Monday, September 09, 2019

LSH v4 Annual #1 annotations: "Charade"

Annotations for Legion of Super-Heroes v4 Annual #1

  • On sale date: 7/24/90, in between issues 11 and 12 
  • It's OK, I'm a Senator: Tom Bierbaum didn't do a writeup for this issue, but he did comment in other places (which I'll excerpt below after the annotations) 
  • Legion of Substitute Podcasters episode 569 (September 9, 2019)
  • Timeline: 2960 when Jo is 1-2 years old, to May 2991 when Tinya goes missing 

It’s a big retcon issue, we see lots of events happening differently than how they did when the Time Trapper was around instead of Glorith
  • Cover by Adam Hughes and Al Gordon. This is Adam's first art on the Legion, he'll be back in a few years when he pencils a few issues of Legionnaires in 1993.
  • Page 1: The Great Darkness Saga still happened (just ended slightly differently), per the revised timeline in February 2984. The Magic Wars ended in June 2989, with the Great Collapse coming later that fall. The 2995 Sourcebook says that on January 1, 2988, “Glorith of Baaldur destroys Daxam. A small group of Legionnaires begins planning a retaliatory attack against Glorith.” (which is the retcon of the Conspiracy storyline)
  • Page 4: Ultra Boy knows something about Lar Gand and Glorith
  • Page 5: Laurel Gand is now the 5th member of the Conspiracy (previously, there had been only four). Instead of facing Time Trapper on his turf, they face Glorith on hers. (LSH v3 #50)
  • Page 6 panel 6: in the 5YL timeline, Lu still lost the second of her three bodies
  • Page 7: Valor is hurt by Glorith instead of Time Trapper
  • Page 8: Jo looks like he’s between 1 and 2 years old, putting this scene in 2960 (he was born 2/21/59)
  • Page 11: An Ryd, last seen alive in SLSH #239.
  • Page 13 panel 1: Muntz Hall (for the fan formerly known as Michelle Muntz)
  • Page 13 panel 3: Leeta-87 is from a memorial on Shanghalla. Her monument reads “Singlehandedly, she defeated innumerable super-villains, but one day slipped on a banyo-peel, fracturing her skull, an ironic end to an illustrious career!” As seen in ADV 341.
  • Page 14 panel 6: Imskian dragon-hunters were mentioned in SLSH 234, space dragons have eaten Imskian rocks and absorbed their energies, which Imskians need to shrink, so hunters go to harvest dragon scales
  • Page 15: the origin of Ultra Boy! He was going out to rescue An Ryd, but got eaten by an ultra-energy beast that was hanging around with the Imskian space dragons.
  • Page 17: Sugyn was one of Evillo’s Devil’s Dozen (ADV 350), who has a magical horn that is capable of draining any source of water dry. Per Who’s Who in the LSH, “After mistaking the non-powered Bouncing Boy’s ring-based flight for a natural super-power, Sugyn brought him back to Prince Evillo, only to be banished to the realm of Darkness for his stupidity.” 
  • Page 18: Jo helps Phantom Girl defeat Sugyn, which leads to his Legion tryout (as seen in SBOY 98). But his competition is Reflecto, who is now a real person. [Note: see IOKIAS excerpt below, where Tom Bierbaum tells me the secret origin of Reflecto!] 
  • Page 19 panel 3: We saw in the Marla issue that he had that “T” logo for a long time before this, so it appears that Jo (for some reason) modeled his costume and logo after Marla’s, as they look like twinsies here. [Note: see comment below, where I asked Tom Bierbaum about this.] Based on the Legionnaires who are already there, it appears as if Ultra Boy has the same joining order in the Glorithverse as he did in the Silver Age (all of them joined before he did).
  • Page 19 panel 6: Instead of going back to find Superboy’s secret identity as his initiation task, he has to figure out what happened to Lar Gand (basically, what replaced him going into the Phantom Zone?). 
  • Page 20: on their way back through the time stream, they hit a speed bump which is due to Glorith
  • Page 22: by the 20th century, Rimbor was a dead planet. It was obviously rebuilt sometime over the next millennium.
  • Page 23 panel 3: Dominators wanted to establish secret bases on Earth in order to prepare for an invasion (prior to the “Invasion!” miniseries, and a millennium before they did it in the 30th century), obsessed with the Power Gene (as we’d see in Invasion).
  • Page 24: Reflecto passed the initiation test, but didn't join (until some time in the Five Year Gap)
  • Page 26: Jo am smart! He could tell that he was bumped out of the time stream at just the right moment to help Valor learn about the Dominator plot, as if they had been manipulated there. And Marla references hearing about the Durlan’s appearance back in 2949.
  • Page 27: Jo figures out that the 2949 incident needs a counterbalancing event, but it’s still floating perpetually 30 days in the future (the Iron Curtain of Time, originally seen in ADV 317)
  • Page 28: Jo is smarter than Brainiac 5! He figures out that it was Brande that came through from the 20th century into 2949.
  • Page 31: Jo is smartest of all! He’s the only one who knows that Glorith’s plan involves Brande and Lar Gand.
  • Page 32: “A traitor within the Legion – Ultra Boy!” In ADV 316, Ultra Boy worked a ruse with Cosmic Boy to pretend Jo was a traitor in order to get in with an alien gang of bad guys. Tinya was the only one who believed him and stuck by him while everyone else thought he was guilty.
  • Page 35: an “in memoriam” statue of Lightning Lad, which doesn’t make sense because he was resurrected in ADV 312.
  • Page 36 panel 4: Artist error: Vi and Star Boy have their 1980s costumes here instead of their 1960s costumes.
  • Page 36 panel 5: Grykk is the planet on which Colossal Boy battled a giant who terrorized a city of normal-sized beings (ADV 301). Here, Ultra Boy entered a nonaggression pact with the Jaguar Court of Grykk even though they were allied with Mordru, thus preventing the Legion from facing Mordru before they were prepared to beat him.
  • Page 43: later, he baits Mordru into attacking Glorith before either of them were ready, to keep them occupied with each other
  • Page 44: Brainiac 5 finally figured it out, 16 pages after Jo did.
  • Page 47: a new explanation for the events of SLSH 239 (which was eventually chalked up to stress)
  • Page 49: a new explanation for Brainiac 5’s insanity and the creation of Omega (SLSH 250-251)
  • Page 50: back to the “present", Glorith finishes her deep dive into Ultra Boy’s history via Saturn Girl’s reading of his mind.
  • Page 51: Lar is recovering after the battle with Glorith, unlike the original battle with the Time Trapper in which he was fatally injured. Instead, Glorith merely kills the Eltro Gand entity inside of him, and he fully recovers.
  • Page 52: sometime February 2991 when Jo proposes (there was a rumor reported back in issue 2 that Tinya had had an affair with Thom prior to this)
  • Page 52 panel 6: Twyler mentioned (Tom says: Twyler I think is just an invented name, and sounds like it might have been inspired by the planet Twilo from my favorite “Dick Van Dyke” episode “It May Look Like a Walnut” (also saluted in Kent Shakespeare’s background as detailed on his “Who’s Who” page).)
  • Page 54: Tinya went missing 4/12/91, search called off 5/8/91. The Sourcebook says that Jo quit the Legion that day.
Excerpts from Tom Bierbaum's "It's OK, I'm a Senator" blog, since there's no one single source to go to for this issue.

From a discussion about Annual #3
  • I haven’t done a “Legion Lore” write-up about the earlier annuals, in large part because I think our first two annuals were two of our least-successful issues of the entire run. I’ve re-read them over the years and found a lot of good in them and have been pleased to find that they weren’t as bad as I'd feared, but I'm still not too interested in going over them in detail, at least at this time. (We were asked during the Legion 50th Anniversary Panel at San Diego what we regretted doing during our term. Paul Levitz mentioned his Rejuvium story that said all the Legionnaires were still “Kids” and “Lasses” because they were being kept younger by Rejuvium. I’m forgetting the other panelist’s answers but I mentioned those first two annuals, where we tried to do things that were probably beyond our skills at that time.)
  • Keith was moving in a different direction with Jo as his series picked up after the five-year gap, turning U-Boy into a clever, successful smuggler. So Keith’s Jo was kind of a pirate and, while not an intellectual by any stretch, a formidable, savvy individual.

    That set the stage for our Ultra Boy annual, which initially was intended to be the first issue of a spin-off series Keith wanted to do that would be a series of spotlight stories that would lay in the background of each Legionnaire. The idea was that this series of origins could introduce new readers to the background of each of the key Legionnaires without bogging down the storyline of the main Legion title. Keith wanted us (and other writers) to come up with cool new stories that would give new readers the necessary origin details while creating some new context and plot twists to excite the long-time fans.

    I think Keith may have suggested we start with Jo and as I considered ways we could surprise readers with his story, it started me thinking about ways to show he was more formidable than people gave him credit for. That melded with an idea I’d been kicking around since the start of the Stargrave storyline back in the 1970s that maybe the Legion was a necessary creation to maintain a stalemate / balance between the supremely powered villains Mordru and the Time Trapper (Shooter started the Stargrave story with that new villain recruiting the Legion to team up with him to stop Mordru from conquering the universe).

    Mary and I came up with a pretty cool idea for streetwise Jo, who’d shown in the past a natural gift for acting (convincing the Legion in Adventure #316 that he had a criminal record). We had him stumble across the Time Trapper’s machinations to create the Legion (to battle and weaken the immensely powerful Mordru, opening the way for the Trapper to finish off Mordru and move on to conquer the universe). Jo covertly and cleverly sabotages the Time Trapper's schemes, but knows all too well that the Trapper can view events from the past, present and future, so can easily discover at any time that Jo was the one who ruined the TT's schemes. U-Boy had to find a way to permanently push suspicion away from himself so he set about acting consistently like he was perhaps the least likely Legionnaire to have the brains and savvy to deduce and wreck the Trapper’s machinations.

    Keith and then-editor Mark Waid loved the story idea but realized it was too complicated to cram into one issue and said to plot it as the first double-sized annual of Keith’s Legion run. We felt like it was shaping up to be a real barn-burner of a story, but then major complications set in. The edict came down to no longer use any elements of the Superboy/Superman mythos in the Legion and to deal with that, our team decided to alter the timeline to take out those Kryptonian elements. The story that accomplished that eliminated the existence of the Time Trapper and replaced him with Glorith. It also eliminated Superboy and replaced him with Valor. These changes altered some key pieces to our Ultra Boy origin, but there were ways to put it back together with the new pieces of Glorith and Valor and I think we managed to still pull off an OK comic -- great plot, but uneven work on the script and art. We didn't really have the skills yet to pull off the story the way it could have been done, but it was such a good story, I'm glad we stuck to our guns and did it.
From a discussion about issue 2 (in which it was revealed that Tinya had apparently died):
  • The apparent death of Tinya (Phantom Girl) that was revealed in issue 1 was planned all along to be a switch of her and the R.J. Brande Durlan in L.E.G.I.O.N., though I don't think Keith had a real plan for why the two of them would switch places. That's one of the reasons we worked so hard to preserve the Ultra Boy story in our first Legion annual -- it explained pretty nicely why those two particular characters were switched in time. Tinya was taken away to punish Jo for frustrating the plans of Glorith and Brande was brought into the future by Glorith to assemble the Legion of Super-Heroes as a counter-balance that would weaken Mordru and stop his otherwise inevitable ascension to galactic dominance.
  • The whole story of Jo and the Time Trapper, though, landed in the dustbin when we were told not to make any further use of any Superboy mythos or the Pocket Universe. Keith strongly advised us to just forget about the story and chalk it up as a learning experience, but we couldn't let go of it, and instead proposed that we piece it all together with the revised timeline (by having Glorith replace the Time Trapper, Valor replace Superboy, etc.) and got the story done in that form. I'm prone to thinking it was a mistake, that by the time we had to make all those changes, the story lost something and became that much more complicated and confusing. Certainly that Jo/Glorith annual doesn't rank as one of our shining moments on the Legion.

    It's hard to say, though. I think if we could have given the artist the time to really draw the story right, and if we'd scripted it a little less ambitiously (using very conventional scripting to communicate the challenging, complicated story), this one could have been a real doozy. And for anyone who had any real appreciation or understanding of the events of #4-5, (the death of the Trapper, destruction of the Pocket Universe, the return of the Mordru timeline and creation of the Glorith timeline), this story provided a lot of important detail and background.
Tom discusses the Reflecto saga:
  • I was pretty dissatisfied with the Reflecto saga back when I read it in the 1980s because it never really added up to me why these events would have produced a Reflecto statue in the Hall of Dead Legionnaires and why Ultra Boy ever assumed that identity in the first place.

    So we took it upon ourselves to build on that established story with the hopes of making it fit a little better. Our thinking was to establish that prior to Jo Nah gaining his Ultra Boy powers, there was a planetary champion on his world who was the real Reflecto. Ultra Boy would have naturally idolized him to some degree in his youth, making it seem natural to the readers, we hope, that during the Reflecto saga, an amnesiac Ultra Boy might in his confused state take on the identity of his one-time idol.

    I guess we established in the Ultra Boy annual, in fact, that Ultra Boy and Reflecto had a contest to see who could earn membership into the Legion, and at that time we established that Jo considered Reflecto one of his personal heroes. And we also listed in one or two places (including the “Legion: 2995” Mayfair Sourcebook) that the real Reflecto joined the Legion during the five-year gap and actually ended up being killed by the Molecule Master during that period (as part of the build-up to the never-told saga of “Black Dawn”). So in our minds, there’s now a logical reason why the addled Ultra Boy assumed the Reflecto personality and why there’s a statue in the Adult Legion’s Hall of Dead Heroes that depicts Reflecto as a Legion member who'd been killed by the Molecule Master.

    By the way, Reflecto’s civilian name, “Stig Ah,” is kind of an inside joke with our friend John Moore (who’s written lots of comics, especially at Marvel, and was the asst. story editor on the “Flash” TV show under the name John Francis Moore). Like me, John was a fan of the Beatles-spoof TV Movie “The Rutles” that Monty Python's Eric Idle did in the 1970s. And one of the members of the Rutles was their version of George Harrison, Stig O’Hara. And in their spoof version of “I Am the Walrus,” called “Piggie in the Middle,” there’s are a few spoken lyrics played backwards during the song that begin “Stig Ah…” and continue with some nonsensical syllables. John told us that before we knew him, he and a friend who was also Rutles fan created the “Stig Ah” society based on that snippet in “Piggie in the Middle.” Ever since John mentioned that to us in the early 1980s, “Stig Ah” stuck in my mind as a phrase that sounded like a Rimborian name (similar to Ultra Boy’s Jo Nah). So when we eventually got the chance to work on the Legion, it was fun to make use of that "Stig Ah" name for Reflecto. Like most of my in-jokes, my hope was that all Legion readers in the world who were not John Moore or myself would just accept Stig Ah as a typical , perfectly normal Rimborian name, while John and I would enjoy the inside reference.
A couple weeks before we recorded this, I asked Tom on Facebook some questions, and he was kind enough to reply. 
  1. Did Laurel Gand have a Legion code name? I don't seem to recall one, which seems to me kind of odd given that she went into hiding on Earth in the first place to escape the Khunds.

    No, Laurel Gand in her earlier Legion incarnation probably just went by “Laurel Gand” in the same way Laurel Kent was completely identifiable without a further code name, or sort of like Mon-El not needing a more descriptive code name than the Kryptonian “civilian” name Superboy game him, or as if someone were “Laurel Washington” and well known as a descendant of George Washington. I think the assumption was she went into hiding as an orphan of about 12 years old but as she grew toward adulthood and opted to pursue full Legion membership, there’d have been no point in trying to hide her identity (which most likely would have been deduced in the intervening years by Khundish espionage anyway).

  2. Earlier, you showed that Marla had worn his “T” symbol for years before we saw him with Jo. Did you have a backstory explaining why Jo’s and Marla’s costumes were nearly identical?

    I don’t think we ever came up with a specific explanation for Marla’s symbol but wanted to in general establish there was some kind of tradition upon which Ultra Boy’s similar uniform was based. I think I vaguely envisioned that Marla was part of some benevolent group that worked to provide opportunities to disadvantaged kids like a reforming Rimborian gang member. And at that point, I was probably reluctant to impose a detailed and binding explanation for a key element of a really classic Curt Swan-drawn story from the group’s early days and so instead just subtly suggested a general explanation.

  3. Numerous places in your blog posting, you denigrate your work on this Annual - for example, "I think we managed to still pull off an OK comic -- great plot, but uneven work on the script and art. We didn't really have the skills yet to pull off the story the way it could have been done, but it was such a good story." In hindsight, what do you think didn't work as well as you had hoped?

    I’m pleased to say a lot of fans over the years have come forward with praise for our stories in Annual #1 and Annual #2, demonstrating that what we were trying to do actually did get communicated pretty effectively for some readers, so I’ve largely re-evaluated the job we did and am increasingly happy with it. My misgivings with Annual #1 mostly involved the detached “voices” we used to “narrate” the story, which I’ve always feared was confusing for readers who might have had trouble figuring out who was supposed to be speaking and what was happening in terms of the passage of time. And not the fault of anyone, but I think the artists on those annuals had a truly daunting challenge to meet trying to pencil those really lengthy and really complicated stories on tough deadlines, and I don’t think there was anything we could have done differently to address that, but we were really asking a lot of our art teams.

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