Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #283

Legion of Super-Heroes (v2) #283 (Jan 1982)
title: "The Startling Secret of Wildfire"
writer: Roy Thomas
penciller: Howard Bender
inker: Bruce Patterson
letterer: Ben Oda
colorist: Gene D'Angelo
editor: Mike W. Barr
cover: Jim Aparo
reviewer: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage

Mission Monitor Board:  
Wildfire, Lightning Lad; cameo appearances by Superboy, Phantom Girl, Chemical King, Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5, Timber Wolf, Shadow Lass, Matter-Eater Lad

Guests: 
Lamprey, Nightwind, Crystal Kid

Opponents: 
ego, pride, ignorance

Synopsis: 
On Earth, Wildfire is training with three Legion applicants: Crystal Kid, Lamprey, and Nighwind. They keep him busy as he puts them through their paces, but in the end he defeats them. He tells them to keep working on their skills and to show their appreciation, the two women kiss him on the cheek. He over-reacts, blasting them away from him. Lamprey, not used to flying via the Flight Ring, is nearly impaled on a nearby tower.
 
Feeling bad about how he reacted, Wildfire decides to tell them why their kiss upset him. He explains that he was once Drake Burroughs, a student at Metropolis Multiversity, studying to be an astro-engineer on a scholarship (because his parents were dead). One of his teachers, Professor Vultan, saw potential in him, but Drake would rather dance and party with his girl-friend Kerri. He is attracted to Vultan's daughter, Zera, though. She appears to be attracted to him, too.
Then one fateful day, as Drake was doing lab work at a new propulsion fuel lab, he was caught in the accident that altered his body into anti-energy. Vultan immediately donates to Drake the ERG suit that he had been working, ignoring his daughter's objections. They then transfers Drake's "energy" into the suit. For the next few months Drake worked with Vultan and Zera to learn how to "live."
Probably the best page in the whole issue. 
After Drake got used to the suit, he wanted to "take care of some business," leaving Vultan and Zera. She tried to stop him, but her father let him go.

Drake went out to meet Kerri. He found her at "their spot" in the park. Unfortunately, she was shocked by his appearance and rushed off in her one-person space cruiser. She nearly crashes, and Drake has to use his anti-energy to destroy her ship in order to save her and others.
Drake then went to the Legion in order to try to join them. However, he showed off the abilities of the ERG suit but not his anti-energy powers because of guilt over what had happened with Kerri. Rejected because he appeared to have no unique powers of his own, he stowed away on a mission to Manna-5, where he ended up destroying a mechanical feeder before it could kill Colossal Boy. Without his suit, however, he could not re-form. So it took him nearly a year to get back to Earth under his own power. He eventually got back into his ERG suit and was able to join the Legion.

When he went to see Vultan and Zera to tell them what had happened, he learned that Vultan had died. Zera blamed him, because her father donated the ERG suit that he had been working on to save his own life to Drake. She had been siphoning off bits of Drake's energy to keep her father alive, but when Drake left and could no longer supply part of his power, her father died. She is upset to see him and tries to kill him, but then changes her mind and begs her to leave her alone.
Totally dejected, Drake goes to the park to try to meet up with Kerri again. Unfortunately for him, he finds that she has a new boyfriend (one who resembles how Drake used to look). He leaves them without telling her who he is.
Back in the present, Wildfire gives the three applicants flight rings and tells them to keep training. As they walk off, Lightning Lad walks in to the Legion HQ with Wildfire. He had overheard Drake's story, but had already known most of it.

Commentary: 
If you want to put the last nail in the coffin of the statement "Roy Thomas was not cut out to write the Legion," this issue is it. Exhibit A is the whole convoluted Reflecto story-line, but I am willing to forgive a talented writer a bad plot or two. No, it is this story that proves without a doubt that Roy was just not Legion material. In my opinion, Roy gets almost everything wrong with this story. He takes two classic stories and in an effort to "improve" on them, messes them up. Let's look at the "startling secret" of Wildfire in detail, shall we?

As a throwaway, could someone please tell me what the "startling secret" of Wildifire IS? He's been around for years, and he tends to explain his powers every time he appears. It's not a secret to tell us Clark Kent is Superman, Roy.

Speaking of secret identities, do the Legionnaires use them or not? In quite a few cases we have seen incidents where average people seem to know who the Legionnaires really are. I never got the feeling that Cosmic Boy is trying to hide that he's Rokk Krinn, for example. Yet, here we are with Wildfire not telling his former girl-friend who he is, thinking she would never find out? Confusing.

Also confusing is Drake Burrough's parentage. In Legion of Super-Heroes #263-264 Wildfire is especially frantic because his parents have been kidnapped by Dagon. Yet here he is specifically called out as an orphan!? And in Secrets of the Legion #3 he says he has adopted parents even though he was an orphan!?

THIS is the kind of detail that I would have liked to have gotten explained! We don't need a full page of Drake drooling over a girl; we could have used that space to learn about his parents or his family background. You know, some "secret" that we really hadn't known before.

Or maybe instead of two pages of Wildfire learning about how to use the ERG suit, we could have gotten more of his angst and reactions to his transformation. We get half a page of him crying that he isn't human, and then....he's fine?! I understand the idea that by the time he shows up trying to join the Legion he would be all bluster and ego, but surely he could have relied more on Vultan and Zera to coax him back to a good mental state? The "secret" could have been that he is heroic because he is really suicidal? THAT would have been a dark secret, for sure....!

Anyway, the big change to the original Wildfire origin story is that instead of being an actual astro-engineer, Drake Burroughs was only a student at the time of his accident...and not a very good one at that!? This is a huge retro-fit that I really don't see the need for. Was Wildfire too old to be a Legionnaire? I can't imagine anyone writing in demanding that he be expelled because he was, what, 24 years old?

Making Drake a student instead of an engineer might explain some of his immaturity, but it takes away from his knowledge and his "core" if you will: inner strength and regret for how his life turned out. Or Roy could have used this to work more on Wildfire's emotional immaturity, as mentioned above. We kinda get there at the end of this story, eventually, but it just seems so contrived.

I was a fan of Roy Thomas' run on The Avengers, but there is a problem trying to turn Wildfire into the Legion's version of  Hawkeye, always pushing his team-mates' buttons, but secretly hiding a heart of gold. The problem with this is that the Legion is NOT the Avengers. All of the Legionnaires are there because they WANT to be there. Their motivation is Good, plain and simple. They're like super-powered cops. Trying to explain that Wildfire wanted to be a Legionnaire because he messed up with Kerri or Zera just doesn't make sense. The idea that he didn't want to show his energy powers because he had "caused" Kerri's accident is hackneyed. Go back and read the original Cary Bates/Dave Cockrum Superboy/Legion issues this story is based on. In those stories you'll see that Wildfire didn't show his energy powers because he wasn't sure they would work. That's a much better rationale than this one. Those original stories are just infinitely better than this junk.

On the bright side, the art by Howard Bender is very easy on the eyes. He is very good at copying Dave Cockrum's style when necessary, and I do believe I see a few Wally Wood inspired pages here as well. His future Metropolis is light-years better than anything we got with Jimmy Janes or Steve Ditko, so that's another plus. Unfortunately, Bender did not return to the Legion for several more years.

Similarly, we get detailed profiles of Crystal Kid, Lamprey, and Nightwind in the first few pages of this story. Evidently fans wrote in after the trio got the short-shift in Legion (v2) #272, so Roy decided to continue that story. From what we see here, Lamprey is only super-strong while under-water, but Nightwind has power over air and Crystal Kid can transmute things into crystal. They were next seen as students at the Legion Academy, as seen in Legion (v2) #304. 

Science Police Notes:  
  • Wildfire was designed and co-created by the late, great Dave Cockrum. 
  • Wildfire made his debut in Superboy/Legion #195, re-created here in several panels. 
  • Wildfire returned to Earth and battled the Molecule Master in Superboy/Legion #201, re-created here in several panels. 
  • Wildfire finally joined the Legion in Superboy/Legion #202, re-created here in several panels. 
  • The mistaken description of how Chemical King's powers work from Superboy/Legion #195 is reproduced here verbatim. Wildfire (and Cary Bates, and Roy Thomas) got Chemical King mixed up with Element Lad, or maybe Metamorpho.  
Status: 
This issue has not been reprinted.

Milestone: 
This issue is the last Legion story by Roy Thomas. He moved over to Wonder Woman and his co-creations, All-Star Squadron and Arak. This is the first Legion work for penciller Howard Bender, who had come over to DC from Marvel in 1981.

6 comments:

  1. Totally in agreement. I like Roy Thomas' work on Invaders, Avengers and All-Star Squadron. When he is in the groove, he is a damn fine writer. Having said that, he is one of those writers who does his best when he looks back than to the future. That's no insult. The same could be said of Byron and Swinburne or, in a different medium, Ray Harryhausen. Thomas is generally at his best pulling the strings on sword and sorcery comics like Conan and Arak and WW2 epics like the Invaders and All Star Squadron. The continuity hiccup is a bit of a surprise since Thomas is well known for his obsessions with continuity, even ironing out wrinkles nobody had thought about for decades in All Star Squadron. I suspect Thomas knew he was just treading water at Legion since, when he is just biding time, he can lose his focus pretty quickly. Just look at All Star Squadron after Crisis wiped out a good deal of the plot and characters. As much as I like Thomas--and I generally do despite the jabs here--his time on Legion was underwhelming at best.

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  2. Wildfire's Startling Secret: Actually a Goth Kid.

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  3. I have always found Roy Thomas's writing to be very misogynistic, even by the standards of the 60's and 70's. This was especially evident on his run with the Avengers and his dismissive attitude to the Scarlet Witch in particular. This book is still in the period where I could not read the Legion. That period began with Jimmy Janes and only ended with #287.

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  4. A good run down of the faults of the story. My issue with it is the fact that Professor Vultan seems to die because of a classic case of misplaced noble suffering.
    Why did Zera have to secretly syphon off Drake's energy to keep him alive?
    Surely by explaining it to him that it was keeping her father alive Drake would've said "Sure, every tuesday OK?"
    It would have added weight to the story if Drake had known his not-quite death doomed the Professor as well and been reluctant to face it.

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    1. For sure that would have worked better.

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  5. All good points. Another thing I was going to mention is that DC had the opportunity to make Wildfire a Black man and didn't do it. How cool would it have been if we learned that Drake was Black...or Asian, or really anything besides *another* blonde white American. Ho-hum!!

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