The Twisted History Mystery

This morning’s post revisits the last Seventies Tabloid Edition in my collection.  As a fan of the late Sixties/early Seventies Legion, I coveted it for many years, finally getting a copy on ebay five or six years ago- one signed by artist Mike Grell himself.

Tabloid

It was originally published in the spring of 1978, in the period where the regular Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes comic was giant-sized. It was generally scripted by Paul Levitz and his eventual successor Gerry Conway. The wedding story is bookended by issues 236 and 237.

In the regular comic, as with many DC books of the period, Marvel’s themes and tropes were commonplace.  Conway had built up governmental pressures that would mirror those experienced by The Avengers in the same year. Tragic energy-being Wildfire, created by Dave Cockrum and Cary Bates, was a combative character blending elements of Hawkeye, Cyclops and Iron Man.

This story marks  the second official wedding of two Legionnaires- the first being Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy in SLSH#200.  As such, it’s in line with the future revealed by the Adult Legion two-parter of 1967.The story is  on a grand scale to match the dimensions of the comic with two alternate futures, NYC in the  twentieth century and the end of time itself.

The tale begins with Superboy flying into the future for the wedding ceremony. Smallville is described as being “just inland from the Eastern Seaboard”- was it John Byrne that established the Kansas location, about a decade later?

Metropolis a thousand years hence now resembles an armed camp. At Supey’s behest, Princess Projectra conjures an image to trace the history of the militant 30th century. However, the wedding ceremony goes ahead with numerous guests including the Substitute Legionnaires ( in their scanty Grell garb); Duplicate Boy of Lallor and Levitz and Grell, in Stan and Jack mode.

After a twenty-one blaster salute, a Lunarite raider kidnaps the newlyweds. Again in Marvel mode, Supey and Legion Leader Wildfire clash over the rescue mission taking precedence over the twist in time.

In chapter 2, ” Murder by Moonlight” Imra and Garth escape from Oseldan Khan, the despot of New Cathay, but contemplate suicide over slow suffocation on the Moon until rescued by Rokk and Tinya. Timber Wolf’s speech is oddly formal and stilted- a trait Conway would pick up on in later years.

Chapter 3 “The Twisted History Mystery”, sees a party of Legionnaires in 20th-century guise tracking the mystery villain from the UN to the NY pavilion at the abandoned World’s Fair grounds. The antagonist is revealed as the Time Trapper, an early Sixties foe. Jeckie, in black polo neck and white dungarees, has a more proactive role in this story than she’s had for three or four years.

This chapter was interrupted by a two-page spread featuring the LSH in 2959. 2968 and 2978. We therefore get a glimpse of the Forte/Swan era classic costumes.

LSH centre spread

The climax of the story comes in chapter 4, “Showdown at the End of Eternity”. Star Boy looks muy macho with his new, deep v-neck costume and weaponry. Supey and Wildfire have another spat and Dream Girl, another underused heroine in the Grell Era, has a prophetic vision of the Trapper’s location.

Sixties guest-star Rond Vidar returns for the second time in Levitz’s first run as scripter, with his hypertime drive.  Blaxploitation Legionnaire Tyroc, who towered above the other males in the centrespread, is left to stand guard for the second time in the story and has no dialogue.

The Trapper’s citadel at the desolate end of time is a classic design from a sci-fi paperback cover. The assault on the Trapper’s lair is a wordless action sequence, where T-Wolf’s acrobatic ability is highlighted. Nowadays, he has Wolverine’s heightened senses and claws.

The Trapper’s origins as one of the extra-dimensional Controllers ( introduced in the Shooter/Swan heyday of Adventure) are revealed and Ferro Lad’s death is revisited yet again. The Trapper’s plot to use the all-poweful Miracle Machine to wipe out the Legion is thwarted by the focused willpower of the team. The villain is catapulted into a Ditko-esque dimension of floating pathways and serpentine jaws.

The dystopian Earth reverts to normal, Wildfire and Clark make up  and Garth and Imra leave for their honeymoon. Everyone laughs heartily like the end of a Glen A. Larson tv show.

The story is colourful although the Legionnaires themselves seem a little bland .  I don’t care for Vinnie Colletta’s inks in general and the placement of dialogue is often clumsy, reading right to left on some pages and one balloon appears twice. The cliche oriental lunar warriors seem clumsy and in poor taste by modern standards. Also, in hindsight, it’s ironic that a rebooted timeline is the major plot point since it’s been the Legion’s curse for about twenty-five years.

El Lad

On the other hand, it’s a mammoth history lesson on the LSH. Witness the eight-page feature on The Origins and Powers of the Legionnaires by Levitz and Jim Sherman.  Yes, it does feature an Imskian Space Pimp and a one-off Kirbyesque redesign for gay fan-favourite Element Lad. It also confirms Levitz’s dismissive attitude towards Tyroc, who is described as “on leave”. Even by 70s standards, the only black Legionnaire was problematic but instead of fixing him and his seperatist milieu, Tyroc was eventually written out in a homage to Roots! It took almost a further five years to replace him with another black hero.

Despite all that, trivia fans get info on all the Legionnaires in order of joining plus the Subs in their 60s uniforms -as would be the case in their remaining 70s appearances- and the Legion Reserve, including the ultra-obscure Kid Psycho.

In the present day, Levitz has written the LSH for nearly four years of drip-feed plotting, with unresolved plots featuring enigmatic characters like Harmonia and the new Glorith. Also, some of the most visually interesting Legionnaires were decanted to another comic. Legion Lost.  Unsurprisingly, the Legion has been cancelled once again. But as the most recent issue of Smallville Season Eleven indicates, the concept never really dies for long.

smallvillelegionsplash_0

Coming soon: Dave Gibbons and the Doctor

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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One comment on “The Twisted History Mystery

  1. Kid Robson says:

    Kid Psycho? It’s a lie, I tell you – a lie! Kid smash! (Where’s my tranquilisers?)

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