Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3 – Reviews of Old Comics

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It’s been long enough that I feel like I can get back to the task that I set for myself back when I last wrote Reviews of Old Comics on a weekly basis, the coverage of the Legion of Super-Heroes in the era that I got hooked on them. This issue is actually one that I didn’t read until many years later. 

In the 1980s, Annuals were a little harder to come by than they are now. These were the days before comics were exclusively in comic shops. The direct market was still in its infancy, with DC still in the first year of it’s line specifically for comic shops. Often, one wouldn’t know an Annual was coming out until it was seen on the newsstand or spinner racks. Some vendors might not even carry the Annuals. Many times, the Annuals would be self-contained stories and if it was missed or overlooked, a reader wouldn’t even realize it for months.

Next in the reading order for this period of overlap between the launch of the Baxter series and the continuation of new stories in the original, newsstand series now titled Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes, this story falls right after the second issue of the Baxter series, and carries the title of that series, but is numbered as an annual to the series now titled Tales of the Legion. It gets a little confusing in figuring where to place it, not just in reading order, but in a collection. 

Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3

writer/plotter: Paul Levitz
plotter/penciller: Keith Giffen
penciller: Curt Swan
inker: Romeo Tanghal
letterer: John Costanza
colorist: Carl Gafford
editor: Karen Berger
cover: Keith Giffen & Larry Mahlstedt

Synopsis:

On Medicus One, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl prepare for the birth of their first child. While Dr. Gym’ll prepares for the delivery, Lightning Lad is greeted by Dr. Larsh, who briefly handled the pregnancy. Quickly, Dr. Larsh turns on a hypnotic beam to mesmerize Lightning Lad. He gloats that no one recognized him as the Legion’s old foe Lars Hanscomb, and he plans to get his revenge by once again using Lightning Lad as a mindless assistant for a Starfinger scheme. However, Lightning Lad is not mesmerized, and immobilizes Hanscomb’s equipment with his lightning, revealing that Brainiac 5 conditioned the Legionnaires against Hanscomb’s methods for hypnotizing them. With his old foe out of the way, Lightning Lad hastily goes back to his wife’s side.

On Avalon, four Legionnaires investigate a lead on one of their enemies that could be behind the attacks by the Legion of Super-Villains. In the ruins of Mordru’s castle, they find a open, smoking pit where Mordru should be buried alive. Elsewhere, four sorcerers combine their spells to revive Mordru.

Above Earth, a trio of Legionnaires help the Science Police fend off a meteor shower, with leader Element Lad worried that the attacks could be a cover for another invasion of Earth, last orchestrated by Mordru. the Science Police reassure him that there is no sign of Mordru’s activity anywhere, and Element Lad asks to swing by Medicus One to check on the Legion’s expectant parent, about to give birth.

In deep space, a team of Legionnaires to last face the Legion of Super-Villains and fail to stop them still search for a trail to follow. Suddenly, aboard the Legion cruiser, Shadow Lass is ensnared by tentacles, pulling her into a green, flaming portal. Mon-El tries to pull her free, but has to give up or tear her apart from pulling with all of his strength. The Legionnaires receive word that Mordru is free, but ponder why he would want Shadow Lass both on the cruiser and back at Legion Headquarters. At the Legion Academy, her cousin Shadow Kid, preparing to return to Talok VIII, is snatched away in a similar method.

The two have been captured by the four sorcerers attempting to revive Mordru. Apparently since darkness, courtesy of Darkseid, stole Mordru’s power, they need the darkness from Shadow Lass and Shadow Kid’s powers to restore it. As they work their spell, the layers of rock begin to crumble away from Mordru’s immobile form. Meanwhile, the White Witch tracks Mordru to the Sorcerer’s World and they go to confront the dark forces working to restore Mordru’s power and free him. Mon-El’s Legionnaires also take off to rescue Shadow Lass and stop those seeking to revive Mordru.

The four sorcerers cast a spell that steal the powers of Shadow Lass and Shadow Kid to create a field of darkness across the galaxy and begin awaking Mordru. As it engulfs Earth, Saturn Girl begins to give birth. Just as it seems the plan to revive Mordru will succeed, the Legionnaires arrive. Mon-El risks harm from the magic flame binding Shadow Lass to rescue her and her cousin. The White Witch stops the sorcerers from stopping the Legionnaires, and working together, the scheme is stopped, ending the mystical field of darkness across the galaxy.

On Medicus One, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad hold their new son. The teachers on Sorcerer’s World send the Legionnaires on their way, vowing to hold Mordru in the prison of the soil and rock he fears so much. Meanwhile, Saturn Girl ponders why she swore during the birth she felt two babies thoughts.

Elsewhere, Darkseid boasts to an infant that his parents will never know that he took him during the darkness. He uses his power to transform him and send him into the past, pondering that one day, not recognizing him as their own son, that Validus’s own parents may kill him, fulfilling the curse of Darkseid.

Review:

The story fills in some holes in stories, such as the fate of Mordru after Darkseid stole his power, and what the curse Darkseid left the Legion with could mean. The importance of the story, revealing the origin of Validus as Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s lost child is overshadowed by a threat from relatively weak sorcerers. The story seems to drag out longer than the scope should, especially given that it’s happening in the middle of a multi-part epic story with the Legion of Super-Villains. The importance of that story completely overshadows any importance this story has, especially since Paul Levitz did nothing with it for another two years, and then, in another Legion Annual.

The artwork by Legion veteran artist Curt Swan has moments where it is spectacular. However, in its entirety, it is dated and at times unimaginative. It doesn’t carry the magnitude of a special story, and the two pages drawn by Kieth Giffen revealing the role of Darkseid are so different in style, that it’s jarring. There are inconsistencies in Swan’s depictions of locations and of Legionnaires, even within the story.

The real problem in this comic is that the identities of the sorcerers attempting to revive Mordru are never revealed, except for the one shown as a talking black cat. To have the antagonists in the story to not be identified and the one that is to have no significance is a failure in storytelling. Curt Swan does a valiant attempt at conveying their threat, but when they are all defeated in three pages, any effort in making them a viable threat is for naught. Overall, the effort to make this story worth twice the cost of a regular issue falls flat. This could possibly have been trimmed down and been a single, 22 page story, eliminating the pointless Starfinger subplot, or attaching it more firmly to the Legion of Super-Villains story that overshadows this comic.

Notes: This issue has been collected in The Great Darkness Saga (ISBN: 0930289439, ASIN: B004DYV5A8) and Legion of Super-Heroes: The Curse (ISBN: 1401251390). You can also find it digitally at Comixology. Finding a physical copy won’t set you back too much, and could even be in some bargain boxes. Do not overspend in retrieving a copy.

Final Rating: 5.0 (out of 10)