Monday, January 29, 2018

Back Issue Review: DC Comics Presents #43

Over on the Supergirl show, the Legion of Super-Heroes have traveled back in time and are (for now) stuck in the 21st century. When Reign attacks, the Legion are initially reluctant to join in the battle. After all, they shouldn't interfere with the timeline any more than they need to, if at all. Eventually, the team decides that they are heroes who help people regardless of the time they are in.

With that background, I decided that I should thumb through the back issue boxes to find a Legion story to showcase and what better issue than 1982's DC Comics Presents #43, an issue in which the Legion travels back in time to save the Earth in present day from a major threat. And while DCCP is a Superman team-up book, there is a Supergirl cameo which means this is the perfect book to cover here.

There are any number of bonus reasons to include this. Brainiac 5 is one of the Legionnaires, linking this again to the show. Wildfire, my favorite Legionnaire, is a big part of this story. Mongul is the villain, trapping Superman in one of his wonky shrinking cube traps! And, of course, it sports a Brian Bolland cover, one of Bolland's earliest DC works. I mean, that is one gorgeous cover! Bolland is incredible.

Superman and the Legion, together in the present, fighting Mongul and a sun-eater? Sounds like a winner to me! On to the book!

'In Final Battle' was written by legendary Legion scribe Paul Levitz with art by legendary Superman penciller Curt Swan. We start with a close up of Clark looking out the Daily Planet building with some concern. And he should be concerned.

His super-vision has picked up that a sun-eater is heading into our solar system, on its way to devour Sol. The sun-eater is no joke, one of the most powerful creatures in the DCU and one of the deadliest.

But Clark can't just say that he needs to run and battle a galactic threat. He needs to protect his secret identity. And so he makes up a silly excuse, that he left the gas running on his stove, and skedattles away. Ahh, the carefree Bronze Age days when we got to hear the dumb reasons Clark runs off. From stomach cramps to fear, he was mild-mannered.

As for art, I know this was Swan nearing the end of his career and things weren't as crisp as they had been. But I don't think inker Dave Hunt is doing him any favors. The art is here is a bit too loose for me.

Heading up to intercept the sun-eater, Superman reminisces about his past experience with one, in the classic Legion tale in Adventure Comics #352 - 353 which brought us the Fatal Five and the sacrifice of Ferro Lad. Remember kids, this was before the internet and comixology. You only learned about classic DC history in reprints or flashbacks. This is how you learned continuity!

This wasn't where I first learned about Ferro Lad. I read that story in 1980's DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #1 starring the Legion. I was a Legion fan even way back then. But I appreciated this one panel recap even then. How often did you get to see Ferro Lad? And that sock to the jaw in panel one is lifted right from that story.

As I said, the sun-eater is now slouch and blasts Superman with a bolt strong enough to send Superman careening to the moon.

Now there are a lot of coincidences you need to just roll with in Bronze Age stories. Yes, Superman crashes to the moon. He just so happens to land nearby where the culprit behind the sun-eater attack is standing ... Mongul!!! And, I suppose, it is luck that Mongul decided to watch things from up close and on the moon. But I guess we'll just roll with that.

This was early in Mongul's DC life, having appeared only in two prior stories. He is definitely a powerhouse, stating correctly that he is physically stronger than Superman. He also touts of his rudimentary telepathic powers, allowing him to talk to Superman here (I don't think he has telepathic powers since).

But for those who are new to Mongul, you immediately know he isn't falsely boasting. He says he killed a Controller to get control of this sun-eater and that ain't easy. He also effortlessly puts Superman in a shrinking indestructible cube so that Superman is now the size of a hand. (You get the sense of it on the cover.) This was an early Mongul maneuver seen back in his first story. It looks like the bad guy is going to win.

In another coincidence, Jimmy and Lois somehow know that this battle is happening and are viewing it from a powerful observatory telescope. Think about it, they would have to scan the entire moon to find the two battling!

Knowing that a fight with Mongul and the sun-eater is no easy task, the two wonder who can help. Jimmy decides to take matters into his own hand. He pulls out his Legion flight ring (remember he's an honorary member) and activates the alarm.

I wonder how long it had been since the last time Legion used his flight ring or acknowledged his position in the group. Once more though, this is a piece of DC history that might have been news to readers.

Cut to the future where a number of Legionnaires are present to receive Jimmy's alarm. Doing some time gazing, they see the sun-eater heading to Earth's star. There is a brief debate (as in the Supergirl show) about whether or not they should join in the fight.

Of all people, it is Brainiac 5 who shifts the decision to action. The sun is still burning in the 30th century sky therefore they won't be changing history if they help stop it. In fact they may be making history ... or stopping a new timeline from happening. The decision is made to head into the past.

Of course, he could take the opposite stance. Since the sun is still burning, he could say they the sun-eater is stopped historically therefore there is no reason to head back.

Still, this half dozen heroes head off.

I know this is a Supergirl blog so I do have some Supergirl to share.

The 20th century wasn't without it's own heroes and a number of them head to the moon to stop Mongul ... without success. One of them is Supergirl. But even the combined might of Green Lantern and Supergirl (and Red Tornado and oddly enough Black Canary) can stop him. Mongul thrashes them all.

Weird to see Kara's red shorts colored blue here. Did colorist Gene D'Angelo think this was her original Silver Age costume?

The Legion arrives on the moon and with Mongul distracted by the League are able to use their powers to free Superman. Then together they mount an attack on Mongul.

I know he is very powerful even in the current DCU but this Mongul is terrifying. After shrugging off the JLA attack, here he simply wades through the combined Legion effort. It is only Wildfire's anti-energy which does even slight damage. It also burns away Mongul's suit and circuitry which allowed him to control the sun-eater. (Not that that matters, the eater is on its way to Sol regardless of commands.)

Think about it though, Mongul laughed at a combined fighting force that included Superman, Supergirl, Wildfire, Green Lantern, and Element Lad. That's real power.

In the end, the bigger threat is the sun-eater. Superman tells the Legion to fly off and save the sun. He'll handle Mongul.

There is one person that can destroy the nucleus of the sun-eater, dissipating it, and that is Wildfire's. His anti-energy is similar to the bomb Ferro Lad used originally. Emptying his melting suit, he vaporizes the core ending the threat.

Wildfire has a pretty good list of beings he has thwarted on his own - a sun-eater, Omega, a Darkseid cloned Oan. The dude is tough.

As for Superman, giving a pretty powerful speech about how heart matters and how he'll always triumph over hate, he eventually is able to batter Mongul into unconsciousness. But he collapses from the efforts as well.

Given the power levels of Mongul at this point, this is a big deal.

As usual, there is a nice wrap-up. Initially Superman sheds a tear thinking Wildfire is dead. Brainiac reminds him that Wildfire is nearby as an energy blob until he can enter a new suit. Superman forgot that. We then get a clumsy exchange about how a post-hypnotic suggestion doesn't allow Superman to remember everything about the future. Remember, we learned continuity bits like this in stories like this.

Without Wildfire, it'll be a quiet trip back to the future. Everyone gets a good laugh at Wildfire's expense. Even Wildfire, seen as a wraith, seems to be laughing.

As for the unconscious Leaguers, or how an Element Lad made cage will hold Mongul? We just have to roll with that.

This is a fun, quick story. I always like seeing SuperMAN interact with the Legion. A sun-eater and Mongul threat is a legitimate one requiring a Legion. And we learned some history. Plus, there is a stealth Supergirl cameo. Once you get back all the craziness that has to happen to make this be 'done-in-one', you get an entertaining read.

And with the recent addition of the Legion to our time on the Supergirl show, I thought it was a good time to showcase it.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

Pretty good issue, even if you have to forgive the logic leaps and incredibly convenient coincidences.

But it was an entertaining issue. Good action, good cameos -back then you seldom saw Supergirl fighting alongside the JLA-, and a villain who back then was terrifying before Post-Crisis writers turned him into a sorry wimp.

Curt Swan isn't at his best here but he's still a master.

"Wildfire has a pretty good list of beings he has thwarted on his own - a sun-eater, Omega, a Darkseid cloned Oan. The dude is tough."

I don't know why people complain about Superman's power level. You'd think there're no more powerhouses in his universe.

And I admit I laughed at Clark thinking his excuses get lamer every time. I have the feeling neither Lois nor Jimmy were buying it for now.

Martin Gray said...

reat review, thanks Anj.

I do like that Kara and Hal got cameos, took me right back to the excellent DCCP #26-29... and I realise Hal wasn't actually part of the Mongul sequence, but hey, it was a story with Starlin art, it was cosmic and it sat right next to Mongul's debut. I'm having it!

I so miss the Daily Planet/WGBS shenanigans, I've been Twitter-campaigning for the return of Josh Coyle, y'know!


Anonymous said...

As loose as the artwork is in this issue, Dave Hunt's inks are still a vast improvement over the irritating scratchy and overdetailed inking by Swan's regular Frank for the botched color scheme on Supergirl's costume this was likely due to the colorist not being able to keep up with her ever shifting "super wardrobe".
Hell back in 1959 the colorists used to regularly get her skirt color wrong, now they add in "puffy ball hot pants versus red running shorts versus etc etc etc..."

BTW I' ve always prided myself on owning almost all of Supergirl's cameos and guest appearances during the bronze age, nice to know there is still some things I need to acquire.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

"...Back in 1959 the colorists used to regularly get her skirt color wrong..."

I wonder if Supergirl's skirt was originally intended to be red, and then changed to blue when Action 252 was colored. The prototype that Jimmy Olsen conjured up in Superman 123 had a red skirt, and the full page ad in Action 251 showed Kara wearing a red skirt. Was the skirt colored blue by mistake for Action 252, and then Weisinger decided he liked that better?

The red skirt turned up on the covers of Action Comics 260 (Supergirl as a baby), and 262, although it was blue on the inside. The skirt was red in the stories published in Action Comics 261 and 263. After that, I think it became blue permanently, at least until the early '70s when Kara began experimenting with new costumes.

Uncle Screensaver said...

Nice review, Anj! I had never known Kara made a cameo in that issue, which I'm shocked I didn't know, but pleasantly surprised to see! Any chance you'll review the Dominus saga that ran through the titles 20 years ago for Superman's 60th anniversary, which not only gave readers a Supergirl named Kara again (albeeit briefly) and which would eventually see Kismet become Strange Visitor?

@Professor Feetlebaum: Action Comics @251 is red but that may have been the mistake as Kara's costume would later be shown as one piece, with the belt more decorative than functional. However, the belt loops were coloured red for #252 and throughout her early career, and that seemed intentional to emulate Superman's. Still, it is odd that for covers, Kara might have had a red skirt when one would think that would be where a colorist would take more care in colouring, unless it was their way of getting in what they felt looked better. :P

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Uncle Screensaver: The red skirt in Action Comics 251 may have been a carry-over from Superman #123. But aside from that, it's curious that all of the red skirt issues came out successively: Action Comics 260 to 264, dated January to April 1960, and Superboy 80 (cover) also dated April 1960.

I could understand the red skirt being a colorist's mistake the first time, but not a second time, much less a third or a fourth time, as a "mistake" like that would have been so obvious.

Maybe Weisinger and all were still undecided about the color and went back and forth with it for a few months before settling on the blue once and for all.

Anj said...

Great comments!
I love the knowledge bombs being dropped over colorist errors here! Such a great Supergirl community!