Tuesday, December 25, 2012

LSH Reread, part nine

(Covering Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 2 # 324-325, vol. 3 # 13-16, and Annual # 1, 1985)

Major developments:

*The Kryptonian Dev-Em is captured and cloned by the Dark Circle. It is revealed that their entire region of space is populated by clones of five people.
*Officer Gigi Cusimano's short fling with Sun Boy has become both fodder for the gossip columnists and not entirely good-natured putdowns from Chief Zendak. It looks like she's taking up with Dev-Em after the Dark Circle's threat is nullified.
*Timber Wolf, along with Karate Kid's sensei, arrives on the sadistic planet Lythyl to fulfill his old friend's last request: to literally plant a seed in the planet which will eventually lead to the downfall of the corruption that runs it.
*Violet comes on strong to Sun Boy. Nobody in the galaxy predicted this. They later attend Graym's christening as a couple. Vi gives Yera a totally uncalled-for stinkeye before the service.
*Five new Legionnaires are inducted: Magnetic Kid (Cosmic Boy's younger brother), longtime Substitute Hero Polar Boy, the non-humanoids Tellus and Quislet, and the mysterious Sensor Girl, whose identity is unrevealed but comes with a strong recommendation from Saturn Girl.
*The five new members are immediately abducted in a trap by Dr. Regulus in another bid for revenge against Sun Boy.
*Following an attempt on Laurel Kent's life, the team discovers an unusual conspiracy. Kent, a student at the team's training academy, is a descendant of Superman. Brainiac 5 notes similar recent attempts, some successful, to kill the descendants of 20th Century heroes, including the Flash and Hawkman, and deduces that one of the Justice League's old enemies has been waiting in cryo-sleep for ten centuries and sending robots to periodically attack the families of the old heroes.
*Speaking of the 20th Century, Brainiac 5 mourns the 1000-year anniversary of Supergirl's death. He'd been crushing on her for years, of course, but it wasn't until her death in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths # 7 that month that readers learned what he'd always known: the time of her inevitable death.

Some background scientist observes that Brainiac 5 mourning his longtime crush, Supergirl, makes as much sense as grieving over the death of Helen of Troy. She's not quite right, but it's an interesting observation. In one sense, this is the point where LSH starts to take an inevitable slide, trapped as it is by the ironclad rule of DC Universe continuity. This is a shame, because here's a great run of comics, with the anchor point being the arrival of five new Legionnaires, the most to join the team at one time in... maybe ever?

Paul Levitz is going to spend the next few years trying to figure out what to do with Magnetic Kid, who is Cosmic Boy's younger brother. Polar Boy is an interesting case. When he and the rest of the original Substitute Heroes were devised, his snow-and-ice power was made to seem silly and useless. Then Jack Kirby and Stan Lee came along, invented Iceman of the Uncanny X-Men, and made those powers practical. So everybody kind of had to admit that there was no reason for him to have been relegated to the Subs.

The team gets its first two non-humanoid-shaped members with Quislet, a small energy being who zips around in a baseball-sized "spaceship," and Tellus, a big, lumbering, telepathic whale-walrus dude whose real name, magically, is Ganglios. Tellus is his(?) superhero name. And then there's Sensor Girl.

Some of this requires a little bit of hand-waving, what with all the Science Police / EarthGov / United Planets security clearance and everything, but while the active Legionnaires are considering whom to induct among all their applicants, Saturn Girl steps in and asks everybody to do her a favor. Vote in this mystery chick with blonde hair and a mask and what is, while very much a 1980s costume - measure her shoulder pads sometime - one of the absolute best superhero costumes ever. Whoever she is, she looks awesome. Decades later, once the continuity was kind of reset to sort of shortly after the end of volume three and this Legion was revived, some artist, Yildray Cinar, maybe, decided to redesign this classic costume and created instead the ugliest eyesore in comics. It was a shame. No, Sensor Girl, properly dressed in big shoulder pads, gloves, boots, cape and full-faced mask, her powers unexplained and her origins a deliberate mystery, is an absolute classic character. The next several months of people trying to figure out who the heck she is and what her powers actually are... this is a tremendously good subplot, and all kinds of fun.

But the Supergirl tragedy helps feed into this mystery. In time, Brainiac 5 will start to wonder whether the girl he loved has somehow escaped her death and is hiding out in the 30th Century. What really happened is much more mundane and real-world and will, in time, have huge ramifications for the title.

I kind of doubt anybody reading this doesn't know this already, but basically, in the mid-1980s, some very boring person at DC Comics concluded that their funnybooks were too confusing and too full of parallel universes and they should start over, if not from scratch, then close enough to it. They'd discard decades of baggage and unpopular continuity and make some big changes that should probably never have been changed, inspiring a few breath-holding child readers who would, one day, grow up to write comics, to swear that one day, if they ever had the chance, they would, in turn, "fix" all these unpopular and unnecessary "fixes" that DC was inflicting upon its characters and stories. One of these "fixes" was getting rid of Supergirl.

The Girl of Steel had first been devised in the 1950s, and despite a very troubled publishing history, she had been a huge success in merchandising and toy sales, and even had a 1984 feature film do some small business. But in the new "fix," Superman would truly be the last son of Krypton; its only survivor. He'd have no cousins, and no Bottle City of Kandor with a million shrunken Kryptonians living in his Fortress of Solitude. Supergirl had to go, leaving a dozen writers, as talented and as far afield as Peter David and Evan Dorkin, spending the last thirty years coming up with new versions of the character to keep the trademark alive and selling T-shirts while not letting Superman have any girl cousins. For a few years, there was a Supergirl in a white T-shirt, and for a few years, there was a purple blob who shapeshifted into the trademarked look, and for a few years, there was a Supergirl with firey angel wings, and, of course, all that anybody remembers is that "Supergirl is Superman's cousin."

But it's one thing to have Brainiac 5 mourn the girlfriend he never could really have on the thousandth anniversary of her death at the hands of the evil Anti-Monitor. It's about to be quite another to have him mourn somebody who... never existed?

The breath-holding children who write comics for DC today and seem to want everything to be like it was in the late '70s and early '80s, only, you know, more violent and bloodthirsty and unreadable, will sadly be shown, as this Reread unfolds, to have something of a point.

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