Darkseid Is

Today’s post is a coda to the Great Darkness saga in Legion of Super-Heroes: one of DC’s best-selling comics in the early 80s. In previous posts, we saw the god of evil enslave a whole race of super-men to assault the galaxy. Two dozen Legionnaires and their allies were pitted against the might of Jack Kirby’s arch-villain.

The final section of the deluxe edition of the trade collection is comprised of two more issues.

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The Origin of the Universe File:  Howard Bender pastiches Curt Swan in a flashback tale that picks up on a reference in the first annual. The story attempts to explain why there are no Green Lanterns on Earth: Universo, the Legion’s hypnotist foe, is a Lantern gone rogue.

In the Legion’s present day, it seems Darkseid’s curse is coming to fruition as Light Lass quits. The story also introduces Circadia Senius, an insect time travel expert who will continue to appear even in the New 52.

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What Do You Do on the Day After Doomsday?: the Legion experiences tragedy as Cosmic Boy’s family become victims of an arson attack.  This plotline will lead to the introduction of Magnetic Kid, Cosmic Boy’s kid brother.

Other plotlines in this issue focus on the developing romance of Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet , the cure for Matter-Eater Lad and the loss of Chameleon Boy’s powers. Sun Boy’s characterisation as a womaniser will begin here – and end in his betrayal of the Legion’s values in the 5YL series. Horribly, his daddy issues will subsequently lead to disfigurement and insanity. (Depressingly, perhaps worse  was yet to come in the New 52)

Giffen  designs a sexy new outfit for Projectra and dresses Shadow Lass in her new Perez costume for an ominous visit to the Science Asteroid ( as per the cover of Adventure 354- but it all works out happily in the end). That institution’s security chief , Queeg, is an octopoid creature and perhaps a product of the design process that  created Brotlbex the Senses-Stealer. This was a totally alien Legionnaire proposed by Giffen and one which looked like a slimy sea cucumber . 

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Queeg is more recognisable as a sentient being than Brotlbex but non-humanoid Legionnaires Quislet and Tellus are a couple of years away.

In a few issues time. Levitz would return to the Adult Legion story in LSH 300 and find a way to unshackle the series from it. Funnily enough, I never felt it was that much of a burden but that’s probably because it’s still such a favourite of mine.

Having rehabilitated and  elevated  Darkseid, Levitz’s storylines for the master of Apokolips continued in two Legion annuals focusing on his curse :

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It transpires that the rampaging, lightning-generating behemoth Validus is the son of Garth and Imra, snatched into time and mutated by Darkseid. Although parents and child are ultimately reunited and the baby restored to normality, the 5YL series revealed that Darkseid couldn’t be bargained with and the child Garridan was secretly a plague carrier.

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This was yet another instance of the phenomenally ” Unlucky Streak” experienced by Lightning Lad – but his biggest secret was still to be unearthed…

The complexity and history of the Legion’s fantasy world  blended with the soap opera elements, the bizarre humour and the visual inventiveness of its creators seem to me to be the key elements in its success. Later this year I hope to explore quite why lightning didn’t strike again in the New 52.

 Still to come: more Bicentennial issue of Batman Family.

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Master and Servant

Anticipating some hits with that title but this is actually the third post on 1982’s Great Darkness Saga starring the Legion of Super-Heroes!

I’ve written previously about reading the first installment on my first visit to London in the summer of 1982, along with the second part of the Brother Blood/New Teen Titans story.

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In fact, I read the second and third parts first in Glasgow’s Virgin Megastore. Crazy comics scheduling in the early 80s.

I feel I have to add that I’d worked out who the Master was from his astro-harness -wearing servant and I’m sure many Kirby fans would have done the same.

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And the Servant Shall Be a Sign : Superboy returns. I-Kid gets a uniform- coloured white in the original and swapped with yellow in the TPB.  The LSH encounters the first of the Servants at the Tower of London. Cameos by Dr. Strange (oh, all right “Antonio Stefanacci” ) and a tour guide descended from Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen.

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A Sign of Darkness Dawning:  Legion archfoes Mordru and the Time Trapper are attacked by the master. After meeting the servants,  I-Kid gets a skunk -stripe in his hair  a  la Pepe Le Pew and we meet the New White Witch. Formerly a slinky redhead, Dream Girl’s sister Mysa was formerly described as the Adult Legion’s “buddy”. She hasn’t been seen since the late 60s and returns here as a fairy-like figure.

Leaders and Lovers: originally a vignette by Howard Bender, this sequence was redrawn in Giffen’s “Munoz” style for the 1989 tpb. The three Legion founders fight the Servants and Lightning Lad recovers from his collapse. Dream Girl has been elected leader, which seems to be part of the general consciousness-raising among  the female Legionnaires.

Darkness Transcendent: Cham is sent to jail after the secret Khund mission and the LSH battles the Servants on the Sorcerors World. Mysa’s Teachers are all highly- stylised elemental beings. A mysterious infant materialises during the conflict.

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Within the Darkness : the master is revealed as Darkseid who was last seen the 1980 JlA/JSA/New Gods trilogy drawn by Perez.  Having boosted his powers through magic in the last few issues, Darkseid transposes Apokolips and Daxam, a planet whose inhabitants have Kryptonian powers under Apokolips’ yellow sun. Reshaping their planet to resemble their master’s stony face, they go on the rampage.  Bouncing Boy, Duo Damsel , Karate Kid (both in new Giffen costumes)  and Projectra rally to the team’s side.

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Darkseid: LSH allies Supergirl, the Subs, the Heroes of Lallor, the Wanderers and Dev-Em, the former Knave from Krypton ramp up the nostalgia factor. Quantum Queen , a doomed Adult Legionnaire not even glimpsed since the early 70s , is depicted as an abstract energy being.

A destructive Daxamite child called Ol-Vir wrecks the prison planet ; we’ll see more of this character in the future. White Witch demonstrates the extent of her magic but Darkseid plays on the deepest fears of the Legionnaires. Giffen includes  a cheeky and amusing  swipe from  Michelangelo.

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The mysterious infant is revealed as Highfather who restores Orion. Superboy and Supergirl add their might and Darkseid is defeated but he puts a curse on the Legion…

By enslaving an entire super-race, Darkseid really comes of age with this storyline as a premiere comics villain. He attains the status of the Joker, Luthor and Marvel’s Magneto, Dr. Doom and the Green Goblin . The story that probably cements that status is X-Men /New Teen Titans in September 1982.

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From there, it’s Byrne’s Legends and Superman in the mid-80s that lead to Darkseid’s role in  the Superman animated series and as the threat in the final series of Smallville. Such is his significance, he also became the prime threat for the New 52 Justice League.

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The power of Kirby’s Fourth World which, of course, stuttered to a halt in the early 70s, is vindicated here. I think. Orion returns to his original design and the characters really have mythical proportions by dint of appearing 1,000 years in the future.

As for the Levitz/ Giffen collaboration, there are multiple sub-plots and the story resembles present-day decompressed scripts. However, the inventiveness of Giffen’s imagery disguises this with its blend of Kirby and Starlin influences, peppered with tiny, often humorous cameos. My only complaint would be that the  brunette men- Ultra Boy, Karate Kid and Timber Wolf  – all tend to look alike. What struck me most, re-reading the storyline in the new edition was how good it felt to see the cousins from Krypton back in the Legion- and how Byrne’s Man of Steel handicapped the team.

The next post will look at the aftermath of the storyline then we’ll return to the Batman Family. After that, look for the Legion of Super-Villains and (possibly) Wonder Woman…

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Shanghaied in Space

I’ve come in from the sweltering summer heat to continue this series of posts on the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Great Darkness Saga of 1982. Last time, we interrupted the most recent printing of the trade paperback collection for a LSH Digest which update the look of the Legion. Now we’re going to pick up where we left off…

Save the Suicide Squad: Giffen takes over the lead feature and the Legionnaires emblems (in most cases) become the icons for the Mission Monitor Board. In a time when computer games are in their infancy, this is an appealing take on the old Legion Roll Call.

The Legion Espionage Squad infilitrate the Khund world under the impulsive leadership of Chameleon Boy. Escaping from the brutal Challenge Courts ( a series of gladiatorial arenas), they end up shipwrecked on an asteroid.

Having their vessel destroyed and struggling to survive reminds me of the X-Men’s misadventures under Claremont and Byrne. While it requires suspension of disbelief that their powers don’t really help, it is a dramatic scenario and perhaps is intended to remind us of the Legion’s last adventure in Adventure:

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Prologue to Darkness: Broderick’s last strip for a while is also a teaser for the upcoming epic. Mon-El and Shadow Lass ( more demure and wilting than her modern incarnation) discover a dismal, booby-trapped  planet and wake its sole, shadowy inhabitant.

Broderick’s figures are larger and more heroic than Giffen’s. His artwork is less cluttered but also somewhat less inventive and humorous.

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The Legionnaire’s Made for Burning:  Karate Kid and Princess Projectra are joined by a group of their team mates and overthrow the usurper Pharoxx. Jeckie is crowned queen in this ornate sword-and-sorcery story.

Draem Girl is again a major player; Chamelon Boy’s transformations have become more alien and bizarre; Timber Wolf and Saturn Girl debut their George Perez costumes. The look of the comic recalls a blend of Kirby and Ditko and is both eye-catching and self-assured. This is  no longer an interchangeable Avengers-lite comic.

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A Cold and Lonely Corner of Hell:  While Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet become closer, there is the hint of a dalliance between Saturn Girl and Timber Wolf- and then the stranded Legionnaires are rescued. This subplot triggers the transformation of Light Lass into a more assertive character. As I say, some of the female Legionnaires are still playing out Lee/Kirby “Use- power- then -faint” scenarios. Chris Claremont’s strong ( if not strident) females will have an impact on this kind of characterisation.

Once Upon an Insanity: Carmine Infantino returns to illustrate an episode which picks up the Matter-Eater Lad subplot. In Jim Starlin’s Omega storyline, ME-Lad thwarted the plans of an insane Brainiac 5 by eating the Miracle Machine, the wish-granting gift of the extra-dimensional Controllers. However, the process caused the comic-relief Legionnaire to lose his mind too.

Infantino designs a humorous multi-limbed alien as the  “mad doctor” villain in this short.

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Monster in a Little Girl’s Mind: Brainiac 5 uses some of the surgical procedures developed to help ME-Lad on a sick child. She is subsequently possessed by Computo, formerly a wacky killer robot from Sixties issues of Adventure.

In this high-tech homage to The Exorcist, the girl’s brother becomes the new Invisible Kid and the second black Legionnaire.

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The first black Legionnaire, the infamous Tyroc, had been written out of the series in 1980.  He was considered a well-intentioned but clumsy ghetto stereotype with obscure powers ( his screams generated magical effects , not unlike the Scarlet Witch). Invisible Kid is a French-speaking African but his low self-esteem is overplayed through the Levitz era and doesn’t really make him much of a role model. However at least seven more black members will subsequently join the Legion.

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Shavughn Erin, a Science Policewoman who first appeared in 1978’s Earthwar serial, is appointed Liaison Officer. She will become Element Lad’s romantic interest and later retconned as a transexual in 1992, in an attempt to canonise fan speculation about Element Lad’s sexuality.

This issue was the first Legion Annual- one of several annuals  in 1982, another “new” format introduced by Dick Giordano. The 2-page Legion HQ diagram was a novelty in those days before Who’s Who and The Marvel Handbook measured and categorised everything. This type of feature is, I think, another part of the Legion’s appeal.

Other bits of Legionnaire business: Cosmic Boy is wearing his more sedate Perez costume and Star Boy has grown a beard. He’s not the last Legionnaire to sport facial hair but as the first, it’s a signifier that some Legionnnaires are no longer kids. There is a one-panel cameo for the Legion of Subsitute Heroes and a statue of Reflecto has been erected, as per the cover of Adventure 354.

This was a terribly exciting comic at the time: new Legionnnaires were a relative rarity, although I-Kid was really a new incarnation of an older character. Giffen’s  panels are tiny and crowded but there’s so much going on: a confident and complex blend of 80s imagery and much of the Legion’s often goofy heritage.

In the next post, we’ll look at the six installments of the Great Darkness Saga proper from the summer of 1982

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Digest-ible

 Today’s post functions as an insert in the Great Darkness Saga.

There had previously been two Legion of Super-Hero digests in the early 80s. The first reprinted the debut of the Fatal Five in the “Death of Ferro Lad” 2-parter and the first appearance of the hypnotist Universo.

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Wonderful Nick cardy cover

The second reprinted the sequel to the Sun-Eater/Fatal Five adventure which introduced Shadow Lass and the Dark Circle story which gave details of Karate Kid’s background and revealed the new Legion HQ. In addition, Dave Cockrum’s vital depiction of “The Fatal Five Who Twisted Time” rounded out the tiny comic.

The third LSH digest ( May 1982) promised a new story and new costumes- signalling a new era for the team as part of a renaissance at DC. Ironically, this rebirth coincided with not only the British Invasion of writers and artists but the exodus of Marvel creators from the regime of Legion alumnus, Jim Shooter.

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Like the previous digests, I got this one by mail order, since they weren’t carried by any of my local shops.

Murder in Glass: this is a framing sequence for a two-parter from Adventure.  Where Steve Ditko’s surreal cartooning seemed almost too humorous for the modern Legion, the airy futurism of Carmine Infantino seems more suited.

Partly to lay to rest rumours of a governmental feud, President Marte Allon honours the four Terran legionnaires: Sun Boy,Karate Kid, Wildfire and her son Colossal Boy. However she is turned to glass in a re-enactment of…

The Colossal Failure: in this Shooter/Swan story, Colossal Boy is blackmailed for details of the LSH Academy, its training programme. Ordered to retrain after making mistakes in action, Gim encounters Chemical King, whose death was foreshadowed in Adventure 354. The plot is uncovered by Bouncing Boy and Colossal Boy is expelled for espionage and treason. The last expulsion was when Star Boy killed in self-defence- these military-style storylines are rare among Marvel teams.

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Rare cover appearance of TW in his Lone Wolf costume. Cover by Neal Adams

School For Super-Villians: Shrinking Violet follows the trail of the blackmailers to a duplicate training centre. This is the origin of the Legion of Super-Villains, organised by Tarik the Mute: a crook with a telepathic android which speaks for him.

Chemical King and Timber Wolf ( formerly Lone Wolf) infiltrate the enemy camp with Chameleon Boy and a disguised Superboy. The trainees are awarded full membership ( as foretold in the Adult Legion story) and Colossal Boy is exonerated. We get glimpses of Lightning Lord; LSH traitor Nemesis Kid; Spider Girl; Radiation Roy and paper-thin flat man Ronn Kar who will all return later in the 80s.

Murder in Glass (conclusion) we learn Tarik the Mute died of a heart attack but his telepathic android is carrying out a vengeance scheme. There’s a tocuhing mother/son reunion at the end of the story.

Meet the Legion: after the revolutionary re-designs by Cockrum in the early 70s, the 16 pages of new costumes heralded on the cover are something of a disappointment. Only four Legionnaires actually get redesigns: Blok ( chains and a kilt!); Cosmic Boy ( his previous uniforms fused together); Shadow Lass( a black bodystocking and huge collar); and the hirsute Timber Wolf ( a chest-baring costume and spiked belt).  Raven aside, I find Perez’s designs fussy and unappealing.

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Other Legionnaires’ costumes were tweaked somewhat: Dream Girl gets a big D belt-emblem; Phantom Girl loses her flares and Wildfire his pirate boots. Projectra’s decolletage is demurely concealed by a coronet -pattern. Duo Damsel gained gloves and a longer cape and Star Boy lost the deep v-neck from his starfield costume.

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Invisible Invader: I had read this short by Bridwell and Tuska when it was originally published in the Superboy issue above. Here we learn that the drably-costumed Chemical King is a mutant- a rarity in DC comics of the time and the second such hero in the team after Ferro Lad.

 Invisible Kid’s origins are explored as a crook uses a duplicate of his invisibility serum. CK cancels it out however in a logical use of his obscure power. This story lays the groundwork for the intense relationship between these two Legionnaires.

The Ghost of Ferro Lad: supernatural stories grew in popularity during the Sixties culminating in Orlando’s revamped House of Mystery/Secrets titles. Here we have the LSH’s first venture into that Gothic trend.

 This is  the second, almost-instant revival of Ferro Lad ( previously impersonated by his own twin in the Adult Legion 2-parter). It begins with a visit to the cemetary asteroid Shanghalla and reveals the guilt over FE Lad’s death felt by Superboy and Cosmic Boy as it becomes clear that the iron-bodied mutant is haunting the clubhouse.

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Brainiac 5 suspects regal Kim Novak-lookalike Princess Projectra of staging the ghostly happenings but she is revealed to be a hereditary spiritualist- an Orikall of Orando. After holding a seance, the LSH is instructed to disband  and the Sun-Eater group ordered into banishment.

It turns out to be a plot by a renegade Controller (a near-omnipotent Watcher-like alien) who is subsequently frightened to death by the real spectre of Ferro Lad. This is an exciting spooky tale for teens and features a cameo by Cosmic Boy’s kid brother – later to join as Magnetic Kid. It was the most satisfying story in the collection.

I enjoyed re-reading this comic again after more than 30 years. I know the digest is a popular format, especially with public libraries. Yesterday in Nairn I found that library stocked a copy of a FF digest ( the whole Doom-Surfer megilla). In 8 years, it had been withdrawn 26 times- at least three months of every year- which I think is testament to a forty-seven year old comic book. Perhaps the Big Two should publish more digests?

Coming soon: the Servants of Darkness

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Darkness Visible

In today’s post, we’re going to examine the popularity of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes and its most renowned storyline: The Great Darkness Saga, now over 30 years old.

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The LSH was a spin-off from the Superboy series: a teenage law enforcement organisation in a pulp fiction future- part high school fraternity, part militia. It had run through the 1960s in stiff stories illustrated by John Forte or Jim Mooney and written by the likes of pulp sci-fi prophets Otto Binder and Edmond Hamilton.

It was always a fan favourite thanks to gimmicks like the charming Bits of Legionnaire Business- a fan page to which kids all over the USA could submit their own creations. Some of these, like Polar Boy and Color Kid, would actually be woven into the Legion legend.

But the Legion really gained ground when teenage Jim Shooter and Superman’s Curt Swan delivered a series of classically-illustrated, doom-laden sagas in a Marvel-esque mode. Of course, in typical DC style, this golden goose was relelgated to oblivion in the very early 70s but soon flourished again, thanks to the way-out creatures and hippie-fied designs  of Dave Cockrum.

Cockrum, of course, would raid his sketchbook to produce the colourful and bizarre All-New X-Men , whose torrid sci-fi adventures ( pennned by verbose feminist and part-time actor Chris Claremont) would eventually make them perhaps the most influential super-heroes of the Bronze Age. It’s the Legion’s similarities to the X-Men or vice versa that helped to make one of DC’s most popular titles in the early 80s.

The LSH experienced  a mid-70s high with the return of an older Shooter to the title and the Disco-fied Legionnaire designs  of Mike Grell ( a favourite of mine despite a  questionable grasp of anatomy and big- images- in- few- panels). The 1981-84 period saw the book’s popularity return to those heights and far exceed them, in a cycle that mirrored the X-Men.

So what were the commonalities? First, an enormous cast: nearly 30 official members, living and dead, with numerous associates and allies, their civilian ids and home planets.  People sometimes complain about the lack of accessibility to LSH but learning The Lore of the Legion is one of its main attractions, in the same way that the maps and languages of Middle Earth hold perennial fascination for Tolkien fans. The very first outing of the X-Men boasted 13 members: a mere fraction of the Legion’s numbers.

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Secondly, human interest, specifically romance. The tensions between Scott, Jean and Logan and the maternal emotions of Ororo towards Kitty were an elaboration of the loving couples found among the Legion since their earliest days. The group had hosted two weddings in in its history- one less than the Avengers, of course, by 1982.

Thirdly, drama and sacrifice. The defining arc of the X-Men was of course the Dark Phoenix Saga, very closely followed by Days of Future Past, in which the whole team died. Marvel, in the Bronze Age, prided itself on killing off characters- albeit rarely- and having them stay dead. Thunderbird of the X-Men (created by Cockrum and Wein) being a case in point.

 The Legion had lost three members -Ferro Lad, Invisible Kid and Chemical King and one ally, Beast Boy- and three more deaths were foreshadowed by the cover of Adventure 354. Mapping the destiny of  the team? Only since 1967! Also, the Legion had witnessed the death and resurrection of Lightning Lad- more than two decades before Jean Grey.

Finally, a threatening environment. Growing paranoia and oppression within the Marvel Universe suggested the Sentinel future might be inevitable. Where the late 60s-early 70s LSH inhabited the united galaxy foretold by Star Trek, the 80s LSH now reflected the uneasy era of detente. It’s unsurprising that the militaristic Khunds are a major power in the book. The DC renaissance took place in the shadow of  the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,  the Falklands conflict and later, Reagan’s SDI proposal.

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My enduring love for the LSH had reached a feverish peak by the very late 70s. One of my earliest memories of Primary School is reading “The Hapless Hero” in 1969’s Action 381 . I inherited the Computo stories from my cousin Jim and bought the first issue of their short-lived ’73 reprint series. One particular coup around 1981 was buying a mail order copy of The Legion Outpost fanzine and its article on Legion horoscopes.

The Levitz/Broderick issues of LSH are contemporaneous with the beginning of Claremont and Cockrum’s Brood/Starjammers epic (which owes a lot to  Alien, Wrath of Khan and Empire Strikes Back). In other words, comics fans were open to sci-fi at that moment.

Soul-Thief From The Stars introduces a grotesque, almost humorous, parastic monster, Organus. The creature is a McGuffin and is never explained. What’s more significant is the facial surgery for the acrobatic Timber Wolf. He no longer looks like Wolverine (possibly for legal reasons? Even though his look predated Logan’s?) but loses much of his memorable feral quality.

Levitz also writes out the comical Bouncing Boy -at least temporarily. This seems to be a tic in the scripter’s writing: removing the married Legionnaires ( perhaps to make the group seem younger?) Broderick invokes the spirit of the era with medieval designs for the holographic Dungeons and Dragons game . Presciently, gaming will feature in Levitz’s scripts up until 2013.

The influence of Gerge Lucas can be seen in the variety of aliens on the space hospital Medicus One. In partcular, we meet Dr. Gym’ll- a curmudgeonly goblin with three arms who will be a mainstay into the 21st century.

Another remarkable alien is featured in Night Never Falls at Nullport. This is the space shipyard boss H’Hranth, a talking horse with octopoid tentacles. The oriental Khunds are sabotaging the shipyard and we  see how ruthless they are when the commander disintegrates his own son for failure. The new LSH cruisers are very similar to  Battlestar Galactica’s Colonial Vipers circa 1978 and the design doesn’t catch on.

The back-up strip The Forgotten Future is novel for two reasons. First, it’s by Keith Giffen, blending Kirby and Ditko. Secondly, it’s a solo for Dream Girl who has only featured previously in duos and trios  in three back-ups to my recollection. The strip also prefigures how important Nura will become in the book, having been among the most obscure Legionnaires during Conway’s tenure.

The comic now looks very similar to its 1977-78 incarnation. This pleased me then and now.

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Old Friends, New Relatives and Other Corpses is the final issue where Broderick pencils the lead feature. The villain is the infamous Dr. Regulus; I don’t think that at this point I’d seen his debut in Adventure‘s “Target: 21 Legionnaires”- or any of his other three appearances. Disappointingly, he’s  something of a solar-powered Iron Man knock-off. However, Broderick successfully evokes the searing temperatures of his battle with Sun Boy.

The plot picks up on a silly subplot from the Secrets of the LSH miniseries where it was revealed that Chameleon Boy was the secret son of the Legion’s patron R.J. Brande.

A Crown for the Princess: a second back-up for Giffen. This time Princess Projectra and Karate Kid, two Shooter creations under-represented in the Conway Era, have an ornate sword-and-sorcery adventure on Jeckie’s planet. Ironically perhaps, in the era of Schwarzenegger, my interest in sword and sorcery had completely waned with  Andrew J. Offut’s Conan pastiches of the late 70s.

I was getting my US comics by mail order in those days and saw Broderick’s third issue first. However, I couldn’t have been any more enthused by the upswing in the Legion’s fortunes. I’m going to interrupt this analysis of the Great Darkness saga for a sideways step, however and another LSH publication from the early months of 1982.

Coming soon: the Legion Digest

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United Planets

I was pleased to read this week that the Legion of Super-Heroes is poised to return in Justice League Alpha Fli-sorry, Justice League United- in the autumn. A childhood favourite of mine since the earliest days of primary school, the Legion was one of DC’s top-selling comics in the late Bronze Age and I decided that I’d like to post some thoughts on why that was. I hope to alternate LSH posts with Batman Family posts for a week or two.

Thirty-two years ago next week, my mother, brother and I paid our first visit to London. I saw my first-and only -West End musical (Evita) and  Star Trek 2.  I had really enjoyed the novelization on the coach journey down- it had a torrid tone similar to New Teen Titans or the later DW New Adventures; one , I would eventually learn, known as “hurt/comfort”. The book also  featured characters from McIntyre’s Entropy Effect, which I had borrowed from my friend Graham.

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Irene Cara’s Fame was number one with Steve Miller’s Abracadabra at number two. Come On Eileen was everywhere although corporate MTV pop was still a couple of years away. I also remember 1972’s The Curse of Peladon was repeated for the first time on peak time BBC tv as part of Dr. Who and the Monsters.

Tragically, this was also the week when the IRA bombed Hyde Park and the resulting and understandable panic created a menacing and unhappy atmosphere. I remember a bomb alert caused us to be evacuated from Oxford Street and only now can I sympathise fully with my mother, shepherding two teenagers in an unfamiliar metropolis.

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The highlight of the holiday  for me of course was visiting the original Forbidden Planet shop in Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street), which was near our hotel on  Tottenham Court Road. I don’t think I had discovered Photon Books in Kelvinbridge yet. I also  dragged my family to  Comics Showcase in Covent Garden and made them climb all 193 steps. I was really looking for sixties issues of Adventure Comics and JLA but the comic I recall best is the first part of the Levitz/Giffen Great Darkness Saga.

The LSH had spun out of Superboy’s monthly in January 1980. I had been crazy about the giant-sized issues in 1977-78. Especially the text features which made a teenage Shooter’s characters and stories sound amazing.

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The impact of the fan-favourite status of X-Men under Claremont and Byrne can still be felt today ( as we saw recently with the Future Past blockbuster movie).  It seems to have been an influence in the comically-unbalanced logo.

However, I think Shooter/Michelinie/Perez and Byrne’s Avengers had a bigger influence on Conway and Staton’s Legion. This is most apparent in the governmental interference subplot, perhaps inspired by Shooter’s Gyrich character in Avengers. Once Colossal Boy’s mother became President of Earth, the LSH began clashing with the United Planets in an echo of contemporary Post-Nixon political cynicism.

After the stylish likes of Starlin, James Sherman and Mike Netzer (Nasser)the series had plodded through 1980-81 under the pencil of Jimmy Janes with occasional and controversial guest appearances by Steve Ditko. I appreciate Ditko far more nowadays- back then, foolishly, I thought he was hopelessly old-hat. I also found Conway’s bland super-heroics tired- I think he was more suited to JLA (but even there he suffered by comparison to Englehart).

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I had been thrilled in my final year of school to discover that Roy Thomas, author of Conan the Barbarian and creator of the Vision, Sunfire, Sauron  and the Kree-Skrull War would be the new Legion scripter. Even more astonishingly, he was going to introduce Reflecto, a doomed Legionnaire only glimpsed once before, on the cover of the Adult Legion tale! ‘Optikon readers will know that comic was my Holy Grail and I wouldn’t get my hands on it until a happy accident at the end of 1982.

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However, despite Perez covers – DC’s fan-colossus du jour- Thomas’s Legion stories turned out to be as bland as Conway’s: Reflecto was merely an alternate guise for Superboy. There was a dull time-travel adventure with the enigmatic robed villain , the Time Trapper. And finally a Marvel-esque melodrama for the most Marvel-esque Legionnaire: tragic but temperamental energy-being Wildfire. It was all a bit uninspired.

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But in February 1982, everything was about to change.

Paul Levitz, who had killed off Chemical King ( in accordance with Adult legion prophecy) and provided cosmic scope with the Infinite Man and Earthwar, returned to write the comic. The new artist was Pat Broderick who had been the penciller of Marvel’s Micronauts in 1981.

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My brother had followed the Star Wars-knock-off  toys since their UK debut in the Star Wars Weekly in January 1979. In their own monthly, Broderick guided them through a series of Flash Gordon-inspired fantasy environments and a panoply of bizarre creatures.Hhe was an inspired choice therefore to design a kaleidoscopic 30th Century.

That was a longer preamble than I thought and it’s a muggy lunchtime! In the next LSH post, we’ll look at the first third of the Great Darkness TPB and then at the Legion Digest that was published at that time.

Coming soon: Darkness Visible

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Atomic Batteries to Power

Today we’re looking at Batman: the Silver Age Dailies and Sundays,1966-1967, collected by IDW.

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These newpaper strips represent some of my earliest memories of Batman. they were printed on the front cover of Smash! a weekly b/w comic which was part of the UK’s Power Comics line of the mid-60s. The strip first appeared around June 1966 – having made its debut in the US at the end of May. I was surprised to discover the shortness of that  interval. B&R appears to have run in Smash! until around December 1967- while I was still four years old.

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The IDW book is a solid brick of a book. Here are the serials it contains:

Penguin Perpetrates a Prank: the early strips open with “The Bat Camp” , a terrible pun from B&R. In this juvenile outing, Pengy and masked Girl friday Beulah escape on ostrich-back.

The Nasty Napoleon: The tale of  Field Marshal of Crime, Little Napoleon aka The Bogus Bonaparte is illustrated in the main by Carmine Infantino. The strip is gorgeous but Robin begins the irritating habit of apologising and putting himself down.

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Batchap and Bobbin: my earliest memory of the strip which I conflated with the Fatman & Sparrow spoof in Solo comic (1967). Lord Peter Heathcliff of Lemon Regis and his brother, the Honorable Robert inmpersonate the Dynamic Duo in a Carnaby Street story. They remind me of the Knight and Squire’s set-up and the villainous Gemini Twins taught me the names Castor and Pollux.

Catwoman is a Wily Wench: Catwoman breaks out of jail and swears vengeance . Her acid bath and guillotine traps are in the vein of the tv show but the strip is primitive.

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Two Jokers and a Laughing Girl: Joker is paroled as Bruce Wayne’s butler! This is a highly entertaining idea. Superman guest stars and the art improves with the arrival of Joe Giella. The terrible Indian caricature Laughing Girl turns out to be Bertha Schulz, a chorus girl from Brooklyn. It’s in poor taste by modern standards and a very long serial.

Penguin the Complainant: one of the most popular foes from the 40s returns for a very short sequence followed by the very long…

Flying the Jolly Roger: this piratical villain seems a poor relation to Little Napoleon.

The Sizzling Saga of Poison Ivy: having only appeared in comics six months earlier, the Ivy league dropout Queen of Crime is a surprising inclusion. Ivy Smith and her all-girl gang infiltrate the Bat-Hilton Hotel, disguised as “Robinettes”. Very long and very silly.

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Jack Benny’s Stolen Stradivarius: The celebrity comedian falls victim to the Collector and his gorilla henchmen. Sadly, not the masked bandit of “The Crime of Bruce Wayne” (‘Tec 249)

Batgirl Ain’t Your Sister: concuurent with Babs’ second appearance in ‘Tec 363, the “prim…dowdy…timid-looking” librarian gains a confidant in Ho Say Guy- another racist cariacture. The Commish has a low opinion of his daughter: ” I’m afraid that nothing romantic will ever happen to her”. A Goershin-eque Riddler is the villain.

Shivering Blue Max, Flo and Pretty Boy Floy: the longest sequence in the book, this is really at least two dovetailing plots running from July to December. Blue-skinned pilot Max, a reference to a 1966 George Peppard movie, is another of my early Bat-memories. He causes Bats to develop amnesia. The Caped Crusader’s grim origin is retold, Batgirl learns B&R’s secret i.d.s and even impersonates Batman in a campaign against midget crook. “Big” Trubble.

The strip takes on a darker hue as Elmo the Etcher, a counterfeiter dies in a horrible Roald Dahl twist and Blue Max gets a cement overcoat! The book concludes as “Cheap gunman” Pretty Boy Floy plots against a billionaire industrialist. Floy employs his sister Flo to pose as Madame Zodiac, the rich man’s personal astrologer, to seize control of the business. Interestingly. Madame Zodiac made her comics debut in a 1978 issue of Batman Family. I wonder if Bob Rozakis intended her to be the same character?

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If you are a fan of Batman in the Sixties this book is more fun, in my opinion, than the contemporary Fox/Giella/Moldoff Batman title. Equally, if you have any memories of the Power Comics era, then it’s a nostalgic read. I would advise reading one serial at a time however.

The villains in the strip are obviously in tune with the tv show but make a refreshing change from the four pillars of  United Underworld. It’s good to see Batgirl, even is she is a female Clark Kent and the strip is better drawn latterly than the Batman comic was at the time. In a couple of posts, we’ll look at DC’s current Batman 66 series which recreates the tone and revives the characters of the Adam West series.

Coming soon: The Great Darkness

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