Retro Review: The Legion #34-38 By Simone, Jurgens, Lightle & Others For DC Comics

The Legion #34-38, (August to October 2004)

Written by Keith Champagne (#34), Gail Simone (#35-38)

Pencilled by Steve Lightle (#34), Dan Jurgens (#35-38)

Inked by Steve Lightle (#34), Andy Smith (#35-38)

Colour by Sno Cone (#34-38)

Spoilers (from sixteen years ago)

After Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning left this book (or were asked to leave – the “threeboot” relaunch came about pretty quickly, and was likely planned at this point), The Legion only lasted another five issues, with a fill in by Champagne and Lightle, and then a four-parter by Gail Simone and Dan Jurgens.

I probably could have not bothered with these issues at all, which I didn’t even remember owning or reading, but I’m a completist.  This also gives me a place to sum up my thoughts on over a year of daily Legion reading.

So, let’s see if there is anything to these comics or not…

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

The Legion of Super-Heroes

  • Umbra (Tasmia Mallor; #34-36, 38)
  • Karate Kid (Val Armorr; #34-38)
  • Invisible Kid (Lyle Norg; #34, 37)
  • Shikari (#34, 38)
  • Chameleon (Reep Daggle; #34-38)
  • Wildfire (Drake Burroughs; #34-36, 38)
  • Brainiac 5 (Querl Dox; #34-38)
  • Ultra Boy (Jo Nah; #35-38)
  • Apparition (Tinya Wazzo; #35-38)
  • Leviathan (Salu “Violet” Digby; #35-38)
  • Timber Wolf (Brin Londo; #35-38)
  • Chuck Taine (#35-38)
  • Gear (I.Z.O.R.; #35-38)
  • Dreamer (Nura Nal; #35-38)
  • Spark/Live Wire (Ayla Ranzz; #37)
  • Live Wire (Garth Ranzz, in Jan Arrah’s body; #37)
  • Kid Quantum (Jazmin Cullin; #37-38)
  • Cosmic Boy (Rokk Krinn; #37)
  • Triad (Luornu Durgo; #37)
  • Star Boy (Thom Kallor; #37)
  • M’onel (Lar Gand; #37-38)
  • Superboy (Kon-El; #37-38)
  • Saturn Girl (Imra Ardeen; #37)

The Legion Cadet Program

  • Nightwind (#36-38)
  • Infectious Lass (Drura Sehpt; #37-38)

Villains

  • Lord Thalon (#34)
  • Vox (#34)
  • The Organ Thief (Pinter DeRoy; #35-38)
  • Arrow (#35-38)
  • Devil (#35-38)
  • Canary (#35-38)
  • Persuader (Fatal Five; #35-38)
  • Lantern (#35, 37-38)

Supporting Characters

  • Winema Wazzo (Vice-President, then President, of Earth; #35-36, 38)
  • Trudy Trusoe (reporter; #35-38)
  • Lialla (Persuader’s daughter; #35-38)
  • Doctor Gym’ll (Legion doctor; #36-37)

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

  • Keith Champagne and Steve Lightle provide the fill-in issue that starts the end of this series.  On Qward, the two native races, the Weaponers and the Thunderers have continued to exist in a much diminished state, until one of the last Weaponers, Lord Thalon fulfilled a prophecy by bringing forth great power and using it to revitalize the planet (a little bit).  We quickly see that Thalon is a terrible person.  When his son, Vox, doesn’t show him the correct amount of deference, he demands that he be punished.  When Vox escapes from the servant who is supposed to punish him, Thalon moves to kill the servant, but his energy powers wane, so he orders someone else to do it.  He enters a special chamber with a genetic code lock, and appears to talk to a captive Wildfire (he holds his helmet in his hands).  We learn that his captive was taken by Thalon and other Weaponers, and that once they had him, Thalon killed his colleagues to seize power, which he drains from this prisoner.  Vox plays in some underground levels, pretending to be his father.  He comes across five Legionnaires – Umbra, Karate Kid, Invisible Kid, Shikari, and Chameleon, who are there to rescue Wildfire.  Vox runs, with Cham giving chase.  Vox heads for his father, but is stopped by the guards outside the chamber.  Cham, shaped like a Hykraian (did Lightle design Tellus?  Either way, it was good to see him again), fights the guards.  As the other Legionnaires arrive, so do dozens of other guards.  In the fight that follows, Vox uses his father’s genetics (I’m guessing he’s a clone) to enter the chamber.  His father wants him to die because he saw Wildfire (who we see as a body) but changes his mind, and while Drake asks Vox for help, Thalon goes to fight the Legion with the power he stole from Drake.  He is able to take them all down.  Inside the Green Lantern power battery inside the chamber, Drake, continues to ask Vox for help, and explains that Thalon is draining his power to sustain all of Qward.  The Legionnaires recover and fight Thalon some more, while Vox’s realization that his father is neither a god nor truthful causes him to throw a lightning bolt at the power battery.  Drake, appearing like a nude angel of fire emerges from the power battery and unleashes his power on Thalon.  Vox spits on his father.  Lyle tries to explain to Vox that Drake is their friend, while Shikari checks out Drake’s body.  Vox rejects the softness of the Legion, and sends them away.  The team thresholds home.  Later, Brainiac 5 explains to Drake that it was some trick of physics in the antimatter universe that allowed everyone to see him as having a body, unlike in the regular universe, where he’s back to being a ball of energy.  Brainy references his good looks as Drake returns to a more classic looking containment suit.  Brainy also tells him that much of his energy has been expended on Qward, with the result that he’s now dying.  On Qward, Vox is angry.
  • Gail Simone and Dan Jurgens’s four-parter opens with Karate Kid escorting a villain named Pinter DeRoy, the Organ Thief, to the floating prison, Oasis One.  DeRoy keeps making comments about wanting to take Val’s lungs (apparently his whole deal is that he swaps his organs with those of others a lot), as we learn that Oasis One was built due to NIMBY-ism.  President Winema Wazzo arrives in Metropolis with a Durlan aide, on their way to a ceremony.  Reporter Trudy Trueso prepares to report on the same ceremony.  A handful of Legionnaires (Umbra, Ultra Boy, Chameleon, Apparition, Leviathan, Brainiac 5, and Timber Wolf) are on hand for the same ceremony, dressed in very 70s interpretations of futuristic formal wear.  There’s tension between Tinya and her mom, as everyone gets ready for the event that no one seems enthusiastic about.  Gear and Chuck are on Legion World, and call Brainy to report that they can’t find Dreamer.  They explain to Brainy that most of the rest of the team is on the planet Karahdia, trying to stop a civil war.  We learn that the ceremony is for the opening of a new display about the Legion at the Metropolis Museum of Anthropology.  As Wazzo begins to make her remarks, we see a sniper preparing to shoot her.  Wazzo turns on a massive holographic display, which shows the Legionnaires in groupings of three.  Elsewhere, we see a blue-skinned horned woman, who goes by Devil, is holding Nura, who is unconscious, prisoner in a run-down room.  She calls for a woman named Canary to join them.  On Oasis One, Val hands over the Organ Thief to the SPs.  A young woman talks to Val, revealing that she is there to meet her father, the Persuader.  When she meets with him, he denies knowing her.  A purple-skinned flying alien, who goes by Lantern, calls in to tell Devil that the sniper, Arrow, is in place.  Devil rants about how much society depends on machines.  She explains to the barely-conscious Nura that Canary has a gift, but it comes with a limited range.  As she explains that Naltorian precognitives amplify Canary’s powers, we see that the SPs spot Arrow.  He jumps onto their flying ship, causing it to go wild.  Jo and Brin go to help, while chaos breaks out around the ceremony.  Canary kisses Nura, which unleashes her powers.  We see odd things happen everywhere around them, but it’s not clear what’s going on.  On Legion World, Gear reports that the flight rings of the Legionnaires at the Museum have gone dark.  We see Brin fall, just as Arrow shoots Winema Wazzo in the back.  Violet fights Arrow and Lantern while Jo saves Brin.  Tasmia tends to Brainy, who seems to have gone a little nuts.  Tinya tries to look after her mother while Cham tries to calm the crowd.  Trudy Trusoe decides she needs to cover what’s happening, and steals a pen and paper from the museum.  Vi falls on Cham, and Brainy explains to Tasmia that the implants on his face aren’t working.  Devil crosses off the symbol of one Legionnaire from her wall (although it’s not clear who).  Gear, Chuck, and Wildfire try to figure out how they can help; Chuck doesn’t think it’s smart to send Wildfire, a tech-based hero, into a growing zone where no technology works.  On Oasis One, the prison loses power, and the SPs explain to Val that there is only about ten minutes before the prison drops from the sky.  At the same time, the prisoners start coming out of their cell, but Val mostly worries about the girl he saw earlier.
  • Things around the Museum are a mess, as the Legionnaires try to restore calm.  Tinya tends to her mother.  Brin wants to help the crowd, while Tinya has to convince Jo to fly Winema to the hospital (he’s the only one of them with flight powers now).  Brin tries to organize the crowd, and then helps a woman look for her daughter.  Brainy struggles to gain control of his irregulated thoughts.  Cham was injured when Vi fell on him, and now can’t transform the right side of his body.  Tasmia slaps Brainy and then engulfs him in darkness so he can snap out of it.  Tinya reminds Trudy that she said mean things about her when she was pregnant, and then tells her to go set up a field hospital.  Briany starts to figure things out.  On Oasis One, the Persuader considers stomping on his unconscious daughter, but when she wakes up, he takes her with him to figure out what’s happened to the prison.  Karate Kid and some SPs are in a standoff with Organ Thief and the rest of the prisoners.  Devil has the drugged Nura toss a syringe at a wall covered with symbols of the various Legionnaires.  On Legion World, Chuck and Gear explain to Wildfire why they can’t just recall Live Wire from Karahdia to turn electricity back on.  Instead, they have prepared a group of cadets, led by a new version of Nightwind, to take gliders and provide assistance.  Doctor Gym’ll, who appears to be missing the third arm that comes out of his back, insists on going with them.  Jo’s gotten Winema to a hospital, but a doctor explains that no one there can perform manual surgery anymore – it’s usually done by cybernetic surgeons.  Winema tells Jo she loves Tinya and is proud of him.  Oasis One starts to fall, and Val and the SPs start to fight the prisoners, led by Organ Thief.  The Persuader enters the fight, but on Val’s side, and insists that they all work together to stop the prison from falling on the city.  Brin finds the missing child, and then hears a loud scream.  He goes looking for its source.  Vi has recovered and starts helping out.  The cadets and Gym’ll arrive through a threshold (I don’t see a Kwai pathfinder with them), and find Jo.  Some of the crowd volunteer to help Trudy. Jo and the cadets arrive outside the museum, while Trudy organizes her volunteers.  The various powered prisoners pull the prison, while Lialla (Persuader’s daughter gets a name) hangs out with Val.  The prison falls into the water, avoiding any major collisions.  Arrow watches the events in Metropolis through his scope, and starts shooting at the gliding Doctor Gym’ll.  Brin arrives in Devil’s apartment, having followed her screams, and gets stabbed in the chest by her trident.
  • Issue thirty-seven opens on Karahdia, where the rest of the Legion (although five members of the team are neither there or on Earth) are fighting the insect races of that planet, and having a lot of trouble doing so.  M’onel and Superboy are in space blockading the planet, making sure that none of the insects are escaping to other worlds.  Chuck calls Saturn Girl, who is on a cruiser above Karahdia, to ask for help with what’s happening on Earth.  She makes it clear that they can’t provide any assistance.  Gear recaps things, and the two hope that sending in the cadets was a good move.  In Metropolis, Vi works to shore up a collapsing building while Brainy, Cham, and Jo try to figure out who is behind this attack.  Jo takes a moment to update Tinya on her mother’s condition.  Devil tortures Brin while talking about her crew and mission, without ever explaining why they are all based on 20th century characters.  Devil wants Brin to tell her about Legion World.  Karate Kid has to stop the Organ Thief from leaving the downed prison, while Persuader stands back and watches.  Val prepares to fight many prisoners who want to escape.  Trudy and Tinya check on Doctor Gym’ll, who is in bad shape (he got shot at last issue).  Cham tries to coordinate the cadets, not knowing that Arrow is watching him through his scope.  Devil returns to Canary and the drugged Dreamer.  Canary worries that Devil was hurt, as her costume is ripped.  It turns out that Brin ripped it off to track her with, and that Devil believes Brin is dead, although he’s really just waiting for his healing factor to restore his health.  Val fights a lot of prisoners, and finally, after he takes Organ Thief down, the rest stop fighting.  He begins to organize them to search for survivors and injured.  Jo and Vi come across the prison, and check on Val.  He wakes Organ Thief up to offer him a deal.  Lantern attacks Cham and the cadets, herding them towards Arrow.  Cham is not too pleased to learn that the powers the cadets have aren’t all that useful, but he’s able to lay a trap using Infectious Lass as bait.  She makes the two villains sick.  Back at the apartment, Devil admits that Arrow and Lantern were cannon fodder, and explains that she is hoping to be on Legion World with Canary and Dreamer when the rest of the team returns from Karahdia (how does she know they’re there?) so she can disrupt the threshold and kill them all.
  • As Metropolis burns, Canary starts to talk to Dreamer, making it clear what Devil wants to have happen.  Umbra stops some guys from robbing another guy, and Brainy chastises her for wasting time while more important things need addressing.  Devil is about to attack them, but stops when Violet turns up.  Trudy Trusoe watches Tinya care for the injured, and is impressed by her.  Trudy starts to question the value she brings to the world.  On Oasis One, the Persuader tells Val that he’s going to return to a cell and not try to escape, but he wants Val to look after his daughter, who he knocked out because she was being stubborn.  At a Med Center, Jo negotiates with Organ Thief; he’ll perform surgery on President Wazzo in return for Jo’s organs after he dies.  Cham interrogates Arrow and Lantern as they suffer from Infectious Lass’s powers.  Arrow is not willing to give up Devil, though.  Canary and Nura keep talking.  She explains that Devil sees them as heroes, which is why she’s given them names based on ancient heroes.  Nura tells her that she sees pain in her future.  On Legion World, Chuck prepares to send Wildfire to Karahdia to retrieve the most powerful of the others, and to stay there to replace them.  Devil returns to her apartment, and Canary confronts her with her newfound realization that, for her plan to work on Legion World, Canary would have to die.  Devil decides to drug Nura up even more, as a way of getting the protocols she needs from her, but Nura grabs a hold of a nearby flame.  The pain she feels cancels her psychic connection with Canary, and so suddenly all the power across the Earth is restored.  There are scenes of heroes celebrating, but Devil strikes Nura, and is about to kill her.  Just then, Brin bursts into the room and takes Devil down.  Later, there is a ticker tape parade, and we see that Organ Thief feels like a hero, Persuader’s daughter wants to ask Val out, and Trudy Trusoe decides to go by her real name, Hannah Wells, while on the air.  Just then, Jo arrives with President Wazzo, who is in a hospital bed.  Tinya rushes to her side, and everyone seems happy.  Later, M’onel and Brainy fly around over Karahdia, where we learn that the rapid evolution of the inhabitants of that planet sped up again, with the effect being that they’ve devolved into nothing (is this Gail Simone’s way of commenting on the birth, rise, and then death of the reboot Legion?).

And that is one crappy way to end off a pretty good series.  I was really enjoying The Legion under Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Chris Batista, but for whatever reason, the people in charge at DC decided to not end this run on a high note, but to instead drop five more issues into the universe, despite the fact that they added nothing to the book, nor did they wrap up any lingering plotlines from DnA’s run (like the question of why Cub was growing rapidly or what was up with Star Boy’s powers).  

I’m not sure why DC decided to cancel this run and proceed with the Threeboot – the radically different vision of the Legion put out by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson, which eventually incorporated Supergirl, and then ended up falling into more traditional Legion territory with a run by Jim Shooter and Francis Manapul.  I have no desire to revisit the Threeboot, and so my long, long run of columns on the Legion ends with this one.

I started this massive project, reading an issue of The Legion of Super-Heroes (or an associated title) every day, at the end of July 2019.  For more than a year, I’ve immersed myself in twenty-three years’ worth of Legion stories.  I started with the beginning of Paul Levitz’s long run in 1978, through the move to the deluxe format series, which ended when Keith Giffen transitioned into the Five Year Gap Legion, which remains one of my all-time favourite runs in all of comics.  After that, the Legion sucked for a while, before the reboot was forced on the team after Zero Hour.  Those comics were alright, but largely mediocre.  It wasn’t until DnA took over, ended the main Legion book and Legionnaires, moving the action into the Legion Lost, and then Legion Worlds series, before launching this volume, The Legion.

Since then, the concept went through the Threeboot, and then the original Legion was brought back, in a way, by Geoff Johns, before ending up lost on Earth in the New 52.  Most recently, after a long fallow period, Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook have brought the team back in a run that I’m enjoying.

Except, I really miss the “real” Legion.  Levitz’s run, with artists like Giffen, LaRocque, Lightle, and Giffen again, was mature, exciting, and managed to juggle the large cast of the book.  Giffen’s run with the Bierbaums was brilliant, but after he left, amidst all the confusion around the SW6 version of the Legion (were they clones?  were they the original Legion?), things really fell apart, and the team never regained its glory.

I understand why the Legion, with its strong roots in pre-Crisis continuity, had to change, but the constant tinkering with the team really hurt it.  Giffen came up with some great workarounds, introducing characters like Kent Shakespeare and Laurel Gand (why are these two not in Bendis’s run?) to take on some of the roles in the team’s history, but this constant need to “fix” things continuously made the book not work.  And then, once they had the history the way they wanted it, they’d go ahead and connect the book to the 20th century again, thereby guaranteeing another retcon down the road.

In that sense, reading this book in this way offers an interesting view in the confusing and turbulent history of DC comics, land of the rework.  I find that this is why I don’t feel the connection to DC characters now that I continue to feel for many Marvel characters.  I’m lost in the current DC Universe, and while I like some of their books, I find myself drawn mostly to the titles that don’t have any real continuity to them.  The characters that I grew up with are gone, and that’s fine, but it was a real treat to revisit “my” Legion, and then optimistically stick around longer than was necessary, with the reward being the excellent DnA run.

Reading through these decades also provides some insight into how comics themselves changed.  It felt like Levitz, and some of the writers that preceded him, were pushing the envelope for their time.  They had long storylines, complex character relationships, and showed the characters growing up.  As comics became more mature, that was reflected in the Legion, which balanced a utopian vision of the future with interpersonal drama and superheroics.  Towards the end of Levitz’s run, as DC entered its long affair with being grim and gritty, Levitz and Giffen trashed the place.  Giffen then spent a few years exploring the detritus, while making the book one of the most complex and challenging books on the stands to not have a “for mature readers” warning.  In many ways, Giffen’s Legion was more mature than some of the pre-Vertigo books were.  After the reboot, there was a desire to be all things to all people, kind of like 90s comics in general.  On one hand, they tried to appeal to younger readers, but then would constantly destroy worlds or kill off characters.  As the team moved into the 2000s, it found a balance, and became interesting and compelling again, like a lot of other DC books.  So what did they do?  They wrecked it again by forcing the Threeboot onto the world, at a time when mainstream comics first started to embrace the cancel and relaunch cycle as business as usual.

Should I say anything about the actual issues this column is about?  Dan Jurgens has never been a favourite artist of mine, and his approach to these characters was all wrong here.  He made them look like the early 20s versions of themselves that we saw at the tail end of Mike Grell’s 70s run, with their leisure suits.  He was a poor choice for this book.  Likewise, Gail Simone was more interested in reporter Trudy Trusoe and Devil than she was in any of the actual Legionnaires.

Well, that wraps up my extended stay in the 30th and 31st century.  As a bit of a palette cleanser, I want to dive into a few short titles from the dawn of the miniseries before diving into another team book, but one made up of second string characters, far from the action of superhero-crowded New York.

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

If you’d like to read any of these issues, you’re going to have to go digging.  These are never getting collected.

 

Tags: , ,

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!