Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Legionnaires: For No Better Reason

Gail Simone's tenure as Legion of Super-Heroes writer was not a long one. She only had four issues (The Legion #35-38), at the end of which the series was cancelled. It was an anticlimactic way for the series to end, as Simone's story (though well-written and action-packed) didn't do anything to provide closure for the Legion's long-running storylines.

The story was called 'For No Better Reason'. It featured a quartet of familiarly-named villains, Devil, Canary, Arrow and Lantern, trying to disable all technology in the Metropolis area. They can do this because Canary's power is to nullify technology... but she needs to use a Naltorian precognitive as a battery for this power. (She just does, okay?) Devil, the mastermind, wants this to happen as part of a plan to kill the Legion and take over, or shut down, or destroy, Legion World. (Never mind why.)

Here's how the story plays out. Apparition's mother, the president of the U.P., is making a public appearance in Metropolis, with a bunch of Legionnaires as part of her escort. Meanwhile, the bad guys kidnap Dreamer and tie her up so that Canary can do her thing. The lights go out all over Metropolis, and the Legionnaires try to cope with the damage and chaos. Lantern and Arrow start sniping and raising hell, to make the situation even worse. President Wazzo is seriously hit. Eventually, the Legion gets control of things and Dreamer frees herself, and the evil scheme is foiled.

So: a good solid story that I only mention here because it provides the signature moments for no fewer than four Legionnaires, and here they all are:

Nightwind aka Berta Haris of ?. Created by Gerry Conway, Steve Ditko, and Rob Harris.

The original Nightwind was a Legion Academy member who eventually became a Legionnaire offscreen during the Five Year Gap, and was later killed during the invasion of Xolnar. She had wind powers. In the original Legion continuity she really didn't make any appearances that would suggest itself for this feature. But, toward the end of 'For No Better Reason', Chuck Taine, up in Legion World, sends in the only reinforcements he can: the reboot Legion Academy, which includes Nightwind. And not only does she finally get a chance to show how useful she is:

…but she also gets to deliver an excellent wisecrack:

Infectious Lass aka Drura Sehpt of Somahtur. Created by Dave Cockrum.

I've already checked in with Infectious Lass once in passing during these features. Drura wasn't as minor a character as Nightwind, though; she got little tastes of the spotlight every now and then as a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Like Nightwind, she saved the best for last, as she was key to apprehending Lantern and Arrow:

Neither Berta nor Drura has put in an appearance in the threeboot, and I really don’t expect them to.

Shrinking Violet aka Salu Digby of Imsk, aka Violet, Vi, Virus, LeViathan, Atom Girl. Created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney.

Violet is one of the longest-serving Legionnaires I've written one of these things for so far. She started off as a shy girl with the power to shrink down to tiny size, and stayed in that role until she was kidnapped and kept in a sensory deprivation tank for a while. She was extremely bitter, and occasionally brutal, when she was finally rescued, and she kept that hard edge to her personality throughout the Levitz era and the Five-Years-Later era. The SW6 and reboot Violets were quiet and sweet again, but Reboot Vi’s powers changed a couple of times; she eventually wound up with Colossal-Boy-esque growth powers in addition to her own shrinking powers, and there was also something in there about the Emerald Eye for a while. And now in the threeboot she calls herself Atom Girl, but her personality is closer to the prickly Levitz version. This Violet isn't angry, though; her hard edge seems instead to come from a desire to be seen as a badass.

It's hard to sum up a character like that, who's gone through so many different stages, and this story doesn't do that. It does the next best thing, though. See, in 'For No Better Reason', Violet is one of the Legionnaires in President Wazzo's escort, and she gets hurt early on. And things start to go from bad to worse for the Legion; they’re having trouble keeping everything together. But when this happened:

my reaction was, "Oh, good: everything will be okay now. Violet's there."
That's the only time I've ever had that reaction to that character.

So far.

Karate Kid aka Val Armorr of Earth. Created by Jim Shooter and Sheldon Moldoff.

Karate Kid was, for a long time, one of my least favourite Legionnaires. He doesn't have any powers, but his excellent karate skills make him formidable in a fight, and (depending on who’s writing him) give him the ability to find the weak spot in anything. Original recipe Karate Kid got married to Princess Projectra but died heroically soon after while fighting the Legion of Super-Villains. There was also a Karate Kid in the reboot Legion, and there's one now in the threeboot.

There's a difference between the original Val Armorr and the versions that came later. The original version was quite brash, while the reboot and threeboot Vals are much calmer. That's the difference. The similarity is this: infinite confidence.

No matter what comes along, Karate Kid knows he can handle it. Knows it. He is unintimidatable. Here’s a guy who introduces himself to Darkseid by trying to kick him in the head. Here’s a guy who, when he and Ultra Boy are confronted by literally thousands of Lemnos’s soldiers, thinks the only sensible course is to attack.

In 'For No Better Reason', Karate Kid is in the middle of transferring a criminal to an orbiting maximum-security prison when the machines stop working. And all the brutal supercriminals get out of their cells. While the prison starts to fall out of orbit. But Val is equal to the situation. He and some guards, with a little help from the Persuader, manage to get everybody trying to lower the prison so it won’t have as far to fall when it does fall. This works just well enough for it not to have been a waste of time:

Cue theme music.

Karate Kid’s the poo, so take a whiff.

You’ve heard of beating the hell out of someone? Val just beat the ‘L’ into that guy.

You can call Karate Kid the Bus Driver, because he just took them to school.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy these write-ups and agree whole-heartedly with your write-ups on Karate Kid and Infectious Lass. I've never liked Karate Kid myself, but dang it if your commentary isn't starting to make me rethink my position.

Nightwind's kind of hard for me as I really liked the issues where she, Lamprey and Crystal Kid first appeared and I haven't liked subsequent interpretations of the characters near as much. Still a good scene though.

Shrinking Violet really bothered me because I don't think that her defining moment is when she's using Colossal Boy's powers. Then again her best moments as a shrinker were pulled by a Durlan impersonating her so I can see where it's hard to get a definitive Violet we could all agree on.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I'm sure there are other good Violet moments, but I wanted to use that one, for, well, for exactly the reason I stated. Sure, it's strictly a personal reaction, but I'm strictly a person.

As for Nightwind, it wasn't that tough a choice for me; the only other times I saw her were a) listening to Wildfire's life story, b) arguing with Comet Queen, c) as a bald-headed militia instructor or d) getting killed on Xolnar.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Oh, and. Sorry:

Thanks for the kind words.

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One story with four character-defining moments?I'll have to hunt down these issues.
The Karate Kid scene is similar to his takedown of the Daxamite in the finale of the White Triangle saga.No matter the version,Val is the enforcer.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Spring heeled Jack said...

Nice write up, the theme takes me back and the writing makes me smile.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks very much.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always liked the Atom Girl moniker.It's just as accurate a description of her power as Shrinking Violet,and it's a nice nod to the "atomic age" origin of the Legion.Only drawback:Atom Girl doesn't lend itself to a cute nickname the way "Vi" was derived from Shrinking Violet.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

There's nothing wrong with it, except that "Shrinking Violet" is more distinctive and well-established. In this case I think Waid would have been better off leaving well enough alone.

9:16 AM  

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