20 January 2012

Darkseid Forever

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga: The Deluxe Edition

Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: Keith Giffen
Inker: Larry Mahlstedt
Additional Pencillers: Pat Broderick, Howard Bender, Carmine Infantino
Additional Inkers: Bruce D. Patterson, Rodin Rodriguez, Dave Hunt
Colorists: Carl Gafford, Gene D'Angelo
Letterers: John Costanza, Bruce D. Patterson, Ben Oda, Adam Kubert, Annette Kawecki, Todd Klein, Janice Chiang

I don't remember where I first heard about The Great Darkness Saga. It may have been Scott Tipton's Comics 101, the blog that is in a major way responsible for getting me into comic books to begin with, but I can't find the post now if so. In any case, I was drawn to the book because it was described as being the ultimate Darkseid story. Now, Darkseid is the best supervillain who's not Lex Luthor, so of course I was intrigued. That fact sat in the back of my head for many years, until DC decided to release a "deluxe edition" of the saga, containing fourteen issues. And I sprang for it.

Whoever told me that, they were right. When Jack Kirby created Darkseid, he created a great villain, but it can be argued that he never used Darkseid to his full potential. The Great Darkness Saga clearly does. In a way, it's a shame that I knew this was the ultimate Darkseid story, because as originally presented, it's a surprise. There's a mysterious figure who appears in a number of issues, and it's not until you're relatively close to the end that it's revealed this figure is Darkseid. But perhaps knowing makes it better: there are these small glimpses of a malevolent force that is going to intersect the Legionnaires' lives, and every time it gave me this little thrill. Darkseid was coming.

And when he appeared for real: oh, how amazing. I think I like Darkseid because he so completely devotes himself to what he is (evil), but never acts inconsistently or stupidly or insanely, and because his sheer power means he can do some amazing stuff. The Darkseid of The Great Darkness Saga is depleted by a battle in the distant past, but he's still a force to be reckoned with.
"As you wish, Darkseid, so shall it be done."
"Of course. There is no other possibility."
What he does to the planet is Daxam is utterly amazing and so perfect. (Don't get spoiled on this one; it's much better discovered for yourself.) Of course, Darkseid loses, but the showdown is excellent, and he goes out the only way you can imagine Darkseid justifiably going out. Bam!

All that said, The Great Darkness Saga itself occupies only six issues of this fourteen-issue collection. Is what else is here worthwhile?

It is one of my greatest regrets that I did not come to comics until late. Though I started reading Star Wars and Star Trek comics in high school, it wasn't until college that I finally read a superhero comic book. Legion of Super-Heroes is one of those things that makes me most regret this part of my life. For though I like the title now, I know I would have loved it when I was a kid. Legion mixes personal drama (there's a cast of over twenty!) and epic scale in the same way as my favorite television shows of my teen years, Babylon 5 and Beast Wars/Beast Machines. The stories here are the kind I would make up when babysitting to entertain my charges: lots of twists and turns, detailed continuity, subplots that rumble in the background for ages.

Sure, the characterization is never exactly subtle, and there are so many characters that it took me the entire book to figure out who Ultra Boy even was, but as time went on, I started to figure out who these people were and the whole thing began to click. The beginning is rough, because I think Levitz assumes you know who these people are and what's been happening with them. It also helps that he seems to find his groove, with each issue usually containing one story complete unto itself, but fragments of others that unfold as it goes.

It started to come together when, Chameleon Boy, upset at his father's continual attempts to get back into his life, takes the Legion Espionage Team on a desparate mission into Khund space. I didn't quite get this-- the jump from "I hate you dad!" to "I'm gonna get my friends killed!" is not clearly made-- but its aftereffects are great. Timber Wolf is among those on the espionage mission, and his distraught girlfriend, Light Lass, begs Saturn Girl to lobby for a rescue mission. (Saturn Girl is married to Legion leader Lightning Lad. Yes, it's complicated.) Saturn Girl is telepathic, and when she looks into Light Lass's mind, she experiences a complete and devoted love that she herself does not feel for her own husband. So when Lightning Lad won't authorize a rescue mission, Saturn Girl charges off on a rescue mission herself-- which is itself shot down. Then there's a couple good issues with the group of Legionnaires stranded on an icy asteroid, and Saturn Girl finds herself drawn to Timber Wolf... because of feelings that are literally not her own. A neat sci-fi idea and relationship drama. Huzzah!

The best single issue in the collection, however, was the oversized "Monster in a Little Girl's Mind!" This story sees Science Police (love that term) liason Shvaughn Erin (so cute!) reporting for duty at Legion headquarters on the same day that Brainiac Five tries to cure the mind of a little girl by connecting it to computer, which unleashes his mad creation, the computer program "Computo." Despite its ridiculous name, Computo is a dangerous opponent, turning the Legion's HQ against the Legion in a tense tale that rotates between the various Legionnaires in and outside of the building. Every member gets their moment, and there's even a set of blueprints of Legion HQ-- which are not only informative, but part of the story! The best part is the short text message at the top of each page, notes transmitted from Shvaughn to the chief of the Science Police detailing the deteriorating situation. It's the sort of thing that could only be done in comics, and it fills in gaps in the story at the same time it communicates the gravity of their plight. All in all, it's good comics.

Also: Blok. Blok is great. Of course I love Blok; he's a well-intentioned rock who does what's right but thinks humans are kinda weird.

The writing that I've been praising is the work of Paul Levitz, but I should also praise Keith Giffen, who draws most of the stories. In addition to drawing some absolutely killer layouts, the scripts included in the back of this edition make it clear how big of an influence he had on Legion. Levitz starts out by writing a page-by-page breakdown of the first issue of the Saga, describing each page in a paragraph; the whole thing runs about six pages. For the final, bonus-sized issue, Levitz just writes two pages of what needs to happen, leaving it to Giffen to do it however he likes. And do it he does; these issues look amazing. Good fights and good storytelling.

(Note that I did not do my own scanning because I am lazy; I found these on the Internet, presumably taken from the original issues. The quality of paper and color in the actual deluxe edition is much better.)

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