Legion of Super-Heroes #286 – Reviews Of Old Comics
I initially started this review of an old comic reviewing an early independent comic featuring one of the earliest creator-owned characters of the Bronze Age of comics, E-Man #2. I abandoned that after months of trying to sum up a comic that not only featured of the most bizarre stories around a bizarre character, but also a story from the legendary Steve Ditko that seemed a little different in tone. After a while, I had to accept that my heart was just not into reviewing a comic just to get another Review of Old Comics done. I wanted to review something I was a little more nostalgic for, and that meant revisiting the Legion of Super-Heroes.
One of the podcasts that I listen to regularly is the Legion of Substitute Podcasters, who regularly recap old issues of the Legion and comment on them, their history and how these comics relate in the history of a series of comic books dating back sixty years. It’s also good to know that while their publisher doesn’t seem to care about the Legion of Super-Heroes, there are fans that still care about these characters.
For the record, since DC and Marvel seem so keen on legacy numbering, if a new Legion of Super-Heroes series were to start with legacy numbering, it would be around issue #690. Because of mini-series, back-ups, and specials, counting isn’t as easy as in counting issues of Detective Comics or Amazing Spider-Man.
Prior to this issue, there was a three issue limited series title Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes that revealed that R.J. Brande was actually the father of Legionnaire Chameleon Boy. That was a shock to a lot of readers, since it was unknown and unteased that Brande was a Durlan. His human appearance was explained by a previously unmentioned disease that could freeze Durlans in a form. It did come out of left field, but writer Paul Levitz managed to make it work, spending a couple of years just building a parent/child relationship where none had existed.
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: Pat Broderick and Keith Giffen
Inker: Bruce Patterson
Letterer: John Costanza and Adam Kubert
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Cover Artist: Joe Staton
The Legion are picnicking on Brande’s Asteroid, enjoying a friendly volleyball game, when Colossal Boy breaks the rule against using powers. Phantom Girl and Dawnstar topple him to teach him a lesson when Superboy shows up to lighten the mood. R.J. Brande thanks him for coming and welcomes him to celebrate reuniting with Chameleon Boy, who just recently discovered that the financier of the Legion was his father. Nearby in space, Dr. Regulus plots yet another revenge plot against Sun Boy and lands covertly on Brande’s Asteroid.
Brande shares with Chameleon Boy that his entire fortune is his son’s and despite being frozen in a human form, he intends to be the father he wasn’t for Cham’s life. Unable to suddenly deal with such a doting parent, absent for so long, Chameleon Boy changes shape and flies off, devastating the old man just as the skies over his private retreat turn red and unbearably hot. The Legion arrive and discover the source of the problems is coming from a small, fusion dome where he does some of the work of creating stars. Doctor Regulus reveals himself and basking in the energy of an overloading fusion reaction, he fends off the Legion boasting how his plan for revenge will not only destroy Sun Boy, the other Legionnaires and R. J. Brande, but make him invincible with raw power. Phantom Girl goes into the dome, but will die of radiation poisoning if she turns solid to turn off the reaction. Sun Boy steps forward to challenge Regulus once again.
At Legion Headquarters, the handful of Legionnaires left behind fret about the Khund threat. Chameleon Boy arrives and puts together a small espionage team to infiltrate the Khund homeworld for intelligence on their plans against the United Planets. The others try to talk him into taking some time to properly plan it out but he insists on leaving immediately, recruiting Shrinking Violet and Timber Wolf for the espionage squad mission.
On Brande’s Asteroid, Sun Boy temporarilly stops Regulus by overloading his armor. With Regulus indisposed, he charges off into the reactor to turn it off, using some of the knowledge he gained before becoming Sun Boy working for his father. Regulus, recovering, gloats that no one could stop the reaction, and flees in his ship. Superboy hatches a quick plan to stop Regulus and the overloading fusion reactor he stays behind with Brande and Saturn Girl, while the others chase after Regulus. Convinced he can withstand the red solar radiation long enough to follow Brande’s instructions, via Saturn Girl’s telepathy, he charges in to stop the reaction. Phantom Girl, lost within the reactor warns him off, to no avail. Collapsing near the controls he witnesses Sun Boy bringing the fusion reactor under control.
In nearby space Regulus rants that the Legionnaires stopped him again and Colossal Boy, Dawnstar and Lightning Lad capture him. Brande informs the Legionnaires that Chameleon Boy left, which infuriates Lightning Lad.
In the back-up story, Princess Projectra’s father is cremated as she prepares to become Queen. Karate Kid swears to stay by her side, but their solemn moment is spoiled by her cousin Pharrox who accuses her of killing her own father to assume the throne. He challenges her and Karate Kid to face him in combat for the throne of Orando. Wearing a helmet that makes him immune to Projectra’s power, Pharrox then faces Karate Kid alone, but instead of facing him in equal combat uses sorcery to surprise the Legionnaire and win the duel for the throne, and swearing that the pair be executed as his first act as monarch.
The thing to remember about this story is that Paul Levitz inherited the subplot of the Chameleon Boy/ R.J. Brande relationship from other writers. There’s no need to go read the Secrets of the Legion mini-series for the explanation, as he gives it in its entirety here. possibly using more space than it took in the mini-series. The Doctor Regulus story is almost a throwaway plot, following a pattern of Regulus attacking, being a formidable opponent, but overpowered by Sun Boy. It does work to establish that Sun Boy is one of the more intelligent Legionnaires, albeit more specialized than Brainiac 5 or even Dream Girl. The issue more or less serves to set the stage for two stories, Chameleon Boy infiltrating the Khund homeworld and Princess Projectra struggling for rule of her home planet of Orando. In the future, these will be better done than this one, and the latter will have less to do with Projectra and more to do with elevating Dream Girl’s stature as a Legionnaire, which will culminate in her becoming Legion leader, although given that at this point Legion leaders were chosen by the readers, Levitz should be credited more with using it to further the development that he had already started. The first will also have some lingering implications going into the Great Darkness Saga and beyond, even being fuel for storylines for another decade as Levitz left and Keith Giffen and Tom & Mary Bierbaum used Cham’s connections to fund the “Five Years Later” Legion and put him in the R.J. Brande role of a new team of young Legionnaires.
The second story is a set up for the development of Karate Kid and Projectra in ways that seem natural. Karate Kid proved himself worthy of being Projectra’s consort by adventuring in the 20th century. Projectra can only be princess so long before it gets to be established that her father will never die. This is also the charm of the Legion with characters that evolve, grow older, albeit not as fast as real time. I always had a little problem with Karate Kid and Projectra being paired together after joining together. It just seems like lazy pairing and aside from Karate Kid travelling to the 20th century, never really saw their relationship tested.
Pat Broderick’s art style never caught onto me the way other Legion artists did. It is a far cry better than some of the artists that immediately preceded him, but it still seemed to be filled with unnatural poses too often. His women seemed to resemble each other way too much, and often, Mon-El, Ultra Boy and Timber Wolf were indistinguishable. Keith Giffen’s work on this issue shows the strong influence of Wally Wood. His panel choices bear all the hall marks of 1980s storytelling with circular panels incorporated into the layout, overlapping panel borders and artwork put into border-less panels. A lot of these techniques originated before then, but were popularized by artists like Keith Giffen.
This issue has not been collected to the best of my knowledge. As with most back issues, it is available online for a relatively modest fee. If you want a physical copy, you shouldn’t need to pay too much, and can probably find one in a bargain box.
FINAL RATING: 7.5 (out of a possible 10) The writing is showing the signs of Paul Levitz building up subplots that will be legendary among Legion fans. He’s also beginning a method where one event flows into the next. The artwork has good points, but I still have problems with it.