Friday, May 12, 2006

The Justice Legion of America

It looks like there have been a few new visitors since Blockade Boy published his research paper on Starfioriasis. Welcome! (And if by chance you have never checked out BB's blog, do so!)

I have dragged another single issue out of The Last Shortbox. I honestly don't remember when or where I acquired this comic, except that I am pretty sure it was second-hand (the cover looks in pretty sorry shape, and I'm not sure I made that coffee-cup ring):

Legionnaires #54, November 1997
Written by Tom Peyer, Illustrated by Jeffrey Moy and W.C. Carran

Now, I started reading the Legion of Super-Heroes back in the day, when Curt Swan was drawing them and some kid named Jim Shooter was writing stories. I followed them faithfully through the disco-Legion era (ERG-1, anyone?) and even a bit beyond. At some point it just got to expansive for me, and after Crisis on Infinite Earths, the continuity tangles and reboots were just too hard to follow -- or maybe I just wasn't interested enough to follow.

In any case, I have no idea what the larger context of this story is. Something about the LSH being bounced through the time stream by someone who might have been testing them or something. Meh. Who cares? What's cool about this issue is that it replaces the Justice Society of America (or perhaps the All-Star Squadron) with the Legionnaires, and while doing so, it brings the funny.

The story opens with the intrepid youths cracking a Ratzi (yeah, they say that) spy ring. The young heroes are sort of like themselves, but cornier: Cosmic Boy has special magnets that attract wood, brick, even flesh; Chameleon Boy is a standard master of (body-suit) disguise; and Saturn Girl seems to be a crime-fighting nightclub mind-reader:

(I love the way she's even holding the spy's keys to her head in order to get a "read" - just like in a traditional mentalist act.)

The faux-forties action proceeds apace, and when the legionnaires depart the scene after having turned the spies over to the authorities, we get one of the best verbal-visual puns I have ever seen in comics:

Yep, the Legion still has flight rings - heh.

And the hits just keep on coming. The Legion is headquartered in an airship (and you know how much we love airships around here) that looks suspiciously familiar:

And once inside the airship, we find our that (a) R.J. Brande is being played by the Monopoly Guy* and (b) Cosmic Boy is a big suck-up! (Also: why is Colossal Girl a girl? Last I knew, Gim Allon was Colossal Boy, and used to have cool cowboy gloves.)

So the kids are given a mission by FDR himself - complete with cigarette in holder (would we see that today?) and Fala. (They are in black and white because we are seeing the picto-radio image.)

The assignment is to assist with the development of a secret weapon known as The Manhattan Project. In this allohistory, the Manhattan Project is Braniac Minus One -- Braniac 5 in an alpha-nerd brown suit and green bow tie -- who has been working on an atomic bomb, as well as a force field to contain it.

I like that in the midst of all this goofiness, the creators were still crafting a well-put-together graphic story. Look at the sequence above: as Brainy starts his story, you can see Invisible Kid activate his super-blend-in-mirror-nylon, creep up and steal a personal item, and give it to Saturn Girl so she can mentally check his truthfulness. Not exactly the sugar-cube wrapper in Watchmen, but cool nonetheless.

So, Brainy tells the Legion that the A-bomb has been stolen, and they all go off to the top of the Empire State Building to retrieve it from the Axis of Super-Villains, stock WW2 badguys with old legion foe names: Kommandant Roxxas, a BDSM Nazi superguy; Dr. Regulus, a Japanese Dr. No with a heat gun, and Tangleweb, who can only be described as Chico Marx in a parka with a big fishing net.

So, the good guys fight the bad guys, but the happy ending doesn't happen: Cham is killed by Regulus and then all the heroes sacrifice themselves to contain the a-bomb's blast when it is detonated. The "real" legionnaires pop back into the psychedelic pudding that signifies time-travel and the goofy golden-agers all stay dead, I guess.

Yeah, it harshes the buzz a bit, but at least the ever-glowing force-field globe on top of the ESB inspires world peace and the United Nations, so there's that.

As far as I'm concerned, this single is comics gold. If you took out the two pages that show the "real" Legion, it reads like a slightly silly but well-done adventure tale - and if it were read by someone who knew nothing about the LSH, they could still understand, enjoy, and get it - all but the little in-jokes. It was a ripping yard with pretty pictures, and maybe that's all I want form my comics sometimes.

*Whose name is Mr. Monopoly, Rich Uncle Pennybags, or Uncle Moneybags, depending on the source you read.


Ragnell said...

Man, I loved this issue too. But part of it was the nostalgic redesigns of the characters. Brainiac worked especially well.

(Oh, and think Colassal Girl by that point was actually Leviathon -- Remember how Shrinking Violet got the ability to grow as well as shrink sometime in the post-Zero Hour league, and changed her name to Leviathon?)

David C said...

I especially like Triplicate Girl's look in this story. (What was her name and shtick here? I seem to remember she's actually three girls who pretend to be one, or something along those lines?)

Blockade Boy said...

Excellent comic and excellent post, as usual, Walaka!

David C. has it exactly right about "Triplicate Lady" (ha!) in this comic. She was triplets pretending to be a superpowered girl.

To go into depth on the giant Shrinking Violet situation, in the pre-Waid/Kitson continuity, the Emerald Eye had possessed Violet but for quite a while she managed to keep it a secret from everyone else. At first the eye's influence made her more confident and aggressive. And then Violet began subconsciously using it to grant her teammates wishes. Triplicate Girl, for instance, temporarily gained the ability to split into three different girls who were three different ages and who wore three very different costumes of varying degrees of modesty. Unfortunately, Leviathan/Colossal Boy's fondest wish was to die in battle. And so he did. Violet was finally freed of the Emerald Eye but the experience left her with a permanently green lock of hair, and later, Leviathan's superpower.

Walaka said...

Ragnell: Yes, all the characters looked great, but Brainy's tweeds were inspired.

David: BB had it straight - they called themselves "secret sisters." She/they look kinda girl-scoutish to me.

BB: My head hurts.

Scipio said...

Tom Peyer is the REAL mad genius of comics, not Morrison.

That story was brilliant.