Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: Adventure Comics #520

I am sort of sad to see this run of Legion of Super-heroes come to an end in Adventure Comics #520. I don't need a primer on the Legion but it certainly has been fun to see the Legionnaires in their youth, in their Silver Age costumes, and learning hard lessons on being heroes in the 30th century.

Much of this run has been focused on the Legion 'growing up' ... moving from curiosity, to questionable ally of the Science Police, to adjunct to the SciPo, to finally mourners as one of their own has fallen in battle. And, I have liked how we have seen those changes through the eyes of Saturn Girl who has had to do some growing of her own. She has gone from shy girl with low confidence to weary warrior in a short time and doing that while making some dubious decisions about the use of her powers. Imra has always been a rock in the foundation of the LSH, certainly a perfect counter-balance to Lightning Lad's irascible nature.

Paul Levitz shines here, building on definite moments in the Legion's history without leaving new readers behind. And Kevin Sharpe's art works well, showcasing a young Legion.

The overall story arc has been the Legion battling raider Zaryan and his battles with the United Planets. In particular, he has been a thorn in Saturn Girl's side as she feels responsible for the death of the Science Police Liason Sgt. Esquival.

This issue drops us off sometime in the near future from the end of last issue. Zaryan has tried to invade Earth and has died. But in that battle, Lightning Lad has been killed by a freeze ray. The opening scene is Garth's funeral and we get to see how that effects all of the Legionnaires.

As if the guilt from Esquival's death wasn't enough, Saturn Girl blames herself for Lightning Lad's death as well ... and we shall see she might not be that wrong. I love her internal monologue here as she realizes that they were simply playing dress-up before, pretending to be soldiers. And now that reality has sunk in.

Throughout the issue, we hear Imra's thoughts as she relives the incident leading to Garth's death. And while she seeps in that sorrow, her teammates mop up what is left of Zaryan's army.

I was a bit giddy when I saw this 2 page spread of the black arm-banded team shouting 'Long Live the Legion'. For one, I liked how some of the Legionnaires aren't ready to beat their chests and scream the motto. Phantom Girl, Saturn Girl, and Brainiac 5 seem much more reserved in their reactions. People grieve differently. I thought a varied response was appropriate.

But I also loved how Supergirl is right there, standing next to her cousin, hand raised. Suddenly, the continuity of Supergirl Annual #2, that Supergirl was in the Legion, acting in this time period of the team, is set in cement. I am thrilled by that. I always felt that being in the Legion was an important part of Supergirl's history.

With Zaryan dead, his fleet of ships seems to be in disarray, fleeing UP space to try to regroup. But the Science Police are right on their tail and so is the Legion.

Just when the SciPo are about to overrun the ships, they are told to stand down and let the Legion get the first shot. This is suddenly personal.

I don't know if the Science Police would do this earlier in the run, so it should some subtle growth in the relationship between them and the Legion.

It also shows how much the Legion has grown. There is no hesitation as the rip into the ship and thrash Zaryan's troops.

Okay, maybe it isn't just respect for the Legion that has made the Science Police take a step back. It turns out that R.J. Brande has been spreading coin to let his team have this chance. I like how his checkbook is his super-power.

But it was nice that Sun Boy mentions how distraught Brande is over Garth's death. He always talked about the Legion, and in particular the founders, as his children. So I liked that we at least heard that.

But revenge ... but dismantling Zaryan's fleet ... it isn't going to bring Lightning Lad back. When Saturn Girl recalls that battle, she ends with an image of her holding Lightning Lad's body. This recurring image nicely echoes the emptiness that Saturn Girl is feeling. As always, whenever the art perfectly meshes with the words, it shows how great this medium is.

It works even more when you hear that it was this moment when Saturn Girl realized she loved Garth. How empty and dark she must feel.

In an added bonus, Supergirl actually gets to see some action and has a speaking line!

She is one of the strong advance force of the Legion, there with the muscle of Superboy and Ultra Boy. In theory they are supposed to disable the criminal's ships so the Science Police can mop things up. But the boys have something else in mind. This really is personal, probably the first time a Legion case has felt this way.

Finally we here exactly what led to Lightning Lad's death. And it really gives us a good look at the inner workings of Saturn Girl's mind. Weighed down by guilt over Sgt Esquival's death, swearing no one else will die because of her, and armed with Dream Girl's vision of a Legionnaire dying, Saturn Girl feels compelled to act ... setting herself up to be the one to die perhaps? It is a pretty dark place.

But it gets murkier. She used her powers to nudge the Legionnaires to vote her as leader, the second time she has used her powers on her friends. First she mind-wipes Rokk, forcing him to forget their tryst. Now she 'controls' them? It certainly isn't the characterization of Imra Ardeen I am used to. But this story gives Levitz the chance to tarnish the otherwise glittering Silver Age history of the team. It fleshes out the character a bit.

I am not saying I like it ... I am still pondering it.

Once elected leader, Saturn Girl uses some 'experimental substances' to absorb all the powers of the Legionnaires and goes out to fight Zaryan alone. Unfortunately for her, Mon-El has observed all her plans from the Phantom Zone and let's Lightning Lad know. Garth then flies off to help, dying in the process.

With Zaryan's troops captured, all that is left is dealing with the emotional fallout. Initially Imra decides to quit the Legion, feeling she has betrayed them in every sense.

But Rokk remains the moral center of the team. Yes, Saturn Girl made mistakes ... but they all are making mistakes. They are new to everything and won't be perfect. The team wants her back and they want her back as leader.

She needs to forgive herself for all that has happened. She needs move on. She needs to lean on her team, her family.She says it best herself. She has the best friends.

The last panel of the comic shows just how far she has come during this time of her life. This is a confident Saturn Girl, proudly wielding her Legion ring. The point of view of the panel adds to that feeling; she is heroic and shown in a heroic pose. This really was a coming of age story for the whole team but for Imra most of all. I have to say I liked it a lot.

Even more when she vowed she would find a way to bring Garth back.

That is a clear reference to Adventure Comics #312, when Saturn Girl again tries to stack the deck in her favor.

I hope that every so often Levitz goes back to this time period, doing another retro-arc. This has been a lot of fun. Not jaw-dropping ... not unbelievably fantastic. But fun and entertaining. And that is what comics are supposed to be.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

I'm sure you know loads more about the Legion than I do - actually, you will do... seriously! - and maybe I've misunderstood some of your post, but it looks like a large part of the story is just a retelling of Adventure Comics #304 so a lot of what Saturn Girl does here is just following that storyline without any deviation, including her motivations for what she did. I'm not sure, therefore, how much of her characterisation is down to Paul Levitz and how much is just following the earlier story verbatim.

Anj said...

Thanks for the link!

I haven't read that story in a looonng time so forgot that Saturn Girl used her powers on the team back then. Seems so out of character. Thanks for clueing me in!

I didn't realize that this piece mirrored that one so closely. I think in the end this was a story that followed the same steps but told it from different vantages.

valerie21601 said...

One Supergirl item I did notice in this Adventure issue is how Kara's cape is used in her fight scene. Almost as if more care was taken with positioning and using it to reflect Kara's personality like Levitz/Giffen used to do in the older LoSH issues with her and Brainy. I had never really thought about it until someone pointed it out to me. I hadn't thought about it until I read this issue for the first time.

Anj said...

One Supergirl item I did notice in this Adventure issue is how Kara's cape is used in her fight scene. Almost as if more care was taken with positioning and using it to reflect Kara's personality like Levitz/Giffen used to do

I also loved the use of the cape in those Levitz/Giffen LoSH books. I'll have to look closer at this Adventure issue now.

valerie21601 said...

It's like the visual effect for Supergirl was meant for 3-D viewing in her one battle scene very detailed compared to the men of the Legion, who wear capes.