Retro Review: Timber Wolf By Gordon & Phillips DC Comics! Legion Of Super-Heroes Spotlight!

Timber Wolf #1-5 (November 1992 – March 1993)

Written by Al Gordon

Pencilled by Joe Phillips

Inked by Al Gordon, Bob Smith (#5), Steve Leialoha (#5)

Colour by Tom McCraw

Spoilers (from to twenty-eight years ago)

In the early 90s, the Legion of Super-Heroes really stood out as an oasis of quality.  A lot of the mainstream fare at Marvel and DC was getting stupider by the month, yet this complicated and dense book set in the 30th Century managed to share well-considered and deeply affecting stories.  At the core of this initiative was Keith Giffen, who plotted and penciled, or later, laid-out, the book. He collaborated with Tom and Mary Bierbaum, as co-plotters and scripters (who sometimes shut him out of the writing for an issue or two at a time).  The inker in the early days of that run was Al Gordon, who himself started to receive credits for assisting with the plotting. There was a strong feeling of collaboration on the title, and I suspect that different people became responsible for piloting the fates of different characters.

Gordon got the chance to write solo for his sequel to The Great Darkness, the classic Legion/Darkseid story.  And it was from that story arc that Gordon got the chance to write this miniseries, starring one of my favourite Legionnaires, Timber Wolf.

The Giffen years were hard on Brin.  He was devolved into a big humanoid creature who was called Furball, but every once in a while, he reverted to his original, more or less human, form.  At the end of the Quiet Darkness, Darkseid changed Brin back to normal, but that was more kindness than curse, as he was wracked with pain, and looked to be dying.  This was all a side effect of the drug (or is it an element) called Zuunium, that gave him his powers in the first place.

As he was on death’s door (this happened in Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3), Aria, the young girl who became a bridge between mankind and God, and began calling herself Gemini, came to save him.  She did manage to cure him, and transform him into a werewolf-like figure. She also managed to strand them both in the 20th century, where Brin caught the attention of some police, some gangsters, and a half-Durlan 90s stereotype named Thrust.  That’s where this series picks up.

If I’m being honest, I don’t have the best memories of this series.  I didn’t enjoy the story in the annual, nor did I the six-page preview of this title that was published in an issue of Legion.  I like Brin a lot, though, and I remember being impressed with Joe Phillips’s artwork. I don’t actually hold a lot of hope for this run, but as I know that TW ends up back with the Legion eventually, I want to see how that happens.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • RW Faost (leader, Point Force; #1-5)
  • Captain Flag (#1-5)
  • Dominators (#2-5)

Guest Stars

  • The Creeper (Jack Ryder; #3)

Supporting Characters

  • Gemini (Aria Campbell; #1-5)
  • Thrust (#1-5)
  • Jesse (Point Force; #1-5)
  • Sharyn (Point Force; #3-4)
  • Stanfield (Point Force; #4-5)

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

  • The issue opens with a bit of a recap of the scene from Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3, when Timber Wolf and Aria arrived in the 20th century, and disrupted traffic.  Faost, the guy who runs whatever law enforcement organization that was tracking Brin in the annual, is watching camcorder footage (ah, camcorders), and talking to himself about how he’s lucky that they acquired the camera before the images got out.  He gets a call alerting him to a “free-for-all” happening. That’s the fight between Brin and Thrust, the yellow guy dressed like a bike courier that the cop-type named Jesse called in. Jesse doesn’t want Thrust to fight Brin, but things pop off, largely because Brin can’t control his anger.  When Aria, who is being held by Jesse and other guys in suits, calls out to Brin in Interlac, Thrust recognizes the language, and figures out that they are aliens. Brin fights harder, and as he does, Thrust begins to resemble him. Brin realizes it’s because Thrust is a shape-shifter, and Thrust reveals that his mother is a Durlan, although Brin is aware that Durlan’s can’t imitate another’s strength.  He realizes that Thrust is reflecting his own bestial nature, and that gets him to try to stop the fight. Aria kicks Jesse and runs to the combatants, getting Thrust to stop fighting by sitting on him. Jesse apologizes, and tries to get them talking. Thrust explains that they are aliens, so Jesse offers them a place to stay while they get their bearings. Another suit, named Ed, wants the two arrested.  Jesse explains he’s from something called Point Force, which specializes in metahumans and para-gene positive (this is a new word) beings. Jesse tells Brin and Aria that he’ll get them special clearance, but that for now they should go with Ed. Later, Jesse argues with Faost about their new base, over a tailor’s, and pushes to have Brin and Aria receive this clearance, while Thrust makes inappropriate jokes about Aria (he doesn’t know that she’s really about twelve years old).  Aria is resting in Jesse’s secretary’s office, when she sees something that surprises her. Brin is sitting in a cell or something, recapping his life story for new readers. Jesse comes to get him, and offers him a place in this Point Force team, which works with metahumans with no public profile to investigate strange happenings. He appeals to Brin to be a hero. Just then, Jesse gets a call stating that Aria has been kidnapped. Brin gets angry again, and starts to rampage a little.  Guards come and fire plasma beams at him, and Jesse jumps in front of one to prove he can be trusted. This gets Brin to calm down again, and place his trust in Jesse. He tells him his real name. Later, Brin is with Thrust and Jesse in the tailor shop. Thrust keeps asking questions about Aria, while Jesse learns that he knows who is involved in capturing her. He tells Brin to wait while he goes off to retrieve her. After he leaves, Thrust uses reverse calling to learn that Jesse was talking to a guy named Captain Flag, who looks like a patriotic superhero, complete with an eagle-shaped codpiece, who is drinking at a bar with two women (things got 90s kind of quickly, didn’t they?).
  • Thrust leads Brin onto a trolley car (I guess they’re in San Francisco) and maintains a steady stream of irritating dialogue.  He leads him to a bar called the Gene Pool, which is full of people with the metagene, but no one we know. Thrust is surprised that they beat Jesse there, and we learn that Thrust is basically the only powered individual left in Point Force.  Captain Flag sees Thrust and punches him out the window. As they begin to fight, Brin works to maintain control of his senses and growing anger. Flag has some sort of device in his codpiece that hurts Thrust, so Brin gets into the fight, tossing Flag.  Their fight gets brutal, as Brin loses control. Flag wraps him in some kind of binding that flies from his costume, and then electrocutes him. Brin breaks free just as Jesse arrives. Captain Flag summons some sort of flying vehicle, and Brin gives chase, managing to grab the bottom of it.  Flag scrapes him off by flying close to some gargoyles. Jesse and Thrust catch up to Brin, who explains that he could smell Aria on Flag. Brin calms down, while Jesse explains that someone has been changing Point Force’s files, and that he thinks there is a spy in the ranks. Elsewhere, we hear someone talking about Aria as we see that she’s attached to a machine.  It turns out she’s the prisoner of some Dominators, and they stand around with someone who I think is Faost, wearing a disk on his head. The Dominator talks about getting the secrets of the future from Aria, even if it kills her.
  • Brin is in Point Force’s version of a Danger Room, exercising, while Jesse watches and Thrust sits with him, ignoring everything.  Brin makes short work of the primitive exercise program, until a robot clocks him and he loses his temper, and starts ripping the room apart.  He damages something, and Jesse can’t turn things off. Sharyn, who also is part of Point Force, comes to see what’s wrong, while Thrust jumps into the room to help Brin.  Sharyn manages to calm Brin down (and he’s portrayed as being much bigger than we’ve seen before). The Dominators who have Aria talk about how their work with her is going, and it’s clear that Faost is calling some of the shots with them.  Faost arrives at his office, where he is preparing for an interview with TV journalist Jack Ryder. He finds Captain Flag in his chair. Flag starts trashing the place, angry that he wasn’t able to defeat Thrust and Brin, like he’d been promised.  Faost calms him down by saying that he’s his top agent, and that he has a new project for him. He also gives him medication – psycho-suppressants – and promises him unlimited power. Thrust is, for some reason, reading the newspaper in the wrecked Danger Room, and sees that there’s a grainy photo of Brin.  Sharyn comes running in to tell them that Flag is attacking Faost. Aria dreams that her mother comes to talk to her, and warns her to not let the Dominators take away from her what only belongs to her. Jesse leads the others to Faost’s building, and has them split up. Jack Ryder and his crew arrive at the same time.  When Ryder sees Brin climbing up the building, he gets confused and has to excuse himself so he can transform into the Creeper, who thinks that Brin is trying to look like him. Thrust and Jesse bust into Faost’s office to find that Flag is gone. Jesse wonders where Brin got to, just as he and the Creeper come through the window, fighting.  This fight is kind of ridiculous, as the Creeper keeps throwing office supplies at Brin. When Thrust touches the Creeper, he starts to turn into him, and acting crazy as well. Creeper kisses Brin on the forehead, and throws more pens at him, asking for his autograph. Thrust and Jesse register their surprise, while Faost acts mysteriously. I’m quickly losing interest here – I’m glad there are only two issues left…
  • Brin is dreaming – he sees his mother falling off a cliff, and can’t save her.  Next, Light Lass, Lightning Lad, and I think Kent Shakespeare (it’s not clear) put him down for being a screw-up.  Ultra Boy mocks him for drinking out of the toilet, and Aria calls him pathetic. In reality, he’s been trashing his room, and Thrust has been trying to calm him down.  Jesse and Sharyn come rushing into the room in their pajamas, and thins relax. Thrust tells Jesse that he’d been talking to a former agent named Brainchild, who has apparently been missing for months, and apparently only exists to advance the plot.  Brainchild told Thrust that Brin and Aria are from the future, and where Aria is, and that the Dominators are involved (it’s odd that Brin needed to be told who the Dominators are). Jesse wants to organize a team, but Brin is in a hurry. Brainchild also provided such helpful information as that they will need a “valence-plasma imager” to find Aria, but doesn’t explain why he didn’t come straight home to tell people this stuff, and instead went to bed.  Jesse wants Faost to know what’s happening, but apparently no one can find him. Aria is still in the Dominator machine, hearing a voice that is trying to take her somewhere more comfortable. The voice helps her visualize a beautiful planet, where she swims and flies through the stars. In reality, the Dominators and Faost are shown draining Aria’s power and putting it in Captain Flag. Brin and the others are setting up their equipment in the woods around (above?) where Aria is.  Flag attacks them, and when Thrust rushes in, he’s easily tossed away. Jesse figures that the harness Flag is wearing is powering him up, and Brin figures that it’s Aria’s power he’s using. He wants Thrust to help him fight Flag, but Thrust doesn’t think it will help. Brin lends him some life energy or something, Thrust gets wolfen again, and they attack Flag. In the Dominator chamber, they add more grid tolerance for the 100th time, as Aria’s resistance grows. Brin and Thrust are doing well against Flag, but then he rallies.  Thrust tires to fight on his own again, with no success. Brin suddenly transforms into a larger, more wolfen figure.
  • The bigger, hairier Brin now fights against Flag while Jesse and a tech named Stanfield try to figure out how to track Aria after their equipment got wrecked.  Thrust tries to help Brin, but Brin hits him. A portable tracker should find Aria, but Thrust has to take it into the fight. The Dominators realize that Aria is alternating between fighting them and accepting what is happening to her, and that affects the amount of power being sent to Flag.  Aria still thinks she is talking to her dead mother, and the Dominators lose all contact to her powers. Realizing he’s lost his extra strength, Flag takes off, with Thrust following. The Dominators suggest to Faost that he make himself scarce before he is discovered. Everyone ends up running through some woods, and when Flag and Brin jump off a cliff, Thrust pulls up and stops the others.  They see a large Dominator vessel at the bottom of the cliff. Flag joins the Dominators, and then Brin rips through their ship. Thrust follows, and soon there is a lot of shooting. Thrust ends up in a room full of people in green cocoons, and recognizes his friend Brainchild, who he was just talking to the night before. As Brin keeps fighting, Thrust pulls Brainchild out of his cocoon, and he tells Thrust and Jesse that the Dominators are experimenting on people with the metagene, before dying.  Aria’s mother tells her she has to choose between her life and her powers; she chooses her friends (which, really, is just Brin seeing as they are trapped in the past). Aria wakes up and catches Brin’s attention. He smashes Flag. Thrust and Jesse join them and worry he’s going to hurt Aria, but with a touch, she transforms him back into the regular hairy being we’ve seen in this series (which makes me think she didn’t lose her powers after all?). They all chat for a bit, and then notice that the Dominator ship is about to leave.  Brin carries Aria out, followed by Jesse. As the ship takes off, they notice that Thrust isn’t with them, so Brin somehow jumps back into the ship. Thrust says goodbye to Brainchild’s body, and is attacked by Flag. He shoots Thrust, but then Brin pushes him into a wall and jumps out of the ship, carrying Thrust. He drops from a great height, and manages to leave Thrust in a tree on his way down. The Dominator ship either teleports or explodes. Later, we see that Brin and Aria are leaving Point Force, on a motorcycle, and say goodbye to everyone.

Okay, really, what was the point of this miniseries?  Brin did not grow or change as a character at all, and the supporting cast was never used again (aside from Thrust, who the internet tells me turned up in a single 2002 issue of The Titans).  Why was this project ever approved?

I get that it was the 90s, and while the Legion of Super-Heroes parent title was the rare example of a quality comic being produced by one of the Big Two at that time, I shouldn’t expect a spin-off title to be worth reading.  At the same time, I should expect that there would be some point to reading it. This series really had nothing going for it. We never got a serious explanation as to why Brin was having trouble controlling his emotions. We never got a real look at what Aria’s powers were, or what made her the bridge between god and man, or whatever she was supposed to be.  

Al Gordon did a good job with the Quiet Darkness storyline he wrote in the parent Legion title, wherein he introduced Aria and her story, but this felt slapped together.  Much of the blame can be placed at the feet of the editor, who never bothered to ask fundamental questions about what the book was for, and who allowed the creation of a government agency like Point Force that didn’t seem to have a clear purpose (aside for being run by a traitor).

The characterizations were pretty thin, and there was no real justification for including The Creeper in a guest role, nor did his appearance resolve itself.  Captain Flag was a very stereotypical 90s patriotic buffoon, while Thrust, who could have been a little interesting, also fell too easily into the category of “extreme character”, and was never given the space to grow.

I did like Joe Phillips’s art, and especially the way he drew Brin in the first four issues.  His characters show a lot of personality, and he had a good, non-90s control of figurework. He never did a lot of comics work, which I always felt was a shame.

In conclusion, this series took one of my favourite Legionnaires and rendered him into a 90s joke, and then abandoned him in the wrong century for no real reason.  I know that the Bierbaums didn’t take long before they brought him back to the 30th century, and I’m thankful for that. I regret digging these comics out of the longbox, but at least, when I get to the point where Brin returns in my reading of the parent title, I’ll be aware of how lucky he was to get back home.

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

This series has not been collected, nor would I ever expect it to be.

 

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