Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Day in the Death of a World

It must be nice to have a super-power that involves taking a nap. Dream Girl, member of the 30th Century's Legion of Superheroes, has that advantage. Her power is having prophetic dreams.

She actually isn't in this particular story--"A Day in the Death of the World" from Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #231(September 1977). But it was her power to take naps that sets off the story when she foresees the sun of the planet Mordan would soon go nova. So a half-dozen of the most powerful members of the Legion is now frantically working to build enough space arks to evacuate the planet. Three more of them--Sun Boy, Element Lad and Braniac 5--are in space working to slow down the star's death.

The situation gets worse. Karate Kid and Princess Projecta are heading to Mordan to help when their ship is attacked by the Fatal Five--one of the Legion's most powerful enemies. The two heroes are captured. Soon after, the Five launch a two-pronged attack on the two groups of Legionaries at Mordan.

It turns out that if Mordan blows up, its unique composition will cause it to turn into a fantastically valuable mineral. Tharok--the human/robot smartypants member of the Five--has even planted a bomb in the sun to intensify the force of the Nova.

The story is written by Paul Levitz. As much as I love the Silver Age stories written by Edmond Hamilton and Jim Shooter, Levitz may have been the best of the Legion writers. Here, for instance, he effectively and succinctly sets up a sophisticated plot, then has events unfold logically within that plot. The various Legionaries use their individual powers cleverly, often in tandem with one another.

The art work, divided between James Sherman for the first chapter and Mike Netzer for the finale, is clean and dynamic, including several really fun splash panels.

There's some downright clever elements to the story. For instance, when Karate Kid and Princess Projecta escape and raise havoc aboard Tharok's ship, we assume this will be a part of how the Legion gets the upper hand. But they are re-captured and it is the fact that they can't take any effective action that plays a part in the resolution.
There another interesting element to the story--it's very minor, but I wouldn't be writing a blog like this if I didn't enjoy obsessing over details.

At one point, Superboy directly attacks Tharok's ship, but can't penetrate a force field. We soon learn that it is literally an anti-Legionaries field. It will keep out any member of the Legion and their ships, but not anything else.

No technobabble or Comic Book Logic is given to explain how it works. Levitz just trusts us to accept that Tharok has the know-how and technology to build such a thing, then moves along with the story.

Or he couldn't think of an explanation that sound right and just figured "The heck with it."

Certainly, technobabble can be overused--anyone who has watched episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager knows that.  But I wonder if maybe there should have been something added here for verisimilitude--maybe the force field keys on the specific life force readings of specific Legionaries. (Though that doesn't explain how it would keep out Legion ships, does it?)

On the other hand, is it necessary to slow down a fast-moving tale (even for a moment) to provide exposition that isn't really necessary? It is a comic book universe set in the far future, anti-superhero force fields really aren't much of a stretch.

The story ends with several nice twists. The Legion gets access to Tharok's ship by shoving Ultra Boy and Colossal Boy into a hollow asteroid and throwing them at the ship. Thus the force field doesn't block something it doesn't recognize as part of the Legion.

Once inside, they pull off a con that Tharok assumes must be real (because he has Princess Projecta a prisoner and knows it can't be an illusion) to trick him into thinking the sun has gone nova and the Five has lost its chance to collect the valuable element. Though the Five manage to get away, the Legion now has time to finish evacuating the planet.

It's a satisfying conclusion to a well-constructed and exciting story.

Next week, Tonto proves he doesn't need a Lone Ranger around to be awesome.

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