Monday, May 07, 2007

It's Legion of Super-Heroes time, so prepare your suspension of disbelief for a bruising.

Just about anyone who's read Legion of Super-Heroes for any period of time has a favorite Legionaire or two. Whether it's because they've got cool powers (Matter-Eater Lad's powers go so far past stupid they loop around back into awesome.) or a shining moment (Karate Kid's death made Projectra cooler than she had ever been.) or maybe, and probably not just for me, a cool logo. (I doodled Timber Wolf's logo obsessively on my high school notebooks.)

That said, I periodically lose track of the Legion, and not because I don't keep track of the reboots. Well, I keep up a little, but it's like making copies of copies, or having a small child tell you about a movie they haven't seen but their friend saw and they're really enthusiastic about it: every reboot gets a little further away from what I remember. I look at Lightning Lad, and I don't know if he's Livewire or Proty now, or if Validus is still his kid, or what he has to do with a JLA/JSA crossover, and hell, I don't even like Lightning Lad.
Maybe he doesn't want to hang out in a 'clubhouse' that looks about as high-tech as my shed.
Most Legion fans and writers take a grab bag approach to the characters and continuity, trying to keep everything they like or that works, and ditching elements that have become dated, borderline offensive, or plain goddamn stupid. The trouble is, some of the stupid was pretty entertaining. Case in point: "The Lone Wolf Legionnaire!" Written by Ed Hamilton, art by John Forte. Originally presented in Adventure Comics #327.

The story opens with a prisoner arriving on a distant, prison planet and lamenting his failure: he joined the Legion of Super Heroes in order to sabotage their emergency board, to further some evil plot. Gah, that seems like more work than it's worth: develop super powers, as a teenager, since the Legion charter at the time forbid oldsters. Monkey with emergency board that looks like a bunch of TV's with lights and planets' names under them. Somehow commit or help crime so great it's worth this investment in time and effort. I see overthinking things is still a problem in the 30th Century. Like I should talk.

Actually, if you think I've overthought this panel, the annotations in the back of the reprint digest wonder who the hell Mystery Fake Legionnaire was (so does Wikipedia), and if the prison planet was Takron-Galtros, a recurring setting later in the series' run. This is why the Legion is both really engrossing and often impenetrable.

Moving that we've established the emergency board, we see a bunch of Legionnaires watching and waiting for disasters. One planet sends a call that their moon exploded, and Superboy and Mon-El fly off to take care of it, which gets them out of this story. Any mission that doesn't involve flaming chunks of suborbital wreckage is probably going to be disappointing now, and Ultra Boy and Lightning Lad get sent to investigate the theft of 'treasured space crystals' on the planet Zoon. It sounds like someone knocked over the new age store, but the officer swears it was by someone with superhuman powers.

Five minutes after they leave, the officer calls back with another big theft. Meanwhile on Earth, the Interplanetary Circus is featuring creatures too dangerous for display, which sounds like a good selling point to me. Brainiac 5 and Light Lass go to investigate...yeah, they seem well-equipped to deal with wild alien animals. Light Lass in particular, since she could make things less heavy or even weightless, and that was a power that should have been more interesting than it was made out to be in these old stories.
I would've thought an orange-and-purple outfit would be a good indicator that you wanted to be alone, really.
One of the 'unknown' animals turns out to be a "Morvennian fear-beast," which someone probably should've guessed since they found it on Morven. I mean, duh. Light Lass makes it light so Brainiac 5 can pick up the cage and get it out of there, but the other animals panic and stampede. A young man in a costume swings down on the acrobat's rope (OK...), grabs a spotlight (it's the 30th Century, you shouldn't have to plug things in anymore), and swings shining the spotlight in the animals' eyes to stop the stampede (really?).

The man introduces himself as Karth Arn, then turns to leave. Light Lass is already into him, and just about offers him Legion membership, and herself, on the spot. Slow your roll, girl! Karth points out the lone wolf logo on his chest means he wants no part of any organization. Hey, kids who don't want to be part of society or have jobs have those logos today, too: they're called facial piercings.

Light Lass blurts out the Legion is shorthanded and totally hiring and there were robberies on Zoon and what are you doing later. Seems, ah, a bit desperate there, but all right. L-Wolf perks up at mention of the robberies, but still refuses to join up. Brainiac 5 wonders if he could be involved, and sure enough, Karth flew straight to Zoon. (Interplanetary travel in the old LOSH stories was easier than me driving across town. Ah, how far we've come.)

Brainy, Sun Boy, and Light Lass head out for Zoon; as Ultra Boy and Lightning Lad watch the security tape of the robberies. (That should be well worth travelling light years out from earth.) They see the burglar wasn't wearing gloves when he tore a steel door off its hinges. Ultra Boy uses his pentra-vision to check for fingerprints, but finds blank handprints. All right, so you're looking for a perp with no fingerprints. Well, that has to narrow it down some.
Hey, that's just what the paramedic did when I was hurt! And he had Light Lass' hairdo!
Meanwhile, the other Legionnaires' cruiser has caught up with Lone Wolf's ship, and try to get him to pull over, even though they aren't strictly cops, and there's no probable cause. This is what happens if you don't defend your rights in the here and now, kids. But Lone Wolf sees a 'blue force,' recognizes it as dangerous, and pulls out of it. The Legion cruiser is pulled in, and about to be sucked into another dimension. Lone Wolf won't abandon his pursuers, especially since Light Lass may be on that ship, so he rams the cruiser with his own. It works, but both wrecked ships crash.

The guys knocked out, Light Lass goes to the unconscious Lone Wolf, kissing him on the cheek. Waking up, he tells her to stay away from him, since he wasn't human at all. (Cue soap opera dramatic musical flourish, and...commercial.)

Re-reading this, I was thinking of Adam Warren's comics (specifically Dirty Pair and Titans: Scissors, Paper, Stone, both of which are great) and post-human theory; his premise being by the year 2500 or 2960 or whatever future date you want to set your story in; baseline humanity will be more or less extinct and everyone will have some level of augmentation or superpower, and the Legion stories seem like a precursor to that. Off the top of my head, I can think of maybe three unpowered human characters in the Legion mythos, two of which were Science Police and doubtless armed to the teeth with crazy crap, and Rond Vidar, who was hiding a Green Lantern ring (somewhere...) and had a dad that was a hypnotist super-villain.

Lone Wolf's origin continues next time, with "The Youth who Wasn't Human!" Things get emo. Robots revolt. And Light Lass uses her powers, by which I mean she cries and acts like a girl.


Michael said...

The guy who got sent to Takron-Galtos for joining the Legion under false pretenses has been unofficially known as "False Pretenses Lad" in Legion fandom.

Anonymous said...

Hey, what about karate kid? Does he have non karate powers? Is my life based on a lie?

Or is it just that he joins in a later run.

laurentius rex said...

I have just come across this page, the lone wolf stuff, well when that first came out I was 9 years old.

It looks daft now, as do all the comic books, but to a nine year old that story said something about me.

I was called a lone wolf at school. It turns out now that I had Asperger's syndrome, but I really identified with that character and his difference then, prophetic really.

What about the giant caterpillars in the Cave then, got a picture of them? I have long since lost my comic books.