Jun 22, 2015

The 11 (Other) Best Marvel Movie Moments

The 11 (Other) Best Marvel Movie Moments
Ben Smith

Recently, I compiled a list of what I considered to be the top fifty moments from Marvel comic book movies, but I limited it specifically to the movies produced by Marvel Studios. Otherwise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, those movies include the Avengers-branded movies, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Before Marvel established their own movie studio, beginning with the release of Iron Man in 2008, they licensed the movie rights to their characters out to other studios, like Fox and Sony. It will be those films which I will comb through to find the best scenes to comprise the list I will provide for you today, because, as I’ve said numerous times before, I like lists. (And I'm not a very good writer.)

I find most of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies to be at best uneven, and at worst unwatchable. (Many of the early Marvel movies have diminished in quality in my eyes as time has passed, because Marvel Studios has so thoroughly upped the quality of comic book films in almost every conceivable aspect.) Many of the other Marvel movies, like Ghost Rider or Elektra, are complete dreck and will not be covered. This will also be an Affleck-Daredevil free zone, I can promise you that.

Behold, presented in no particular order, yet another list of questionable accuracy.

Blade – The Blood Shower

“What’s wrong baby?”

The opening scene of Blade was dynamic and energetic, as a clueless young tool of a man is led into a vampire rave by the ravishing Traci Lords. (Traci soaked in blood Carrie style aroused me in disturbing ways.) The energy in the scene is palpable, as the music thumps and blood begins raining down from the ceiling, drenching everyone in red, until the crowd parts, revealing Blade. It’s a fantastic opening scene. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie did not deliver the same thrill.

(Many might not remember or realize, but Blade was the first Marvel movie success. Based on a little known Tomb of Dracula character, it was the success of this movie that led to the X-Men and Spider-Man finally getting fast-tracked into production.)

X-Men – The Wolverine

“Whatever you do, don’t hit him in the balls.”

Moviegoers were first introduced to Hugh Jackman’s enigmatic Wolverine in a cage match against an unsuspecting opponent. It’s an amazing debut for the character, which has little to do with the rest of the movie, but is nevertheless captivating. It will only get diminished with time, but seeing a movie about the X-Men on the big screen was a watershed moment in the lives of many comic fans. For many of us that grew up reading comics, it was something we had waited our entire lives to see.

Spider-Man 2 – Stronger Than a Locomotive

“You have a train to catch.”

After fighting Doctor Octopus on top of a train full of innocent passengers, Spider-Man has to use every bit of his strength to save it from speeding off the track. The scene that follows this may be one of the most ridiculously ham-fisted scenes in comic book movie history, but the fight that precedes it was probably the greatest superhero fight scene ever filmed up to that point (the CGI hasn’t really aged well). It’s just a shame it took 3 hours of whiny Peter Parker to get there. (Much like X-Men, seeing Spider-Man finally star in his own motion picture was a life-changing experience for me. The first movie basically reignited my interest in comics after several years away.)

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – The Surfer Arrives

“Flame on!”
The mysterious Silver Surfer arrives from space, and is chased through the skies of New York City by the Human Torch. The original movie trailer for this film was easily one of the most exciting things I had ever seen. It’s a real shame that, once again, the full movie failed to deliver on the promise of that trailer and this scene.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The Gambit Cometh

“Those are mighty nice tags you have on there sir,
the man who took me wore tags just like ‘em.”

The Merc With a Mouth

“Okay… people are dead.”

Wolverine fights a mysterious mutant named Gambit, who has important information he needs. Wade Wilson was a motormouth mercenary that worked with Wolverine in the past. Gambit and Deadpool are easily the most compelling characters in the movie (which is a bit of problem if the title of that movie is Wolverine). Unfortunately, both of them only get limited amounts of screen time, with Deadpool spending the entire end of the movie with his mouth inexplicably sewn shut. (I remain a devout member of the church of Taylor Kitsch. There is no Battleship that can sway my resolve.) Thankfully Ryan Reynolds will finally get the opportunity to reprise his role in a solo Deadpool movie in 2016, which will be the single greatest piece of entertainment ever created by man.

Spider-Man 3 – Don’t Use a Webline!

Spider-Man saves Gwen Stacy from falling to her death. Most people rightfully only remember how awful the story and acting in Spider-Man 3 was, but the individual action scenes were the best of the entire trilogy. I could have easily picked the opening fight against Harry Goblin, or any of the Sandman sequences, but I’ll go with this one, since Bryce Dallas Howard’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy is destined to forever be forgotten, sadly.

X-Men First Class – Magneto is Born

“If you’re in there, I’d like you to know that I agree with every word you said.
We are the future. But, unfortunately, you killed my mother.”
Alone in the ruins of a beached submarine, Erik comes face-to-face with his tormenter, and after stealing Sebastian Shaw’s telepathy-shielding helmet, Magneto is born. The agony of Xavier as he mentally experiences Magneto slowly push the metal coin through the head of the immobilized Shaw is powerful. There are many, many things about First Class that I found absolutely ridiculous, but this scene is one of the many excellent parts that makes the rest of the movie so frustrating. (Anything involving Xavier or Magneto is engaging and interesting. Everything else is pure crap.)

X2: X-Men United – Nightcrawler

“Excuse me sir, are you lost?”
Nightcrawler teleporting through the White House, violently dispatching everyone in his way, is one of the first truly great singular depictions of superhuman power on film. It’s rarely been matched in the many years since, except for …

X-Men Days of Future Past – Quicksilver

“If I could save time in a bottle…”

…the scene in which Quicksilver uses his super speed to help Magneto escape captivity. While this is arguably the best X-Men movie, it’s necessarily convoluted plot can make it a bit tough to rewatch, especially on the small screen. But this sequence is unquestionably a must-watch, no matter where you might be. (Both movies were directed by Bryan Singer, who apparently has an eye for a dynamic display of superpowers.)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Dammit, He Used His Webline!

Spider-Man tries to save the falling Gwen Stacy, but ends up killing her in the process. My feelings for this movie were extremely conflicted after seeing it in the theater, but I still believe that it’s the most accurate depiction of Spider-Man in a movie to date. The competence, the wisecracks, and the overwhelming sense of responsibility. However, I have yet to watch the movie since. I can’t decide if it’s because I’m disturbed by how Emma Stone’s pantheon portrayal of Gwen Stacy was killed, or if the deficits of the film outweigh the positives. Or maybe I don’t often carve out 2 hours of time to watch anything that I’ve already seen and didn’t love.

There you have it. I’m sure I probably missed something, because if I’m not going to watch Amazing Spider-Man 2 again, I’m definitely not going to watch Fantastic Four or Hulk. As always, a list is just a list, compiled using the opinions of one person. I am just a man. A remarkable man for sure, but one man. If you feel the need to tell me what I missed, you know what to do.

Jun 16, 2015

My Top 6 Favorite Characters from Usagi Yojimbo

My Top 6 Favorite Characters From Usagi Yojimbo
Ben Smith

As of this writing, I have only read through “Usagi Yojimbo Volume 22: Tomoe’s Story”

I’ve been struggling to think of something to write about Usagi Yojimbo. Longtime readers will know I recently decided to give the series a try, inspired by his affiliation with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I started with short recaps of the opening stories contained in the first volume, but recaps quickly suck all the joy out of reading, and I wanted to enjoy this series as much as possible without it turning into work. The Usagi Yojimbo comic exists in that space where it’s really hard to put into words just how consistently great it is. There isn’t really a high concept idea to hook new readers, it’s basically a masterless samurai (ronin) that wanders Japan on a warrior’s pilgrimage, with a wide cast of colorful characters he gets into adventures with, but with funny animals. There’s not much more to it than that, but that doesn’t accurately describe how awesome it is. It just is. But I felt like I had to write something, because this is fast becoming my single favorite comic book series of all time.

Much has been said about how great Stan Sakai is. He’s a master storyteller. The way he offsets some of the more violent imagery with funny word bubbles and sound effects strikes a perfect balance between serious and fun. The level of research he puts into the time period is all the more remarkable because of how seamlessly it weaves into the background of the stories. All of this is known, and has been written about many, many times. Instead, I’m going to focus on one of the main things I love about the series, and that is the multitude of fantastic characters that pop in and out of the series. It’s rare to find any series that has done a better job of consistently introducing new characters that are as interesting as the cast of Usagi Yojimbo. Nearly every single one is capable of headlining their own solo stories, and have from time to time.

So, strapped for ideas of what to write about, and with a focus on my favorite characters, there could have only been one option. You guessed it. It's list time.

Honorable mentions:

Jotaro is about as good an impetuous young child character can be, but he is still a child character. (That doesn’t mean I still didn’t get a little misty eyed at the end of “Fathers and Sons.”)

Katsuichi is Usagi’s sensei, and he carries the traditional role of mentor and overall badass master. However, Ben Kenobi, Yoda, and Splinter are the least played with toys in any kid’s toybox for a reason.

The woodcutters are fun little reoccurring background characters. (For Avatar: The Last Airbender fans, think of the cabbage merchant.)

Noriko is Tomoe’s sadistic cousin, and is on par with her as a warrior. She is appropriately known as the Blood Princess, and I absolutely love her. She’s a great villain. Unfortunately, she’s only appeared in one story so far (again, I’ve only read up through volume 22).

Nakamura Koji is a samurai on a training pilgrimage, and probably the first person I can remember that beat Usagi head-to-head in a swordfight. He’s about as honorable and interesting an antagonist as you’ll ever see. The kind that will assist you in adventures up until it’s time for him to fight you himself.

Lone Goat and Kid are fun, but a tad too in-jokey for me. Just slightly.

Inazuma was fast becoming one of my favorite characters, before tragedy befell her. A no-nonsense master with the sword that was arguably one of the deadliest killers in the series, with a tragic backstory to make her all the more interesting. Unfortunately, she met a fate worse than death.

Sanshobo is a former samurai turned priest, that hasn’t lost any of his fighting skill.

Now, my top 6 favorite characters. Every character on this list I am just as happy to read solo stories about as I am when they cross paths. (Whenever two or more of them come together, it’s always a great time. It’s one of the best parts about the series.)

6. Chizu

Chizu is the one-time head of the Neko Ninja clan in service to Lord Hikiji, and a longtime ally of Usagi. Despite their opposing sides, her and Usagi have helped each other the several times they’ve crossed paths.

It was established very early that she wasn’t fully committed to serving the dark side, and was eventually betrayed by the Neko Ninja clan because of her repeatedly doing the right thing. I’ve always been drawn to strong, capable characters, and as you’ll see from the rest of my list, Usagi Yojimbo sports some of the strongest female characters in comics. It’s also been implied that she has a bit of a crush on Usagi, something common among most of the female characters. (With me being overly interested in the love lives of my fictional characters, this adds an extra layer of intrigue to the question of who Usagi will settle down with, if anyone.) In my eyes, Chizu is the bad girl with a heart of gold, now on a path of redemption (possibly).

5. Inspector Ishida

An instant favorite of mine from his first appearance, when he and Usagi teamed up to solve some murders.

 His keen mind makes him the most effective detective we’ve seen in the series, and despite his appearance is a more than capable fighter. He maintains a steadfast commitment to justice, and yet was more than willing to look the other way when Usagi justifiably killed one of the local Lords.

Another strength of the series is that even when the mysteries are telegraphed, it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the story one bit.

4. Kitsune

Kitsune is an anthropomorphic fox, and is every bit as tricky as her namesake. She’s spent most of her life as a street performer and thief, with the requisite hard life as a backstory.

No matter how often she lies to, or steals from, Usagi and friends, she continues to be incredibly likable. (She almost always steals the purse of every character she crosses paths with for the first time. It’s almost become a rite of passage for the series.) The only thing more fun than her and Usagi together, is when Gen or Tomoe are along for the ride.

She’s also had a flirtatious relationship with Usagi, but unlike Chizu, it seems to be more about making Usagi uncomfortable or one of the other females jealous. This page of Kitsune purposefully making Tomoe jealous is one of my favorite single pages from the entire series so far.)

3. Murakami Gennosuke (Gen)

Gen is a perfect representation of the friend that loves to give his friends a hard time. (As Kelso said, “it’s fun when friends get hurt.”) His outward personality of a bounty hunter that cares only about money, is often betrayed by his selfless actions, revealing the good heart he has within.

Despite his proclamations, he always has Usagi’s back, even if he has to pretend to justify it by finding some financial gain to be made from the situation. His comedy and jovial nature is the perfect counterbalance to Usagi. He’s a loyal friend, and don’t let him try to convince you otherwise.

2. Tomoe Ame

Tomoe and Gen are two of the oldest reoccurring characters in the book, but up until about two days ago (when I read “Tomoe’s Story”) Gen would have easily taken the second spot.

Tomoe is the personal bodyguard and advisor of Lord Noriyuki of the Geishu Clan, who Usagi has helped save in several different situations. She is an extremely talented swordsperson, on par with Usagi as a warrior. (In the aforementioned “Tomoe’s Story,” her and Usagi tied in a sparring match with each other. One of the main questions I have as I move through the series, is which characters can match Usagi with the sword. So far Gen and Usagi have not gone head-to-head, that I can remember.)

For a long time Tomoe and Usagi appeared to merely be friends and peers with a strong respect for each other, but as the series continues it has been suggested that they have a stronger attraction for each other. (There’s an absolutely beautiful depiction of a tea ceremony between her and Usagi that is an almost completely silent story. It’s one of the strongest depictions of Sakai’s skill as a storyteller.) One that will most likely go unrequited. (I’m convinced that if Usagi were to settle down, then Tomoe is probably the right person for him. Well, I guess the right person is probably Mariko, but that’s a boring answer.) Tomoe has come under some scrutiny due to her being a female with a prominent position in the Geishu Clan, something that could be perceived as unseemly to other Clans. (She’s actually based on a real-life 12th century samurai named Tomoe Gozen. Tomoe Gozen sounds awesome, and you should read about her too.) I love Tomoe, and I am so very nervous that some of the bubbling plots happening behind her back will come to fruition.

1. Miyamoto Usagi

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. What makes Usagi so great is that he’s a multifaceted character. His contradictions make him seem more real to me than most fictional characters, which is no small feat considering he’s a bunny. Many of the iconic superheroes of Marvel and DC have developed a standard pattern of behavior, with them only moving outside of that established pattern to highlight a specific instance when they are behaving “out of character.” (As they should, since Marvel and DC should always strive to maintain a core depiction of their heroes for every new generation of readers to enjoy.) A book like Usagi can obviously go wherever the creator decides to take it, and that single voice will invariably almost always produce a more fully-formed person.

I can’t possibly describe everything that’s great about Miyamoto Usagi, so I’ll break it down into some of my favorite traits. (A list within a list, if you will.)
  • Despite being honorably almost to a fault, he’s not opposed to helping an innkeeper maintain the illusion that his inn is haunted, for example.
  • Even though he’s one of the most skilled swordsmen in the country, he will try to avoid an unnecessary fight as much as possible. Many times he’s walked away from some challenger despite being called coward or laughed at by the crowd. (Almost every time he’s been forced to later kill all those that mocked him anyway.)

  • He’s generally a good-natured and even-keeled type of person, which makes it all the more exciting the times he really gets pissed off.

  • His strong sense of honor and strict adherence to Bushido, never keeps him from being friends with people like Gen and Kitsune.
  • Again, he’s a master swordsman, and I’m always drawn to competent characters. The only times he gets beaten is when he’s overwhelmed by larger numbers, he’s the victim of something unforeseen (like a sandal breaking) or the rare times when he faces someone better.

  • He’s always willing to help out in a situation, and risk his own life for others, if it’s the right thing to do.

  • He’s a master trash-talker. Frequently he says something along the lines of “please don’t make me kill you,” to opponents. I guess it’s not really talking trash if it’s true.

Those are just a few of the things that make Usagi so fascinating to me. One of the more unfortunate things about Usagi is that many of the deeper relationships he could have, like with Jotaro or Tomoe, are sacrificed by circumstance, or because of his journey on the path of learning. They would rather not end his adventures with a burden of responsibility, because they believe he is happier with life as a wanderer. Similarly, he often suppresses his own feelings in service to what he believes is their happiness. It’s yet another thing that makes him the ultimate hero that he is.

I am primarily a superhero fan, and a Marvel fan at that. I do buy creator-owned books like Criminal, Satellite Sam, and Powers. Some of my favorite series of all time have been books like Y The Last Man, Bone, or Preacher. But the thing I’ve liked most about those is that they ended. For some reason, I can read about Spider-Man indefinitely (as long as it’s good) but I need most of my creator-owned books to eventually have an ending. I’ve read comics like The Walking Dead and Fables, and they’re good, but for some reason I lose interest when they just continue on and on. I’m just more invested in the world and history that Marvel has created on an ongoing basis.

Usagi Yojimbo is the type of series that, as soon as I get all the way caught up to the current issues, I’ll probably start all over again at the beginning. I read them so fast that I tend to forget a lot of it, and I want to remember it all. I need to. They’re that good. It’s probably one of the few remaining comics that still work as a monthly series. There are as many one-and-done stories as there are multi-part epics, and everything is presented in a way that you don’t have to have read the entire series to understand and enjoy what’s going on. If you do know the history of all the characters, it’s that much more rich a tapestry for you. One of the strengths of comics, and fiction in general, is when a history between characters is implied, without it ever having been something that was depicted in a previous book. Usagi Yojimbo is one of the best comics I’ve ever read at depicting character relationships where you never know if it’s one or the other. You could pick up the series at volume 13, and the characters and the world are so fully formed that they’re easy to grasp without any prior knowledge. Not to mention that no matter where you start, you’re always going to get an entertaining story created by a master of the craft. That is no easy feat.

I really don’t know what else to say beyond that. Get it. It’s great.

Jun 11, 2015

Three Ways the 1950s Led to 1960s Marvel Comics

The 1960s were part of what's come to be known as the Silver Age, but Stan Lee marketed it, more appropriately, as the Marvel Age of Comics. After all, it was the Marvelution, the time Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and a host of other artists teamed up with the Man to create a shared universe of superheroes.

But that doesn't mean they just came from out of nowhere. The Marvel Age of Comics was as much the culmination of the evolution of superhero comics up to that point as it was this big revolution. Let's take a look at...

Three Ways the 1950s Led to 1960s Marvel Comics
by Duy

1) "Flawed" superheroes were not new.

Marvel was known for giving their superheroes a lot of problems. Thor is really lame Dr. Don Blake, who can never tell Jane Foster how much he loves her, for fear of losing his godhood. Peter Parker's life is made worse by being Spider-Man. Captain America can't adjust to living in the modern day. Tony Stark literally has a heart problem.  These are far cries from the perfect heroes Superman, Batman, and company were.

But they weren't the first ones to do that. Will Eisner's The Spirit, from the 40s, featured a hero who got beaten up all the time and who made mistakes. Barry Allen, The Flash, couldn't make it work with his girlfriend Iris West because he was always late. And for more extreme examples, Harvey Kurtzman's Mad featured superheroes with flaws on a regular basis, for comedic effect. What Marvel did that was new was take all of these, amp up the melodrama, and maximize the emotional effect. All that probably says that you can likely look at anything and see what you can change, whether it's amping up the intensity or going for a different effect, and see what it leads to.

2) Monster comics can be felt in at least two early Marvel Comics.

To pass the time in the 50s, because they had nothing better to do, Marvel did monster comics, like non-X-Men-related Magneto above, who should absolutely come back and fight X-Men Magneto. And then in the 60s, The Fantastic Four and The Hulk came out and made history. Someone wasn't out of the monster phase completely just yet.

Of course, now the most blatant influence of monster comics can be found in a talking tree named Groot.

The big difference, of course, is that Stan and Jack put these monster tropes into a superhero blender, giving them characters like the Hulk and the Thing in then-familiar trappings but giving them a pathos and a tragedy you can hold on to.

3) Spider-Man's origin story could have been an EC Comic.

There are three iconic origins in American superhero comics, but only one counts as a story. That's why you'll see all these retellings of Superman's and Batman's origins, because those origins, as they stand, are purely frameworks on which you can build stories around and from. Both are outlines of what made them who they were, and if they were to be equated to Spider-Man's origin, it would end right when Peter gets on that TV show and officially becomes Spider-Man for the first time.

Spider-Man's origin story is a full arc with character growth, and it all culminates in the panel in which he realizes that the burglar who killed his Uncle Ben was the same burglar that he let go earlier in his career as Spider-Man. That's some straight-up dramatic irony there, and that's pretty much a staple of the crime/suspense/horror comics at the time, which Amazing Fantasy (or Amazing Adult Fantasy, as it was originally called) absolutely was. And that sort of structure was popularized in EC Comics' New Trend, which dominated for a few years in the 1950s. They liked that twist ending that wrapped things up in a nice, if creepy, little ribbon, like the one where a woman wants to know what her husband does for a job, commits murder, and finds out her husband is the hangman.

The big difference is that these EC Comics had a clean and polished house style, and Spider-Man had Steve Ditko, who pretty much puts a unique stamp on every comic he does.

So there you go. Revolutions don't come out of nowhere. They evolve from what was there before, and creative minds can take what was there, make the necessary twists, like turning the knobs on a situation. And as Alan Moore said once in some interview I've forgotten the source of, true creative greatness comes when you turn knobs no one's ever thought of turning before. Stan and Jack and Steve and company turned such knobs. My point is, Silver Age Marvel rocked. Go buy some Masterworks and Omnibi.

Jun 8, 2015

Legion of Super-Heroes: Forgotten Juggernauts, Part 10

Legion of Super-Heroes – Forgotten Juggernauts
Part 10 – The Pulse-Pounding Conclusion!
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

The Legion of Super-Heroes is one of my favorite teams in all of comics. I’ve been writing about the Legion of Super-Heroes for several weeks. You should read my stuff, and then you should buy and read Legion of Super-Heroes comics. (On a serious note, I’m covering basically what happens, and a few of my favorite moments. What makes most comics great is the characterization and personalities of the characters in it, and you can only get that when you buy and read the full stories for yourselves.) Now, they are fighting against the Legion of Super-Villains. The Legion of Super-Villains is just like the Legion of Super-Heroes, only evil. Every time the evil Legion is around, a good Legionnaire dies. Someone is going to die.

Let’s find out who.

Legion of Super-Heroes #13
Writer: Paul Levitz; Artists: Yildiray Cinar and Jonathan Glapion; Editor: Brian Cunningham

The battle on Colu continues, and the Legionnaires are losing. Element Lad, one of the most powerful members on the scene (kind of a heroic Molecule Man, who everyone should know I adore) struggles to hold off Immortus.

Timber Wolf snaps Earth-Man out of Saturn Queen’s mind control, but they cannot wake up Brainiac 5 (and get the necessary codes he recently created as deputy leader to call in the reinforcements they need). Neidrigh may have lost any telepathic power he pulled from Saturn Queen, but he does borrow Brainy’s brain power to crack his codes and send out the call for help.

Saturn Queen bitch-slaps Questor around for his apparent failure to locate the hidden world of the wise. She calls upon the mysterious Blue Flame to lead them the rest of the way. He can help them finish their task, but only if Saturn Queen brings him her tracker (Hunter).

The cavalry arrives on Colu (and Quislet gets some moments to shine). Quislet is weird.

Shadow Lass, Polar Boy, and Quislet tag-team Sun Killer. Hunter sneaks up behind Timber Wolf and knocks him unconscious, and then relays a message from Saturn Queen to Earth-Man. Help them during the final conflict, and Earth is his to rule.

Tellus arrives to undo the damage done to Brainiac 5’s mind, in which Gates brags about how his brain is incapable of being scrambled (foreshadowing?) due to its unique biological positioning.

Brainy retraces Questor’s information search to determine they are searching for a world of the wise. Gates has heard legends of such a place, which calls an image into his mind that Tellus gleans, an image of Professor Harmonia Li.

Mon-El does what he can to multi-task the ongoing conflict while split between two consciousnesses. Wildfire and Ultra Boy come swooping in from space, to put the hurt on Immortus. (Finally Wildfire gets to do something besides getting his suit destroyed.)

Suddenly, Zymyr teleports in to remove Lightning Lord, Sun Killer, and Hunter from the battle.

Back at headquarters, Dream Girl asks Professor Li why she would have a vision of her and Star Boy holding hands in space with incredible energies surrounding them. She hypothesizes that because the energy being drained from Star Boy is what connects him to the many dimensions of the universe, it’s that same energy they will both need to possibly sacrifice themselves, and save the universe. (Is Star Boy the Legionnaire that will die?)

An appropriate amount of stakes here. Saturn Queen’s full army doesn’t get any face time, with the book sticking to the already introduced major players, but the scope of the threat is still properly conveyed. Everyone should be worried about their favorite Legionnaire getting a statue in the hall of fallen heroes.

Legion of Super-Heroes #14
Writer: Paul Levitz; Artists: Fernando Dagnino and Raul Fernandez; Editor: Brian Cunningham

Dream Girl tries to prevent Harmonia Li from stopping the energy drain on Star Boy, but Li pushes her aside. It’s better that one man be sacrificed (to fix her mistake at the Time Institute) and save the universe, than for everyone to suffer. Mon-El bursts in demanding explanations.

The fight between Ultra Boy, Wildfire, and Immortus continues. Wildfire gets his suit destroyed (dammit!) but Ultra Boy fights on.

He gets some help in the form of the refugee Titans, who use their telepathic powers to attack the only humanity Immortus has left, his brain.

Good callback to the Titans, that’s called tying everything together.

Saturn Queen has brought forth Hunter to complete the finals steps to find the world of the wise, but the Blue Flame requires a death to give him the necessary power boost to do so. Akka volunteers, misunderstanding that it’s not Hunter’s death that is required.

The power flows into Hunter, and the Blue Flame departs to take care of the tracker currently on his trail.

“…and all who come too close to the flame… must burn,” is a badass line.

Harmonia Li leads Mon-El, Dream Girl, and Star Boy on a quest to find her former home, the immortal world of the wise. Dream Girl gets a traumatic premonition of herself attending a funeral, where someone consoles her that at least Star Boy’s power won the battle. (Is it Star Boy that dies?)

Saturn Queen and her Legion finally arrive at the world of the wise, Utopia. They are greeted by Master Kong, who asks what wisdom they seek. But they have not come in search of wisdom, but to destroy it.

The Legionnaires finally end the conflict on Colu, but the damage has been done, and 712 lives have been lost. The Titanian high seer informs them of the images taken from the mind of Immortus, of the three immortal worlds that bring balance to the universe, and Saturn Queen’s plans to destroy them. One-half of Mon-El arrives with Professor Li, Dream Girl, and Star Boy in tow.

The other half of Mon-El, and Dyogene, cross paths with Dawnstar, still on the trail of the Blue Flame, but the trail ends at a dimensional barrier she cannot see or cross.
Fortunately, the other Mon-El arrives with all the backup they’ll need to travel the rest of the way.

I love it when all the threads come together to knit a glorious sweater. A sweater from the future that auto-dries when it gets wet, like in Back to the Future 2. Doc Brown and Marty would have totally stopped Saturn Queen by going back in time and stealing the Sports Almanac from the Time Institute, or something. I want pizza.

Legion of Super-Heroes #15
Writer: Paul Levitz; Artists: Yildiray Cinar and Jonathan Glapion; Editor: Brian Cunningham

Professor Li and Star Boy join hands, to focus his multiversal energies and take them to Li’s former home, Utopia. The pathway between dimensions is successfully opened, and Dawnstar leads the Legionnaires through.

They arrive to find the Legion of Super-Villains ransacking the planet, and they burst into action. Lightning Lass finds herself at the mercy of her older brother…

…before Ultra Boy saves her with a timely stomping.

The adversary that Dawnstar was tracking is not on Utopia, but she can feel his power everywhere. She goes to the one most touched by his power, Saturn Queen, to try and stop her before she can summon him again.

She snatches Saturn Queen before she can react, and flies her high into the air, but the powerful telepath once again uses her power to take over Dawnstar’s mind. Tellus flies in and tries to counteract her, and fails, but Gates arrives (unique brain and all) to teleport them both to safety. Saturn Queen returns to summoning the Blue Flame.

Sun Boy faces off with Sun Killer, and after a tip from Timber Wolf, overloads him with solar energy and defeats him once and for all (for now).

Hunter, riding a space gorilla, uses his newly augmented power to send a space worm after Tyroc, but Tyroc gets the best of him in the end. Tyroc, for those that don’t know, was your stereotypical angry black man with an afro in his original comic appearances in the ‘70s. He never gained much traction as a Legionnaire, until now. I like what Levitz did with him in this series.

The battle rages on, Legion versus Legion.

Saturn Queen finishes summoning the Blue Flame, and he arrives on Utopia. He commands her to finish the job, so they can move on to Oa, but she asks for more help from him. He tells she needs no further assistance from him, that all she needs to do is touch the mind of Earth-Man, and make him hers.

If you couldn’t tell, this series is going to begin and end with Earth-Man as a prominent figure. That’s what we call one of those complete character arcs. I also wanted to mention that even though the Legion has a large roster of great female characters, only one made it into the box set of action figures released by Matty Collector around the time this series was coming out. Thirteen toys and only Saturn Girl made the cut. That has nothing to do with anything, other than I’m still bitter that Matter Eater Lad got an action figure over Dawnstar. Anyway, will Star Boy be the one to die?

Legion of Super-Heroes #16
Writer: Paul Levitz; Artists: Daniel HDR and Marc Deering; Editor: Brian Cunningham

In retrospect, it’s pretty disappointing that Yildiray Cinar didn’t get to pencil the conclusion to this series. HDR is okay and all, but Cinar was the superior penciler and the primary artist on the entire series. But you know, it was really important they got it out on time back then, so that when you read it again years later, like I’m doing now, that it’s a completely different guy on the key final issue. Priorities.

Saturn Queen approaches Earth-Man, preparing to take over his mind yet again. On Oa, Sodam Yat finally acts, sending his ring and his power across the universe to Earth-Man.

The Legionnaires (good side) begin to turn the tide of the battle. Dyogene faces the Blue Flame. The adversary finally explains who and what he is. (I don’t feel like writing it out myself, read the word balloons.)

Saturn Queen is surprised to find that Earth-Man is resisting her control, thanks to the help of his “friends” in the Legion.

The Blue Flame interrupts the proceedings to taunt the ageless mortal whose curiosity destroyed Titan and summoned him forth, Professor Li. Earth-Man attempts to use the adversary’s own power against him, but fails.

Dyogene and Mon-El arrive to protect Neidrigh. Earth-Man tells them to stop protecting him, and use the power of the Green Lantern to connect him to everyone. For together, “we are Legion.”

Augmented by the green light of willpower, Earth-Man absorbs the power of each and every Legionnaire…

… and uses it to destroy the Blue Flame.

Brainy uses the moment to get some well-deserved payback on Saturn Queen, but the battle was not without its costs. Earth-Man sacrificed himself to save them all. (It still counts as a Legionnaire dying!)

A grief-stricken Shadow Lass picks up his lifeless body and flies off. With the danger over, Mon-El returns the lantern ring to Dyogene, who will remain on Utopia to help with rebuilding their world, and hopefully rebuild the lantern corps as well.

Brainy asks if Harmonia Li will stay as well, but she has learned there is more to life than eternal contemplation. Perhaps she will see how she fits in with the Legion. (Despite no powers. I don’t know if I mentioned it, but one of the rules for Legion membership is that you can’t have any powers that are the same as any current member. Hence, Lightning Lass was not allowed to be a member for a long time because she has the same powers as her brother. Which is why she briefly gained different powers over gravity, and joined the team as Light Lass. I love their weirdly specific membership rules.)

In the closing narrative captions, a reforming Rock of Eternity confirms that as long as there are beings of good will, faith will always take shape again. While on Utopia, wisdom comes in the process of rebuilding, one stone at a time. An inconsolable Shadow Lass cries over the body of Earth-Man, but willpower comes in the strength to carry on.

“Truly, with faith, wisdom, and will… there will always be strength to go on.”

This brought about the end of my favorite Legion of Super-Heroes series. Incidentally, it was the only one I got every issue of month to month as they were being released. As much as I liked Waid’s Threeboot version, and it was my introduction to the comics Legion after all, I can’t help but love and appreciate this return to the original continuity of the team. There’s something about the history of these characters, something which you really only see in comic books, that is so much more appealing to me than a fresh start. Ironic, as this would mark the point where the New 52 took over DC comics. I can’t help but feel like Levitz had to rush to end this story before September and the big company-wide relaunch. I can’t remember if he followed up on the mysterious hand reaching out of the wreckage of the Rock of Eternity in the New 52 or not. I know I read the New 52 Legion of Super-Heroes series, but I can’t say I remember much beyond it being weirdly disappointing. Despite Levitz and Portela on creative duties, and the continuity of the characters remaining unchanged, something was just missing. Not surprisingly, it would get cancelled after 23 issues, even with Giffen returning for some issues near the end of its run.

This marks the end of my coverage on the modern day Legion of Super-Heroes. Perhaps I will dip back into some classic runs of the Legion in future weeks. There is plenty to choose from. The Zero Hour version of the team, post Legion Lost (a young Coipel on art). The treasury sized comic featuring the marriage of Lighting Lad and Saturn Girl. The “Baxter Era” of the ‘80s. The “5 Years Later” series (well, probably not that one). Maybe I can show Duy why he’s dead wrong about the Great Darkness Saga. Only time will tell what the future holds.

Ha, see what I did there?