Or – “Hide The Good Silver! It’s The SUBS!!”
Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq! Staq!
Previously, in Action Comics: Geoff Johns forgot Fire Lad’s name, but I’m trying to overlook it… Some months ago, The Justice League and Justice Society found themselves interacting with a group of former teen superheroes from the future, and Superman suddenly remembered that he had been befriended by them years befoman againre. Not long after, the Legion contacted Superman again, indicating that the future needed him, and Kal went into the future with them. Of course, they neglected to mention a few things: Earth’s sun has turned red, a group of Legion rejects have banded together as the Justice League of Earth, and have been capturing Legionnaires to protect their web of lies. The JLE has convinced most of Earth to believe that Superman was a human, and has turned the public against the “aliens” of the Legion. Forced to run from Earth, Superman and his Legion allies escaped to Colu, home of Brainiac 5, for safety.
This issue starts with a comparison in humiliation: the heartbreak of young Clark Kent, being mocked for not playing sports well, and the heartbreak of young Brek Bannin being rejected from the Legion for not being able to control his cold powers. Both young men were completely crushed by the experiences, and Superman realizes what he’s got to do: it’s time to call in the Subs. Wildfire snarks that all the need is MORE rejects, but Brainiac shuts him down with an answer to one of the most pervasive questions of the Silver Age. “You don’t actually believe the “tryout” process was based solely on extranormal abilities, do you?” Wildfire doesn’t get it, until Brainy lets the other shoe drop: Earth-Man (the artist formerly known as Absorbency Boy, last seen being punked out by Tyroc) and his group of JLEarthers were all full of psychotic tendencies, deviant obsessions and all kinda mean, nasty stuff and that’s why they ended up on the Group W Bench.
Brainiac agrees that it’s SUBS time, though he doesn’t agree with their methods. “Hey, Brainy,” says Polar Boy with a smile, “when you’ve never had anything to lose, you can get a bit reckless.” Case in point: back home, as Earth-Man attacks Chameleon Girl (Yera Allon, Colossal Boy’s wife) with stolen lightning, and savagely beats her down, psychotically claiming that Superman should have been rejected from the Legion, that he was nothing more than a pretender! Elsewhere, Tusker and Eyeful Ethel discuss their plan to keep spreading disinformation about Superman, when Ethel suddenly sees something strange approaching… The windows are smashed in by a spacecraft, which then crashes through the satellite headquarters, finally smacking into a post. As it comes to a stop, the inert body of Stone Boy flies through the air (throwing the two-fingers British version of the bird) and crashes into Radiation Roy. The wrecked ship gives up it’s payload, as Fire Lad, Chlorophyll Kid, and Rainbow Girl leap out to attack!
Chlor is angry that the ferns down the hall haven’t been watered for a week as Rainbow Girl kicks in her red aura and smacks the hell out of Eyeful Ethel. The metal-skinned Golden Boy laughs that Chlor is still crazy, and Fire Lad leaps to his friend’s defense, breathing a huge gout of fire… past Golden Boy, missing him entirely. G.B. laughs at his incompetence, but Fire Lad answers through a wall of flame, suddenly serious. “I can’t really aim, to be honest. I’m just trying to get it hot. Like, 1947.52 fahrenheit hot… You DO know what that is, don’t you, you aristocratic ass? That’s the melting temp of GOLD.” Suddenly looking very impressive, Fire Lad (whose real name, as you may have heard is STAQ Mavlen) appears out of the blaze and breathes a gout of superheated breath directly in Golden Boy’s face. That’s… HARDCORE, folks.
While the Subs crack skulls, the other Legionnaires (including Dawnstar, Wildfire, Colossal and Polar Boys) sneak in and split up. Superman is horrified to find his old teammates captured under glass, sealed up like the back issues from which they sprang, to be used as batteries for Absorbency Earth-Man’s powers. Brainiac finds the tablet Earth-Man is using to try and prove that Superman is really a human, and finds that it’s a REAL relic, that somebody from the 21st century PLANTED it there, as if knowing what would happen. Even more distressing, the team discovers how the sun was turned red, as they find their old friend Sun Boy trapped, forced to radiate red radiation. Colossal Boy turns to find his wife approaching, but gets decked hard, and Earth-Man reveals that he’s stolen her powers…
Elsewhere, the Substitute heroes are joined by Polar Boy (“Please don’t embarrass me in front of the Legion. Again.” Heh.) and they quickly make short work of Earth-Man’s JLE, as Superman and Earth-Man continue to clash. In a wonderful bit, Earth-Man tries to choke Kal-El with his own cape, but Superman yanks back, intoning “Don’t. TUG!” Hee… A right cross leaves the powerless Superman with a broken hand, and Earthman laughs as her proceeds to kick the living hell out of big Blue. “Stay down, alien, make it easy on yourself…” mocks the overpowered Earth-Man, and Superman (looking very much like Christopher Reeve) shakes his head. “Life isn’t about making it EASY, Kirt… But someone like you would NEVER understand that.” Suddenly, Superman launches himself forward with his flight ring. “Let’s take this outside,” he snarls, and smashes Earth-Man out of a portal into airless space…
Can I just say “Holy CRAP?” Geoff Johns has crafted a really awesome episode here, with wall-to-wall action, some great moments, and a couple of “OH, HELL YEAH!” spots that really reverberate with me. For Fire Lad to get the badass moment of the issue absolutely rocks, and the battle with a powerless Kal-El versus an ultra-powerful enemy really illuminates what makes the Man of Steel an interesting hero. Gary Frank’s art is interesting, giving us a grown-up Legionj that still strongly evokes the Giffen/Levitz ‘Great Darkness Era’ team, and super-expressive faces whose “acting” really sells the drama. Overall, it’s a fascinating book, an awesome 4 out of 5 star effort from all involved.
But, dammit, it’s STAQ! Ess-Tee-Ay-Kyeeew!!!!