Tuesday, June 11, 2013

WHEN STARGRAVE (eventually) STRIKES!

Hello, life forms both carbon-based and otherwise, welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You! I am Dave-El.
 
The nom de plume* of "Dave-El" is, as I like to point out to anyone before they run away, is my Kryptonian name, derived from my first name and the first initial of my last name.

Dammit, I think that's pretty darn clever!

*French for "We are out of plums."
 
Ahem! Anyway, such nerd like thinking should not come as surprise given my nearly life long comic book habit. And Kal-El himself, Superman, is right up there as one of my top favorites as a kid and, with some ups and downs, remains so today. While the main attraction was, of course, the colorful costume and the flashy super powers, the part of the Superman mythos that resonated with young Dave-El at a deeper level was Clark Kent. I identified with Clark, the mild mannered schlup, a nice enough guy but he doesn't quite fit in. It goes without saying that I did not have a super suit under my close and possessed nothing like super powers but the very idea that someone could be more than what others suspected was as much of a tantalizing fantasy as it was to watch Clark toss off that blue suit and fly over the spires of Metropolis
 
But Superman is not my topic for today.
 
Today, I want to talk about the first really big thrill I got reading a comic book. It is a comic book that even today, I would put up there with the best of DC Comics from the 1970s. And sadly, it is a story that does not end well for young Dave-El.
 
But I get ahead of myself.
 
When I first started reading the super hero titles from DC Comics in earnest, one of the titles I gravitated towards was Superboy. Well, that was the official title in the small print indicia at the bottom of page one. But the cover proclaimed this book as the home of Superboy AND the Legion of Super Heroes. The concept of a bunch of young super heroes a 1,000 years in the future (with a time travelling Superboy joining the gang) having adventures on a super advanced Earth and across the cosmos was in and of itself enough to engage my imagination. But there was an added lure that drew my eyes to this title: the art of Mike Grell.
 
"Iron" Mike Grell (so named due to his love of iron-rich beef liver) was just getting started as an artist at DC and the Legion was his signature book and for good reason. Machinery looked modern, metal gleamed and the characters were sleek in a way one might expect the denizens of the future might look. Now Mike's art was not without its drawbacks: apparently the 30th century had little need for backgrounds. And it seems the future is also going to be very warm considering the skimpiness of Mike's character designs.






But what ever Mike's art lacked in detail or clothing, he more than made up for a dynamism of action that few other artists I was following at DC could match.  
 
 
The first stories I read of the Legion were by Cary Bates, a solid writer with a strong gift for plot but sometimes his dialogue read a little stiff. Bates lacked the modern, more natural tone that contemporaries like Len Wein and Elliot S! Maggin were bringing to the comics medium. Still, I was enjoying my discovery of this amazing future world. Then the 30th century got kicked up a notch.
 
 
As quite the newbie as a comics reader, I was unfamiliar with the history of Jim Shooter and his first foray writing the Legion. But I was there for his return and I was impressed.
 
Shooter's first script was for Superboy#209 (Who Can Save the Princess?) which puts the Legionnaires under increasing pressure to save Princess Projectra from the pain plague! (God, you gotta love the future!).
 
 



 
 
The stakes were both high and personal. The means to save the day...doesn't work and a valiant sacrifice is offered to save Projectra's life until salvation comes from a most unexpected source.  (Whew! And all that in TEN pages!)
 
The next issue featured the Legion going up against a super powered soldier from a long ago war who doesn't know his battles are over. This soldier can't be stopped until the Legion gives him what he wants: peace. The back up was by Shooter as well, a 7 pager spotlighting Karate Kid searching for the man who killed his father. Heavy  stuff but effective and Mike Grell's tweaking of Karate Kid's face and hair to make him resemble Bruce Lee was inspired.
 
 
 
 
I found each story written by Jim Shooter better than the last. Issue #211 was a powerful story where Element Lad confronts Roxxas, the man who destroyed Element Lad's homeworld of Trom. We have a hero doing the unexpected thing for a hero: Element Lad gives in to his desire for vengeance which he immediately regrets but it's too late. Or is it?
 
Not only was Jim Shooter turning in strong stories for the Legion but Mike Grell was getting better. Backgrounds were still empty spaces but his character work was improving, getting less stiff and more fluid.
 
Jim Shooter and Mike Grell were firing on all cylinders but those stories did nothing to prepare me for the coming of the Legion's greatest enemy.
 
With a few exceptions, most issues of Superboy and the Legion were broken down between lead and back up stories. Furthermore, there was virtually nothing in the way of issue to issue continuity. This changed with issue #223.
 
  "We Can't Escape the Trap In Time" was my first exposure to the long time Legion foe, The Time Trapper.  And he kind of weirded me out. Under that hood was just darkness as the Trapper plied his machinations to doom his enemies in the Legion.  Superboy and the Legion manage to escape the time trap that weren't suppose to escape. Meanwhile, their efforts have been observed....
 
 
 
Even as the Time Trapper is (barely) defeated by the Legion, other forces are preparing to unleash themselves against our heroes, forces that may dwarf even the considerable power of the Time Trapper.
 
 
The Legion's ultimate threat is coming....When Stargrave Strikes!
 
 
-----to be continued-----
 
 
Next time, we finally get to Stargrave striking and young Dave-El's mind is blown. Before it is destroyed by bitter disappointment. 

The saga continues...later this week.... 
 

 
 
 


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