Sunday, November 05, 2006

Superman and the Legion of Super Heroes #1-4 Review

I'm numbering this episode '1-4' because it's the fourth one to be broadcast in the first season. I understand from the Legion Omnicom that it's actually the sixth episode, but they're being broadcast in the order 1,2,3,6,5,4. Flummery, I say; if they wanted this to be the sixth episode they jolly well should have shown it sixth.

What Happened That You Have To Know About:

While hanging out at the Superman Museum, Superman messes with a Phantom Zone projector and releases a crazy guy with Kryptonian-level powers, Drax by name, and his two vicious freaked-out sideways-jawed hellhounds. They go on a rampage throughout Metropolis, despite the best efforts of the Legion and the Science Police. Brainiac 5 tries to use Kryptonite on Drax but it doesn't work; turns out Drax has been bred to resist it, or something (he was actually born in the Phantom Zone; weird). The Legion tries to use the Phantom Zone projector to send him back where he came from, but all of them but Superman end up getting trapped in there themselves, and Drax smashes the projector. They eventually find a way out from inside, and when they open a rift to the real world Superman smashed Drax back through it. Happily ever after.


Lots of interesting things to chew over this episode.

I'm becoming more and more intrigued by Brainiac 5's character. In this episode we find that he's acquired some Kryptonite, presumably just as a safeguard in case something unexpected happens with Superman. Nothing new there; Brainy was revealed to have done the same thing with Supergirl in the comic book this month. But it's another indicator that Brainy's done a lot of thinking about his relationship with Superman. This is something I don't recall being explored in any depth in any other versions of the Legion. Clearly Brainy wants the two of them to be friends--he is, after all, relieved that the Kryptonite got sucked into the Phantom Zone with Drax. But he also thought it necessary to have it in the first place.

Which actually ties into the whole premise of the series. I didn't pick up on this at the time, but a comment I read elsewhere, can't remember where, put together a couple of pieces for me. The whole point of the show is that this is Superman before he becomes Superman, right? Superman with no experience, Superman who doesn't know how to be a superhero yet?

Well, that makes an interesting show. For one thing, it's a good solution to the typical Superman problem: how do you come up with someone who's credible opposition for the Man of Steel? If he doesn't know how to be the Man of Steel, it's easy.

But it also dovetails with Brainy's motivations. Let's consider the following facts:

1. The Legion recruited Superman during a time of crisis for them, a time in which they badly needed a Superman who was at the height of his powers and experience. A novice Superman was obviously of less value to them (although, as we saw, he turned out to be up to the task anyway).
2. Brainiac 5 took the time-travel team to a point in history in which Clark Kent had not yet been active as Superman.
3. Brainiac 5 has a twelfth-level intelligence and, he says himself, doesn't make mistakes. And he insisted to the rest of the Legion that, in this case, he didn't make a mistake... but didn't elaborate on that.

There are two ways to reconcile these three contradictory statements. The first, and easiest, is to say that Brainy's just being egotistical and he did make a mistake, no matter what he says. But I like the second one better.

The second one is to say that Brainy intentionally set the Legion's encounter with Superman at a point in history when there was no way that Superman would recognize the name 'Brainiac'. He didn't want things ruined by Superman's experience with his evil ancestor. And it worked. But that's a tricky thing to keep not only from Superman, but also from the rest of the Legion, and I'd be shocked if this didn't all come out in a future episode. Along with the Kryptonite. But look: why is this cartoon for little kids the first place we're seeing Brainiac 5 really wrestling with this issue? I know it's been mentioned before in the comics, but Brainy never seemed worried about it the way he is here. Even episode 3 tied into this (an insight a lot of people recording their thoughts on the internet had, but I did not): the conflict of that episode was a triangle between Superman, Alexis (Lex Luthor's descendant) and Brainiac 5 (Brainiac's descendant).

The character of Drax is somewhat less intriguing. Superman's curious about Drax because of what he implies about Superman's own origins. But that's Superman's problem; the rest of us know plenty about Superman's origins and don't need this guy to tell us. Which is not to say that there's nothing about Drax worth exploring. For one thing, Drax hears voices in his head telling him that he has to be evil and kill Superman and stuff. Whose voices? His Phantom Zone parents? The two hellhounds (which is what I hope they turn out to be)? And then there's the symbol on his chest. Looks like the letter 'Z'. Which could mean several things. First, it could be a mirror-reversed 'S'; I'd be satisfied with that explanation. Second, it could stand for 'Zor-El', indicating a family connection to Superman. Third, and most likely, it could stand for 'Zod'.

Also I'm wondering about what Drax said to Superman: "It's not what you've done, it's what you will do." So, let's go over this. When Drax is first released, one of the first things he says is that he's Superman's worst nightmare. So he knows about Superman without having to be told. Then, when Superman introduces himself as the Legion swoops down on Drax and the dogs in the street, Drax says something like, "Oh, that's you?" Which can be made to make sense: Drax was raised in the Phantom Zone to hate and someday defeat Superman as his single purpose in life, but he's never actually seen him before today. Fine. But, "it's what you will do"? The only way that parses is if Drax understands what's going on with Superman time-traveling to the future. Because, as far as I know, time in the Phantom Zone only flows one way. Obviously, whoever programmed Drax did so to get revenge for something Superman did in the past. Something that's already happened. How does Drax know that he's dealing with a Superman who, despite being ten centuries past where Drax may have expected to run into him, hasn't actually done whatever he did yet?

And while we're at it, what happened to Drax's hellhounds? They aren't back in the Phantom Zone. Phantom Girl and Timber Wolf had one tied up, but the other one was still on the loose when the episode ended, as far as I could tell.

Phantom Girl shows off some cool power stunts this episode. First, it turns out she can 'take other people phantom' with her when she dematerializes. That's handy. She can also do the same thing to, for instance, large sections of thick cable. And she can disappear in one place and reappear in another. Which I guess makes sense; it's just a matter of phasing all the way to Bgtzl, running ten feet or whatever, and then phasing all the way back to Earth.

One detail in this story that seems to have been borrowed from the current comic book is that the Science Police does not care for the Legion at all and calls them 'freaks'. So that's, what, two things we've seen? That and Star Boy's appearance?

We learn this episode that Computo runs the systems in Legion HQ. Throwaway detail, or future story point?

If you want some proof as to the quality of this episode, consider this. The show was basically a bunch of fights and smashing from start to finish. But the (relatively brief) material that linked these fights and put them into context was subtle and intricate enough that... well, look at all I've found to say about it. And I didn't even mention the character moments between Phantom Girl and Timber Wolf, or Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. This is a good TV show.

Rating: LLLL

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