DC Comics Presents #13
Superman and The Legion of Super-Heroes
"To Live in Peace -- Nevermore!"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciller: Dick Dillin
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Jerry Serpe
Cover: Dick Dillin & Dick Giordano (signed)
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Mission Monitor Board:
Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Sun Boy, Dawnstar
The story begins in Earth space, where Superman is attacking and taking out an alien space probe that has been putting a couple of astronauts in the capsule into suspended animation. Having destroyed the probe's strange ray-device, the two astronauts are coming to again, and the astronauts head back for Earth. Superman sees that he didn't completely destroy the probe and battered and broken, it limps home. Superman decides to follow it, as it may give him a chance to make sure the probe's controllers stay out of trouble.
When the probe reaches its homeworld, Superman discovers that the world is called Nyrvn. It is inhabited by a highly aggressive race that are waging intergalactic war. After eavesdropping on the hyper-wave communications, Superman figures out their language and learns a horrible truth. The Nyrvnians are cosmic kidnappers, stealing people away from other worlds and brainwashing them into becoming warriors for them. They use advanced technology to find likely recruits, hence the space probe that he dealt with near Earth. He decides that this atrocity cannot continue, and scooping out an asteroid with his heat-vision and super-strength, Superman literally scoops up the entire Nyrvnian war fleet. Having dealt with the fleet and the space probes, all of which were unmanned, the Man of Steel turns his attention to Nyrvn itself, having no intention of allowing the abductions to continue, and intending to stop the war-like culture once and for all. He is prevented from doing so by the arrival of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Dawnstar, Sun Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl emerge from their time bubble. Saturn Girl apologizes for startling him with her telepathic message, and she tells Superman that he must not interfere with the people of Nyrvn any longer. Superman tells her they're killers, millions of times over, but she says that she's not talking about life and death - but about destiny! Lightning Lad tells him that as Superman knows, the 30th Century is at relative peace. But that peace began some time between Superman's time and the Legion's time, when the Nyrvnian fleet joined forces with Earth's starships to battle an invader from a distant galaxy. They only won because of the weapons developed by the Nyrvnians over thousands of years of uninterrupted war. Sun Boy acts as the voice of reason, and is able to convince Superman that for the good of Earth, these other races and planets and people must suffer. Saturn Girl says the Nyrvnians must have the time to develop, just as the caveman's war club slowly developed into the scientist's lethal laser. Superman realizes that history is unchangeable, but he is not happy leaving the Nyrvnians to continue their war-like ways and presumably continue to kidnap other people to recruit as warriors. While they talk, Dawnstar departs to use her tracking powers to bring the remnants of the two enemy fleets together again. Superman tells Saturn Girl that he has to trust her after all the years they've known each other, and agrees to do what they ask. After the Man of Steel leaves, Saturn Girl tells Lightning Lad that she read his mind as he left, and he will *not* interfere. However, Sun Boy seems concerned, saying, "But if he finds out the whole story...what then?"
Once Dawnstar returns with the computerized fleet ships, and not those with living pilots, Lightning Lad and Sun Boy give the Nyrvnian fleet a good workout, while Saturn Girl helps save some of the unconscious and injured pilots from the control vessel that Superman had almost destroyed.
The troubled Superman returns to Earth, and soon learns that an old friend is waiting to see him. He finds that it's his old childhood friend, Pete Ross, whom he hasn't seen in several years. Pete dispenses with the pleasantries, telling Clark that "they've" taken his son, Jon. All he has is a rough sketch of the spaceship that took him, and when Clark says that all he can do is talk to Superman, Pete says, "This is no time for pretending!" and reveals that he's known about Clark's secret identity all these years, ever since an incident with a lightning bolt when they were at summer camp as kids. When Pete shows him the sketch of the spaceship, it's a grim Superman who takes off for the stars - for the sketch was of the Nyrvnian space probe!
Meanwhile, on the planet Nyrvn, the Legionnaires arrive in their time bubble, discreetly hiding it atop one of the towers on the heavily armoured and fortified planet. Dawnstar leads the four Legionnaires in search of their prey, and they arrive at the cell where Pete Ross's son, Jon, is currently being kept. Jon welcomes the Legionnaires, thinking that Superman sent them there to rescue him, but Lightning Lad tells him they're not there for that purpose. He has to stay on Nyrvn because, one day years from now, he will become Nyrvn's greatest hero. Jon refuses to accept this, saying that Superman will save him, and not even Saturn Girl's telepathic abilities enable her to make him accept his fate. In the process, she learns that Jon knows Superman's secret identity. The Legionnaires wish Jon Ross a long life and happiness, wherever his destiny takes him, and depart. Lightning Lad says that since he told Jon his secret identity, Superman is bound to come back to Nyrvn. Dawnstar says that in that case, they must do their best to convince Superman that they're doing the right thing.
The furious Superman is racing through space, heading for the Nyrvn homeworld, thinking that he should never have listened to the Legionnaires and that this time, he doesn't intend to leave Nyrvn until every weapon they have is smashed and destroyed. Superman goes faster and faster until he seems to lose control over his super-speed, but as he enters and breaks the time barrier, it is revealed that it was Dawnstar who assisted him, adding her speed to his. She tells them that they are heading for the future, so that he can witness what is to come. They emerge into the future, near the battle fleets that are engaged in the final fight of the Millennium War! Seeing the sheer level of devastation and violence, Superman attempts to step into the fray, and is seriously injured by concentrated weapons fire from the two sides. The Legionnaires bring the limp form of the Man of Steel into the time bubble.
When Superman recovers in the time bubble, he laments the fact that he couldn't stop the Millennium War, but says that he can't allow Jon Ross to live "a life of slaughter." When Superman asks him, Lightning Lad says that there's no records of the war and no one knows who the Nyrvnians fought, but otherwise how could they have developed advanced weaponry. Saturn Girl realizes what Superman is thinking: an eternal cosmic game, programmed to get more and more difficult.
Some time later, back in Superman's time and with the aid of the Legionnaires... a giant artificial globe draws near to Nyrvn, surrounded by an armada of starships. As it moves closer to the planet, a Nyrvnian war fleet rises to meet it, and so begins the Millennium War. Inside the globe, the giant computer is controlling the drone fighters in a precise manner, thanks to the Superman robots that Superman donated to the project. Superman tells Saturn Girl that they've been useless on Earth ever since polluton ruined their controls. With the computer systems and weapons rebuilt from the United Planets arsenal in their time, Saturn Girl says that the war game should fulfill everyone's hopes and needs. Superman adds that not a single life need be lost, but the computer can keep escalating the technology of the war, forcing Nyrvn to develop, until they fulfill their destiny years in the future. It turns out that Jon Ross is a key part of this Millenium War: He becomes the race's greatest hero because he will become a master at weapons development, and indeed, it is his armaments that will lead to victory - he'll save the whole galaxy.
While the Legionnaires return to their time, Superman goes back to Earth and a terribly difficult encounter that he has to have with Pete Ross. He tells Pete that he cannot return Jon to Earth, and the reasons why. Pete tells Superman that he can't forgive him for leaving Jon out there on an alien world to grow up alone and the way he must... and vows that Superman will pay for what he's done...
One of the things I adored about the late 1970s and the 1980s was the team-up series that DC Comics published. While it was difficult for the Legion of Super-Heroes to interact with other characters from the 20th Century DC universe, no one was more suited to doing so than Superman, who as a youngster was a Legionnaire himself. It was always interesting as a change of pace to see the adult Superman team up with his former comrades, and the DC Comics Presents series featuring Superman and other heroes (and villains) was the perfect place to have the Legionnaires show up for a story. Add to that the fact that these stories were all largely one-shot tales, and that made most of them even more special.
DC Comics Presents #13 features the team-up of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. This was their first team-up in the series, and while the Legion had appeared in cameos in DC Comics Presents Vol 1 #2, this was the first truly active appearance of the Legionnaires in the series. Interestingly, this series occasionally had a story run through several issues, with Superman having different guest stars in the tale, and this story is one that continues in the next issue, as Pete Ross seeks revenge on Superman for not saving his son, Jon, but the Legion is not involved in that tale at all. This story is written by Paul Levitz, a man who was no stranger to the Legion at this time, having just left the title after writing the series of Legion tales from 1977 to 1979, and to which he would return in 1981. As such, this tale is one that has Superman teaming up with a super-hero group that the author knew well, in terms of personalities and behaviours as well as their powers and capabilities. The four Legionnaires in this story - Dawnstar, Lightning Lad, Sun Boy and Saturn Girl - come across very nicely in this story with distinct personalities and there's no misunderstandings about how they feel about the situation involving Jon Ross and his kidnapping at the hands of the Nyrvnians. Lightning Lad appears as the leader of the Legion at this story's point in time (fitting in with continuity over in the Legion series), and the Legionnaires know what they must do and how they must handle the Man of Steel in the story, but there are still a few surprises that Paul Levitz springs on the reader.
While the story seems simple at first, Saturn Girl makes the point to Superman that the Nyrvnians must be allowed to develop their weaponry and that this is not a case of life and death, but one of destiny. However, it turns out to be about the destiny of Jon Ross, the son of Superman's childhood friend Pete Ross, and not really the Nyrvnians themselves per se. Not only is Superman forced to make a hard decision to not interfere with the Nyrvnians' culture and society in the early part of the story, but because history is irreversible, he is forced to make the extremely hard decision not save Jon Ross in the end, a decision that puts him at serious odds with his old friend, Pete.
The twist in the story is that while the Nyrvnians fought in the Millennial War for a thousand years and thus developed, perhaps even perfected, weaponry and the art of war, history doesn't record who the Nyrvnians fought! So Superman and the Legionnaires set up what is basically a 1,000-year long war game, using his Superman robots (that have long been dormant because pollution on Earth interferes with their workings) and technology and weaponry from the United Planets arsenal of the the 30th Century. The robots will create ever improving drone fighters to fight the Nyrvnians, so that no lives will be lost, forcing them to improve and fine tune their military. While the twist and the premise are interesting, they are also somewhat strange. If the robot army is to be considered a real threat, they will havet o harm or kill some Nyrvnian soldiers. Since Superman tells Saturn Girl says that no lives will be lost...umm, exactly how is that supposed to work? And then there's the computer... Telling a super-computer to force and create an arms race is almost like giving it carte blanche for an AI to become self-aware and take everything over. And the final problem with this twist, at least for me, is this: How exactly does this stop the Nyrvnians kidnapping others to turn into soldiers and warriors?
Other than the glitches in the twist of the story, Levitz's writing is crisp and smooth, with scenes moving along at a good pace. The scenes with Superman and the Legion talking are nicely balanced out by those with either conflict or space combat going on, and it is clear that both Superman and the Legionnaires are not happy with the final decisions they must make about Jon Ross's fate, but that it's all a matter of history. Dick Dillin is one of my favourite artists from this period, and I have adored his work in the Justice League title of this time. His pencils in the Mordru storyline in Justice League of America Vol 1 #147-148 were terrific; while the Legion didn't have that large a role in that story, since both the Justice League and Justice Society headlined that two-part tale, here he gets to shine once more and his Legion is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Dick Giordano's inks are a good complement here to Dillin's pencils, and the tale is visually vibrant and full of action and movement. The space combat scenes are simply marvellous to behold, notably the early sequence when Superman attacks the Nyrvnian fleet, the sequence during the Millennium War, and the Legionnaires doing some "house cleaning" with the Nyrvnian ships as well. The element of movement in the story is very nicely conveyed by the artwork in this tale, the highlight for me being how fast Dawnstar truly is on page 12. Speaking of Dawnstar, this is the best she's looked in the comics over the last half-year or so, and all credit has to go to Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano.
Finally, one last thought... As far as I know, Pete Ross is/was an honourary member of the Legion at this time. I would have thought that the four Legionnaires would have gone with Superman to break the news about why they had not brought Jon Ross home. Maybe that would have lent a bit more credence to the finale, and perhaps Pete's reaction might not have been so extreme (as seen in the next issue).
This is the first issue of DC Comics Presents that features the Legion of Super-Heroes teaming up with the Man of Steel. They will appear next in this series in DC Comics Presents Vol 1 #43 (March, 1982)...
The story this issue continues in the next issue, as Pete Ross seeks revenge on Superman for not saving his son this issue. However, it does not involve the Legion of Super-Heroes at all.
Next Issue: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #255