Sunday, October 28, 2012

LSH Reread, part three

(Covering Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 2, # 297-303, 1983)

Major developments:

*Following events in the previous issues, Cosmic Boy's mother dies of radiation poisoning.
*Duplicate Boy calls out Colossal Boy for stealin' his honey, then decides Vi's not worth it and splits, leaving Earth.
*Chameleon Boy has lost his powers and decides to bond with his dad, quadrillionaire RJ Brande, who, not content with using "By Ymir" as an exclamation, also uses the words "fershlugginer" and, three times in one issue, "verdammt." Evidently, Durla is not an alien planet at all, but a neighborhood in Brooklyn that borders Potrzebie.
*Their swanky new headquarters is formally dedicated, and the Adult Legion story that foretold Shadow Lass's death is explained away as a possible future from an alternate reality.
*Karate Kid and Projectra announce that they're getting married.
*The Emerald Empress, previously depicted as the least effective villain among the Fatal Five, is redesigned as an incredible force of evil and bitchiness somewhere between Servalan from Blake's 7 and Joan Collins' character from Dynasty.
*Shvaughn Erin and Element Lad certainly look like they're dating to anybody not in denial about Element Lad's sexuality. We meet Shvaughn's roommate, Officer Gigi Cusimano, and Sun Boy instantly starts chatting her up.

When 12 year-old me first read LSH # 300, my mind was permanently blown. The frame story is set in the present, mostly around a few not-all-that-important events, but also at the Science Institute. You really have to handwave some magic storytelling stuff and pretend that it's science, but basically, Brainiac Five and his clever pals Rond Vidar and Professor Clicks-a-Lot are helping Andrew Nolan, the insane brother of the long-deceased Legionnaire Ferro Lad. Andrew has fantasy nightmares of the past or the future of alternate reality LSHs that show up on a video screen and keep him screaming in torment as heroes die ugly and awful deaths. Brainy's cure - and magic storytelling doesn't get more magical - is to twist the vertical hold knob and tune him into a happy alternate reality where Andrew, not insane, was welcomed into the team as Ferro Lad's replacement, whereupon Andrew sighs contentedly and, with a "pop," goes to live in that world. Okay, then.

But the nightmares are important, not the frame story. Illustrated by a who's who of LSH artists from the past, such as Howard Bender, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Dave Cockrum, most of these things are just incredibly ugly and violent. Sadly, I can't imagine them having much impact to a generation of comic readers inured to such things by the bloodthirsty bathtub fantasies of Geoff Johns and Brian Michael Bendis and their ilk, but back when superheroes didn't get their brains blown out on-panel, or kill bad guys by breaking their necks, seeing it happen here was a complete jawdropper. I read and read and reread this story, and, many years later, when I needed a character to suffer a wild laser blast-through-the-chest death in one of the comics that I drew, I swiped Dave Cockrum's depiction of Tyroc's end.

I really like the way that Levitz and Giffen amp up the villains. Both Lightning Lord and Emerald Empress are shown to be incredibly powerful and uncontrollable. The unspoken effect of Lightning Lord's rampage is that Garth is probably every bit as dangerous and has the potential of being lethal to anybody around him, but, aware how anybody could be killed by his electricity, he deliberately reins himself far back.

I also like the way that they chose to depict Durla as an incredibly weird and alien environment. Chameleon Boy really suffered from his My Favorite Martian-era design in my book; real Durlans, about whom more in the next entry, typically choose to look quasi-humanoid in deference to everybody else, when they're really disgusting, slimy messes who live on a disgusting, slimy, messy planet.

There's lots more that I'm going to say - of course - about Colossal Boy and Vi in the next installment, but it is worth noting that the really awesome fight between Gim and Duplicate Boy is one of my favorites. Duplicate Boy is an interesting character. He's a distant supporting player in a different super-team, the Heroes of Lallor, who basically has every super power that you've ever heard of. (Grant Morrison later turned that idea on its head with a character who has every super power that you haven't heard of. As soon as you think of a power, she lost it.) There are always periods in comics where characters are made to be more impressive by being more awesome than everybody else by virtue of all the things they can do; we call these periods those occasions when comics are trying very hard to appeal to ten year-olds. So Duplicate Boy can duplicate all his opponents' powers, and gets to knock Gim all over the Himalayas by being as giant as him, while also as strong as Superboy. There is some great good-natured grumbling dialogue among the Legionnaires sent to break up their lovers' squabble over Vi, because nobody wants to take the kind of beating that Duplicate Boy can lash out, and certainly not for such a dumb reason. I love it.

It's an absolutely terrific run of comics, and has me anxious to see again what happens next.

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