RETRO REVIEW: All-New Collectors Edition #C-55 – The Legion of Super-Heroes (1978)

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Or – “As The Creative Team Called It, ‘That Damn Legion Tabloid’…”

This is it, Spoileroholics…  The Holy Grail of my Legion collection.  The first Legion of Super-Heroes issue I ever read, the one that started a lifelong obsession with Legion and with continuity.  Miraculously, I got it on an internet auction site for COVER PRICE (plus shipping, of course) and it’s actually one of those rare experiences that is still as entertaining now as it was then.  In 1978, the Legion was in the midst of a renaissance, with new members, a new title (taking over ‘Superboy’ and eventually ousting him from his own book) and a new relevance.  They were also in the midst of their most nekkid period ever, as evidenced by Saturn Girl’s pink pleather bikini and Cosmic Boy’s little maillot with uncovered legs.  This issue also marks a milestone, in that founding members Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are going to be married, and you know that superhero weddings ALWAYS go off without a hitch, right?

In the 70′s DC and Marvel experimented with the “Tabloid-Sized” issue, a comic book roughly twice normal size, with the WIDTH of the book roughly equivalent to the height of a normal comic, and the whole package nearly 20 inches tall.  One of the negatives of the giant-size books was the need for extra material to fill them up, be it reprints or other features, and this one comes with a built-in history of the Legion and profiles on every member to date.  For those of you who don’t know, it started simple:  Renee Jacques Brande, notable philanthropist and richest man alive became the target of an assassination attempt.  He was saved through the efforts of Magnoball champion Rokk Krinn of planet Braal, lightning caster Garth Ranzz of Winath, and a young telepath from Titan named Imra Ardeen.

These three became the founders and core of Brande’s pet project, a group of heroes to carry on the legacy of Superboy that Kryptonian boy from Kansas.  A noted history buff and collector, Brande enlists other young heroes, until the team stands over 20 strong, including the very self-same hayseed himself.  Per Major Spoilers tradition, the youthful lad known as Kal-El shall be referred to as Tom Welling, and we start our story with Tom flying forward through the timestream (the sliding scale of DC’s timeline means that he’s coming from approximately 1958 in this issue.)  As is the wont of comic characters in the ’70′s, he thinks in expository dialogue for about a year and a half before the story proper starts.

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The rather stormtroopery Science Police troops immediately get up in Tom Welling’s grille, and insist that he give the code-phrase.  When he can’t pony up the password (hint: It’s swordfish.) they OPEN FIRE on the last son of Krypton.  Bad idea, as Tom just melts their weapons with heat vision, folds their platform in two, and welds it shut with another laser blast from his eyes.  Before he can catch the falling cops, though, the platform is caught by a Legion trio of Cosmic, Sun, and Star Boys.  Sounds like a freaky N’Sync revival, doesn’t it?  The assembled lads want to know why T.W. is acting (from their perspective) like a freak.  They talk about the need for security, and Welling-boy doesn’t understand, saying that the Dark Circle hasn’t been a problem in months, but Sun Boy is more concerned with attacks from Mars, Venus, or the moon.  (Since WHEN are their people on Mars, Venus, or the moon?)  As if to punctuate his point, the mooninites suddenly attack, only to be swiftly routed by the assembled ‘Boys.  After the battleship is routed, Cosmic Boy pawns the seemingly-crazy Tom Welling off on Princess Projectra who doesn’t understand why he is surprised to see such militant behavior.

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From her perspective, though, it’s ALWAYS been this way, and she doesn’t get how Tom doesn’t remember all of this.  Unusually for a superhero wedding, it actually takes place almost immediately, and does go off nearly without a hitch.  This moment is pretty awesome, as all the Legionnaires, the substitute Legion, R.J. Brande (and also the writer and artist) stand up to witness the wedding of the founding Legionnaires.

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You gotta love the giant elephant bell-bottom pants and shirts open to the navel.   As the happy couple escapes, it’s time for another attack by the lunarites, but this time it’s a direct attack, downing Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl’s ship.  Wildfire orders all the Legionnaires into the air to down the incoming armada and recover the wedding party, but Tom Welling isn’t sure.  He believes that this attack is just a symptom of the REAL problem, and that the team needs to go back in time and unsnarl the temporal loop.

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In a weird twist, Wildfire (the current Legion leader) allows part of his force to follow Superboy, and takes the rest of the team into space.  Light Lass implores that “those of you with souls” go with her to save her brother and his wife.  On the moon, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are brought before the emperor of the moon (who looks remarkably like a space-age Mongol warrior, down to the bright yellow comic-book color that used to represent Asian skin) who threatens them, and then strikes at Imra.  This is the textbook definition of bad idea, as Garth fires up the lightning and blasts him within an inch of his life.  The Legionnaires may be in 30th century tuxedo and gown, but they’re still Legionnaires, and they break free, stealing a lunar fighter and going on the run.  When the fleet follows, the twosome outmaneuver them in a brilliant display of piloting by Lightning Lad…

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The Legionnaires fight off a horde of battle cruisers trying find Garth and Imra, but to no avail.  For every ship they destroy, two more take to the air, and even Dawnstar’s tracking powers can’t locate them.  As their air starts to run out, Garth makes a fateful decision, firing up his lightning in preparation to annihilate himself and his bride in a painless explosion…  when suddenly Phantom Girl ghosts through the wall, announcing the arrival of the cavalry.  The team quickly brings their lost sheep back on board, and Cosmic Boy explains the miracle behind their retrieval…

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Uh oh…  Wildfire is one of the few people who actually has smoke pour out his ears when angry, and a living nuclear fusion reactor is not somebody that I’d ever want to annoy.  Meanwhile, 1000 years ago for them, (29 years ago for us) the rest of the team arrives in New York, to find out what happened to upset the apple cart:  The United Nations broke up, causing Earth to become an isolationist state, and creating the eventual backlash situation that made the war-torn world the Tom Welling knows is wrong.

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Brainiac quickly makes team assignments, splitting Mon-El, Shadow Lass and himself into one team, and Princess Projectra, Karate Kid and Sun Boy into another.  Tom starts to argue, but Brainiac rightfully points out that by DC Pre-Crisis time-travelling rules, two Clark Kent’s can’t coexist at the same point in time.  As the U.N. breaks up, the Legion identifies the man responsible, but even Mon’s x-ray vision can’t penetrate the mystery man’s disguise.  As he runs, Karate Kid, Projectra and Sun Boy chase him down in a Chrysler (thankfully, KK has been to the past before, and knows how to drive), but they’re thrown off the trail and smash into a pole.  Their trusty flight rings kept them from, y’know, DYING, but the bad guy got away…  seemingly.  Luckily, Mr. Welling is following invisibly in the hidden timesphere, and brings the Legion down on the mysterious man’s head, but he has defenses well beyond 1978 technology.

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Notice that Karate Kid just chopped his way through TWO SOLID INTERTRON cables with his bare freakin’ hands, folks.  The villain stands revealed as long-time Legion foe the Time Trapper (ironically post-Crisis, revealed to be a Legionnaire himself) who escapes back into the timestream himself.  And here we see, by the way, why the future team has so many problems:  too much freakin’ time warping!  It’s just a jump to the left, after all.  Once they return home, Wildfire and Tom Welling are at each other’s throats over who is correct, before Saturn Girl steps in and tells them that they’re BOTH being buttheads.  Dream Girl manages to have a narcoleptic prophecy that tells her where Time Trapper is (hint:  rhymes with “The Pend of the Schmuniverse”) and the team reunites in the name of kicking the tuchas of the man in the maroon bedsheet.  Shrinking Violet and Phantom Girl infiltrate the Trapper’s citadel, but their horrible scream are immediately heard.  The rest of the team crashes through to save them.  The Trapper’s devices catch the entire team, and he takes a moment to unmask for the first time EVER, and gloat about his victory…

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 He’s a Controller!  Trust me, in 1978, this was something that was a little shocking.  He unveils his secret weapon:  The Miracle Machine!  It’s like a Legion history lesson all over the place (note even the flashback to Ferro Lad’s sacrifice) as the Trapper turns his considerable mental energies to making the machine annihilate the Legion from ever having existed.  Unfortunately, Tom Welling has a few ideas of his own, and shockingly for a teenage boy from Smallville, has a bit of a potty mouth.

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I’m trying to remember EVER having heard Superman say “damn” and I’m drawing a blank, Pre-Crisis at least.  The Legion’s combined willpower (and I’d like to point out that Karate Kid is there, as well as Projectra and Colossal Boy whose powers are triggered by their own force of will) turns back the power, and suddenly they’re all sucked through a time portal back to 2978.  Time is no longer broken (for at least seven or eight years or so) and the team is sent back home in triumph.  And since this is the Legion, and they were all strong-minded kids of good morals, Wildfire and Tom shake and restore good will.

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Those balloons don’t make much sense in the order they’re running, but if you read the one on the left last (which, in the original art actually appears twice) then the conversation makes sense.  The team is left where they truly belong, in the shiny, happy future world devoid of conflict except from all the crazy supervillain psychos wearing towels, bedsheets, and lots and lots of epaulets.  The book follows up with a brief history of the Legion, and a profile of every member to date.  I’ve previously mocked Tyroc, the Legion’s first black member, and with good reason.  In 1973, after almost twenty years with no black skins appearing (though green, blue, orange and purple abounded), it was discovered why: ALL THE BLACK PEOPLE MOVED TO ONE ISLAND, which then phased out of reality.  BuhAMINAH?  Are you freakin’ kidding me?  This was the early SEVENTIES, not 1955, too!  But in any case, much like Brigadoon, Marzal Island phased in and out of reality periodically, and when it popped back, the Legion got integrated in the 1970′s sense.  What did this mighty warrior look like?

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Sort of like Jim Brown, Peter Pan, and Elvis each donated some of their DNA to a woman who may or may not have been very lucky, indeed.  In any case, Tyroc’s appearances were sporadic (he appeared three times in this issue, each time just standing there looking on) and he and his island eventually disappeared from reality again.  Tyroc (real name Troy Stewart) didn’t have any role in the Legion to speak of until the Five Years Later stories, where he not only became a stronger Legionnaire, he became President of the Earth.  Not bad for a guy with little jingly chains on his jerkin.  When I first read this book, I was drawn in by the sheer scale of it all:  25 heroes, 1000 years worth of story, time-travel, tons of ties to history that I never even knew existed.  The panel that really hooked me?

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The Legion had consequences in a way that most super-teams did not.  Maybe it was their future oeuvre, or maybe just the huge number of heroes, but Legionnaires honest-and-for-true DIED in the line of duty.  These days, literally nobody stays dead, but back in the day, Ferro Lad, Invisible Kid, and Chemical King gave their lives in heroism, and actually stayed that way until some bozo revamped the entire Legion after Zero Hour, but if I were to list the bad ideas that launched out of Zero Hour, I’d be here all day.  Let me instead list what Zero Hour did right:

Jack Knight.

That is all.

This book is HUGE, filled to the brim with two and a half decades of wild ideas taken to extremes you can never get away with in the “real world” of the DC Universe, and it’s all the better for it.  You may be intimidated by the Legion’s years of continuity, you may be annoyed at Matter-Eater Lad or Triplicate Girl being equals to Mon-El and Ultra Boy, you may even hate the deification of Tom Welling, but it’s a concept that has lasted for decades, and it makes a very simple point:  Everyone has something to contribute, everyone is important, and even if you’re just a guy who can chew on metal, you can be an honest-to-Klordny superhero.  How could I give a concept like that anything less than 5 Flight Rings out of 5?  The only thing that would have made this better would be Blok (still a year and a half from membership at this point).  Long live the Legion!

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