Legion of Super-Heroes #259 (January, 1980)
Writer – Gerry Conway
Artists – Joe Staton & Dave Hunt
Letterer – Milt Snapinn
Colorist – Gene D’Angelo
Editor – Jack C. Harris
Cover Price: $0.40
I mentioned back when I started looking into the post-Crisis origin of Captain Marvel that I really didn’t have a whole lot of experience with the character… well, take that times a hundred… and you’re describing my connection with the Legion of Super-Heroes. Somehow, try as I might… I just cannot get into this franchise. The entire endeavor just feels like work. Pick up any given issue of Legion, and you’re inundated with a ton of colorful characters… it’s just overwhelming!
The thing of it is… I’d really like to understand the Legion. A running joke I have with Justin over at DC in the 80s whenever we discuss conducting an interview with a Legion creator is, “Sir/Madam, can you please explain the Legion to me?”
For whatever reason I happen to have hundreds of issues of Legion and Legion related books in my collection… and damned if I’ve gotten through a handful of them. I often hear it compared to newcomers to the X-Men family of titles circa 1992. Which, I believe is a fair assessment. A ton of characters, a ton of backstory, and not as much in the way of hand-holding for the potential new reader.
I really want to try in earnest to “get” the Legion, and I suppose a decent jumping-on point may be their first comic book issue. Formerly, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, this issue is actually the first in which the Legion get the whole billing. It’s amazing to think that this didn’t happen until 1980, considering just how many Legion stories had occurred throughout the prior several decades.
Anyhoo… here’s to my first step toward learnin’ bout the Legion.
We join the heroes in the fallout of an assault. The Legion Headquarters has been destroyed, and members Sun Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl have been felled by an unseen attacker. As luck would have it, the St. Croix Medical Center has already sent out the 30th Century approximation of an ambulance.
It turns out that the Legionnaires had been placed into a comatose state, however, the medics are quickly able to remedy that with an Electron Disruptor. Superboy comments that it sure seems convenient that the St. Croix folks were in the area… perhaps a bit too convenient. The medics promise to explain everything.
We shift to the penthouse apartment of Captain Kangaroo stand-in Rene Brande, where the medicos offer their theory on who was behind the attack. They believe it was a former psychiatric patient, Rejis Thomak (the odd names were another thing that kept me away from the Legion… I just wrote that dude’s name five seconds ago, and I wouldn’t remember it at gunpoint).
Anyhoo, this Thomak hailed from the horrendously brutal planet of Bunyon. On Bunyon, life was a constant battle… as everything living (animal or vegetable) wanted to eat the humanoid inhabitants. On his home planet, Thomak met his would-be life mate… a woman named Matil.
It is Bunyonian tradition for young adults to spend some time on Earth as part of their professional education… as such Thomak and Matil would be shipping out, together. While traveling, their ship was pulled into the gravitational pull of a super-nova star (resembling the Sun). Thomak was able to escape, however, he was a second too slow to rescue Matil. Ol’ boy never heard of “women and children first” I suppose.
The ship barreled into the Sun, and exploded as Thomak looked on. He fell limp, and floated through space for several months before being rescued. He is taken to St. Croix for rehabilitation, where he meets Legionnaire, Brainiac 5 (also a patient at the time).
Thomak began hating the Legion after seeing Sun Boy. His costume and namesake are the very embodiment of what cost him his one-time love. He broke out of the facility, however, before he left he checked out all the Legionnaire’s psychological profiles… he now knows their deepest, darkest fears. It is explained that the Legion has a charter with whatever acts as a governmental body during the 30th Century, and as such all had to undergo a psyche profile. Very good way of explaining a plot contrivance away… I really like that!
As the medic wraps up his story… who should appear but the Psycho-Warrior himself, Rejis Thomak. He throws a concussion bomb, which Chameleon Boy engulfs prior to its explosion.
Thomak sets off an optic detonator, which throws all of the Legionnaire’s (plus Captain Kangaroo’s) senses out of whack. The only one not affected is Superboy… who gives chase.
All appears to be going according to Psycho Warrior’s plan… he zaps Superboy with a burst of Kryptonite radiation, causing him to plummet. He lands in a graveyard, directly before the grave site of his Earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent.
Before he can get his bearings, the ethereal forms of the Kents appear before him, telling him not to blame himself for their deaths. This is pre-Crisis, and the story at the time is the Kents died due to a rare tropical disease during a vacation (which I briefly discussed here). Just before the Boy of Steel cracks, he remembers that Psycho Warrior knows his weakness… and breaks free of the visions.
He soars up and grabs Thomak… and brings him face-to-face(?) with his enemy… the Sun. It’s all too much for Thomak to take… he desperately blasts his gun at the Sun, before falling limp… and taking full responsibility for Matil’s death.
We wrap up with Superboy and the Legion. Clark is lamenting what he had just witnessed… and fears that whenever he’s in the Legion’s future, he’ll always remember the deaths of his parents. It is revealed that in the “present”, Clark doesn’t remember his Legion experiences… so, with that… Saturn Girl plants a telepathic hypnotic suggestion into Superboy’s head that forces him to forget all about the Legion completely… and to never return to them.
Okay, though I’m still quite overwhelmed by the number of characters… I really dug this story. While there wasn’t much hand-holding, I didn’t really feel too lost. I’m starting to think that perhaps my Legion bias was something I’d built up in my head… I’d always heard that it’s easier to “get into” Fort Knox than it is to “get into” the Legion… and maybe that’s just always stuck with me. I mean, this is superhero comics… not Kafka or Infinite Jest.
I really enjoyed how this story organically brought about Superboy’s “banishment” from the Legion’s future. I didn’t feel forced, and actually moved the team forward. Superboy’s membership is part of their history… not (yet) wiped out of continuity. It also speaks for Superboy’s altruistic ways… he would put himself through the emotional pain of remembering the deaths of his parents, just to be of service to his friends in the Legion.
I also dig just how much story was crammed into this issue. One thing I always love about comics of this vintage is the ridiculous value they give for the money (as opposed to the “ridiculous” value we get for many of today’s offerings). This issue actually took some time to read… and never felt like a chore. It’s a testament to the talents of Conway and Staton to keep even a Legion neophyte like me entertained.
I do wish the Legionnaires would have been better fleshed out, however, this story was described as a “climax”… likely to Superboy’s story, so I can definitely forgive back-burnering the titular characters. I feel this was a really good choice to start my Legion “reading project”… and actually find myself looking forward to more. Whether my vim and vigor will stick around remains to be seen… but for now, I’m optimistic that I’ll one day be able to contribute more than a phony “knowing nod” to conversations about the Legion.