land on a decaying moon that used to be forested, but is now barren and crumbling. The rock gives way under the ship. The Legion is attacked by mutated ape creatures. Their tech fails them.
As they fight the creatures and try to reclaim as many ship parts as they can for Brainiac 5.1, some of them briefly retell their origins and restate the Legion's philosophy or working together to prevail. Eventually, Brainy builds a powerful beacon and they are spotted and rescued. But somewhere, out there, the aliens aboard that ship study their data and covet the powerful life essences they detected from the Legionnaires. And these aliens are the same Sensor found in the ape creatures' minds that could be converted into a terrifying illusion...
Considering we’re reading a Secret Files and Origins issue, it is not too surprising to have the stranded heroes thinking about their lives before the Legion. I think it was well done, pairing them that way, to create these dialogues. It’s just a little strange for me that they could have such deep conversation while battling the Bat/Ape creatures. Maybe the fight was a lot easier than it looks and they could put their focus on the past instead of the present. That’s some pretty solid multitasking if you ask me. So, the creatures are afraid of are the same that bumped into the Legion’s ship. And now these things want to find them. They envy their life force... Is that what they’re feeding on? Or is the emphasis on RICH means that life force is some sort of currency for them? Either way, this is just more bad news for the Legion.
The good thing about the Legion, what makes it this strong in my humble opinion, is its diversity. Having all these individuals under a same roof, working together as a team, isn’t just useful to bring a sense of union between the different worlds forming the U.P. It also offers the team many different perspectives and ideas that will help them achieve more and more great deeds. The stories we’ve read during the exchanges almost all share one thing: They were stories of outcasts who found their way and their purpose within the Legion. I just hope Kid Quantum and Brainy can get there too.
If there’s one thing I want to add to my review of the story, it’s the comic’s look. Facial expressions were a hit and miss on males (see top right corner on page 20 for reference,) but I found the rest of the drawings to be very enjoyable. I think my favorite part is how they drew Sensor’s movement. To me, it feels like the first time she actually acts like a snake instead of just “standing” around. The fights were also fun and easy to follow, even though it was action packed. I’m a big fan of the way the light and shadows are incorporated too. Long story short: I basically loved everything about it!
Personally, while I'm quite used to long conversations during fight scenes in comics (I read Uncanny X-Men through the 80s, after all), I found its use here a little stiff and artificial. Yes, it's a Secret Files and Origins, but maybe some whole origins could have been told to better define Monstress or Kid Quantum, for example, instead of quick flashbacks. Ah, but see, the issue is actually about the Blight, a threat that's going to become very important in... well... six months (as originally published). This is Abnett and Lanning's first Legion story, well ahead of their very appreciated run. Did the special issue come out too soon? Or is your appetite whet? With other threats looming (and showing up in the Files section), I'm not sure the Blight makes that much of an impression. The aliens weren't really what made DnA's run memorable, but rather the different tone they brought to the material. But that tone's not here, nor perhaps could it be, as it would have been too jarring. A very slim plot indeed, but with Brainy having a believable plan (that's been missing lately with the crazy science), and yes, some striking art.
Supplemental Material: 
The issue further includes:
-Fact files (almost all written by Matt Brady and Tom McCraw) for Karate Kid (by Scott Kolins and Keith Champagne), Kid Quantum II (by Jeffrey Moy and W.C. Carani), Pernisius (by Greh Luzniak and Mark Pennington, Fallen Heroes (Leviathan, Kid Quantum I, Blast-Off, Atom'X and other memorials, by Phil Jimenez), Sensor (by Kilian Plunkett), the Elements of Disaster (Phy'r, Rrox, A'rie, Ebb, by Jeffrey and Philip Moy), Thunder (by Matt Jaley and Tom Simmons), Ferro (by Cully Hamner), Brainiac 5.1 (by Sean Phillips), the Blight (by Olivier Caipel and Andy Lanny, text by Abnett and Lanning), and Monstress (by Dusty Abell and Norman Lee)
-The Legion Constitution, adapted from Who's Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes
-"Brande, by Damn!", an interview with R.J. Brande in the style of Playboy's (by Tom Peyer, Derec Aucoin and Dan Davis)
- A partial listing of the United Planets and Affiliated Planets (by Matt Brady and Tom McCraw)

Regarding the characters' profile pages: Did I know Monstress' name? I think I would've remembered such a name as Candi Pyponte-LeParc III. The name is almost as over the top as the person who's using it! Interesting that they also included information on villains. Maybe it isn't a first, but it feels like it to me. Plus, it gave us the name of both new enemies: Pernisius, the Elements of Disaster and the Blight – menacing names. No wonder they're evil!
The written pieces were interesting enough. It's crazy to think that someone actually wrote a constitution for a fictional group of heroes. Now I assume other teams also had one: Justice League? Titans? Probably. The list of planets forming the U.P. was boring but saved by the fact it reminded the readers where Legionnaires came from. I enjoyed Brande's interview. We often forget about the supporting characters. In this case, it gives Brande some more backstory and it makes him all the more intriguing because of the mystery that follows him. These bits help make this universe more complex and interesting.
Not only is the Constitution a thing, I wrote some extensive articles about it (in its original text from Who's Who) published on this very blog. Search for Constitution for more, though of course there are small changes here, mostly to do with roster changes. (Wildfire can't be Academy liaison if he doesn't exist... YET. I don't want to say anything, but one entry in this book is there just as a preview of things to come...) And yes, the JLA has a charter. I have it somewhere. Not sure about the Titans.
Anyway, the interesting bits for me include the mention of the Shrine to the Unknown Martian, which means the Martian Manhunter is still remembered though other 20th-Century heroes may not be. The same entry gives some interesting color, with one tree-like hero burning brightly for 18 days to help save his race after a Sun Eater devoured their sun. But there's too little of that, and too much repetition. For example, the Blight entry basically recounts the story in this issue, and while we're told who Monstress is, there's no attempt to tell us how she gained her powers or turned to heroism. For a Secret Files and Origins, this is a fail to me. And I'm not even talking about all the discrepancies introduced (see below for a few).
Science Police Notes:  
  • Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are set to take over the Legion books in six months, but in this story, they sow the seeds of their first storyline and introduce the Blight.
  • Both the story and the supplementary material introduce errors or small retcons in the Legion's back stories. For example, Ferro's brother Douglas never left the institute so should be seen in a alley; Karate Kid was from the Alpha Colonies not the Omega Colony; Blast-Off's real name has been changed for purposes we will discover later; he is also made into an Amazer, but was actually a member of Workforce; the Element of Disaster Rrox is here spelled Rrok; and Monstress did not join during a membership drive.
  • The Fallen Heroes file pays homage to current Legion writer Roger Stern by listing a S'tern Ro'g who was a relentless explorer.
  • Though the Shrine of the Unknown Martian confirms a visual from Kid Quantum's funeral, DC  #1,000,000 showed J'Onn J'Onzz to be still alive in a further future. He may still have been believed dead in the 30th Century.
  • Some of the worlds mentioned in the planet listing are from as far back as the Silver Age.
  • The background images on Monstress' file, of three men in pain, will only be explained in Legion Lost #2. They are non sequiturs here.

First Legion story by Abnett and Lanning; they introduce the Blight six months ahead of their run's proper start. Olivier Caipel draws the Blight's secret file, making it his first piece of art on the series.

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