Friday, September 18, 2009

Step 1: Omen. Step 2: ??? Step 3: Prophet!

Originally I was going to write something about the Great Darkness Saga. But you know what? These days everybody's writing something about the Great Darkness Saga. So I'll save it for some other time.

Instead I'll talk about the Great Darkness Saga's redheaded stepcousin, Levitz and Giffen's “Omen and the Prophet” arc (hereafter OatP). It's often mentioned as one of the low points of Levitz's great run of the '80s, but I thought maybe I could go through it and pick out any points of interest.

First let's look at just what we're talking about. OatP ran from LSHv2 #307-310. A four-issue story was big news then, so this was obviously supposed to be a major storyline for the Legion. But then it wasn't really four issues: the OatP action in #308 was only 14 pages long, as the rest of the issue was a Colossal Boy and Yera story, while #309 had only 13 pages for this story, as the other half was a Karate Kid and Projectra story. So really it's a three-issue arc, which wasn't too unusual for the time. (Plus, some of those three issues dealt with other ongoing subplots, because this is after all a Paul Levitz production.)

This storyline is most notable because of Keith Giffen's art. It was at this point in his Legion run that his style began to drift towards that of Argentinean artist Jose Munoz. Most people liked his earlier stuff better. I do too, but I don't mind his art here; mostly I wonder why Giffen likes it better this way. Anyway, he hasn't completely abandoned his earlier style in this story and some of it looks really good; check out the first page of #307. Then there are some panels where you can definitely see his later style, like the loopy shapes of Phantom Girl's costume on panel 1 of page 18 of #307, or the row of eyes on page 10 of #308.

The story starts promisingly. Phantom Girl, Shadow Lass, Timber Wolf and Invisible Kid are on planet Trewsk investigating just what happened to a research station there. I liked that: a small mission, featuring four modestly powered Legionnaires. Exactly the kind of thing that's more interesting than a big cosmic event. It doesn't last, though; the Legionnaires really are up against a cosmic menace, Mon-El and Ultra Boy show up before #307 is up, and by the end of the story the six of them have joined up with six more Legionnaires who were on a diplomatic mission to Khundia.

Perhaps the largest problem with this story is the obscure nature of the villains and the conflict. Omen is a cipher with, essentially, no motives, and the Prophet is trying to drum up a posse to defeat him; #308 and #309 are taken up with a fight against the Prophet which is basically a big misunderstanding. It took the Khunds and their aggression to provide enough conflict to actually make a story out of all this. Omen and the Prophet never showed up again after this story and nobody missed them.

OatP does have at least one advantage over the Great Darkness Saga (which it references on the very third page of the story). Dream Girl's defeat of Omen is much better than the Legion's defeat of Darkseid, because Dreamy had to make a tough call to do it. She knew exactly what she was doing and how dangerous it was, while in the Great Darkness Saga, the Legion never fully understood just what Darkseid was up to, why it didn't work, and how they defeated him.

If you wanted to, you could look at this as a political story. From this point of view, Omen and the Prophet are just a couple of intruders who provide the catalyst for the discovery of Khundish treachery and for its defeat at the hands of the Legionnaires. It would work. But I think there's a religious story hidden in here somewhere, and I'd like your help digging it out.

The Prophet is a guy from the research station on Trewsk; his son, Pierre, also there on Trewsk, was an old friend of Invisible Kid. Some kind of solar event roasted the whole station (with Omen there as a dispassionate observer) and Pierre's dad was the only survivor. Pierre's dad, griefstricken, tried to kill himself, but Omen stopped him, gave him some of his power, and turned him into the Prophet. During the OatP story, the Prophet's main goal is to warn the galaxy that Omen is coming and to get them to prepare for him.

So my first thought is that we've got a trinity situation here: the Prophet is the Father, Pierre is the Son, and Omen is the Holy Ghost. Okay? It's not like Levitz and Giffen are averse to giving us Christian imagery in their Legion comics; we had the two-page Michelangelo allusion in Great Darkness, and the Last Supper panel in the LSV arc in the Baxter series. Now, the interesting thing here is that this story pits the Father against the Holy Ghost because the Holy Ghost let the Son die. Which I'm sure we would all agree is an interesting idea. Imagine if that was the reason why the New Testament God is so different from the Old Testament God—because the Father had unseated the old, mean Holy Ghost in a coup!

In this scheme, Invisible Kid is a Christian. He has, after all, a personal relationship with the Son. (He's also just about the only Legionnaire on the scene who's from Earth.) And then he's key to defeating the Prophet in #309 when he realizes that the Prophet gets his power from the sun (and I think we can say that there's a sun = Son association here too. I'd like to bring Sun Boy into this, not only because of the sun/Son thing but also because he's the other Earthling and therefore probably Christian present, but really Sun Boy doesn't do much interesting in this story). It'd be nice if that was the climax of the story, but it's not; it takes Dream Girl and a Khundish bomb to polish off Omen, which wraps up the political stuff nicely but has nothing to do with our religious angle. Ideally those two things would be working together but they seem independent to me.

(Not that the bomb was an arbitrary choice. Go back to #307: a Khundish gladiator challenges Blok, and loses, when he sets off a bomb that doesn't even scratch Blok's patina. This gets us used to the idea that the Legion can achieve victory by surviving Khundish explosives.)

Really we should be ready for the religious stuff right from the start. First issue, first page, the only line of dialogue is Invisible Kid (of course!) saying (in reaction to the destruction on Trewsk), “Dieu de bon Dieu!” Do French-speaking people really say that? “God of good God?” Doesn't make any sense. But that's French swears for you. Nom d'une pipe! Mille tonnerres! Ils sont fous ces Romains! Anyway, in this case it kinda works: “God of good God” suggests a kind of layering of different levels of God, which is also what you get with the Trinity. Amazing what you can find if you dig for it.

Is any of this making sense? See, I'm not a Christian, although I have a friend who's a minister, and from what I get from him, the Trinity is some pretty tricky stuff. Counterintuitive, anyway. So I don't know if I'm talking through my hat with all this or not. Plus, you know, I was not an English major. If any of you can squeeze better insight out of all this than I did, I'd welcome it.

Anyway, that's “Omen and the Prophet” for you. Not a great story, not as bad as its reputation, some obvious flaws, some points of interest. Give it another look.

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