Retro Reviews: L.E.G.I.O.N. ’90 #13 – L.E.G.I.O.N. ’92 #39 By Alan Grant, Barry Kitson & Others For DC Comics

L.E.G.I.O.N.‘90 #13-22; L.E.G.I.O.N.‘91 #23-35; L.E.G.I.O.N.’92 #36-39 ; L.E.G.I.O.N.‘90 Annual #1; L.E.G.I.O.N.‘91 Annual #2 (March ‘90-May ‘92)

Written by Alan Grant (#13-39; Annual #1-2), Barry Kitson (#13-18, 25-27, 29-39), and Keith Giffen (#28)

Pencilled by Barry Kitson (#13-18, 25-27, 29-37, 39), Jim Fern (19-24, Annual #1), Richard Piers Rayner (#25), Keith Giffen (#28), Mike McKone (Annual #2), and Lee Moder (#38)

Inked by Mark McKenna (#13-18), Jeff Albrecht (21-22, 24, Annual #1), John Nyberg (#19-20), Kim DeMulder (#23), Jim Fern (#24), Barry Kitson (#25-27, 29-31, 34, 39), George Pratt (#28), Mark Pennington (#32-33), Jan Harps (Annual #2), Art Nichols (#36), Robin Smith (#37, 39), and Brad Vancata (#38)

Spoilers (from twenty-three to twenty-five years ago)

When Keith Giffen left this title, the transition was pretty seamless, with original scripter Alan Grant joined by artist Barry Kitson on plotting, at least for a good chunk of his run, which lasted another two years.  During this time, the book experimented with a lighter tone at times, but in many ways, became as much a romance comic as it did one about superhero police in space.  It was a good fit, as there was no other book like it at the time (or since, really).

One thing that Grant and his collaborators did was steadily expand the cast, even though that meant that individual story arcs became very drawn out, or sometimes completely forgotten (like Captain Comet’s headaches).

With a book as full as this one, it’s helpful to keep track of the cast:

  • Vril Dox (Coluan ancestor to Brainiac 5; manipulative leader of the organization)
  • Garryn Bek (Cairnian; possessor of the Emerald Eye)
  • Lyrissa Mallor (Talokian ancestor to Shadow Lass; dies in #21)
  • Strata (Dryadian, possible ancestor of Blok?)
  • Stealth (race unknown)
  • Lobo (Czarnian; psychotic)
  • Lydea Mallor (infant child of Lyrissa Mallor; later aged to adulthood by Mr. Starr; also given the name Lydea Darkstar; reprogrammed and interested in joining the team in #27; goes through recruitment process in #30)
  • Phase (time-lost amnesiac Phantom Girl from the Legion of Super-Heroes; takes the name Phase and joins the team in #13; becomes second-in-command in #29)
  • Garv (race unknown; first appears [in a form that subtly changes later] in #15 as an extra, becomes more visible as the run progresses)
  • Telepath (Zsiglonian; first appears as part of Dagon-Ra’s crew in #15; joins against his will in #18)
  • Marij’n Bek (Cairnian; Bek’s wife; returns in #15; later transformed by the Eye; made a member of L.E.G.I.O.N. by Phase in #29)
  • Lar Gand (Daxamite; presumably Mon-El before he gets trapped in the Phantom Zone until the Legion of Super-Heroes era first appears in #16; fired suddenly in #19)
  • Lady Tashana Quark (race unknown; first appears in #16 as a prisoner of Dagon-Ra; joins in #18)
  • Captain Comet (Human; first appears as prisoner of Dagon-Ra in #16; applies to join the team in #19, but is left hanging until #29 when Phase gives him membership against Dox’s wishes)
  • The Durlan (time-lost founding member appears in flashback/flashforward in #23)
  • Stealth and Dox’s son (first appears in #28)
  • Bertron Diib (first appears in #30)
  • A.I.-11/Darius (first appears in #30)
  • Amon Hakk (Khundian, first appears in #30)
  • Zena Moonstruk (first appears in #30)
  • Ig’nea (Espritoan, first appears in #30; revealed as a traitor and last seen in #39)
  • Borb Borbb (first appears in #30)
  • Davroth Catto (Ozimanian, first appears in #30)

Let’s look at the events of this series in more detail, with some commentary as I go along:

  • Garryn Bek returns to L.E.G.I.O.N. headquarters with the Emerald Eye, which is exerting some control over his mind.  Bek and the Eye attack L.E.G.I.O.N., until Dox is eventually able to exert some kind of control over him.
  • Phase names herself Phase, and agrees to join the team.
  • Mr. Starr has Mallor’s infant daughter, Lydea, undergo a ritual thereby making her Talok’s new champion, as part of his larger plan.
  • Stealth and Strata go to a backwards planet to put a stop to a group of thieves who have been terrorising the locals with sound-based weapons.  They cement their friendship, but Strata is left with weird crystal growths growing from various parts of her body as a result of the sound weapon.
  • Sardath and Alanna, of Rann, contact Dox to hire him to stop a group of pirates run by Dagon-Ra.  Mallor and Dox disagree on whether or not to take this job.
  • Mr. Starr tortures Mallor’s daughter to train her to hate her mother, as part of his revenge scheme.
  • Lobo is sent by Dox to infiltrate Dagon-Ra’s organization, which he does.
  • Bek continues to be influenced by the Emerald Eye, believing himself to be the leader of L.E.G.I.O.N.  His wife is brought in to both study him and try to restrain his strange behaviour.
  • Mr. Starr ages Lydea Mallor, renaming her Lydea Darkstar.
  • Dox recruits Lar Gand to the team, wanting to make use of his Superman-like abilities, but also threatening him with lead poisoning if he crosses Dox.
  • Dagon-Ra shows Lobo around his asteroid fortress, making clear how powerful he is by showing the level of control he has over Lady Quark, who is a powerhouse character.
  • Dox manipulates Bek into not wanting to be the leader of L.E.G.I.O.N., instead choosing to be its philosophical guiding light.
  • Lobo starts a brawl among Dagon-Ra’s men, and is taken prisoner, where he discovers that Captain Comet is being tortured.
  • There is an interesting editorial note in #16 that explains how that issue was originally going to show Adam Strange as Dagon-Ra’s captive, but because his new mini-series was debuting at the same time, they had to swap in Captain Comet, which negates the reason for Sardath to have contacted L.E.G.I.O.N. in the first place.
  • Imprisoned, Lobo is offered assistance by Telepath, who cautions him that his original plan is not going to work.
  • L.E.G.I.O.N. makes its move on Dagon-Ra’s base, but their initial attack doesn’t go well, with the pirate leader neutralizing Lar Gand immediately.  After some brawling, Lobo and Lady Quark, with Telepath’s help (and Captain Comet’s), overcome Dagon-Ra and defeat his army.
  • Dox offers Telepath and Lady Quark places with L.E.G.I.O.N. and they accept.  Lady Quark lets Dox know that his father is on Earth.
  • The team appeared in an Adventures of Superman Annual, with the story continued in the first L.E.G.I.O.N. Annual.  I only read the second half of that story, and in it, Dox leads the core group of his team to Colu to try to stop his father, Brainiac.
  • Brainiac makes short work of the team, and puts Dox on trial.  Superman arrives to stop him, and then Dox puts his father on trial, and almost executes him.  Dox’s use of programming to influence the Coluans is revealed.
  • Back on Cairn, and feted as heroes, the team takes some time to help their new members settle in.  Dox fires Lar Gand (which is odd, as his time in the book was so short, unless this is when the Valor series started), and then argues with Mallor.
  • Lydea Darkstar infiltrates L.E.G.I.O.N. headquarters, and attacks her mother.  She speaks like an infant, and generally seems kind of deranged.  Strata stops her, and goes crazy, so Phase has to stop her.  All of them are injured, and Lyrissa is now hovering near death.
  • Dox puts Stealth on inactive duty, and infuriated, she takes off, stealing a cruiser.
  • Dox figures out that Mr. Starr, the Computer Tyrants of Colu, are responsible for Lydea’s attack, and manipulates the Doxs, who are completely nuts under the influence of the Emerald Eye, into travelling to Talok to fight him/them.  He sends Lady Quark to secretly keep an eye on them.
  • We are introduced to the planet Ogen, where the Khunds and the Dominators are engaging in some kind of proxy war; a newly-installed leader decides to contact L.E.G.I.O.N. to help them.
  • All of the major cast members visit Mallor in the hospital, but she succumbs to her injuries and dies.
  • Grief-stricken, Strata heads to Talok VIII to attack the Computer Tyrants, bringing Dox, Phase, and Lobo with her.
  • This group, joining with the Beks and Lady Quark, are able to defeat the Tyrants, who disappear, presumably destroyed.  The Emerald Eye disappears as well.
  • The core cast members hold a funeral for Lyrissa Mallor (which is strangely sparsely attended, given her central role in L.E.G.I.O.N., and that she is her planet’s champion), and we get glimpses into each of their mental states.  Dox remains at her grave and has a bit of a breakdown, prompting him to miss the Durlan.
  • This puts us into a long story narrated by The Durlan, who is trapped in the 30th century.  He writes about his time as a prisoner of the Computer Tyrants of Colu, and how young Vril Dox frees him from captivity, only to have him remain in his personal room, as the Durlan would be caught if he left.
  • Dox treated the Durlan like a pet and a servant for over a decade, and when, after Brainiac’s disappearance, the Tyrants gave Dox to the Invasion Alliance, he took the Durlan with him.
  • We also learn that the Durlan, transported to the future, created a human persona for himself, that of RJ Brande, the founder of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
  • The Durlan sequence is drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, and is quite beautiful, especially when compared to Jim Fern’s framing sequence.
  • Back in the present, Lady Quark gives Dox a talk (somewhere between a dressing down and a pep talk), and he resolves to attack the Khundian Empire.
  • The central cast members lie in wait for the Khund on the planet Ogen, strangely allowing a group to kill a bunch of locals before doing anything about it.  After capturing the Khunds, the team learns that they are building a doomsday-style device somewhere in that area of space.
  • Bek’s powers appear to be fluctuating now that the Emerald Eye has disappeared.  Captain Comet suffers debilitating headaches.
  • The core team moves to attack the Khundian doomsday device, which is on level with the Death Star, except better hidden.
  • Captain Comet and Marij’n decide to stand up to Dox with regards to how he is treating Lydea Mallor (attempting to reprogram her to follow his commands).
  • We keep checking in with Stealth, who is hanging out on a remote planet, fighting off local creatures, and not looking at all pregnant.
  • Dox decides to not run his charisma program on Lydea Mallor after another confrontation with Marij’n and Captain Comet.
  • The main team attacks the Khund doomsday device, stealing the plans, and failing to save the scientist who designed it.  The wreck the device.
  • Dox negotiates peace at the barrel of a gun with the Khunds and the Dominators, although it’s all predicated on the lie that the people of Ogen are now in control of the fixed doomsday device, which actually doesn’t work.  Dox’s subscriber planets are impressed with his realpolitik skills, without realizing that he’s bluffing.
  • The book goes into romance comic mode for a bit, as Garv gets closer to Strata, Bek gets jealous that Marij’n is more interested in Captain Comet than him, now that she’s hot, and Lobo puts the moves on Lady Quark, not that that works.
  • Phase learns that all of her memories of her life before coming to 1991 are gone, and Lydea Mallor finishes her deprogramming and talks about joining L.E.G.I.O.N.
  • In a special issue that features the return of Keith Giffen (both writing and drawing the issue), Stealth gives birth to her son with Vril Dox.  We learn a few things about Stealth’s race in this issue – that pregnancy is always made through rape and murder, and that the children always look like the father’s species.  We also learn why Stealth is an outcast from her people.  When the child is born, she vows to always protect him.
  • While on a mission to stop some smugglers, Lobo disappears, goes to The Demon’s title for a story arc, and then returns.  This is when Lobo starts to become a very popular character in the DCU.
  • Dox appoints Phase to Lyrissa Mallor’s position of second-in-command.  Phase fixes a disaster in the docking bay, and then appoints Marij’n and Captain Comet as full members of L.E.G.I.O.N., which angers Dox.
  • L.E.G.I.O.N. undergoes a recruitment drive, which includes finding eight new powered individuals (one doesn’t make the cut though), and gives Lydea Mallor a chance to finally join the team.  Strata puts the recruits through their paces.
  • A new villain, Mr. G’Odd, is introduced.  He runs a crime empire, including the smugglers that Lobo shut down, and appears to be pretty ruthless.  He tells his underlings that he has infiltrated L.E.G.I.O.N.
  • Phase gets into a fight with Lobo, who is angry at her for expecting him to write proper reports.  Their fight is interrupted by the return of Stealth, who has hidden her child somewhere where Dox can’t get him.
  • Phase catches Stealth up on what’s happened in her absence.
  • Lobo, angry, takes off to a bar, with Telepath along to chaperone.  Captain Marvel is teleported to the strange bar, as part of whatever was going on in the War of the Gods event of that time.  They fight.
  • As part of the Armageddon 2001 crossover happening in all the DC Annuals in 1991, Waverider pays a visit to the L.E.G.I.O.N. to look a decade into the future, to see who might end up becoming the evil villain Monarch.  Instead, he learns that Dox gets taken over by the Computer Tyrants of Colu, and turns L.E.G.I.O.N. into a fascistic organization.  The various core team members, who have all left his employ by this point, rebel.  In the present, Dox comes to realize that he should not be messing with time travel, and dismantles some equipment.  Weirdly, no issue of the monthly series advertises or even acknowledges that this book exists, which seems like bad marketing to me.
  • The new recruits settle into life at L.E.G.I.O.N., training, and helping to take down a group of punks who are attacking an old folks’ home.
  • There is growing concern that there is a traitor operating inside the organization; we already know that this is being controlled by Mr. G’Odd, the crime lord, who has hired the Ice Man, a bounty hunter, to kill Lobo.
  • As part of G’Odd’s plan, L.E.G.I.O.N. officers around the galaxy start acting outside of their purview, looking more and more like contemporary American cops, gunning down innocents, arranging extrajudicial executions, and running their own scams.  Many worlds cancel their contracts.
  • Dox, rather out of nowhere, falls for Ig’nea, one of the new recruits.
  • The Ice Man kills one of Lobo’s fish as a way of luring him into a trap, where the ‘main man’ gets buried alive at the bottom of a large pit.
  • Stealth reveals to Lydea that she is the one who killed her own mother, Lyrissa Mallor, which causes her to consider leaving the organization, and taking the other new recruits with her to start their own team.
  • Dox takes most of the core team with him to a distant world to receive an award or something, and while there announces that he’s disbanding the team.  This doesn’t go over well with anyone, and they are very upset to learn that Dox owns everything, preventing them from carrying on in his absence.
  • Regardless, they endeavour to do that anyway, while Phase and Bek try to hold everything together back on Cairn.  The recruits also decide to start their own L.E.G.I.O.N.
  • Returning to Cairn, the core team (without Dox and Ig’nea) experience problems with their ship, and crash on a planetoid where they are immediately attacked by a group of powered individuals, and eventually are all knocked out by a new power of Captain Comet’s.
  • On Cairn, Garryn Bek fights off and then imprisons Dox’s lawyers, who want to take over the headquarters.  He inspires the remaining core members to rally to his aid, including Lady Quark, who was getting ready to quit.
  • Lobo digs his way out of the pit he was in and vows revenge on the Ice Man.
  • Dox travels with Ig’nea to meet her family, and her father turns out to be Max G’Odd, who offers Dox work in his organization, not revealing that it is a criminal empire.
  • A group of killers working for G’Odd infiltrate L.E.G.I.O.N. headquarters to take out the administrative staff, but Bekk and Marij’n fight them off after the incapacitate the others (including Lady Quark).
  • The other core members recover from G’Odd’s attack and figure out who was responsible for it.  They arrange to meet the group from Cairn at G’Odd’s planet.
  • Lobo continues to hunt for the Ice Man, catching up to him on a pleasure planet, where they fight, trash the place, and then the Ice Man escapes.
  • Dox watches Ig’nea kill a gardener on her father’s estate for spraying her with water, and realizes that she has mind-control powers, and that he’s been duped.  He decides to attack her and her father.
  • The rest of L.E.G.I.O.N.’s core team arrives at G’Odd’s compound, and begin to attack his men, eventually defeating them all.  G’Odd gets killed by his pet dragon, while Ig’nea escapes after confronting Dox (although, perhaps he let her go).
  • In the end, Dox announces the reformation of L.E.G.I.O.N., and recalls the recruits.

What makes this book work is the strength of the characters, as Grant and Kitson built on a lot of what Keith Giffen helped them establish.  Many of the relationships in this book are memorable, such as the animosity between Stealth and Dox, which is always balanced by their interest in knowing how the other is thinking of them.  Also of interest was the slowly built love between Strata and Garv, who are very distinct-looking characters.

As Grant kept building the cast, it left some characters with very little screen time, none more so than the recruits, who, aside from Lydea Mallor, remain blank slates from their debut.

The character-driven focus of this book meant that many issues did little to advance the overall plotlines of the comic, but that is never a problem when reading the book in a large chunk.  I don’t remember being frustrated by it when I read this book monthly, but had I thought about it, there are long stretches where I would have had a hard time explaining what was happening in this series.

The art during this run is a little inconsistent.  Kitson debuted the book over Giffen’s layouts, which are always recognizable as his work.  When he was on his own, we saw him try a few different approaches to designing the page.  There are odd experiments in aping the dominant Liefeldian style of the early 90s, especially in issue 30, but for the most part, Kitson stuck with a more traditional approach that really worked for him.

When he left the book for a while, he was replaced by Jim Fern, whose art was incredibly rough and hard to follow.  He is a more kinetic artist than Kitson at this time (based on his Fables work of a few years ago, I’d say he’s more stable, but perhaps also stiff now), so his pages are exciting, but things like the odd crystal growth on Strata never look the same twice.

When Kitson returned to the title, his best work was on the pages he inked himself, or with later frequent collaborator Robin Smith.  Some of the inkers on the book just didn’t fit with his style very well.

I find I’ve really been enjoying rereading this series.  After Grant left (he was also writing the Demon, the various Lobo mini-series, and was starting Shadow of the Bat at this time), I remember being very happy to learn that Kitson was taking over as writer, as it promised continuity.  How did he do?  Tune in next time to find out.

If you’re interested in reading my first look at this title, you can find it here.

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