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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 101: Legion of Night #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This pseudo-week: Steve Gerber. Today’s page is from Legion of Night #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated October 1991. Enjoy!

Oh, Nineties art - how can I stay mad at you?

Be honest: If you remember Legion of Night at all, you didn’t remember that Steve Gerber actually wrote it. But he motherfucking did, yo!

Legion of Night is a horror comic set firmly in the Marvel Universe in which Fin Fang Foom is the big plot point. It stars a bunch of characters that Gerber had created in other Marvel horror books over the years but had been left by the wayside. None of that really matters, because it’s pretty much a self-contained book. I certainly didn’t know who the people in the book were, but I dug it because of the awesome Whilce Portacio art. You know it’s true!!!!! This is right as Portacio was hitting it big – his very cool run on X-Factor was from 1991, too – even though he’d been around at Marvel for five or so years. So let’s consider this first page, shall we?

Gerber doesn’t give us much to work with. He opts for incomplete and/or oblique phrases, setting a mood more than anything. There’s a woman in some sort of hospital gown, and I guess we can infer that she’s thinking all of this as these image flash through her mind – she’s the first and last thing we see on the page – but other than that, Gerber is simply trying to indicate that something bad is coming and that the woman is a bit strange. “Pierced” is a fairly sexual word, of course, and sex will play a large part in this comic. Linking “truth” with “falling” and “he is fallen” seems to imply a religious theme – “What is truth” being the most famous question in the Bible, while “he is fallen” puts on in mind of Lucifer, whom popular myth has turned from a big douchebag into the one angel willing to question God’s design. The fact that Gerber, probably, chose to put these words over a book showing some kind of dragon and with some Latin written on it (“igitur” means “therefore,” which feels more intriguing than it probably is) is also interesting. While we don’t get a lot of concrete information from the words on the page, we do get some interesting references.

Portacio is inked by Scott Williams and colored by Paul Mounts in this series (the letters, as if you couldn’t tell, are by John Workman). Williams isn’t a terrible inker, but I’ve never really warmed to his work. He is, however, better in this series than he often is, because he reins in his penchant for overdoing the cross-hatching a bit. Mounts is a solid colorist, and he makes sure to ground this page in green, blue, red, and yellow, keeping things simple while Portacio necessarily complicates things by zipping around and giving us images that we be of importance. The woman in Panel 1 might have wacky hair and perhaps a too-short hospital gown, but it’s an effective image with which to begin. She points left with both her arm and leg, and while we don’t know what that blue blob is (I assume it’s water, but why?), the shattered glass in the form of a butterfly is nice, because the image is repeated in the explosion right underneath it and the blood stain right underneath that. That takes us to the angry Asian man and the ornamental knife, which is placed on the same level as the word “pierced.” Again, it’s violent but also sexual, and considering there’s going to be a fairly graphic scene dealing with unholy childbirth later in the comic, the image of the knife, the blood burst, and the word “pierced” are juxtaposed well. The knife points us to the image of the five shadowy figures, which is again foreshadowing, and then to the crooked image of the weird bird-dragon that covers the final panel on the page. That’s well designed – the woman doesn’t see the panel or the dragon image, but Portacio makes it appear she does, and the fact that the panel is partially blocking her face is another nice way to foreshadow how the dragon dominates this book. You may not like Portacio’s pencil work, but the page itself is laid out very well.

Legion of Night is a bizarre comic, as this page probably leads you to believe. However, it’s effective in presenting a lot of themes that play out over the course of the book, and it’s certainly intriguing. That’s always appreciated!

Next: A famous Gerber creation shows up, but not in the series that was created for her! And always, here are the archives.

4 Comments

Huh, I never heard of this one. But sounds promising. This would have been right around FOOLKILLER which I think is easily one of the best things the man has ever done so hopefully he was still on a hot streak on this one.

On a related note. I hope one day Marvel collects the MAN-THING serial he did in the first year of Marvel Comics Presents. Beatifully grotesque art from Tom Sutton, and a similar cockeyed approach to doing horror stories in the Marvel U by having such plot elements as the Super Soldier Serum and a Latverian riff on the Iran/Contra scandal thrown in the mix while still having a real take-no-prisoners climax & twisted ending.

Portacio cops a lot of criticism, especially nowadays as he seems to either NEED Scott Williams or Art Thibert inking him, or has simply lost the ability to draw non-hideous humans – but in terms of laying out a page and guiding the reader’s eye around the page? He was always well up there.

His use of shadows, negative space, moving the “camera” – I think he’d do really well on a long run teamed with a “finisher”.

Oh yeah, this one… not my favorite Gerber book by a long shot, but not horrible. There was at least one more Legion of the Night story in an issue of Midnight Sons Unlimited. IIRC, the story is in the issue that featured the “Ghost Rider of the ’40s” and sported on of Alex Ros’s best yet least seen covers.

The Eye is right about Foolkiller; Gerber spun a memorable story with a unique character. I don’t think it has been collected (or if it did, it’s out of print), but it’s worth tracking down. Thanks for the heads-up about the MCP Man-Thing serial, by the way. I didn’t know about that one.

In 1991, Whilce Portacio was one of my favorite artists. His early stuff is flawed, but I still like much of it.

Legion of Night is really strange, even if you lift out Portacio’s pencils. It’s a really odd and elliptical late-model Steve Gerber story featuring (but not limited to) bugs bursting out of a plate of peas, dragon sex, and the apocalypse.

It has a certain twisted logic behind it, but yeah, the overall effect is like a 90′s comic having a fever dream about a 70′s Marvel comic.

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