John Kahane (jkahane) wrote,
John Kahane

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Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #256

Time for another classic Legion of Super-Heroes comic re-read. This time out, Brainiac 5's sanity is in the balance! Enjoy! :)

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #256
October, 1979
"This Is Your Life--and Death, Brainiac 5!"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Joe Staton
Inker: Dave Hunt
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Gene D'Angelo
Cover: Dick Giordano (signed)
Editor: Jack C. Harris

Mission Monitor Board:
Superboy, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Chameleon Boy, Shrinking Violet, Mon-El, Shadow Lass, Timber Wolf, Light Lass, Wildfire, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy

Guest Stars:
Brainiac 5; R.J. Brande; Matter-Eater Lad (cameo)

Brainiac 5's insanity; the Science Police

In the mental institution on the island of St. Croix on Earth, Brainiac 5 is sitting in the darkness of his room, unaware that his Legionnaire friends are visiting him once more. The doctor informs Superboy, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy that that Brainiac 5 prefers the darkness, and that every time the staff replaces the lights he smashes them. He never engages in or participates in social activities, and the doctor is discouraged that he will ever recover his sanity. He says that Matter-Eater Lad, their other friend, can eventually be cured of his madness since the source of his insanity is organic [he ate the Miracle Machine], but that Brainiac 5 will remain insane for the rest of his natural life. As the Legionnaires depart St. Croix, Superboy says that he thought that Brainiac 5's saving him and five other Legionnaires from the super-assassins might have helped, but instead it seems to have made Brainy worse, Saturn Girl adding it's almost as if helping his fellow Legionnaires has driven him deeper into the madness. Saturn Girl wonders whether the cure may lie in helping Brainiac 5 get to know himself better, and it's clear she has an idea.

Meanwhile, on R.J. Brande's private asteroid, Chameleon Boy is asking the Legion benefactor whether he has any enemies who might have tried to drive him to financial ruin, and Brande says of course he does, since he's a bus‌inessman. Chameleon Boy questions this, but Brande says that he knows his business and he can't be losing money the way the U.P. auditors claim. Shrinking Violet says that's why she's there with Chameleon Boy as part of the Legion Espionage Squad, and that Mon-El and Shadow Lass have agreed to help them out figure out what's going on and how Brande lost his fortune. Violet tells Cham that she wishes the other members of the Espionage Squad were there, including Phantom Girl and Saturn Girl, but Chameleon Boy says they have their own duties on Earth, and knowing what they plan to do, wouldn't trade places with them for all of Brande's fortune.

On Earth, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Superboy are at Cosmic World, a floating amusement park hovering over the Grand Canyon. The manager of Cosmic World refuses to loan the facility to the Legionnaires, given that the park brings in 2 million persons per day. The Legionnaires don't take "No" for an answer... Cosmic Boy temporarily deposits the manager on a handy steel spire, while Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl evacuate the park by informing everyone through an electrical message in the sky and some telepathy that the amusement park's machinery needs repairs The patrons of the park go to the cliffs of the Grand Canyon, and Superboy also deposits Cosmic World's manager there as well, who tells them they've broken the law through their actions. (The manager angrily calls the Science Police.)

Meanwhile, at the destroyed Legion Headquarters, Timber Wolf, Light Lass, Wildfire, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl and Colossal Boy are working to clear out the rubble and find the remains of items precious to the Legionnaires. It all gets too much for Timber Wolf, who airs his frustration at the sheer amount of work to rebuild and questions whether the Legion is finished. Light Lass gives him somewhat of a pep talk, explaining to Brin how the Legion is not "a collection of toys and tools," but that it's an ideal, and the Legionnaires are a team dedicated to a principle. She tells him that she's confident the Legion will rebuild, in time.

Back at Cosmic World, Brainiac 5's enclosed, darkened world at the asylum goes pitch black, and he awakens as if he were the newborn son of his parents on Colu. His father says that he is very special, and Brainiac 5 wonders if he has descended deeper into madness than he already is.

On the rim of the Grand Canyon, the Science Police arrive under the command of Officer Trake, who listens to Cosmic World's manager explain that four Legionnaires have taken over the park illegally. He orders in a team of S.P. officers in small patrol craft, but they have their wings clipped by Superboy. As they plunge down into the canyon, the S.P. officers are rescued by Cosmic Boy using his magnetic powers. While Trake is glad the Legionnaires didn't harm his people, he says that they've just attacked a Science Police craft, and that means they've declared war!

Meanwhile, the vision around Brainiac 5 shifts and he finds himself in a classroom on Colu around the time he was four years old. His know-it-all attitude causes him to be made fun of by the other boys, called a "freak" and "big brain," and he is attacked by the boys and beat up later on after class. The vision shifts again, and his father is angry at him for fighting with those boys and letting their teasing get to him. He's better than they are, and should never let others dominate him. That vision also fades.

Back in the reality of Cosmic World, Cosmic Boy and Superboy await the next strategy of the Science Police while chatting on a rooftop. It comes soon enough, as the Science Police use laser beamers to take out Cosmic Boy, though fortunately they are only set to stun, and then another ship takes out Superboy with a Green Kryptonite laser beam. Inside the holographic control room of Cosmic World, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad see that Superboy and Cosmic Boy have been taken out, and realize that the Science Police officers will be there to stop them soon. They are using the hologram program at Cosmic World to make Brainiac 5 relive his traumatic childhood, in the hope that they can get him to get past whatever it was that made him go crazy, but Saturn Girl tells her husband that Brainiac 5's mind is so complicated and it's difficult to probe his thoughts. However, she believes that she's found the crucial event...

Back in the holographic program, the scene shifts to a clifftop overlooking the Central Sea of Colu, and a scene from Brainiac 5's adolescence. He re-lives an incident when he came across a little girl on the cliff, who falls to her seemingly death, lying precariously on a ledge of the cliff. He rescues the girl using his wits as only Brainiac 5 can/could, but this time, instead of fearfully pulling away and Brainiac 5 feeling rejected, the program is altered so that the girl is grateful and hugs him for saving her. Because Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad reprogram the hologram for the memory to be pleasant and not traumatic, Brainiac 5 is cured of his insanity.

As the images fade and Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad emerge from the control room, Brainiac 5 thanks them for what they did, and says that he believes he is now cured. When Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl ask, Brainy tells them that he had figured out that it was a hologram room in an amusement park some time earlier. Lightning Lad says that he and Imra thought it would work, as the holographic system could "fill you super-brain" even more effectively than Princess Projectra could. As hard as he finds it to believe, apparently it worked.

Brainiac 5 then asks Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl where the other Legionnaires are. He is answered by a Science Police officer, accompanied by seven other S.P. officers. The other Legionnaires are on their way to jail, and Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Brainiac 5 are going to join them. The story continues in the next issue.

And so we come to the final installment of the Brainiac 5 insanity storyline.

Let me just say, first of all, that I've never been a fan of the Brainiac 5 insanity storyline. While I appreciated what Paul Levitz and Jim Starlin wanted to do with the character and the irony of the smartest, most intelligent Legionnaire going insane, the ball on this story was completely dropped because both Levitz and Starlin didn't finish or bring to a conclusion the plot involving Brainy and the insanity. I don't know whether writer Gerry Conway got access to their final plans for how the story would end, but to be honest, I found this conclusion to be somewhat lacking. The real hook here comes at the end, were the reader is left wondering how the Legion is going to get out of this mess.

My real problem with the Brainiac 5 insanity plot is the fact that while it started gradually with bits of inconsistent behaviour on Brainiac 5's part for a year of issues, leading up to one issue, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #239 (though we didn't know who was behind it at the time), where things were showing Brainy's change of character and personality more clearly, the climax of the storyline didn't happen right away. The reader got another 10 issues with bits and pieces about Brainy that were odd, with Brainiac 5's madness becoming full-blown and manifest with the Omega story in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #250-251. However, this has been followed with five months worth of comics (though more time seems to have passed in the Legion's world) with Brainiac 5, even with his supposed hatred of the Legionnaires, helping the team out and saving his teammates on an occasion or two. While this issue gives us a clear idea of what event in Brainy's life caused the insanity, there is still no indication of what triggered the event to come back and haunt him, let alone who or what was responsible. Furthermore, how can the Legion forgive Brainiac 5 for what he did, not only with what Omega did, but the fact that Brainiac 5 pulled the trigger and killed An Ryd back in issue #239? Suffice it to say, I really hope that we get some answers to these and a few other questions.

Insofar as this issue's story itself is concerned, there are some problems with it. First off, why is the Legion commandeering the Cosmic World public amusement park? I would have thought it would have been much simpler to have their long-time member Princess Projectra create illusions around Brainy to Saturn Girl's specific requests. Heck, even a visit back to Brainiac 5's homeworld of Colu, where perhaps the Coluan psychiatrists could have helped where Earth doctors could not would have been more preferable. Lightning Lad's comment that Projectra's illusions could not have "filled your super-brain" more effectively than the amusement park's holographic system was one that I take umbrage with. Jeckie's illusions affect the senses, and surely with the additional mental powers of Saturn Girl in play would have been a better solution than the one the Legionnaires came up with. This harks back to the situation in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #252, when Projectra with Dream Girl's help, though at the suggestion of Brainiac 5 mind you, tries to cure Tenzil Kem/Matter-Eater Lad's insanity. It almost costs Dream Girl's life, though the fact that neither of their powers work that way was ignored completely. And this also despite the fact that Saturn Girl is present in that scene, but doesn't seem to be involved in the Jeckie/Dreamy attempt to bring Tenzil back to sanity. But in the case of Brainiac 5, it seems that Projectra and Saturn Girl working together to cure Brainy would have made a lot more sense.

The second issue I have with this whole resolution is the fact that Brainiac 5 is effectively cured by...a holographic hug!! While we don't know a lot about Brainiac 5's childhood and his experiences leading to his joining the Legion, the story here very nicely shows us some snippets of his life, from birth to adolescence, but gives the reader no real sense of his feeling rejected when young. Nor is there a reason presented for why the young girl rejected him in the actual experience with her, despite his having saved her. Like I mentioned earlier, it just seems to me there's more to Brainy's having gone insane, and I really hope that "the truth" of the matter comes out in future issues.

The rest of the story is about Legionnaires coming to grips with the change in their situation, both from the perspective of the destroyed Legion HQ and the bankruptcy of financier R.J. Brande, and what it may mean for the future of the Legion. Timber Wolf is surprisingly depressing in the scene at the ruins of Legion HQ, and I just found it a bit odd that Light Lass has to give him a pep talk on what the Legion is all about. Then again, Brin has always been quite dour and he and Ayla make a good combination because she has such a positive attitude, even when the chips are down.

The scene with R.J. Brande, on the other hand, is one where writer Conway got a couple of things wrong. Chameleon Boy suggests that he will have to activate the Legion Espionage Squad to find out whether someone did indeed take Brande's fortune, but Shrinking Violet mentions two Legionnaires, Saturn Girl and Phantom Girl, the former never having been a member of the Squad and the latter currently occupied with cleaning up at Legion HQ's ruins! And once more, Princess Projectra is nowhere to be seen, and would have been a useful character to have around at that point. This scene and the one previously at the remains of Legion HQ clearly shows once more that Gerry Conway is not up on his Legion lore, let alone their histories or personalities. I have to wonder whether it's just a case of the author not liking the character, or perhaps just currently not seeing a use for her in the current storyline.

I don't have a lot to say about the artwork this issue. Dave Hunt makes Staton's pencil work more acceptable to me, and there's been a vast improvement in that regard since Hunt started inking Staton's pencils. The issue's artwork is acceptable and capable, but nothing really stands out to me. That said, both men are professionals at what they do, but I guess Staton doesn't seem enthusiastic about working on the Legion. Of course, that has always been a problem for a lot of artists who've worked or been approached to work on the Legion comics, as the cast is so large, their appearances so distinctive, and then throw in the technology and the look/feel of the 30th Century...

Final Notes:
The cover of the issue has the story title listed as "This Is Your Life--and Death--Brainiac 5!", whereas the title of the story on the interior splash page reads, "This Is Your Life--and Death, Brainiac 5!"...

Although Chameleon Boy is featured on the cover, he does not take part in the mission to cure Brainiac 5. Instead, he and three other Legionnaires are presently on R.J. Brande's asteroid, about to help the Legion financier out...

The "Roll Call" panel incorporated into the panel at the top of the splash page includes Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5, Lightning Lad, and Superboy. This seems to imply that Brainiac 5 is still considered a Legionnaire despite his actions and insanity, but I have included him as a Guest Star in the listing since he will rejoin the Legion at the end of the next issue...

In one scene of this story, it is mentioned that the Science Police officer in charge is called Captain Trake. He never actually tells the Cosmic World park manager or the Legionnaires his name...

The title of this story refers to the TV series This Is Your Life, broadcast in the U.S. from 1952 to 1961 and in a new, syndicated version in 1970. Each week, host Ralph Edwards would surprise his guests with reunions of old friends, family members, and other acquaintances to reminisce about the guest's accomplishments.

Next Issue: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #257
Tags: comics hut, legion of super-heroes, legion reread, lll, long live the legion!, lsh, review

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