Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #282

Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #282 (Dec 1981)
title: "If Answers There Be..."
plotter: Roy Thomas
writer: Paul Levitz
penciller: Jimmy Janes
inker: Bruce Patterson
letterer: Ben Oda
colorist: Gene D'Angelo
editor: Mike W. Barr
cover: Dick Giordano
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Lightning Lad, Karate Kid, Blok, Dawnstar, Phantom Girl, Superboy, Ultra Boy

Guests: 
Lana Lang as Insect Queen, Reflecto

Opponents: 
The Time Trapper, Dirigible Dictator

Synopsis: 
In a Smallville jail, four Legionnaires are being held by US Army Major Crowell, having asked NASA to lend the Army some high-tech restraining devices. Smallville Police Chief Parker is also there. He doesn't believe that the Legionnaires are guilty, but he can't over-rule the federal government until/unless Superboy explains why he sabotaged the Army's recent nuclear testing.
Elsewhen, the Time Trapper gloats that Dawnstar, Superboy, and Phantom Girl are missing and presumed dead. He does not realize that Phantom Girl used her "phasing" power to bring her team-mates back to her native planet.

On Bgztl, Phantom Girl and her team-mates materialize. However, this era was before the natives realized that they had phasing powers, so the Legionnaires' sudden appearance surprises natives, as well as Phantom Girl. Superboy is also confused, as Ultra Boy's consciousness apparently disappeared from Superboy's body during the intra-dimensional travel. Phantom Girl and Dawnstar have to explain to him what has been happening with his body over the past few days.

Suddenly, the Dirigible Dictator attacks, and the three Legionnaires disable one of his ships. Phantom Girl reminds them that they do not belong in this time period, so they head back to Earth. On the way, however, Dawnstar leads them to Ultra Boy, trapped between the dimensions.
Ultra Boy, unable to move, explains how the power crystal's explosion reacted to his invulnerability to send him back in time. When he could not contact any of the Legionnaires, he went back to Smallville to try to contact Superboy. When he couldn't communicate with him, either, he screamed out in frustration. This, coupled with his Legion telepathic communication ear-plug, somehow caused him to take over Superboy's body.
Ultra Boy in Superboy's body wanted to "break free," so he harnessed the power of the atomic bomb test hoping it would "kick him out." It didn't, but now that he had a body he decided to go back to the 30th Century. However, because he was in Superboy's body, as soon as he appeared in the future Saturn Girl's mental block kicked in, erasing all of their combined short-term memories. Confused, he decided to appear to the Legionnaires as Reflecto. The rest of the story the other Legionnaires already know.
 
Superboy thinks that Ultra Boy had the right idea with harnessing atomic power. He decides to re-create an atomic explosion in limbo in order to free Ultra Boy from his present phantom state.

In Smallville, Lana Lang tries to get in to see the Legionnaires, but she is stopped by the military police. Lana then turns into Insect Queen and tries to break into the jail. Just as she is about to be captured, Ultra Boy and the others arrive. They free the other Legionnaires and escape into the future, thru Bgztl.
The Legionnaires burst in on the Time Trapper, and before he can blast them with a time-ray, Phantom Girl causes the ray to blast him, instead.
Back in the future, Saturn Girl erases the entire Psycho Warrior adventure from Superboy's memories, allowing him to forget that he knows how and when his foster parents will die. He then goes back to Smallville in order to clear his name with the US Army.
Lastly, the Legionnaires show Ultra Boy the statue of Reflecto in the hall of heroes. It had been a statue of Ultra Boy for when they thought he was dead, but they modified it into Reflecto. Ultra Boy is more interested in re-connecting with Phantom Girl, though, and the two fly off for a few days of rest and relaxation.

Commentary: 
So, after more than six months of build-up and obfuscation, this issue attempts to explain why the Legion thought that Ultra Boy was dead, then why Superboy thought he was Ultra Boy, and why Ultra Boy as Superboy thought he was Reflecto.

It turns out that the reason for all of these events is the same: because Comics.

Seriously, why this plotline was ever approved by editor Mike W. Barr is beyond me. It was not a bad idea for the Legion to think that Ultra Boy was dead. It was not a bad idea for Superboy to be Reflecto. But the whole mind-swapping and time-travelling and mixed-up identities thing is just preposterous. Do I really need to examine this story's inadequacies? Let's just throw one item out there as proof: the idea that Ultra Boy screaming at Superboy would somehow switch his identity is just stupid.

There is really no explanation as to why Superboy/Ultra Boy created the characterization of Reflecto. And if he was serious about hiding his identity, why didn't he use a mask? This is like trying to force a round tube into a triangular hole. It just doesn't fit.

The good part of this story is that we get Ultra Boy and Superboy back into the Legion. Let's leave it at that.

This is the last issue that Jimmy Janes pencilled, and it seems like he designed it to play off his strengths. There are atleast three pages with "poster-like" panels, showing off Janes' ability to draw figures rather than emotions or action. Inker Bruce Patterson keeps everyone looking beautiful (or handsome) but really there is not much here. Jimmy Janes basically retired from comics after this story, never taking on another series at either DC or Marvel.

Besides the main explanation for Reflecto, this story also features the final confrontation with Time Trapper. Guess how long it takes? After atleast three issues of teasing us with the Legion's greatest enemy, he is eventually taken care of by one Legionnaire in one panel.

NO. If we had cut the three "poster panels" earlier in the story we would have had space for a longer battle between the Legion and the Time Trapper. As written, this conclusion is simply not an acceptable ending to this story.
I don't believe it, either, Saturn Girl! 
Besides the overall plot, which is awful, the details aren't right, either. How do the Legionnaires know the names of Chief Parker and Major Crowell? I doubt they introduced each other, although Lightning Lad knows Parker's name, too. I couldn't find any story where the Legion was ever introduced to Chief Parker, so this seems odd to me. Especially given that nobody recognized the Legion *last* issue.

And why didn't Karate Kid break free from the jail? Why didn't Saturn Girl wake up and help them escape from the jail? The answer is the same: because the Legionnaires HAD to stay locked up for the sake of the story. This is lazy plotting. (By the way, why/how did NASA know how to stop Lighting Lad and Blok? Wouldn't it have been great if both of them broke free from their 20th Century prison? Oh, wait; see previous statement.)

Where is Pete Ross? Seems like he should have been somewhere in this story.

Even after all these questions and complaints, the biggest confusion for me, however, is how Roy Thomas and Paul Levitz handled the Earth-Bgztl relationship here. I always thought that Phantom Girl's dimension's relationship to Earth was similar to Earth-1 and Earth-2: basically it existed in the same place but at different at a vibrational speed. So there would not be any "limbo" between them.

In this story, however, there appears to be both distance and space in-between. That doesn't make sense to me. (In a related topic, Roy Thomas created a similar "limbo" between Earth-1 and Earth-2 in Justice League of America #220. He didn't find an unconscious Ultra Boy there, but something similar. So maybe he's right and I've just been confused all these years.)

Science Police Notes:  
  • Bgztl is misspelled as "Bgtzl" in this issue. 
  • The Smallville sequences must occur sometime between 1964~1968, as Superboy makes a reference to the Beatles and Karate Kid references that people have not turned against the Viet Nam War yet. 
  • During Reflecto's unmasking in LSH #279 he is wearing a mask (ala Mission:Impossible) and a uniform over his Superboy suit. Here Superboy is shown dying his actual leotards and dying his hair. 
  • Reflecto's statue has never appeared in any Hall of Heroes scenes after this issue. 
Status: 
This issue has not yet been reprinted.

Milestone: 
This issue features the last work of penciller Jimmy Janes on The Legion. It is also the first of two covers that Jim Aparo drew for The Legion of Super-Heroes.  

6 comments:

  1. Jimmy Janes was singlehandedly responsible for how bad this book became and made Keith Giffen look like Dave Cockrum and his clone Mike Grell .

    Janes was just horrible and had he done the Darkness Saga it wouldn't have been a classic !

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    1. I wouldn't say Janes was "single-handedly responsible." The stories in this run smelled pretty bad, too.

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  2. I'm sorry, but I grew up on Jimmy Janes' work on Legion stories, so while I may be in the minority, the very young me loved his work. It was sorely missed when it was interrupted by Steve Ditko, Carmine Infantino (both of whom I love on other characters), etc... during fill-ins or digest stories. That being said, my all-time favorites are: Cockrum, Grell, early Giffen and Cinar.

    RE:: this story line: While it doesn't make much sense to current audiences, to a 12 year old kid back then it was pretty fascinating! My love for the Legion was cemented during this time period (especially for Tinya, Jo, Drake and Brin). I rode miles on my bicycle to another store to find the issues that were missing from the spinner rack at the small-town pharmacy up the street from my house. :D

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    1. Sorry but he's absolutely correct, Janes was horrible !!!!!!!!!!

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    2. I agree; this is a story that, while looking silly right now, hit younger audiences right in the sweet spot. (Wow, was I really only 10 when this came out?)

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  3. In my opinion, this is the best Jimmy James got.
    I guess that's faint praise, but I did like his stuff better than Ditko's guest work.

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