Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Legion of Superheroes: The Great Darkness Saga

Another collection of comicbooks bought for nostalgic reasons!

During the early 80s my dad used to get a bunch of cheap, random DC comics from the local indoor market every month. These would be rolled up into a cylinder and held with a rubber band so that you couldn't tell what comics you were getting. Often they'd be a couple of Superman/Superboy issues, a couple of horror comics, perhaps a Batman comic or two. And on a few occasions there were also some issues of the Legion of Superheroes - some of which featured the Great Darkness Saga storyline from 1982, written by Paul Levitz and drawn by Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt.

So, for Christmas I asked for the recently published "deluxe" hardback edition and, lo and behold, I received.

Now, one of the things to point out is that this book collects together #284-296 of LoSH and Annual #1 whereas the Great Darkness Saga only really occurs in issues #290-294. Thus the first half of this book (and the last issue or two), pencilled by a variety of artists but mostly Pat Broderick, has very little to do with that saga. There are one or two hints of the darkness to come in these earlier issues, plus they explain why Light Lass is grumpy with Timber Wolf and why Chameleon Boy is in jail. Otherwise, although the earlier and concluding stories are nice to have, they're only really of average quality.

Broderick's art on the first couple of issues is clean, clear and decent (I remember his work most from my collection of Alpha Flight) but is not quite as good as Giffen and Mahlstedt's later on, which I prefer. And whilst looking at the art, I was slightly surprised to see how skimpy the female Legion members costumes were. Many of them look like they're wearing bikini's or have had their "costume" painted on. I can see why, at 12 or 13 years old when these were originally published, I liked the LoSH so much. Or maybe I'm just a old prude now?

Anyway, after a so-so start of soap opera relationships (everyone in the Legion seems to be going steady with someone else on the team!) mixed with some space action, half way through the book the good stuff - the Great Darkness Saga itself - kicks in. The story here works well, ramping up the danger with various battles against the dark enemy's genetically twisted servants, until a planet full of Daxamites - each with the power equal to Superboy or Mon-El - are controlled by the master villain Darkseid in order to pound the United Planets into submission and bring the whole universe to its knees.

In a way, it's almost like a dress rehearsal for Crisis on Infinite Earths, which would be published 3 years later. The whole universe full of planets (not just a single city or even the Earth) is in crisis from an extremely powerful foe. A large cast consisting of almost every legionnaire, past and present, appears in this story and they are generally handled well enough, if in some cases briefly, by Levitz. Meanwhile Giffen's art remains (for the most part) clear and detailed and almost as good as Perez's in CoIE.

Of course, at the time, one of the main draws of the book was in trying to deduce the identity of the shadowy villain behind all the darkness. Many hints are given along the way but it's a pity then that, when I read this as a 12 year old, I had no idea who Darkseid and the New Gods were. Although I still enjoyed it, the impact of the big reveal around two-thirds of the way through the story was somewhat lost on me. Of course, for anyone reading this story for the first time, the identity of the villain is somewhat spoiled by Darkseid's looming visage on the cover!

My only slight criticism of the main Great Darkness Saga story would be that Darkseid is not ultimately defeated by the Legion themselves. The Legion defeat many of Darkseid's servants and, I suppose, keep the young child who turns out to be a reincarnated version of the New God Izaya out of Darkseid's clutches. However, it is Izaya himself who has to power to defeat Darkseid - with, perhaps, some final assistance from Superboy and Supergirl and the threat of that planet full of Daxamites about to descend upon him.

This hardback is a wonderful blast from the past, reprinting one of the greatest comicbook stories from the Bronze Age. It is well-presented on glossy, slightly oversized paper and included at the back is a collection of pencil sketches by Giffen and the surprisingly brief scripts for a couple of issues (the first and last of the GDS storyline). Well worth the purchase even if you weren't a fan of the Legion in the 70s and 80s and certainly if you're a fan of Levitz's current Legion work.

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