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Nostalgia November Day 29 — Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1

Each day in November, I will read and review/discuss/whatever one comic taken from a box of some of my childhood comics. Today, it’s Legion of Super-Heroes annual #1.

The Nostalgia November archive can be found here.

legionofsuperheroesannual01Legion of Super-Heroes annual #1 by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, and Karl Kesel is a pretty good single issue. It’s not terribly inventive in its mystery — but it is one where you should be able to figure it out before most of the characters, which I think is somewhat appropriate for superhero comics ostensibly aimed at kids. The mystery: who shot Laurel Kent? It comes about when five Legionnaires are sitting around on monitor duty and Brainiac 5 refuses to let the time go to waste, so one of the newest members, Magnetic Kid chooses a case to work on. Laurel Kent, a rejected Legion member since her only power is invulnerability, doesn’t seem to care who shot her, but the Legion is on the case. In tracking down what sort of weapon could fire a Kryptonite bullet, they learn of a raid on the Science Police Museum where two Thanagarian guards were killed while another was spared. And there’s also a private detective who had been hired by Timber Wolf to find Lightning Lass killed that Shrinking Violet investigates on a hunch… eventually, Brainiac 5 ties it all together by preventing the murder of a tour bus driver named Oli Queen and, then, rescuing, the Allen twins… it’s pretty clear what the pattern is: descendents of Justice League members (apparently the PI descends from Batman… and the Thanagarians from Hawkman). The culprit is an unnamed former villain that lives in frozen stasis, coming out only once a month to age a couple of days, which coincides with the assassination attempts.

The mystery is pretty basic, but told in an engaging fashion throughout. The story is divided into various chapters and Giffen’s unique art makes it visually interesting. He tends to favour close-ups throughout, not giving many establishing shots and it keeps you on your toes. In the Shrinking Violent chapter, the entire thing is illustrated from her perspective, which, again, gives it an added edge. I can see others not digging the art as much as I do, but I think it works in an annual like this. Why not try different things in a one-off book like this? Then again, maybe this is how Giffen drew every other comic he did at the time. It’s a particularly interesting style since it’s much more intimate and narrow than you think a large, sprawling team book like this would call for. That isn’t to say that there aren’t pages and panels where things aren’t clear, just that Giffen favours hinting at actions and what’s going on than showing it all. Beyond that, several chapters have guest inkers, giving them all different visual looks within the parameters of Giffen’s standard visuals. The Ernie Colon chapter, for instances, uses a specific type of shading not seen anywhere else — little visible solid lines that don’t touch. It would be annoying elsewhere, but in an annual divided into chapters, it works.

A few things that stood out beyond this:

* Batman had at least one kid? So did Superman? I kind of like that this future hints at the idea that both of those men moved beyond their missions and had a personal life.

* I love love love the city of Greater Quebec that’s mentioned in one chapter — and that there’s a tourist warning that it is one of five remaining places on Earth where Interlac isn’t the official language. Because it would be that way… even in the 31st century.

* We never get an explanation for why Laurel Kent doesn’t want her attempted killer caught. It’s a subtle way of hinting at how much the incident damaged her and I like that there isn’t an explanation of that fact.

* The robot sent to kill people has the logos of the six Justice Leaguers on its chest with a mark over the logo of the successful murders… obvious in that fun way.

* Brainiac 5 is unapologetic in his methods. He doesn’t stop the attempt to blow up the tour bus, he simply gives them his forcefield belt so they can catch the attempted killer. The other Legionnaires have a problem with this, but it seems logical. I love their “you’d risk lives” outrage… don’t they know their belts work? Personally, I love it when super-genius characters are shown as smarter than everyone else AND are 100% right. Too often writers favour showing they’re not as smart as they’re supposed to be, making stupid mistakes, and I prefer to see that trend bucked.

* We never learn which Justice League villain is responsible for the attacks (though I imagine the robot is a good enough clue for those with a more thorough knowledge of the team and its history). Does it matter? Not really, so who cares.

Later today, a reread review of Marvel 2099′s first crossover, “The Fall of the Hammer” and, then, tomorrow, Nostalgia November wraps up with a silver-foil cover, the final part of a crossover, and me most likely bleeding from my eyes as a result. Should be fun.

22 Comments

Paul Levitz was obsessed with Quebec. He wrote an issue of All-Star featuring the JSA in ’78 which stated that on Earth-2 Quebec is an independent state (presumably he believed René Lévesque and the PQ would eventually win a sovereignty referendum, which they didn’t on our Earth).

And that’s ignoring that the only time Canada even registered on DC’s radar in the ’80s was only to do with Quebec separation, with characters like Plastique and this. Marvel at least had Alpha Flight…

Basically, the Laurel Kent plot was kind of answered in Legion of Super-Heroes # 42, a Millenium cross-over tie-in and the answer was a doozer to boot.

Laurel Kent was retconned after the fact as a Manhunter android impostor during the Invasion! crossover, which I think was a very poor handling of the character.

And wasn’t the assassin Professor Ivo- the guy who made Amazo? I think I read that in one of DC’s Who’s Who. He eventually obtained the immortality he sought but became horribly disfigured; he blamed the League so he started killing their descendants. Could be another story, but it would be too coincidental…

And yes, knowing who the assassin was matters. What kind of mystery story would it be otherwise?

And I think the point with Brainiac and other genius-types is that being intelligent *isn’t* the same thing as being clever. Then again, they don’t have to be arrogant either.

Nice review. You pretty much hit on all the notes about why I like and dislike this annual.

Though, I do agree with Sijo that knowing the assassin does matter. I knew who the assassin was, but I wish the annual had actually said out loud who Prof. Ivo was. Otherwise, people who don’t know any of the villians of JLA will be lost.

I also like how Chameleon Boy showed off his detective skills and one of my favorite parts of the annual was when Brainiac 5 revealed that he had given his force-field belt by just standing up from his chair and showing that he didn’t have his belt.

Its a pretty good annual, but I, personally, like the Legion of Substitutes annual more.

Sijo — A Haruki Murakami mystery story…?

@Chad: I disagree. I mean, if Levitz and Giffen are going to great lengths to subtlety say that the assassin is a villain of the Justice League and also subtlety say which one it is (a JLA villain who is obsessed with immortality has to be Prof. Ivo) , then why wouldn’t it matter who the assassin is?

“A Haruki Murakami mystery story” . . .AKA a good one. Naw, just kidding (not about that being good) but you can have a good mystery and know the solution and a good one and not. Different aims. I tend to go more for the latter, but Chandler wrote some great ones of the former. “Murdery By Death,” of all things, gives a pretty stining critique of the ‘mystery as puzzle’ idea.

Exactly. Murakami’s books often have mysteries of some sort that are never solved (as he has said that he thinks mystery stories are great until the solution is revealed) while others solve them. In this case, the specific identity of the villain does not add to the story. If they named him, the story would not be better, nor would it be worse. Mostly because if you are aware of Ivo beforehand, you can figure it out — and if you’re not it’s just a name.

They never call Ivo by name, mostly to save prior continuity headaches (Pulsar Stargrave anyone?) but it is pretty clearly him.

“In this case, the specific identity of the villain does not add to the story.”

It doesn’t? Wouldn’t the Legion want to know so they could arrest Ivo. I mean, Ivo could easily come out of suspended animation and try again to kill the other descendants of the JLA.

“If they named him, the story would not be better, nor would it be worse.”

If the story wouldn’t be worse off, why refuse to name the villian in the first place.

I don’t get it.

It doesn’t? Wouldn’t the Legion want to know so they could arrest Ivo. I mean, Ivo could easily come out of suspended animation and try again to kill the other descendants of the JLA.

They know who did it and act accordingly, we just never see them say the name of the individual.

And I’ve thought about it: the story would be worse. I like the idea of a faceless, nameless random old villain taking revenge… by being nameless, he stands in for all of the villains and it’s not tied to one particular character. He comes to represent all of the sad little men who built robots to fight the JLA and could never get over it… without a name, he’s all of them.

“And I’ve thought about it: the story would be worse. I like the idea of a faceless, nameless random old villain taking revenge… by being nameless, he stands in for all of the villains and it’s not tied to one particular character. He comes to represent all of the sad little men who built robots to fight the JLA and could never get over it… without a name, he’s all of them.”

Interesting. From that angle, I like that they didn’t name the villain. Do you think that what was Levitz and Giffen were aiming for? But, if it wasn’t, why would they not name the villain for the reader? The payoff of a mystery is finding out who did it.

Legion books pre-Crisis made a few uses of descendent-characters.
A few years later, editorial would start coming down hard on stuff like that to accomodate modern continuity, resulting in some poorly-justified plot turns (Kent Shakespear was supposed to be a descendant of Superman, but that was nixxed, and all sorts of Green Lantern shenanigans ensues after the Corps was disbanded. (And all that Superboy/Supergirl stuff, of course)
(I just realized that with this new Geoff Johns Legion, we have neither Supergirl nor Laurel Gand. Shoot.)

Love this issue. One of my favorite eras from any comics run. Giffen was experimenting here but the artwork is still easy to follow, as opposed to murky weird shit we see during the 5-Years-Later era.

I didn’t mind that we didn’t get a specific name. Someone like Ivo wouldn’t be that well known in the Legion’s era anyway.

You are just realising this now stephane? Not only is supergirl not back in place it could be the case that the stories she appeared in simply never happened or happened differently. Its safe to say there is no legion continuity that is reliable anymore after this back door reboot

When I saw the title of this post I thought you were going to be reviewing “Monster in a Little Girl’s Mind”, which is one of my favourites. Oh well; this one’s pretty good too.

wwk5d-

“Someone like Ivo wouldn’t be that well known in the Legion’s era anyway.”

That’s the fun part for me. It wouldn’t ring true if Ivo was revered as a mastermind a thousand years later, he wasn’t a super-threat in the 20th century.

wwwk5d

Giffen’s artwork during 5-Years-Later was his best, in my opinion. That’s some really great graphic storytelling. It wasn’t just about “making everything munched” but using moods to tell the story. But I can see why it is not everybody’s cup of tea.

This was featured in Wizard Magazine’s top 100 comic stories or possibly 100 single issues, somthing.

@steve: You are correct. This issue was featured in Wizard’s 100 single issue stories.

I’m still unconvinced that leaving the villain unnamed was a good idea. Sure, I understand that there are stories where never revealing a fact can be intriguing- say, in one of those involving the Loch Ness monster, and how the characters never quite get to either prove or disprove that it exists. In this case, the monster is the true star, and is its mystique that matters.

I just don’t see how that applies to a murder mystery. Especially in a superhero comic. If there’s a murderer loose, most people want to a) know who it is and b) to see him stopped. Why even use a JLA villain at all if they never intended on revealing who it was? Besides, as I mentioned DC did officially state it was Ivo in Who’s Who. So much for leaving things unresolved. Maybe you’re just too used to stories that *pretend* to be mysteries but are just teases, as with my Nessie example. Nothing wrong with that, but they most definitely don’t fit a murder mystery, especially if it’s investigated by heroes from 1000 years in the future. Also, a comic’s reading atmosphere is very different from a novel’s, where it might be more effective.

@Sijo: I completely agree.

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