Friday, August 23, 2019

Review: Adventure Comics #519

Adventure Comics #519 continued the title's retrospective love-fest of all things Legion. It has been a lot of fun to go back and read these stories and see a very young Legion in their earliest adventures. You can really sense how they are unsure of just who they are and what their role is in the galaxy. They are learning on the job as they jump into one dangerous situation after another; they are struggling a bit, stretching their capabilities as they try to do what's right. For someone who started reading these characters way back in the Grell days, it is refreshing to see them in these greener days. They haven't been scarred yet by death or deception or danger; they are fresh-faced.

One thing that I like about this title, and this issue, is the running theme on these young heroes making checklists of things they hope to accomplish. From (in this run of Adventure's earlier Superboy stories) Conner's 'what did Superman do?' list to Clark's list of things he never has been able to do like play baseball  without holding back to here - Brainiac 5's list of what to do in the 20th century. It is such a tradition ... adolescents making lists as they try to figure out who they are. To see that activity from the viewpoint of these young heroes is a nice little literary hook.

It is also pretty cool to be revisiting these 'early adventures' when a new Legion book is right around the corner.

On to the story by Paul Levitz and Eddie Pansica.

The issue follows two groups of Legionnaires through their current missions.

One group is Chameleon Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Invisible Kid as they infiltrate one of Zaryan's ships in hopes of bringing him down. The Zaryan plot has been a nice one to follow as it seems to be the Legion's first 'big case' having both personal and professional ramifications. We have seen the Legion's stature grow as they become true allies and adjuncts of the Science police ... but we have also seen them encounter tragedy for the first time. This isn't all fun and games.

As for me, I was always a sucker for the Legion Espionage Squad and this might be the 'first time' that this group is called that. Still, you get that sense of the naivete of the group, how young and carefree they might be. I mean, I doubt that Chameleon Boy would necessarily adopt the shape of a mouse these days, nor do I think Violet would ever ride him. It also was good to see the early Invisible Kid, someone with little skills other than being invisible. Here he activates Zaryan's robot drones which attack the group.

The other group we are following is the original three Legionnaires and Brainiac 5 as they go back in time to visit Superboy. Brainiac clearly has a reason to be visiting this exact time but he isn't sharing it with his friends.

While there, he does compose his own list of things to do while in the past. While Conner and Clark's lists were in handwriting, Brainiac's is in more of a computerized sort of font. It is a small touch, but welcome.

The first thing he wants the group to do is encounter natural weather. Brainy says he wants it to be a sort of training mission because who knows where there adventures will take them. In a running theme of the book, you can see just how uncomfortable the Legionnaires are back in this 'primitive' time'.

The natural weather includes a F5 twister which lands inside Smallville. The Legionnaires are sort of battered a bit by the winds but are able to hold up fairly well.

I continue to enjoy this early look at Superboy and how we see him growing a bit in his confidence and actions. Here he does the classic dissipation move for tornadoes, flying in the opposite direction to shred the winds.

I love the bottom caption. This is before Superboy has even revealed himself. This sudden disappearance of the tornado will be chalked up as Smallville luck.

Again, I wonder who the primary target of this book is. It feels like it is for old-timers like me grabbing a bit of child-like innocence with this nostalgia.

In the meantime, the Espionage squad is attacked by the activated drones and must defend themselves.

The most accomplished Legionnaire here is Chameleon Boy who switches from one tough form to another, wading into battle and smashing them.

As for me, I have always had a soft spot for Shrinking Violet as a character. So it was very cool for me to see her in the old school green mini-skirt outfit, gutting wires from the robots to eliminate them.

My favorite Legionnaires ... in a semblance of order ... are: Wildfire, Lightning Lass, Shrinking Violet, and then Element Lad.So it is great to see these early adventures of my faves.

And back in the 20th century, Brainiac 5's list continues to be fulfilled. Now why Brainiac 5 would feel that he needed to take part in a barn raising is beyond me. In fact, although it was a small part of the book, this was the weakest part. A barn raising? Really? Maybe it would have been better to be more generic like 'take part in local customs'.

What is amusing is that the Legionnaires are even more clumsy than Kal in full-Clark mode. They are called 'city folk' to explain their problems with this labor. I mean, Brainy is fascinated by a nail. I did think it was a nice touch for Lightning Lad to talk about the agrarian life on Winath and how he has done things like barn raising in the past. It is this three-dimensional feel of these characters that makes them so great.

Another thing on Brainy's list is to meet the Kents. Here Pa helps out Brainy from standing out too much. Now that part of the list I can completely understand. Who wouldn't want to meet the Kents, the people who made Superman who he is?

It turns out that Zaryan is actually on the ship that the Espionage Squad is on but he is able to slip through the cracks. Again, there is absolutely nothing stealthy about this mission. In fact, it is the opposite of espionage as the smash there way through the ship in a loud and rough way.

Unfortunately, Invisible Kid is unable to stop Zaryan who simply runs over him as he gets to his escape ship.

In the 20th century, we finally find out why Brainy brought them to this time.

This was the first time that a Brainiac probe lands on Earth. as it detects the technology of Clark's ship. There is some resonance here given the original Brainiac's role in that year's Last Stand of New Krypton as well as the dynamic of Brainiac 5 facing off against his vilified ancestor.

Brainy knew about this probe, learning about it about a year prior, and planning this encounter since. In fact, that's why the original time-travel mission went back to Superboy's time rather than Superman's (as originally intended). Brainy needed to set up this encounter.

I don't necessarily know if like this application of Brainiac's force field belt as he weaponizes it to smash the probe from the inside out. This is an early adventure ... shouldn't we have seen him use this method in future adventures. As far as I can recall, I haven't seen this before (although I have seen him trap people in force fields).

Still, there must be a sense of closure here as Brainy rights a family wrong, not letting the original Brainiac find Earth and face Superboy too early.

Nice last item on the list: save the world. This thematic use of the personal list has really grown on me. It allows the writer to peek internally on a character without the need to use exposition.

Again, it was nice to see these early stories of these characters before they have become seasoned warriors, or scarred heroes. This is a time where 'Lad' and 'Boy' and 'Girl' are all appropriate monikers. So to see the original three rasslin' with Brainiac 5 about how he kept this secret was completely refreshing. To see Brainy smile as he talks about allowing the Legion think he made a mistake was fantastic. By seeing where they came from, we have a deeper appreciation of who they are now.

Levitz clearly understands these characters, has a nice grasp of each of them and their backgrounds. So this just flows easily.

And as I said last Adventure review, I have really grown to like Kevin Sharpe's art. So I was a bit disappointed to not see him doing internal art despite being listed on the cover. Eduardo Pansica steps in on art. Some of his work channels Shawn McManus here.

So this was a nice little read. Nothing earth-shattering but enjoyable.

Overall grade: B

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