Thursday, April 5, 2018

Laurel Gand's Origins in Legion of Super-Heroes #9

It feels a little like Legion week here at Comic Box Commentary. And I am doing a bit of self-plagiarism today, reposting a review I did over on the Legion of Super-Bloggers to cover Laurel Gand and her origins. 

I have been thinking about Laurel a lot these days. With Superman being rethought (not rebooted apparently) by Brian Michael Bendis, the future of Supergirl is a bit amorphous right now. It sort of reminds me of the Byrne era where Supergirl was removed from continuity. I doubt DC will be doing that now ... but who knows where this will all shake out for Kara.

With Supergirl removed by the Crisis, the Legion had something of a hole in their history. Creator Keith Giffen with Tom and Mary Bierbaum recreated Supergirl to fill that void in the character of Laurel. There are many overlapping origin points. Their powers are similar. Their relationships are similar. And Laurel is pretty cool.

Over on the Fire and Water Who's Who Podcast, the team of Rob and Shag talked about Laurel this week when reviewing her Who's Who page. It made me think of Laurel and her story once more. Realizing I had not reviewed it here, recognizing that it has enough Supergirl stuff in it to make it a worthy post, and also sensing the time was right to look once more at a reimagining of the character, I have decided to post the review of Legion of Super-Heroes #9 here. Hope that's okay. And it is reposted in total so bear with me. New content will be in blue. The old review will be in black.

Read below for the story.

As I have been reviewing the 5YL Legion book, one of the things that has really struck me has been its pace. At the time when it was being released, back when I was waiting month to month to get a new issue, I can remember a feeling of anticipation. I wanted to read more of this new Legion, this new history, this new dystopia. Having to hit pause for 30 days was excruciating.

Now, looking back at this first year, I am amazed and thrilled at some of the creative choices that the writers and artists made. Rebooting the Legion into a dark future was risky. But rebooting the universe twice in the first 6 issues was even riskier. And every time you think that you will learn more about what has happened to the Legionnaires over time, Keith Giffen, Tom and Mary Bierbaum, and Al Gordon tap the brakes a little bit. I think they liked teasing Legion fans, so proud of their knowledge and certainty of the team. I think they liked keeping us on edge.

5YL Legion of Super-Heroes #9 is another interesting creative choice on the part of the team. 5YL Legion #7 hit me like a freight train, a ragtag group of Legionnaires defeating Mordru through luck and diplomacy, and rescuing the White Witch. Instead of building on that moment and keeping us in the moment, Giffen et al tapped the brakes with 5YL Legion #8, giving us a flashback issue retelling the Legion's origins.

You would think with the tantalizing business of Roxxas, Khunds, and Dominators all trying to slow down a reforming Legion on Winath, that the creative team would want to get right back to business on the current storylines. Heck, we barely know anything about this new history.

Instead, the team taps the brakes again and gives us another flashback issue, this time telling Laurel Gand's origin!

The truth is that Laurel Gand was the biggest new element added to the mix since the universal reboot a handful of issues ago. There was a lot of questions about her and who she was. There was true excitement. So I am not surprised that we got a long look at her here, a way to catch lightning in a bottle.

But two straight flashback issues? Daring.

Now much like last issue, we start with a framework story set in the 'current' timeline and complete with the nine panel grid and Giffen art. Roxxas is starting to gather intel on the gathering Legionnaires and Laurel is high on his list. And so he watches a 'Laurel Gand holo', a sort of documentary on her origins. And is this is a look back, we revert to 'standard' comics. No nine panel grid. And art by Paris Cullins.

We start out learning she didn't live on Daxam proper. Her family lived on Ricklef II, a domed city on the rim of Daxam's system used as a defensive post and early warning station.

Remember, in this new world, Laurel takes the place of Supergirl in the Legion lore. This sideways look at Argo City, Supergirl's home, is the first of many overt Kara homages in the issue.

We don't learn the names of Laurel's parents (although I like that the mother seems to be the highest ranking person on the base and is in a very Silver Age Jor-El outfit). What we do see is a bunch of Khunds storm the city, kill Laurel's parents (in front of her), and deactivate the defense system.

This attack and murder of her parents clearly is the origin for Laurel's hatred of the Khunds, someone she continues to battle up the the present.

There is something very 'Batman' about this though.

We see Laurel's first act of heroism right here. She sneaks into a ship and reactivates the defense system remotely. With the 'electro-tower' back on line, the invading Khund ships are disabled, thwarting the attack. Laurel just saved Daxam.

She is honored by the UP ... but of course that won't bring her family back.

And, the Khund warrior who was leading that raid, Zaryan, had escaped and was plotting revenge. Imagine how that must feel to a alpha-male culture like the Khunds ... defeated by a school-age girl.

Old school readers will recognize Zaryan's name, a Khund who has fought the Legion in all their incarnations. Perhaps his 'biggest' moment is killing the original Lightning Lad (until Garth is revived).

Now remember, Laurel is a Supergirl stand-in and Giffen and the Bierbaums do their best to mirror Kara as best they can.

For her protection, Laurel is placed into an orphanage by her uncle Eltro Gand. (For someone who appeared in one pre- 5YL story, Giffen and the Bierbaums really wring all they can out of Eltro.) This is like Supergirl being put into an orphanage, away from family, by Superman.

And then we get some riffs straight from Action Comics #276, the issue where the Silver Age Supergirl joins the Legion. This 'hearing voices' and meeting the Legionnaires at a place named Cranston Creek is lifted right from that issue. Great homages. Feel free to see my review of that issue and look at the similarities.

And meeting 'Triplicate Girl" (here called Triad), Saturn Girl, and Phantom Girl is also similar to what happens in Action Comics.

Here they ask Laurel to try out for the Legion and she accepts.

Now Laurel isn't just a Supergirl stand-in. She also must be a Mon-El stand-in too. Remember it is Valor (not Superboy) who is the inspiration for the Legion in this new universe. So I thought this very Mon-El-like costume was very slick, letting us know visually who else she is 'replacing'.

But she is primarily the new Supergirl. And like in Action Comics #276, one of the other applicants is Brainiac 5, someone she is instantly smitten with. So some Laurel/Brainy romance is probably part of this new timeline.

Laurel aces the application process, digging up 'great lost treasures' for the Legion. In Action Comics #276, these are named - Excalibur, Achilles' helmet, and Richard the Lion-Hearted's shield.

Unfortunately, her anti-lead formula isn't enough to shield her from a mega-exposure. Brainy realizes that her body is rejecting the old formula. Brainy is able to alter the formula and save her. And both are inducted into the Legion.

Mon-El's history also includes a time when he rejected the antidote and needed an upgrade from Brainy. The missing ingredient in that story? Kryptonite. (We don't hear how Brainy altered this formula.)

5YL LSH#8's villain was 'Doyle', the hard partying ex-partner of RJ Brande, another Durlan trapped in a human body. He again crops up, now willing to sell trade secrets to the Khunds in exchange for being smuggled out of the galaxy.

The Legion follows them to the Shrine Asteroids (looks like Easter Island in space, should I know this reference?). There, just as it looks like the Khunds will kill Brainy and Cham, Laurel shows up. She defeats the Khunds, grabs Doyle, and holds hands with Brainy.

Suddenly the lonely Laurel has a home. And she maintains her title as 'enemy of the [Khundian] people'!

And with that the documentary ends and we are back to the current timeline. And we catch up with some of the ongoing plots.

First off, we see Roxxas again. He is irate that the Dominion-run Earthgov has suddenly turned on him. They have sent Celeste Rockfish on his trail.

Even the Dominion knows that back-stabbing Roxxas isn't wise. They hope the Legion deals with him. Or they realize that Roxxas' next target will be them.

Next, we see this seemingly sentient blob of green energy streaking through the universe. Is it heading to Earth? And sentient energy blob?

A young Anj wondered if it was Wildfire.

We shall see.

And then a quick look at the whole Roxxas mess.

Sun Boy, as poster boy for the Dominion, vows that the connection between EarthGov and Roxxas isn't real and instead the work of a rogue.

The universe is noticing that a high number of ex-Legionnaires are gathering on Winath.

And even Roxxas knows that the Legion and his pursuer Rockfish are all there.

Things seem to be coming to a head ... and that will mean action.

But this was the biggest moment for me as we end this issue.

Remember the horrors of Venado Bay, a battle in the Imsk/Braal war, a battle where Braalians died in huge numbers, a battle where Vi and Rokk were on opposite sides.

And now both Rokk and Vi will be on Winath and will surely run into each other.

It is great characterization here for Vi as she weeps for her role in the fight, how she was trying to kill the leader of the Legion and her friend, how she wonders if she can ever be forgiven.

It was this sort of deep look at characters, this catching up on those lost five years, and the more mature look at these characters that made me love this book immensely.

But remember than sly humor is also part of the wonder of this book. After that sad page of Vi in emotional agony, the text page is a page from a Legion fanzine asking Laurel about her romance with Brainy.

So now we know much more about who Laurel Gand is and how she came to join the Legion.

As I said, Laurel was the biggest grenade lobbed at the granite Legion history. So getting this origin out of the way on the heels of the main Legion origin makes sense. Legion fans were on shaky ground and adding some mortar to the foundation helped solidify things. And, it did keep the anticipation of the Roxxas showdown simmering such that at the end of this issue I was clamoring for the next immediately.  Such fascinating pacing for this first year.

It is no big surprise that I love this time period in the Legion history. And I loved Laurel as a sort of Supergirl who got to play in the sandbox of the 30th century. I was happy that Giffen and the Bierbaums honored the history of Kara by infusing Laurel's history with a lot of Supergirl bits. And Laurel's brash nature as well has her fierce approach to problems was welcomed.

I love this issue. And Supergirl fans could do a lot worse than picking this up. Just the riffs to Action #276 alone make it a nice book to own.

Overall grade: A

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Laurel was an unfortunate victim of DC fridging editorial policies (which, to be fair, Marvel practices as well): "This so-called classic character is a worthless remnant of a kiddie age, so let's kill it off. Oh, wait, that character actually had a place in the mythos which needs to be filled now. Alright, come up with a stand-in. Problem solved-- What do you mean its replacement isn't adequate enough? Okay, then bringing the classic character back. What about its replacement? What about them? Let's put them on a bus forever and ignore them from now on."

Once upon a time, DC decided the existence of Superman meant they didn't need a Supergirl, so they killed Earth-One Kara and retconned Earth-Two Kara out. Then they realized the mythos DO need a Supergirl, so they created several replacements: Matrix, Laurel, Linda, Cir-El... only to realize they needed Kara after all. And once Kara was back, they didn't need her replacements. At the end, half dozen of characters were screwed by a clueless editorial who never though the solution for Superman's low sales was better writing rather than torching the franchise.

Regarding the issue, it's a nice story, but it highlights how useless was expunging Kara from continuity since they had to come up with a replacement with her same backstory and powers. At the very least Laurel not being divided between two eras/franchises allowed the writers to explore her relationship with Brainy in depth.

It'd be nice an issue where Kara meets the other girls who took up her mantle, but I'm not holding my breath.

... I also miss Laurel Kent.