Wednesday, February 5, 2020

L.E.G.I.O.N. '91 #23

L.E.G.I.O.N. '91 #23 (January 1991)
title: "I, Durlan"
writer: Alan Grant
penciller: Jim Fern and Richard Piers Rayner
inker: Kim DeMulder
letterer: Gaspar Saladino
colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
editor: Art Young
cover art: Richard Piers Rayner and Lovern Kindzierski 
review by: Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

Recap: After Lyrissa Mallor was murdered by her brainwashed daughter, Bek and Marij'n travelled to Talk VIII seeking revenge against the Computer Tyrants. The Tyrants, still in the powerful body they created after fleeing their earlier battle with the L.E.G.I.O.N., had been trying to become the planet's new champion, Mr. Starr. The battle was not going well until the rest of the team arrived, and the combined power of Lady Quark, Bek and Marij'n was able to turn the tide against Mr. Starr. But in the aftermath of the battle, Bek and Marij'n are horrified to discover that the Emerald Eye, the source of their power, has disappeared. During this same time, Stealth has fled Cairn and found a distant planet to await the birth of her child.

Talok VIII mourns the loss of the loss of their former champion Lyrissa Mallor while the core member of the L.E.G.I.O.N. hold a funeral. During the ceremony, we are given the chance to see how each of her teammates is dealing with her loss.
After the funeral is over, Strata leads everyone except Vril Dox to the canteen to have a toast in her memory. A furious Bek blames Dox for her death because of his actions against the Computer Tyrants but Marij'n pulls him away to avoid a confrontation. Dox is shaken by Lyrissa's death but his thoughts drift towards his missing friend, the Durlan.
Since the Durlan disappeared and was replaced by Phase, this title has never explained the cause of that switch. Finally, we see the Durlan once again as he sits calmly at a table about to write in a journal. He begins by exploring the history of his homeworld, Durla, which had been devastated by a nuclear holocaust. The residual radiation caused a strange effect on his people.
Unhappy living in their isolationist society, the Durlan became the first of his kind in memory to leave their planet. Soon after leaving, the ship he hijacked encountered a meteor storm and the damage caused him to crash on Colu. He was imprisoned by the Computer Tyrants and was soon visited by their agent, Brainiac.
Brainiac was accompanied by his cloned son, Vril Dox, who assisted in his inhumane studies. The Durlan was surprised one evening when Dox came to his cell and let him out. He had freed other prisoners as well and was using the chaos to cover their escape. The Durlan is disgusted to see that how many others are being sacrificed on their behalf.
Instead of fleeing the planet, however, Dox merely takes the Durlan back to his quarters. Apparently the entire event was intended merely to anger Brainiac. His plan worked and Brainiac was furious when he arrived. However, Brainiac was also unaware that the Durlan was present because Dox had told him to assume the disguise of a book. Before Brainiac can take any action against his son, he is ordered away by the Computer Tyrants to explain what had happened. Instead of returning the Durlan to his cell, Dox keeps him hidden in his room, but the Durban has merely escaped one type of prison to find himself in another.
Dox turns the Durlan into a virtual pet but also uses him to get information about other worlds and cultures. He also uses him to learn martial arts, which he soon masters. Over the time they live together, Dox uses a scrambler to mask the Durlans presence from the Computer Tyrants. Eventually Brainiac betrays the Computer Tyrants and they decide to have Dox brainwashed and sent to join the common people. Following their torture, the Durlan comforts a weakened, crying Dox. When their brainwashing fails, they choose to hand him over to the alien Alliance from the Invasion! series.
Dox toys with the Durlan for a time but agrees to take him along. Knowing of no other way to smuggle him aboard the Alliance ship, he ingests the Durlan and vomits him up once they are alone. (Ewww...) The Durlan uses his shape-shifting ability to hide on the Alliance Starlag until Dox leads an escape. Among the escapees are Lyrissa, Strata, Stealth and Garryn Bek. As seen at the start of this series, Dox tricks them into helping to overthrow the Computer Tyrants and manipulates them into forming L.E.G.I.O.N. The Durlan is soon transported away and finds himself in a 30th century that still hates his race. He takes the form of the dominant species and decides that Dox's dream was a beautiful one. It may be long dead by the 30th century, but in its honor, the Durlan declares that he is going to start making a Legion of his own.
Well, this one was a biggie. Since the start, we have been teased that the L.E.G.I.O.N. is connected to the classic Legion of Super-Heroes and we finally learn how, at least in this post-Crisis, pre-Zero Hour continuity. When I first read this story as a teenager, I was a bit disappointed that the connection was not more direct, but as I have mentioned before, at that time I was not yet a fan of the LOSH. In retrospect, any stronger connection would probably have been too disruptive to LOSH continuity, particularly at time where it had already become quite muddled. Also, I had only the barest knowledge of Brande's place in LOSH history and was unaware of his Durlan past.

In retrospect, I like this link much more now than I did at the time. It provides a connection between the teams, but keeps enough distance that they are free to follow their own paths and avoid any potential complications. That distance is also probably best given the very different sensibilities in the two titles. 

The other interesting aspect to this issue was the disturbing nature of the relationship between the Durlan and Vril Dox. It was obvious from the beginning that they had a bond of some sort, but it appeared to be one of respect and friendship. Despite Dox's abrasive and manipulative personality, I was never expecting a dynamic this twisted. On the one hand, it is understandable how a young Dox could become messed up with Brainiac as his only real example. But it was still disappointing and frustrating to see how him toy with and abuse the Durlan.

It also left me with mixed feelings about their later friendship. It was obvious that they each developed a genuine affection for the other. But to see their respective power positions when they first met, and how Dox treated him initially, leaves a very bad taste in the readers mouth. Do not get me wrong, this was a fascinating story, and I enjoyed the issue. But watching such an abusive relationship unfold is difficult and is certainly going to change the perspective of the reader.

Although I did not mention it in the summary, the story ends with Dox dedicating a statue to Lyrissa's memory in front of the team. The team had become fearful that Dox might choose to disband them but instead he tries using her memory to try to strengthen their bond. He also declared that their next mission was to bring the Khund empire to its knees. Check back next week to see how he plans to do that!

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