Retro Review: Cosmic Boy By Levitz, Giffen, Colón & Others For DC Comics

Cosmic Boy #1-4 (December 1986 – March 1987)

Written by Paul Levitz

Layouts by Keith Giffen

Pencilled by Ernie Colón

Inked by Bob Smith (#1-3), Pablo Marcos (#4)

Colour by Carl Gafford

Spoilers (from thirty-two to thirty-three years ago)

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC had to figure out how they were going to reset their universe’s history.  The Crisis was a soft reboot, with series continuing with their numbering for the most part, but now having to integrate characters from previous dimensions.  One clear example is how the Justice Society of America, which once resided on Earth 2, now had to both inspire the Justice League, and exist independent of tentpole characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, who were originally on that team.  This was done through some creative retconning, such as having Hippolyta, Wonder Woman’s mother, serve on the JSA, while Black Canary became a founding Justice Leaguer instead of Diana.

Similarly, there were issues for the Legion of Super-Heroes, who at their founding, cited Superboy as their main inspiration, and later welcomed him (and Supergirl) onto the team.  Post Crisis, Superman had never been Superboy, thereby making a mess of the Legion’s history.

One way in which DC started to make sense of things, and launched their new approach, was through a miniseries called Legends, by Len Wein, John Ostrander, and John Byrne.  This series debuted the new Suicide Squad, and reformed the Justice League (I think – it’s been decades since I’ve read it). Strangely, it also featured the Legionnaire Cosmic Boy in the 20th Century, where he went for a vacation (shown in Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 3 #23).  

Cosmic Boy was also given a four-issue miniseries that tied in to Legends (the first issue is labelled ‘spin-off chapter 4’).  Prior to this coming out, Cosmic Boy and his girlfriend, Night Girl, took a vacation from the Legion, and decided to travel to the 20th century, as it’s a favourite of CB, who is a history buff.  I’ve been working my way through my stacks of Legion comics, and you can read about those starting here.  

I bought this series at some point after it came out, when I fell in love with the Legion, but I really don’t remember a thing about it, past the great Steve Lightle covers.  Let’s revisit it together.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

The Legion of Super-Heroes

  • Cosmic Boy (Rokk Krinn; #1-4)

Villain

  • The Time Trapper (#3-4)

Guest Stars

  • Superman (Clark Kent; #1)
  • Superboy (Clark Kent; #4)
  • Krypto (#4)

Supporting Characters

  • Night Girl (Lydda Jath, Legion of Substitute Heroes; #1-4)
  • Jason Krinnski (astronaut; #2-3)

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

  • Cosmic Boy is staggering away from what I suppose is a recent battle (it would probably make sense had I read the beginning of Legends), and a crowd of people whipped up by G. Gordon Godfrey’s anti-hero sentiment decides to confront him.  Night Girl flies in and catches him just as a rock bounces off his head. It’s clear that Lydda is not too impressed with the 20th century. She recaps her origin, telling of how she was so enamored of Rokk on the news that she convinced her father to find a way to give her powers so she could join the Legion.  Because her planet exists in darkness, her powers don’t work in the light, and she was rejected by the team. She gets Rokk to their hotel room (complete with twin beds, like it’s a 50s TV show). Rokk wakes up and thinks about how he came back in time, but the journey in the time bubble was rough. He helped out in a fight against Brimstone, and was surprised that Superman didn’t know him.  He wakes up in the hotel, and he and Lydda talk about the anti-hero sentiment going around, which flies in the face of what they know about this time. Lydda shows him the 20th century clothes she bought, and then they watch some TV and video tapes, which shows them that things are different than they expected, especially with regards to peoples’ attitudes towards nuclear power and space exploration.  I feel like Levitz is making a comment on how the futurist optimism of the 60s, when the Legion were created, is gone by the mid-80s. Concerned about obvious changes in history, Rokk decides that he has to make sure that a space flight carrying a nuclear payload takes place (remember, this is after both the Challenger explosion and the Chernobyl disaster, so people are wary of this idea). He fears that without this flight, humanity will never colonize the worlds where he and his friends will be born.  The launch is full of protestors, and when the shuttle launches, something goes wrong. The shuttle explodes, but Rokk is there to grab the nuclear payload with his powers. The authorities assume he is behind the problems, and start shooting at him. He gets away but collapses on a beach, wondering if he can do anything right.
  • Rokk and Lydda are in their hotel room, and Rokk is reading a stack of newspapers, confirming that the history he thought he knew of the 20th century has changed.  Lydda is annoyed that their vacation is going off the rails, and storms off. A TV broadcast explains that the nuclear payload that Rokk rescued last issue has been secretly moved to Houston.  It turns out that Lydda left to buy them plane tickets to Houston, and now they case out the place where its being kept; Rokk is convinced that someone is interfering in history, and they want to catch that person.  That night, they sneak into the facility, and using his powers, Rokk locates the payload. When they enter the lab, they are surprised to see someone sitting there, waiting for them. He identifies himself as Jason, the man who built the device.  He’s not freaked out that they are entering his lab, and he offers them coffee. Rokk explains his interest in making sure that mankind reaches for the stars, and Jason assures him that the problem with the launch was an accident. They see another news broadcast that tells them that Brimstone was killed by Deadshot, and that people are protesting at all NASA installations.  The protestors outside the Houston facility (where there were none before) start climbing over the gate, as if they are going to rip the nuclear device apart (which is probably not a great idea). Rokk, Lydda, and Jason come outside to see the protestors attack. Rokk reveals his powers, and gets his clothes ripped off, revealing his costume (remember, superheroes are now illegal).  Lydda points out how Jason and the other astronauts are defending themselves against the mob, and this spurs Rokk into further action. He uses some magnetically controlled cars to corral the protestors out of the facility again, as the cops arrive. Rokk and Lydda fly off, and Rokk explains that now, after watching Jason’s passion, he’s sure that mankind will reach space one day. As the issue ends, we see that Jason’s last name is Krinnski, suggesting that he might be one of Rokk’s ancestors.
  • Rokk and Lydda get ready to return to their own time, as Rokk is beginning to worry that the changes he’s seen in the 20th century might be extending to the 30th.  They have to dig their time bubble out of a park, and slip into the timestream, where they experience resistance that forces them back to 1986. On the news, we see that G. Gordon Godfrey’s suggested using warhounds to replace the military, that Captain Boomerang is causing problems, and that there are weird lights over Metropolis.  Rokk realizes that he needs help to get back to the future, but doesn’t know where to turn. Another news broadcast (I’d forgotten how much that became a thing in the wake of The Dark Knight Returns) shows that Doctor Krinnski, from the last issue, has taken a leave from NASA. We see Rokk loading a van with stuff from a science supply store, and see that he and Lydda are with Krinnski.  They take him to the park and get him to help them fix the time bubble, despite the fact that it’s all over his head. They leave again, but once again, don’t have enough force to push through whatever barrier is set up in time. The news talks about how Black Canary is wanted, and how people like the warhounds. Rokk continues to study the time bubble, and realizes that he can use his magnetic powers to help boost its power.  He does this, and they manage to push through the time barrier, but they zoom right past the time beacon that tethers them to their own time. They end up at the end of time, and as Rokk realizes that it’s been the Time Trapper tampering with history, the robed villain appears in front of them.
  • The Time Trapper antagonizes Rokk and Lydda, and Lydda attacks him, finding just an empty robe.  Suddenly our heroes find themselves inside a building, but also in front of a massive Trapper who holds the floor they’re on in his hand.  The Trapper tells them that he’s decided to extend his realm, the end of time, backwards through time to the very beginning. His weird interest in games causes him to make a challenge to the two heroes – if they can find their way back to their own time within an hour, he will let them go.  He turns a large hourglass over, and leaves them outside his citadel. Rokk and Lydda break in through a sewer, and are quickly attacked by some monster that Lydda takes out. They decide to split up so they can find the time bubble. Lydda gets into a fight with a group of soldiers from different eras, impressing the Time Trapper.  She gets past them all, and thinking she can hear Rokk through a wall, tries to bust through it. Rokk, meanwhile, is also facing the same assortment of soldiers, and finds himself trapped in a bubble of some kind of glass that is also maybe energy? He figures out how to use his powers to get out of it, and he and Lydda end up in the Trapper’s throne room at the same time, where their time bubble sits waiting.  The Trapper is also there, and he shows them that there are only a few grains of sand left in the hourglass (although the art makes it look like more). Rokk uses his powers to squeeze the glass shut, trapping the last grain of sand, which the Trapper finds hilarious. While he laughs, our heroes jump into the time bubble and pilot it away. It’s clear that the Trapper is letting them go, but says that the next time a Legionnaire breaks the time barrier, it will be the last.  Rokk and Lydda find themselves outside Legion HQ, and Rokk heads inside to tell Element Lad of the threat. Back at the end of time, the Trapper talks to himself about how the “grandest game” has started. He expects Cosmic Boy to return, and to be surprised by the fact that the Trapper has both Superboy and Krypto standing immobile in a room in his citadel.

This was not what I expected nor what I remembered.  Really, I’m not sure why DC, Levitz, Giffen, or the others would have decided to make this series.  Cosmic Boy’s involvement in Legends was tangential at best, and each issue was poorly connected to the others.  Issue one showed us that history had changed, but then issue two was more involved in Rokk helping his ancestor.  Issue three was about Rokk and Lydda getting home (with the help of that ancestor), and then the fourth issue was another Time Trapper comic in a secondary Legion tie-in title.

I found that nothing in this series felt consequential or particularly interesting, nor did it add anything to either Rokk or Lydda’s characters.  We’ve known that Rokk is interested in history, specializing in the modern era of super heroes, so he is the right person to notice the changes to the timeline, but there are no answers provided here.  Rokk is a pretty generic hero, and Lydda, even worse, is a pretty generic girlfriend.

There are too many pages given over to reflecting what was happening in the Legends series, but beyond the first pages of the first issue, Rokk had no impact on those events.  While I’m still interested in revisiting that series, I can tell that it’s not essential to read the other tie-in chapters.

And then there’s the Time Trapper.  The entire Legionnaires 3 series, which I wrote about here, was structured around him messing with Lightning Lad, and now he’s doing the same to Cosmic Boy.  The notion of moving the end of time through all eras doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and the Trapper himself is a mystery. He’s not a Kang, looking to conquer all eras, but neither is he a cosmic figure like an Eternity; instead, he seems to be a madman who just wants to wreck stuff, and has the power to do it.  

This is the era when Paul Levitz spent years setting up stories, and I remember him working the Trapper’s storyline through issue fifty or so of the Legion’s main title (still about two years away at this point), after the Superboy stuff gets addressed in issues 36 and 37.  In that way, I admire how the events of the last issue would resonate for a while, but that could have been accomplished in a one-shot just as well.

It’s cool to see more Ernie Colón art over Keith Giffen layouts, and the book looked nice, but it didn’t come alive until Pablo Marcos inked the last issue.

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