Monday, August 10, 2020

Back Issue Box: Legion of Super-Heroes #283

With Wildfire being prominently featured as the opening splash Legionnaire in Legion of Super-Heroes #7 and with some hints about old continuities and histories put in there, I thought it would be fun to review his history. It doesn't hurt that Wildfire is my favorite Legionnaire. So why not let him into the spotlight here a little.
So today I will be reviewing Legion of Super-Heroes #283, a spotlight issue for Wildfire reviewing his history and adding some elements to his back story not seen prior to this. I have to say this is a little bit of a weird and interesting issue for a couple of reasons.

First off, the cover is done by art legend Jim Aparo! Aparo is best known for his Batman work. I don't think he did any other Legion work outside this piece. So getting to see his take on Wildfire alone makes this issue worth it.
Second, Roy Thomas is the writer. Now Thomas has some Legion credits but he is more a WWII kind of writer. I never really cozied up to his Legion stuff. And he oddly inserts a lot of romance (or impossible romance) into this story. Most of Wildfire's angst comes from his failed relationships with women ... which feels a little off. I suppose it plays into his 'not being human, am I truly alive' angst. But weird.

The art is by Howard Bender with inks by Bruce Patterson. I like Patterson's inks and he does a good job here with the visuals which move from college romance to high stakes super-hero action.

Overall, this is a good primer on Wildfire including all the things mentioned in that LSH #7 splash - his failed first attempt at joining the team, his being a hothead with a loud mouth, his concern about not being a 'thing'. 

On to the book.

"The Startling Secret of Wildfire" starts out with our hero skirmishing with three well known LSH academy candidates: Lamprey, Northwind, and Crystal Kid.

One thing I like about the Wildfire character is that he does devote his time to training the next generation of Legionnaires, taking a very active part in the academy. Part of me wonders if he does that to make new relationships and help him not isolate himself and sink into despair.

After being defeated by Wildfire, Lamprey and Northwind see if they can unnerve the Legionnaire by planting kisses on his faceplate and being all 'come hither'. 

It has an unanticipated response with him swatting them away in anguish. Luckily, they are only shaken up.

Wildfire then goes into his origin to explain his response.

Cocky astroengineering major Drake Burroughs has talent but lacks discipline, kind of sleepwalking his way through his studies.  He gets taken under the wing of his teacher Professor Vultan, meeting Vultan's daughter Zera. Drake also finds himself a girlfriend, Kerri.

But then while experimenting on an engine of Vultan's, Drake loses his concentration and sets of an explosion which converts his body to anti-energy.

Kerri grieves assuming he has died.

But Vultan is resourceful.

He has a containment suit which can house Drake's energy form.

As a kid I always loved schematic pictures like this. To me, seeing all the circuitry and wires was just completely cool.

But it also means Drake has to come to the conclusion that he is no longer human.

'If tears welled up, they did so .. only in my soul!' Never has Wildfire been so poetic.

And it is reminiscent of the famous 'If tears could come, they would.' line from Swamp Things first appearance in House of Secrets.

Ahhh but the ERG suit ... Energy Release Generator 1 ... has a number of properties. In fact, it basically gave Wildfire all the powers of the Legion in some form or another on top of his anti-energy blasts.

There is a nice two page spread of his working with Zera to hone his powers - shrinking, growing, going intangible. 

Along the way, he runs into his old girlfriend Kerri who is so shocked by him that she flies off erratically in a flying car.

To stop her vehicle from careening into traffic, he uses his blasts to blow out her engine. But the resulting crash almost kills her. Again, Drake is struck with grief that this woman who loved him fled from him because he was an inhuman monster.

Since his energy blasts almost killed Kerri, he did not show that power when he applied for Legion membership, so he was rejected. He mimicked everyone else's powers but had no unique power of his own. 

Later, planet Manna-5, a huge wheat thresher thing goes out of control and nearly kills Colossal Boy. ERG-1 (as he was called then) releases all his energy, destroying the machine, but apparently dying at the same time. (All this from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #195.)

But energy can't really die. Turns out he was just out of the suit. 

He makes his way back to the Legion Headquarters, enters the suit again (which had been hung in the hall of heroes), thwarts an attack by the Time Trapper's android, and saves the team from death!

That panel of him boot bisecting Molecule Master is one of my favorite panels of all time (from Superboy and the Legion #201) so seeing it recreated here is definitely cool.

Ah, but there is a twist.

For a time Wildfire wondered if a romance could ever happen with Zera. In the end, she has an evil turn. Energy she was draining from Wildfire was keeping her father alive. When Wildfire left to be with the Legion, he died.

She tries to drain him to death but he talks her out of it, leaving her alone to deal with her grief.

But his anguish of not being human remained. Was he just a thing?

With the flashback over, we see Wildfire walking back to the headquarters in the shadow of dusk. We hear his thoughts of still feeling utterly alone. He even recognizes that his loud mouth and poking the other Legionnaires doesn't mean he hasn't recognized how the team has saved him.

So how much of these stories have made their way through continuity into the current timeline in the Bendis book? At least some of the plot beats have. So I look forward to learning more!

And for Wildfire fans, this is a must have!


Daxam1978 said...

Really nice review,didn't know wildfire is your favourite Legionnaire.
I dont think I could pick just one!
It would be between
Timber Wolf
Bouncing Boy
& Ultra Boy.
Take care dude🤓👍

Martin Gray said...

Ah, happy days. I remember Wildfire being a shock to the system, he was so loud, so brash, so...Marvel. And he quickly became a favourite due to his dedication to the Legion, and difficult romance with Dawny. The amazing Dave Cockrum design didn’t hurt, either. I have this issue, and had utterly forgotten Wildfire was meant to be a bright spark, intelligence was never his big thing, for example, he wasn’t one of the four members involved in the Universo Project.

It’s interesting to think that Drake was Cyborg before Cyborg, his powers being as much a curse as a blessing... then again, so was the Thing. I suppose it’s an archetype.

That business of his original energy making him a one-man Legion never convinced me, but the gang writing Electric Superman years later apparently liked it!

Great note on the melodramatic quote recalling Swampy’s origin; it also reminds me of ‘even an Android can cry’ from Roy Thomas’ classic Vision spotlight issue of Avengers.

I love retro reviews!