Retro Review: Legends Of The Legion #1-4 By Kitson, Peyer, Nauck, Moy & Others For DC Comics

Legends of the Legion #1-4 (February 1998 – May 1998)

Plot by Barry Kitson 

Scripted by Tom Peyer 

Pencilled by Todd Nauck (#1, 4), Jeffrey Moy (#2), Kenny Martinez (#3)

Inked by Larry Stucker (#1, 3-4), WC Carani (#2)

Colour by Tom McCraw 

Spoilers (from twenty-two years ago)

At the end of the 1990s, DC decided to create a set of miniseries featuring or connected to the Legion of Super-Heroes (and Legionnaires).  They started with Inferno, which was discussed previously, and then turned to Legends of the Legion, a four-issue Legion-only version of Secret Origins.  The issues focused on Ultra Boy, Spark (who didn’t have a ‘solo origin’, as the cover claimed), Umbra, and Star Boy.

I don’t know how the characters were chosen for this.  I also don’t really remember these comics.  I know that I was becoming less and less enamored with the reboot Legion by this point, but I still bought all of these.  I guess we’ll find out if there’s a reason why I don’t remember them…

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Legion of Super-Heroes

  • Ultra Boy (Jo Nah; #1-4)
  • Spark (Ayla Ranzz; #1-4)
  • Umbra (Tasmia Mallor; #1-4)
  • Star Boy (Thom Kallor; #1-4)
  • Live Wire (Garth Ranzz; #2)

Villains

  • Bone Spike Clan (#1, 4)
  • High-Brow (#2, 4)
  • Klamorr (#2, 4)
  • Violence Queen (#2, 4)
  • Slopp (#2, 4)

Guest Stars

  • Mekt Ranzz (#2)
  • Radion (Uncanny Amazers; #4)
  • Monstress (Uncanny Amazers; #4)
  • Kid Quantum II (Uncanny Amazers; #4)
  • Atom’x (Uncanny Amazers; #4)
  • Insect Queen (Uncanny Amazers; #4)

Supporting Characters

  • Chuck Taine (#1-4)
  • Doro (#1-4)
  • Kids that look like the Legion of Substitute-Heroes (#1-4)
  • R.J. Brande (#3)

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

  • Chuck Taine, the Legion’s inhouse architect has taken a group of kids on a tour of the team’s Metropolis headquarters.  They are on the roof when one of the kids, Doro, peers over the edge.  He’s surprised when four Legionnaires – Ultra Boy, Spark, Umbra, and Star Boy – come flying past.  Doro falls, and Jo swoops down to grab him.  Once they are back on the roof, it’s obvious that the kids are meant to look like the Legion of Substitute-Heroes (there’s a little Infectious Lass, a female Chlorophyll Kid, Porcupine Pete, Antennae Lad), plus another girl.  When the kids make fun of Doro for being a bit of a jinx, Jo makes him feel better by explaining that he got his powers from being in an accident too (as did Thom).  They convince Jo to tell the story.  He explains how rough things were growing up on Rimbor, and talks about how he rescued a kid from getting beaten up by the Bone Spike Clan.  He fought a few of them in a bar, but more arrived, and he ran to his cruiser and flew into space before they could catch him.  They followed in their own cruisers, but veered off as Jo flew right into the mouth of a space whale.  Trapped inside, he could tell that the oxygen in the stomach was increasing, so he decided to wait in his cruiser (it was stocked with food and ‘vids’) until he could fix it and fly out of there.  The problem is that the whale’s stomach acid started to destroy the cruiser.  Eventually, Jo decided to die, but couldn’t allow himself to do that.  He wrapped his feet in the whale’s flesh so he could walk through the acid, and after his ship was completely dissolved, resolved to stay on a ‘meat island’.  There is no explanation of how there would be any light inside the whale.  After he ran out of supplies, he decided to try eating some of the whale.  He woke up later feeling much stronger, and noticed that he was lighter on his feet.  Trying to look around, he was surprised to learn that he could see great distances.  He saw survivors like him, and somehow flew to them.  They explained that eating the whale gave them superpowers, but Jo was disappointed to learn that they had no idea how to get out of the whale.  It opened its mouth (something that happened every ten days, although I don’t know what a day would be in a creature that flies through space), and while the others started to fix any damage exposure to the vacuum caused to their shelters, Jo made a plan.  He created some bags that he filled with stomach acid and rocks (that’s how the oxygen is produced), and grabbed a rope and some other supplies.  He traveled to the whale’s mouth, and when it next opened it up, he flew out, figuring he could breathe from the bags of acid until he found a world with an atmosphere.  He tells the kids how from there he got to the life he has now.  Spark talks about how she had to fight an entire planet in order to get her powers, and agrees to tell the kids that story.
  • The kids continue to encourage Spark to tell her story, although it’s Umbra’s snark that gets her to start.  She quickly goes over the familiar part – that she and her brothers took their parents’ cruiser on a joyride and ended up broken down on Korbal.  Their attempt to get the local lightning beasts to recharge their ship ended with them all being fried.  Garth and Ayla later woke up, and learned that their brother (whose hair somehow didn’t go white like in every other appearance) had lightning powers, and took off.  Garth and Ayla decided to not tell their parents that they also had powers, as they felt they couldn’t handle it.  Garth decided to go looking for Mekt, leaving Ayla behind to keep their secret.  As a “solo” on Winath, a world where everyone has a twin, Ayla found things very difficult.  Some of her friends were kind, but she was bullied a lot for not having her twin with her.  Her marks improved (really – how long was Garth gone, because it didn’t seem like it was this long in the early reboot issues of Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires before Ayla showed up?) and she tried her best to keep up appearances for her parents (who, we should note, never seem to be with their twins).  The kid that looks like Porcupine Pete can’t believe that Ayla didn’t have a boyfriend.  Very strangely, Winath got its first shopping mall (I always have trouble with the notion in science fiction that a planet can only have a single aspect to it), and Ayla and her friends went to the opening day, as did her tormentors, and the planet’s Presidents.  Some derivative 90s supervillains (High-Brow, Klamorr, Violence Queen, and Slopp – admit it, you already know what they look like) decided to take the mall hostage and used force fields to keep security from getting them.  Ayla and her friends hid (she still didn’t want to reveal her powers) and then decided they could save the day by climbing really high above the villains and jumping on them.  That plan didn’t work, and when Violence Queen threatened to shoot Ayla’s friend Hegga in the head, she lashed out with her lightning and took the villains down.  She was worried that everyone would reject her even more, but instead they treated her like a hero.  She was the first ‘solo’ to ever receive the Presidents’ Medal, which was a big deal, and led to her teachers and classmates being nicer to her.  Later, she was chosen to join the Legion as her planet’s representative.  The kids are impressed by her story, and she emphasises the importance of doing the right thing.  Umbra disagrees, pointing out that doing the right thing is what landed her in the Legion.  She offers to tell the kids her story.
  • Umbra again talks about how easy Spark had it in life, and shoots down Chuck’s attempt to keep her civil in front of the kids.  She starts to tell her story, and during it, some of the narrative she provides doesn’t match what the art and dialogue show us.  She talks about growing up being trained to become the planetary champion of her world, Talok VIII (I’ve never understood why they would put a number in their own world’s name).  She never got to know her mother, seeing her only for religious ceremonies.  Jo makes a comment about how medieval her world seems, and she pushes back, claiming that there is more to life than materialism (this conversation is interesting from a post-colonial standpoint).  Tasmia explains that when her mother died, she was quickly thrown into a whirlwind of preparations, during which she never even thought to learn how her mother died.  As part of the succession, she was sent into the Shadow Cave, where she would face a challenge and gain her powers.  She tells the kids that she can’t describe the visions she had, but we see that she met her mother and her other ancestors, who encourage her to “eschew egocentrism” in order to learn the secrets of her family and her planet.  She agreed, and emerged from the cave, demonstrating the most powerful burst of shadow ever seen in the history of her planet.  From there, she was fêted everywhere, and began to counsel powerful tribal heads on remaining connected to traditions (for example, by not importing food).  At some point, a UP ship arrived on Talok VIII, and when the being who emerged from it identified itself as a UP ambassador, Tasmia attacked.  She rampaged through the ship for pages, eventually resulting in an explosion on the bridge.  We see that the Talokian priests were immediately convinced that Tasmia, who they refer to as a zealot, was responsible for this mess.  One of the UP soldiers brought Tasmia out of the wreckage, and while she was unconscious, her planet negotiated entry into the UP.  When she recovered, she was angry at what she saw as cultural capitulation, and later was dismissed from her role as champion.  She sees her role as necessary to free her people from occupation, which is partly why she joined the Legion.  Star Boy argues that if Talok VIII were invaded, they would know about it, because she’s never told anyone that she’s talking about the UP.  She calls Thom naive, and then he gets ready to tell his story.  (It’s interesting to note that Tasmia’s position seems so much more reasonable in 2020 than it did in the 90s; I can’t help but look at this as an example of global capitalism and hegemony.  I doubt that Kitson and Peyer were thinking about that when they wrote this, and were instead focused on the positive effects of “civilizing” tribal lands).
  • Umbra encourages Thom to tell his story, and since the kids don’t want to go back to school when their tour ends, they push him to do the same.  Thom’s not pleased to learn that none of the kids have heard of his first team, the Uncanny Amazers.  He tells them how he and his team beat back Algamenon Raiders, but how he didn’t feel like he could enjoy the glory that came with that, as it was kind of easy.  Instead, Thom wanted to take the first Kid Quantum’s place in the Legion of Super-Heroes, and he left.  The second Kid Quantum, angry with him for just wanting to be famous, had a tech rig his ship so it would play loud Durlan space-shanties on his whole voyage.  He tries to skip over the next few days, but the kids make him tell the whole story.  He tried to get his ship repaired on a couple of planets, before being left with no choice but to land on Rimbor, where he knew the woman he hired would take his money.  He tried to enjoy the quiet of a local bar, but two of the Bone Spike Clan were beating on some kid, and after Thom intervened, they tried to attack him.  He made them very heavy, and was surprised when everyone in the bar (including a guy in Jo’s colours), started hitting them.  Once they learned that Thom’s gravity powers wear off, they all scrammed.  Thom left, and soon almost got hit by a bigger cruiser which he learned was full of escaped prisoners.  We see that the escapees were the four villains for Ayla’s story.  Thom managed to use his powers to increase the mass of their ship (which is a neat trick in the weightlessness of space), allowing the Science Police to catch them, but his own ship was adrift and ended up in an asteroid field that was being mined.  The ship got blasted, but Thom, who was badly injured, survived.  The mining rig’s doctor, named Kvorkgian (seriously), explained there wasn’t much she could do.  Thom got into an argument with two miners, feeling that they shouldn’t have hit his ship.  When Thom learned that they just shot a space whale (Jo wonders if it’s the same one he once lived in), he yelled at them, and offended them so much that they decided to get their cook to start feeding him the whale blubber they collected and had in storage.  Thom started regaining his strength and healing quickly after he unknowingly started eating the whale blubber, and soon was recovered enough that he was able to continue with his trip to Earth, and joined the Legion.  Tasmia isn’t happy that Thom’s story never explained (to them at least, since Thom doesn’t know he was eating the whale flesh) how he got his enhanced powers, and doesn’t have a lesson or moral for the kids who were listening to it.  The heroes recap their lessons and leave the kids with Chuck, who jokes that if he ate everything he wanted in life, he’d “blow up like a big rubber ball.”

I don’t have a lot to say about this miniseries.  It just kind of got floated out there, and I’m not really sure why.  I don’t think there was a large clamoring for information on any of these characters, although an origin series makes more sense than the very random Inferno miniseries that preceded this, and the Science Police series that came after it.

Let’s talk about these characters a bit.

  • Ultra Boy – Since the reboot Legion began, it was a little hard to pin down Jo’s actual age.  When he first turned up, working for Leland McCauley’s Work Force, he was the only character in the book with facial hair, and by the time that this series came out, he and Tinya were married.  This book, though, portrays him as kind of young, although that might just be Todd Nauck’s art and the way he makes characters look stubby (although not so much in issue four).  Did we learn anything about Jo from reading his origin?  Not really.  I guess Kitson and Peyer made the space whale stuff less silly than the Silver Age version of his story.
  • Spark – I would say this was my least favourite issue in this series.  First, Ayla’s origin has been shown a few times in the reboot series by this point, and the expansion of it, which depicts Ayla as the victim of a lot of bullying, doesn’t fit with the confidence we saw in the character when she first joined the team.  As well, for someone who suffered so much for not having her twin with her on Winath, she was pretty okay with him being kicked off the team when she arrived.  
  • Umbra – I could never quite figure out why the writers chose to make Umbra part of the new Legion when they did.  She was barely used in any stories, and we didn’t get to know her very well.  We saw a haughtiness to her that reminded me of Andromeda when she first joined the team, and as we got closer to this issue coming out, it seemed that they were ready to return to her first incarnation’s relationship with Lar Gand (Mon-El/M’onel).  But, in this rebooted continuity, I don’t see any reason why Lar would want to be with her.  What stands out the most for me is the way in which Tasmia seems to be pushing an anti-colonialist, anti-globalist message here, and in the context of 2020, I feel like what she wanted might have been right for her world, but in the context of 1998, her point of view is depicted as crazy and fanatical.  I wonder how joining the UP worked out for the people of Talok VIII…
  • Star Boy – I’ve never really understood what the McCraw/Peyer/Stern team wanted for Thom.  They gave him his mysterious new powers right when he first showed up, but waited until this series to explain them?  And when they did, they basically contradicted themselves, as we know that Jo can only access one power at a time, as could the other people who were living inside the space whale in issue one.  Thom is unwittingly fed space whale meat (probably from the same space whale), and over time he developed mostly the same abilities as Jo (his vision thing is different), but without any restrictions.  Why?  And were they ever going to explore that?  Thom is a very powerful character in this book, but unlike the other heavy hitters, he’s rarely used, and doesn’t seem very effective or good at his role.

I feel that an opportunity was missed here to maybe dig into some of the other characters of the series that didn’t get much airplay.  We know very little about Monstress (although I’m fine with that), or Gates.  Had I been in charge of this title, Invisible Kid would have gotten an issue that explored his prior experience working in Earthgov intelligence (as a fifteen year old super scientist).  I doubt he would have fit the framework of the series, as he couldn’t exactly tell these stories to a bunch of school kids, but it would have been pretty interesting.  I feel like he was one of the most underexposed characters in the reboot Legion, which is weird given he was the team leader at the time.

I thought it was nice that the kids that the Legionnaires explained their stories to were meant to appear as tributes or nods to the Legion of Substitute-Heroes from the classic continuity, but it’s weird that the one I had trouble identifying originally is meant to represent Night Girl, who has already appeared in the reboot era.  The Legion has a long and rich history, and in the reboot era, very little was done to create it again.

I found it interesting that Barry Kitson, long-time artist of the LEGION series and many other DC books was tapped to plot out these issues.  I wonder if this was in some ways meant to be a try-out for future writing projects for him.

Nothing about the interior art on this series stands out (aside from Nauck’s stubby characters).  I was excited to see that classic Legion artist Steve Lightle was providing the covers, but they definitely lacked the clear and effective designs of his earlier work.

In all, this is a bit of a placeholder series, and as such, it’s fine.  Soon, we’ll look at the Legion: Secret Police series that came out after it (that finally put an end to this concept of rotating Legion-themed miniseries).

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

I am so certain this series has never been collected, that I didn’t even look.

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