Retro Review: The Legion Of Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #281 – 292 By Levitz, Broderick, Giffen & Others For DC Comics

The Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #281-292, Annual #1 (November 1981 – October 1982)

Written by Roy Thomas (#283), Paul Levitz (#284-292, Annual #1)

Plotted by Roy Thomas (#281-282)

Co-Plotted by Keith Giffen (Annual #1)

Scripted by Paul Levitz (#281-282)

Pencilled by Steve Ditko (#281), Jimmy Janes (#282), Howard Bender (#283, 291), Pat Broderick (#284-287), Keith Giffen (#285-292, Annual #1), Carmine Infantino (#289)

Inked by Bruce Patterson (#281-289, Annual #1), Larry Mahlstedt (#285, 287, 289-292), Rodin Rodriguez (#291)

Colour by Gene D’Angelo (#281-287), Carl Gafford (#288-292, Annual #1)

Spoilers (from thirty-seven to thirty-eight years ago)

I had a few issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes that turned up in Towers 3-packs from my early years, but I never really noticed or paid the team much mind.  It wasn’t until the Millennium event, and the team’s 30th anniversary celebrations that I began buying any of the comics. I remember reading the first issue of Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes, an encyclopedia style comic, that I realized there was an entire corner of the DC Universe I’d never explored, full of goofy character names, complex societies, and just a ton of potential.  It was an interesting time to get into the Legion, as Keith Giffen and Paul Levitz pushed the series, that was always very utopian, towards darker, more adult stories, and increasingly experimental visuals. When, a year or so later, Levitz departed and Giffen (with the Bierbaums) jumped things forward five years, and relaunched the title into the most complicated mainstream comic I’d read at that point, I became hooked.  During that time, I started to track down back issues, eventually amassing a run that goes back to the late 70s, with just a few gaps that I’ve taken the time to fill in over the last year. There was a period where I felt very well-versed on Bronze and early Modern Age Legion.

Eventually, as the concept struggled to absorb the various continuity quakes and reboots that are mandated every so often at DC, I kind of gave up on the Legion.  They weren’t “my” Legion anymore, so even when I enjoyed new takes, like Mark Waid’s run with Barry Kitson, it never resonated with me in the same way. It takes a steady hand to manage a cast as large as this comic’s, and the desire to revisit classic stories proved too strong for writers who were given new chances to play with Ferro Lad, or Proty, or even Darkseid.

Today, in the summer of 2019, we are poised to have the Legion return to us shortly, written by Brian Michael Bendis.  The Legion could be headed towards another era of glory and great stories, or (as I fear), might devolve into issue-long arguments around the dinner table.  

It seemed like a good time to look back on this title.  I decided that my starting point should be with Paul Levitz’s first issue, from 1981 (Note:  I hadn’t realized at first that he wrote the book when it was called Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes for about two years in the late 70s; I don’t have many of those issues though).  I would have been six when he came on the book, and definitely wasn’t reading it then, but through the time that I got to know and love the Legion, he was almost always the writer of the book.  He shepherded it through its relaunch as a New Format, direct market only title (it blows my mind that for a while, there were two LSH comics monthly in the mid-80s), as was the co-writer (with Keith Giffen, the other Legion stalwart creator) of the Great Darkness Saga, the best-known and loved Legion storyline.  He also is the guy who figured out how to absorb the blows of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which necessitated a number of changes to the team’s history.

I’m excited to dive into the Legion, and want to take these set of columns from Levitz’s debut through the Five Year Gap era, and perhaps to Zero Hour.  At the least, I’ll go to the end of Giffen’s last issues. That period covers a time where the Legion went from being all about optimism and a positive future, to a dark, strange time for the team and our heroes.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

The Legion of Super-Heroes

  • Superboy (Clark Kent; #281-282, 286, 290-292, Annual #1)
  • Lightning Lad (Garth Ranzz; #281-284, 286-292, Annual #1)
  • Saturn Girl (Imra Ardeen-Ranzz; #281-282, 284, 286-292, Annual #1)
  • Karate Kid (Val Armorr; #281-282, 284-286, 288, 292)
  • Dawnstar (#281-282, 284, 286, 288-292, Annual #1)
  • Blok (#281-282, 284, 286-292, Annual #1)
  • Phantom Girl (Tinya Wazzo; #281-282, 286, 288-292, Annual #1)
  • Ultra Boy (Jo Nah; #282, 284, 286, 288-292, Annual #1)
  • Cosmic Boy (Rokk Krinn; #282, 284, 287, 290-292, Annual #1)
  • Wildfire (Drake Burroughs; #283-284, 290-292, Annual #1)
  • Bouncing Boy (Chuck Taine; #284, 292, Annual #1)
  • Duo Damsel (Luornu Durgo; #284, 292, Annual #1)
  • Shadow Lass (Tasmia Mallor; #284-285, 287-292, Annual #1)
  • Sun Boy (Dirk Morgna; #284, 286-289, 291-292, Annual #1)
  • Timber Wolf (Brin Londo; #284-292, Annual #1)
  • Light Lass (Ayla Ranzz; #284-292, Annual #1)
  • Dream Girl (Nura Nal; #284-285, 288-292, Annual #1)
  • Element Lad (Jan Arrah; #284, 287-292, Annual #1)
  • Brainiac 5 (Querl Dox; #284-285, 288-292, Annual #1)
  • Chameleon Boy (Reep Daggle; #284, 286-292, Annual #1)
  • Colossal Boy (Gim Allon; #285-289, 292, Annual #1)
  • Mon-El (Lar Gand; #285, 287-292, Annual #1)
  • Star Boy (Thom Kallor; #285-289, 291-292, Annual #1)
  • Shrinking Violet (Salu Digby; #285-289, 292, Annual #1)
  • Princess Projectra (#285-286, 288, 292)
  • Matter-Eater Lad (Tenzil Kem; #289)
  • Invisible Kid (Jacques Foccart; #290-292, Annual #1)

Villains

  • The Time Trapper (#281-282, 291)
  • The Molecule Master (#281)
  • Organus (#284)
  • Warlord Gharan (Khund; #285)
  • Doctor Regulus (#286)
  • Prince Pharoxx (#286, 288)
  • Kharlak (#287)
  • Darkseid (in shadows; #287, 289-292, Annual #1)
  • Hagga (#288)
  • Doctor R’Xalim (#289)
  • Servants of Darkness (#290, Annual #1)
  • Lydea Mallor clone (Servant of Darkness; #290-
  • Orion clone (Servant of Darkness; #290-292)
  • Guardian of the Universe Clone (Servant of Darkness; #290-292)
  • Kalibak Clone (Servant of Darkness; #290-292)
  • Superman Clone (Servant of Darkness; #290-292)
  • Mordru (#291)
  • Computo (Annual #1)

Guest Stars

  • Crystal Kid (#283)
  • Nightwind (#283)
  • Lamprey (#283)
  • The White Witch (Mysa Nal; #291-292)
  • Magic baby (#292)
  • Polar Boy (Legion of Substitute Heroes; Annual #1)

Supporting Characters

  • Lana Lang/Insect Queen (#281-282)
  • Doctor Gym’ll (Medicus-One; #284, 290)
  • H’hrnath (General Manager of Nullport; #285)
  • RJ Brande (Legion funder; #286)
  • Marte Allon (President of Earth; #290, Annual #1)
  • Danielle Foccart (#290, Annual #1)
  • Shvaughn Erin (Science Police Legion Liaison Officer; #291, Annual #1)
  • Kimball Zendak (Science Police Chief; Annual #1)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • Levitz came on as scripter of the book during a confusing run started by, and still plotted by Roy Thomas.  It seems that Superboy has somehow managed to believe that he is actually Ultra Boy, or conversely, that Jo Nah is now inhabiting Superboy’s body.  He lets us know that he showed up in the guise of the hero Reflecto, who was then revealed to be Superboy. To figured out what was going on, the Legion sent a squad – Lightning Lad (then the team’s leader), Saturn Girl, Blok, Dawnstar, Karate Kid, and Phantom Girl to the 20th century to figure out what’s going on.  On arriving, they somehow interfered with an atomic bomb test, and then the Time Trapper wrecked their time bubble. Superboy is convinced he’s Ultra Boy, but he tests his powers, and realizes that he can use them in tangent, something that Ultra Boy can’t do. He wrecks a mountaintop, and then decides he should try to use his powers to return to the future.  He hits a barrier, and the Time Trapper taunts him in a vision. Back at the Kent family home in Smallville, the rest of the Legion squad is tired of sitting around, and want to buy some food. They raid the closet for some clothes that Lightning Lad and Karate Kid can wear, while Saturn Girl feels she’s fine to walk the streets in a two piece bathing suit and hooker boots.  Dawnstar and Blok realize they need to hang back when they are interrupted by a nosey neighbour who doesn’t buy their story that they look strange because they are practising for a school play. Clark appears, forgetting to wear his glasses, to calm the neighbour down. Then the squad goes for a walk into town. They notice a large number of soldiers spreading throughout the town, and then get stopped by Lana Lang, who knows the Legion, and thinks their presence is proof that Clark Kent is Superboy (I guess this was a thing then).  When Clark doesn’t appear to know her well, and the team tells her they can’t explain what’s happening, she storms off. Dawnstar and Blok hear an explosion and fly off to investigate, and are seen by the nosey neighbour. They arrive on the scene where a villain from the future, called the Molecule Master, is threatening the team and the soldiers that are everywhere. Clark establishes that the Master is a robot, who can control everything around him. The team fights, has trouble, and fights some more. Clark slips off so he can change into Superboy, and we establish that the military is looking to arrest him.  The team finally realizes that the only way they can beat the Master is by ganging up and attacking all at once (even the characters who can’t do more than punch him with regular strength). The Master explodes, and the whole team is knocked out, allowing the soldiers to capture them. Superboy, Dawnstar, and Phantom Girl were knocked further, into an alley, and Tinya is the first to awaken. Seeing that the soldiers are after them, she uses her powers to transport the three of them to her home dimension, Bgztl. The rest of the team is captured, and somewhere, the Time Trapper laughs about how this will allow him to defeat the rest of the team in the future (which makes no real sense).  
  • The Legion squad is in jail in the 1960s, and their powers have been negated by various devices.  The police chief is inclined to believe the Legionnaires, but the army major is convinced that Superboy is a traitor to the USA.  The Time Trapper is pleased with himself. Phantom Girl has taken Superboy and Dawnstar to Bgtzl in the 1960s, where things look a lot like Earth.  Superboy is back in his own head, but a little confused. They see some flying ships shooting at one another, and decide to stop the one belonging to someone called the Dirigible Dictator, but figure since Tinya doesn’t know her dimension’s history well, that they should let events play themselves out.  Dawnstar believes she can follow a trail to Ultra Boy’s body with Tinya’s help, so they pause between dimensions, and find him floating in an energy field. Lana Lang tries to visit the Legionnaires in jail, but is turned away. She changes into her Insect Queen outfit (apparently she had a bio-ring that let her change into various girl-sized bugs), and attacks the soldiers as a giant bee.  Next she turns into a giant spider-girl to fire webs out of her rear end at more soldiers. Ultra Boy is still alive. He tells a long story about how he didn’t die when everyone thought he did, but turned into a ghost, went back in time, took over Superboy through the telepathic plugs the Legion wears, tried to use an atomic bomb to free himself, failed, went to the future, got confused, created the Reflecto identity to disguise himself, got discovered, and then Superboy woke up.  I think that covers it – it makes no sense to me. Superboy figures they need another atomic explosion to free Jo from the aura around him, so he smashes some asteroids together. Lana is about to be captured when Ultra Boy appears to help her, and then Superboy and the others bust their friends out of jail. They decide that they can use Superboy’s ability to travel through time in Bgtzl, since it’s not covered by the Time Trapper’s shield. They go straight to his base in the future, where Phantom Girl turns his big cannon on him, and he appears to have been disintegrated.  The group returns to the rest of the Legion, and Saturn Girl wipes Superboy’s memory of how his parents will die (I guess this was a thing), before he heads back to his time to clear his name by chatting with the President. Later, Tinya shows Jo that she’s changed his statue in the Hall of Dead Heroes to be of Reflecto, and then the two of them take a leave for a few days.
  • Issue 283 is written by Roy Thomas alone, and feel like a bit of a fill-in issue.  Wildfire has given three young heroes who were rejected when they tried out for the Legion, a second chance to impress him by sparring with them in Legion Plaza.  He makes quick work of Crystal Kid, dumping him in the fountain, before Nightwind dumps him in the same fountain. It looks like Lamprey might have him on the ropes, but then Drake rallies and drags them up into the sky (he’s loaned them all flight rings, but disintegrated Crystal Kid’s).  He tells them they need to keep practicing, and when the two girls try to kiss him, he freaks out and pushes them away; Lamprey is almost killed but he saves her. Feeling bad, he decides to tell the trio his life story. He explains how, when he was still human, he was not that focused on school, and told his professor, Vultan, that he was going to drop out.  He ran into Vultan’s daughter, Zera, who he was attracted to, but then went to spend time with Kerri, his girlfriend. Later, working in the lab, there was an accident caused by his foolishness, and Drake was turned into “pulsating antimatter”. Vulton put him in a containment field, and decided that the ERG-suit he’d been building might be able to house Drake’s new form.  Kerri assumed that Drake was dead, so the university went with that. When Drake was put into the suit, he was able to move and communicate again, but was upset to learn he was no longer human. With time, he learned to use the suit and developed many abilities that mimicked those of the Legion. Zera and he became close, and he began to go by the name ERG-One. He decided he needed to see Kerri again, but when he saw her, she freaked out (which doesn’t make sense on a world where many aliens walk around) and ran.  He followed, so she took off in a flying car, but lost control of it. Realizing she was going to fly into a floating playground (because why does that make sense?), he lightly blasted the car, destroying it, and pulled her from the explosion. She was in a coma, and he felt bad. That’s when he decided to try out for the Legion, but he wouldn’t use his energy blasts, so they rejected him for merely duplicating the abilities of other Legionnaires (apparently that wasn’t allowed, although it doesn’t explain how Superboy, Ultra Boy, and Mon-El were all good).  He followed them on a mission, and blasted some device, but dissipated. It took him a year to coalesce and return to Earth. He found his suit, and then stopped a plan by the Molecule Master to infiltrate the Legion and steal the Miracle Machine. The Machine upgraded Drake’s abilities, he changed his name to Wildfire, and became a Legionnaire. He returned to visit Vultan and Zera, and learned that Vultan died. The suit was originally designed to keep him alive, as he suffered from a wasting disease. Zera never explains why he couldn’t build another one, and she blamed Drake for his death.  She put him in a monitor chair, and was going to kill him by draining all his energy, when Drake asked if that’s what her father would have wanted. She let him go. Next, he went looking for Kerri, but saw that she has a boyfriend. He still spoke to her, to apologize for causing her crash. That ends storytime, and the potential Legionnaires feel inspired by it. Wildfire gives them their own flight rings (I mean, two of them were already wearing them, weren’t they?) and encourages them. He’s surprised that he was so open with them about things the rest of the Legion doesn’t even know. Lightning Lad was listening to him talk, and they walk into the clubhouse together.
  • Bouncing Boy visits the Hall of Dead Heroes, where his wife Duo-Damsel finds him, asking if he’s ready to go to the Legion’s meeting.  At the meeting, as Lightning Lad tries to address the team’s membership, Wildfire makes a crack, and Sun Boy overreacts, starting a fight between them.  Bouncing Boy breaks it up and announces that he and Luornu are intending to return to reserve status. They get a call on the mission monitor board. We see a gang of organleggers infiltrate Medicus One, the floating medical space station.  They are almost immediately attacked by Timber Wolf, who is already there with Light Lass. Timber Wolf attacks the organleggers, while Ayla gets annoyed by how reckless he is. One of the organleggers tosses a capsule into a storage vault, and it explodes.  Some other organleggers begin loading stolen organs to their ship, and depart. They are followed by Wildfire, Dawnstar, and Ultra Boy, who enter their ship and take control of it. Bouncing Boy and Duo-Damsel monitor the mission monitor board, and get a call from Karate Kid who tells them that he and Princess Projectra are on Orando, her homeworld, and are taking a leave.  Dream Girl comes to stay goodbye to Chuck and Luornu, and takes over monitor duty so they can leave. We learn that she saw their leaving in a dream, and is worried about some other part of the same dream. Some Legionnaires work to repair the outside of Medicus One. Their work done, the team is ready to depart, but Saturn Girl explains that Lightning Lad has something personal to attend to.  We see that he’s with Timber Wolf and Light Lass. They are the ones that called the Legion to the station, but don’t want anyone else to know that Timber Wolf is a patient there. Garth agrees to keep their secret. Flying home, Chameleon Boy talks about learning that RJ Brande, the Legion’s benefactor, is his father. Garth and Imra chat at home, but he doesn’t tell her what Ayla and Brin are doing.  We see Brin undergo a procedure that restores his original appearance. It looks like this was done to make Ayla happy, but when he feels uncertain, she gets mad at him. She storms off, and gets caught when a creature called Organus, left there by the organleggers, breaks out of the storage vault. Organus feeds off people’s energies, and he drains Ayla until Brin breaks her free. We learn that Organus has absorbed Ayla’s powers.  Back on Earth, some of the team plays Dungeons and Dragons (seriously), when they get the call to return to Medicus One. Recognizing that Garth is busy, Element Lad takes control and brings Sun Boy, Blok, Brainiac 5, and Cosmic Boy with him. They arrive on the station and find some dead people. They also find Organus, and begin to fight him, with no real results. Ayla tells Blok to attack, and when he does, Organus can’t drain him.  His energy instead causes some kind of feedback that drains Organus, but Blok keeps from killing him. Later, the Legion has their meeting again, and end up talking about how the team, currently at twenty-three members, can’t have more than twenty-five for tax purposes. Garth adjourns the meeting.
  • A squad (Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, and Shrinking Violet) have gone to Nullport, the massive UP shipyards, to get a new cruiser.  While hanging out, there old cruiser suddenly collapses, wrecking it (even though the gravity here is low, so that’s questionable). Shrinking Violet believes that she saw on their crusier’s command board (despite the fact that she was trapped under the cruiser, not in it) that the port’s computer caused the crash.  Karate Kid and Princess Projectra are on Orando, watching the various nobles swear fealty to her father. Her father is hard on Karate Kid, but then appears to suffer a heart attack. The squad talks to H’hrinath, the tentacled and human-armed horse that runs Nullport, about their suspicions, and while he doesn’t believe them, two more ships collapse; Vi finds more evidence of wrongdoing.  Star Boy calls in to Brainiac 5, and Timber Wolf suspects that the Khunds are responsible, which impresses Brainy. Vi explores the Nullport computer tower, and finds a device that was placed inside it, that is responsible for the problems they’ve had. She wrecks it, and identifies it as Khundian. The Khund’s Warlord Gharan, recognizing that the device has stopped working, kills his son, who was responsible for it, and orders an attack on Nullport.  The Legionnaires are ready for them, and fight for a bit, before they enact an odd plan. Star Boy makes the port (which is built out of a wrecked planetoid) really heavy, while Shadow Lass hides it in darkness, and Mon-El moves it further into UP space. Later, H’hrnath gives them five new cruisers as a thank you (they look a bit like X-Wings, and not as big as the Enterprise-like one they wrecked). We see the Projectra’s father has died.
  • Issue 285 also features a backup, drawn by Keith Giffen (his first Legion story!) and spotlighting Dream Girl.  She’s back on Naltor, her homeworld, where her race of precognitives have all lost the ability to foresee the future.  This upsets everyone, causing riots. Nura sees three guys try to break into a bank vault, and stops them through an original use of her flight ring.  Catching up on local news, she looks for an explanation for what’s happened, and notices that her planet has finally finished constructing the gyrostabilizer that has long been promised to help control its seismic shifts.  She figures out that it works on a frequency that upsets precognition, and changes it, restoring everyones’ powers.  
  • A group of Legionnaires are vacationing on RJ Brande’s planetoid, including Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, Dawnstar, Sun Boy, Lightning Lad, and Colossal Boy.  They are playing volleyball, but Gim uses his powers, and gets accused of cheating. Dawnstar and Phantom Girl trip him, and Superboy shows up from the past to ref and calm everyone down.  Brande and Chameleon Boy, his newly-revealed son, join them. In space, Doctor Regulus destroys Brande’s satellite guardians, and approaches the planetoid, looking for revenge on Sun Boy (Regulus is responsible for him gaining his powers, but when that accident happened, Dirk’s father fired Regulus, who also has powers).  When Brande tries to get closer to Chameleon Boy, Reep shuts him down and flies away. The planetoid starts to shake, and the sky turns red. The other Legionnaires join Brande. We learn that he became rich through making stars, and that he makes them on this planetoid (none of which makes sense). They figure something is wrong with that process, and find Regulus standing there.  He gloats a bit, and tells the team that he’s set the machines to overload or something, and knocks them all out, except for Phantom Girl, who walks into the power plant. Sun Boy recovers and gets ready to square off. On Earth, Ultra Boy, Timber Wolf, Light Lass, Star Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Blok discuss their concern about Khund aggression. Chameleon Boy turns up, and decides, as leader of the Legion Espionage Squad, to go on a mission to recon Khund space, taking Timber Wolf and Vi with him.  A message comes in from Karate Kid. Regulus and Sun Boy fight, and after knocking him down, Dirk heads into the power plant to try to shut it down, and we are reminded that he’s a scientist, and the only one who can withstand the radiation inside. Regulus decides to leave and flies off, as the other Legionnaires recover. Superboy decides to go inside the plant, with a telepathic link to Brande through Saturn Girl. The others go after Regulus. Superboy finds Phantom Girl inside, but begins to succumb to the radiation.  He sees Sun Boy working on the plant, and as Saturn Girl gets ready to link with Dirk, he shuts things down on his own. Regulus, standing on his spacecraft in space, sees the planet’s colour return to normal, and is caught by the Legionnaires. Later, they all hang out on Brande’s World, and Lightning Lad gets mad when he realizes that Chameleon Boy left without telling him.  
  • The backup this month is set on Orando, where Princess Projectra is about to be given her father’s crown.  Karate Kid promises to stay with her, but her cousin Prince Pharoxx doesn’t think she should be queen. He challenges her (and for some reason she can have Karate Kid as a second) to a trial by combat.  When they fight, her powers don’t affect him (he has a helmet that protects him from her illusions), and he knocks her down. After a short sword fight with Val, he uses magic to knock him out, and Pharoxx is declared king.  He orders the death of Val and Projectra.
  • Giffen and Broderick switch spaces in this issue, with Giffen taking the lead story.  Lightning Lad is pretty annoyed that Chameleon Boy left Brande’s World without telling him, and interrupts Blok, Star Boy, and Light Lass in their work to rant.  Everyone is a little surprised at how angry he is. Chameleon Boy has Timber Wolf and Shrinking Violet with him. They’ve hollowed out an asteroid (which somehow has atmosphere, as they aren’t wearing their helmets), and are going to fly it to the Khund homeworld.  We learn a lot about Khundia and its perpetual darkness. Lightning Lad learns what Cham has done, and gets even more angry. He wants to dispatch Mon-El and Ultra Boy to bring them back, but learns that Element Lad sent them to Orando when Karate Kid called in. Colossal Boy reports that his mother (the President of Earth) told him that the United Planets are negotiating with the Khunds, and wouldn’t be happy if anyone intervened.  Even more angry, Garth quits, declaring Jan leader now. Ayla worries about Timber Wolf. Arriving on Khundia, the three Legionnaires disguise themselves as Khunds (the two who aren’t Durlans use a holographic “dystortor”. As they walk through a city, Timber Wolf mistakenly bumps into some guy, who takes offense, and then gets more upset when he doesn’t follow cultural norms. He teleports them all somewhere. Ayla and Imra have a talk about how Ayla is worried about Brin, and Garth.  Imra promises to help her. Our trio has been moved to a challenge dome, where the Khund, Kharlak, who does this kind of thing all the time, gets ready to fight them. Vi shrinks, dropping their cover, and so they all start to fight. The Khund authorities react (the fights are televised), and send a battlecruiser to kill them. Suddenly another ship appears, and they are called over. It’s Colossal Boy and Saturn Girl, who borrowed a ship from CB’s mom to rescue them. The ship jumps away, but is damaged, and when it comes out of warp, it flies right into an asteroid.  
  • In the backup to #287, Mon-El and Shadow Lass have had their vacation interrupted by a request from the UP to investigate a rogue planet that has drifted into the shipping lanes.  Shady’s not that happy about it, and finds the planet cold (but is okay riding through space in her bathing suit?). They are attacked by automated defenses upon landing, which escalate to huge tanks.  Finally, Shady has to hide them in a bubble of her shadows, and then the devices all ignore them. They are going to try to figure things out when they get a call from the team. The narration shows us that somewhere on this planet, there lies an old figure who has been lying on a slab for many years.  He is finally awake, and intends to put the galaxy into darkness. We learn that Mon-El and Shady are heading to Orando, while the guy who just woke up yells about worshipping darkness (the quiet kind?).
  • The Statement of Ownership (I didn’t think DC books published these) for 1981 lists this book as having an average press run of 282 000 (!!!!) with average newsstand returns of 162 000 (!!!!!).  Incredible numbers from today’s perspective.
  • Val and Projectra are in a dungeon on Orando, awaiting their scheduled execution.  When guards come to get them, they attempt an escape, but are stopped by Pharoxx. Brainiac 5 monitors the new holographic mission monitoring board, which makes him late for a team meeting.  Element Lad is running the meeting, while Lightning Lad is feeling sorry for himself because Saturn Girl is missing. They all want to find the missing group. Mon-El and Shadow Lass join Dream Girl and Ultra Boy on Orando, and learn that their friends are about to burned at the stake (Orando is a very old-school world).  Pharoxx and Hagga, Projectra’s grandmother and powerful witch, talk before the execution. Mon-El and the others intervene, stopping some of the guards, but Hagga uses her power to knock everyone out. We see that a polymer shield is being built around the Earth to protect it, as Dawnstar tries to use her powers to find her missing friends.  Garth, at the mission monitor board, feels sorry for himself, and angry at Chameleon Boy. Now all the Legionnaires on Orando are tied to stakes and ready to be burned. Dream Girl bluffs, claiming to be a sorceress and using her flight ring to rise out of her bonds. She has Shady darken the sky; Hagga blasts Projectra, thinking this is her doing, but it has no effect.  On an asteroid that somehow has a bit of atmosphere, the lost Legionnaires – Saturn Girl, Timber Wolf, Chameleon Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Colossal Boy sit around, trying to stay warm. Their rings are working for some reason having to do with the crystals in the asteroid. Timber Wolf has had enough of Cham apologizing to them for getting them in this situation. He and Irma walk off, so she can heal in peace, and they bond a little over their love of the Ranzz twins.  Cham tries to find something in the wrecked ship to help them, to no avail, and then finds Violet and Colossal Boy making out. On Orando, Pharoxx decides he will kill the Legionnaires, but the executioners object, because that’s not tradition. Shady manages to knock out Hagga, which frees everyone. Pharoxx summons or creates a big demon for them all to fight, but Karate Kid just knocks Pharoxx out with a kick to the stomach. Everyone starts declaring Projectra queen, and she faints.  Later, Val tells his friends that he’s going to stay with Projectra on Orando, and they go to her coronation.
  • The five lost Legionnaires huddle around a fire on their cold asteroid.  Timber Wolf is grumpy, and Chameleon Lad feels guilty. Violet’s had enough, and takes Colossal Boy for a walk.  Sun Boy and Blok are searching a jungle planet (Yucatan VII) after hearing reports of a crashed cruiser. Sun Boy uses his flames to clear the jungle (there’s an underlying colonialist tone to this whole scene), and they are attacked by three aliens that they can’t communicate with.  They beat them up, and then realize they are the beings who crashed on this planet. The team from Orando returns to Legion HQ, and find Lightning Lad feeling sorry for himself. Dawnstar is searching in space, followed by Light Lass in a weird-looking capsule. Some kind of solar storm hits, and blows up Ayla’s vessel.  Dawnstar crashes through the command module to rescue her friend, whose suit protects her. Dawnstar is hurt, but determined to keep looking. On the asteroid, Imra and Brin chat some more, and it looks like they are going to have a moment when are interrupted by Colossal Boy and Violet. Vi has found a device in the crash that might help them, but needs assistance from Imra to make it work.  On the rogue planet that Shady and Mon-El investigated, the shadowy figure awakens five beings from pods in the ceiling of his cave. Star Boy and Phantom Girl are flying by, searching, and register the energy surge. They conclude that if that was their friends’ ship exploding, it’s too late for them. On the asteroid, the Legionnaires have rigged up a massive flare system, aided by Cham becoming reflective, but it only works once.  Using it somehow causes the remains of their ship to explode, including their food supply. Imra, who was hurt a little, starts to despair, and Brin holds her, while they talk about the depth of his love for Ayla. Just then, Dawnstar flies up, holding Ayla, who suspects that something was happening between those two.
  • In a back-up drawn (rather poorly) by Carmine Infantino, Brainiac 5 and Element Lad, learning that the search was successful, head to the planet where Matter-Eater Lad has been kept, since Brainy’s breakdown some years before caused him to go nuts.  When M-E Lad sees them, he attacks, and they use a tranquil-gas to knock him out. A laser scalpel hits the sedatomizer out of Brainy’s hand, and they are all knocked out. When they wake up, they find that Doctor R’Xalim, an eight-armed psychiatrist who blames Brainy for his losing his job has taken them all prisoner inside a forcefield, which he sets to shrink slowly to crush them all.  Jan is still unconscious, but luckily Brainy has a flower with him, and uses it to activate Jan’s extreme allergies (a racial trait, of course) to awaken him, so he can create a barrier within the forcefield, shorting out the forcefield projector. After the Doctor is arrested, Brainy arranges to bring M-E Lad, who seems pretty out of it, back to Legion HQ. As they leave, Brainy carries him awkwardly on his back.
  • The first LSH Annual also marks the first time that Keith Giffen receives a co-plotter credit.  Shavaughn Erin, the Science Police officer, arrives at Legion HQ for her first day as their liaison to the SP.  She’s excited, but needs help to get into the building, due to recent upgrades by Brainiac 5. Wildfire and Dawnstar, on their way out, help her.  Element Lad meets her and begins to show her around. We see that Brainy, Mon-El, and Dream Girl are in the new medical lab, working to help a young girl named Danielle Foccart, who has a rare energy-overload condition.  She’s there with her brother Jacques. Brainy begins the computer surgery, and things go wrong, as Computo, the deadly computer that Brainy made years earlier, takes control of the girl. Cosmic Boy tries on his new uniform when all the metal in his room begins to attack him.  Weird stuff happens in Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s quarters as well, as their appliance attack them. The shield goes up around the HQ. Sun Boy and Star Boy (who has grown a beard) are playing holographic Dungeons and Dragons when the creatures they are playing attack them.  Computo seals the med lab, and Element Lad can’t break through. It also freezes Mon-El somehow. The Science Police get some updates from Erin, and begin to work to contain the situation, evacuating the area around the headquarters. Learning of Computo’s return, Duo Damsel is upset (it was Computo that killed her third body when she was Triplicate Girl).  Shadow Lass joins Element Lad and Erin, and they bring her up to date, just as all life support in the building is turned off. In 1969, Superboy gets a weird feeling (which makes no sense). Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet are getting ready to take a trip when their cruiser takes off on its own, flying through the HQ wall (kind of negating the life support situation).  Garth and Imra escape their quarters, and find the injured Cosmic Boy. Outside, the SP turn away the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Jacques questions Brainy’s sanity, while Computo taunts him from Danielle’s body. Timber Wolf and Blok get attacked by the equipment in the gym (how many computers would there be in a set of gymnast’s rings, anyway?). President Allon tries to manage the situation, but rejects aid offered by the Green Lanterns, citing a rule that the Lanterns are never to return to Earth.  It looks like Computo is going to burn out Danielle’s body. On the barren planet, Darkseid senses what’s going on, and sends one of his servants to steal this power (it takes pages). Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, and Light Lass are restoring Ultra Boy’s quarters, left empty after his ‘death’, when they are attacked by the vacuum and other appliances. Chameleon Lad is sitting in a park feeling sorry for himself. Brainy manages to slip a telepathic plug to Jacques, so they can communicate and make a plan. Wildfire and Dawnstar save Vi and Colossal Boy from their runaway cruiser, as Darkseid’s servant arrives at the barrier around Earth.  Element Lad gives up on getting through the barrier Computo has erected, and then remembers that there are doors in the floor. Lightning Lad saves Sun Boy and Star Boy from the games room. Darkseid’s servant gets crushed by the runaway cruiser. Brainy tells Jacques where in the med lab there is a vial of the serum that created the first Invisible Kid, and suggests that he use it, although there is a risk it might kill him. Wildfire and Dawny arrive outside HQ, while Blok and Brin free themselves from the gym, although they can’t get out of it. Lightning Lad prepares to lead a squad, but is confronted by his younger self. Jacques manages to get to the serum, and turns invisible, which Computo notices.  Ultra Boy’s room keeps exploding; Ayla is hurt but manages to get the others, who are unconscious, out. As she lies there waiting for the next blast, she wonders what was happening between Brin and Ayla on the asteroid. In the med lab, Computo tosses electronics at Brainy, trying to crush his forcefield, while Brainy directs the invisible Jacques to retrieve a hypo to knock out Danielle. Mon-El, still frozen, uses his heat vision to make it easier to get the hypo, which Computo could see. He manages to get over to Danielle, and injects her, putting her out, and shutting down Computo in the process. Everything returns to normal. Later, we see that Danielle is being kept unconscious, so Computo can’t return.  As Brainy and Jacques leave the lab, we see Danielle’s eyes open, and she grins. At a team meeting, Brainy says that he will step down after this failure, and nominates Jacques to take his place. Wildfire is against Jacques joining, but Mon-El and Blok support him. Element Lad refuses Brainy’s resignation. A little later, Brainiac 5 goes to Jacques, and offers him a place as the new Invisible Kid. He also promises to keep working to save his sister; Jacques accepts.
  • Issue 290 launches the Great Darkness Saga, although it’s not named that anywhere here.  Superboy, Phantom Girl, Cosmic Boy, Invisible Kid, and Wildfire are at the Museum of the Mystic Arts, where something has just smashed through, trying to rob the place.  It’s curator, Antonio Stefanacci (who looks a bit like Doctor Strange) arrives to tell the team that he had the Wand of Mentachem, the thing he imagines the attacker was looking for.  That attacker shows up; he’s a dark figure with a glowing triangle on his chest. He makes short work of the Legionnaires, using strength, freeze breath, and invulnerability to get the wand, and then to teleport away after calling for his master.  At Legion HQ, a conversation between Brainiac 5 and Blok brings us up to speed on the fact that Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet are on leave. Timber Wolf sees that Chameleon Boy is packing to leave, and is pretty hard on him for his role in their mission to Khundia.  Leaving the room, Brin runs into Saturn Girl. Cosmic Boy leads the squad to London, where they presume that the thief might go after Excalibur next. They are swarmed by tourists. Wildfire and Cosmic Boy go to check on the sword when there is an explosion. Invisible Kid joins Wildfire, who is trying to stop a different “servant” from stealing Excalibur – this one has a very large head.  It retrieves the sword and teleports away again. Doctor Gym’ll is annoyed to have been called to Legion HQ to examine Lightning Lad, who appears to be suffering from electrical dysfunctions of the brain. Element Lad goes looking for Imra to see if she can help Garth, who is very agitated. Imra and Brin talk about how they are not being trusted by their partners after being caught embracing.  Element Lad interrupts them, sending Imra to the med lab, and then taking a shot at Brin. The servants return to their master, who uses the mystical energy of the objects to “feed the darkness”. The squad that just got defeated twice discuss finding other likely targets, and then perhaps sending Invisible Kid into the space warp with the next servant they find. Later, this squad has added Shadow Lass to their number, and have gone to Talok VIII, her planet, where they suspect that the Orb of Orthanax might be the next target.  The room is plunged in darkness, and a female servant attacks them. It looks like they are able to take her down, when another servant warps in, riding an apparatus that would be familiar to fans of the Fourth World. He grabs the orb and warps out. The woman tries to make it through the same portal, but is tackled by Invisible Kid, leaving them with a prisoner. At a short-staffed Legion meeting, Element Lad talks about how it’s time for a new leadership election. He says he is running, as does Dream Girl and Ultra Boy. The squad returns with the prisoner, and Marte Allon calls in to let the Legion know that Chameleon Boy is going on trial for treason the next day.  As Superboy and Shady take the prisoner to the lab, they talk about how they have both felt connected to two of the servants. Her presence in the lab causes a reaction in Danielle Foccart, suggesting that the servant is giving Computo a nightmare. On the rogue planet, the master calls the returning servant his son, and absorbs the power of the Orb. The master says it’s time to go take power from the living, and it looks like they all teleport away.
  • Mon-El, Dream Girl, and Shadow Lass examine the Servant they captured, and deduce that she’s basically a clone of Lydea Mallor, the first hero of Talok VIII, Shadow Lass’s ancestor, but made out of inanimate matter.  Element Lad calls them to a meeting. On Avalon, the Servants and Master of Darkness free Mordru, and then the character we still don’t recognize as Darkseid drains him of power. Chameleon Boy’s lawyer lets him know that he’s in for a rough trial.  The Lydea Mallor clone begins to stir. The Legion meeting turns contentious when Ultra Boy challenges Element Lad’s insistence on holding the election instead of postponing it until the end of Cham’s trial. Wildfire is vaguely sexist about Dream Girl running for leader; Dreamy has a vision and collapses.  Shvaughn Erin calls to tell them that there’s a problem on Takron-Galtos that needs the Legion’s help, while Brainy learns that Mordru is free, and Dreamy, recovering, tells them that her sister is being attacked on Naltor. The squad sent to Takron-Galtos, the prison planet (Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, and Shadow Lass) quickly contain the escaping prisoners, and are surprised to see that the Time Trapper (who was captured between issues) has had his powers drained.  They are attacked by the Orion clone, who hurts the women, but runs from the combined attack of Mon-El and Ultra Boy. Superboy checks in with Saturn Girl, learning that there’s been no progress for Lightning Lad, and then Superboy heads back to the 20th century to attend his parents’ anniversary. Imra feels bad, knowing that they will die from a fever like Garth’s. A squad (Wildfire, Dawnstar, Brainiac 5, Element Lad, Timber Wolf, and Star Boy) arrive on Avalon, to find that Mordru has been drained.  The team that went to Naltor (Dream Girl, Light Lass, Invisible Kid, Blok, and Sun Boy) meet the White Witch, Nura’s sister. They are attacked by the big-headed clone, who tries to kidnap the Witch. As they fight, the Invisible Kid slips into the warp space, and meets Darkseid, who blasts him. Darkseid decides that Mysa isn’t worth the effort, and orders his Servant back. Jacques is ill, and Nura sees a vision of the Legion fighting the Servants on Sorcerer’s World, and losing.
  • The back-up to issue 291 has Saturn Girl fretting over Garth, who is unconscious or asleep, suffering from his fever.  Cosmic Boy calls her to get her to vote, and is attacked. She rushes to him, finding the Lydea Mallor clone beating on him.  Together they aren’t enough to stop her, so Imra calls to Garth. He arrives just in time to blast Mallor, before collapsing. Later, we see that his fever has broken, but he needs rest.  Cosmic Boy tells Imra that Dream Girl won the election.
  • The squad on Takron-Galtos (Phantom Girl, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, and Ultra Boy) work to repair the damage the prison sustained before leaving to rejoin the rest of the team.  As they leave, they just miss the arrival of Chameleon Lad, who has been found guilty and is being transferred there as a prisoner. Most of the rest of the active Legion are flying in two cruisers to The Sorcerer’s World, following Dream Girl’s vision of a fight there.  The White Witch has come with them, and most are surprised by the odd landscape and illusions of the planet. As the two cruisers land on the only populated part of the world, Ultra Boy’s cruiser, just arriving, is attacked by four Servants of Darkness. As the others fight, Mon-El enters the space warp to attack the master, and is surprised to recognize him.  The Master, having entered Mon’s mind, learns of Daxam. Back on Earth, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy are working the computers to learn what they can about their foes. They use some switch that speeds up the computer, so it can analyze the Servants’ DNA faster. They learn that one of the clones is of a Guardian of the Universe, while the other is of Superman.  Most of the Legion meets with the teachers of the Sorcerer’s World, who feel confident that they will be fine if the Servants attack. Light Lass blows off Timber Wolf’s attempt to talk to her. The teachers are surprised to learn that violence has already visited their planet. Dream Girl splits them into three squads and sends them out, while a few stay back with the teachers to prepare.  Wildfire and Dawnstar see their injured friends, but go past them to the warp, where the magical energies of the planet are being drained. As the Servants attack, Wildfire tosses Dawnstar into space so he can fight alone. His suit is ripped apart by the Orion Clone. The teachers open a warp of their own, and a baby arrives through it, although no one knows why. Lightning Lad summons all the off-duty Legionnaires.  The team fights the Servants, to little effect. They retreat to the main island, and Brainy tries to extend his forcefield around it. The Master gets annoyed by his “mockeries’” chatter, breaks through the forcefield, and drops off all the injured Legionnaires. He leaves, telling the team they can leave since Mon-El helped him. Most of the team are feeling defeated, but Dream Girl is happy that her premonition was proven false.  Wildfire joins them in a new suit, but Dreamy shows them the baby. We learn two of the teachers are dead, but Dreamy feels hopeful that the baby will be able to save them, if they can just figure out how.

I’ve never ended a column in the middle of a storyline before, but with the next issue, Keith Giffen became the regular co-plotter, working with Levitz, and that arrangement lasted for another couple of years, more or less, which would make this the longest column I’ve ever written.

It is remarkable to see just how much this book changed in the year that Levitz joined it.  His early issues, working off Roy Thomas’s plots, felt very much like your typical, slightly dull and juvenile late-70s DC comic.  The plots didn’t make much sense (Superboy being wanted by the US military?), and characters reacted to things in an immature or poorly thought-out way.  

Once Levitz took on sole writing duties, things got so much tighter.  We started to see long-running subplots (that is one of the things I miss most in current comics, where creative teams rarely stick around long enough to plot out bigger stories), and more character development.  Admittedly, some of that character work is awkward, like the whole storyline around the fact that Timber Wolf and Saturn Girl were hugging on an icy asteroid, and now Ayla’s convinced they are together, but so much of it is terrific, especially for the early 80s.

After Keith Giffen arrived as penciller, things got even better.  Levitz built the Great Darkness story perfectly, and it’s remarkable that even a few issues in, the identity of the Master of Darkness has not been revealed (despite the fact that it’s pretty obvious).  The Annual, which has the two of them collaborating on plot, was an incredibly satisfying issue.

One thing that consistently surprises me is the amount of story that Levitz fit into each issue.  There are so many characters in the book (twenty-six make appearances, not including Matter-Eater Lad and the White Witch, who is not on the team yet), alongside, at times, RJ Brande, Dr. Gym’ll, and Shvaughn Erin, and Levitz gives them all just enough space to feel like they matter.  He also will have many plotlines running in each issue – one of these comics takes as long to read as some entire trades today.

I’ve always loved the structure around the Legion, and in this run, we see a leadership election (I always thought those were a lot of fun), get a map of the headquarters, and see the medical team and the Legion Espionage Squad in action.  We also get to visit places like Takron-Galtos and Medicus One, and learn a little about the intergalactic geopolitical situation. I remember thinking all of these things were incredibly cool back in the day, and I still think so now.

Artwise, the early issues are fine, but things really change when Giffen shows up.  Early Giffen is interesting to study. His style is a little all over the place, with some pages and issues appearing like pretty standard comic book art, but in other places, we see the earliest expressions of the various styles he’s used over the years.  His tendency to show characters from behind, often slouching, shows up in some of his earliest issues, and his lines are sometimes quite loose, for the time. I’m a big fan of Giffen’s work (although not so much in the Image era, after he left the Legion), and it’s cool that as I read though the Legion runs, I’ll get to see his work develop and change.

I think it was around this time that the Legion became a real powerhouse at DC, and I can easily see why.  I think it must have been very exciting to be a reader of this series in this era, and would argue that this series began to pave the way for other more serious comics at DC.  Levitz balances respect and a sense of the book’s history with his bold approach to longer, more serious stories and commitment to character development. I’m excited to keep going, and to get to the issues where Giffen joined him, and they concluded the Great Darkness Saga together, and then built on that success.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read some of the stories I talk about here, you can follow this link for the trade paperback that encompass some of these issues:
The Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga


Editor’s Note:

The classic Great Darkness Saga is usually collected with LOSH #287 to LOSH #296 and Annual #1. Most of those books are covered in this review and the remaining four titles are below.

This epic arc has been collected several times with some amazing covers.

That includes covers by Keith Giffen (first two from the left above) and Lee Bermejo (right most cover above).


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