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

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

 

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