Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #271
"What IS the Dark Man?"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: Jimmy Janes
Inker: John Calnan
Letterer: John Costanza
Colourist: Gene D'Angelo
Cover: Jimmy Janes & Steve Mitchell (signed)
Editor: Jack C. Harris
Mission Monitor Board:
Timber Wolf, Light Lass, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Colossal Boy, Princess Projectra, Wildfire, Mon-El, Shadow Lass
Blok; Marte and Wynn Allon
The Dark Man; The Fatal Five (The Emerald Empress, Mano, The Persuader, Tharok and Validus)
The story continues from last issue. On board the Dragonbane, in the central control chamber, Timber Wolf confronts the Dark Man, a fully human, mentally superior version of Tharok. Timber Wolf tries to think how this could be possible, but while he is attempting to make sense of it all, the Dark Man blasts him with a photon field, knocking him off the Dark Man's piloting globe. Timber Wolf thinks the Dark Man is escaping, but is informed he is merely changing location so as to set the final scene for Timber Wolf. Realizing the Dark Man read his mind, making him more powerful and dangerous than they imagined, Timber Wolf realizes the photon blast knocked out his Legion flight ring. He is able to use his Zoonium augmented athletic abilities to descend to the floor safely, but on landing, he is immediately ensnared by energy cuffs that deliver an electric charge that causes him to cry out in pain.
Elsewhere on the Dark Man's ship, Light Lass hears Timber Wolf's scream and flies down the hallways of the ship looking for him. Instead, she comes upon the Emerald Empress, who suspected that Light Lass was present when the ship's gravity went haywire, and stayed as a rearguard while Tharok and the others went to the control room. The Emerald Eye attempts to blast her, and Light Lass uses her powers to have the rubble from the attack surround and confuse and blind the Eye, causing it to strike out randomly, even at the Emerald Empress, thus allowing Light Lass to escape while it's confused.
In the make-shift chamber being used as a jail on the Dragonbane, the captive Saturn Girl is no captive at all, using her mental powers to search for the other Legionnaires. She's aware of Light Lass searching for Timber Wolf, her panic and fear blocking out Saturn Girl's trying to reach her, while Timber Wolf has been captured by the Dark Man and Blok wanders the ship's hallways with no guidance. Lightning Lad ponders the situation, worried about the others and seeing that Saturn Girl is using her powers wishes he knew what she was doing with them. Saturn Girl, meanwhile, makes mental contact with Tharok instead. As he is in a weakened mental state due to contact with the Dark Man, Saturn Girl is able to take control of his mind and has him shut off the ship's power. The Dragonbane tilts onto its side and slews over into the choppy waters of the Atlantic, taking the members of the Fatal Five by surprise.
In the North Atlantic, the six Legionnaires who just escaped the Fatal Five's neutron globe prison summon a Legion cruiser to them. They have no idea how to find the Fatal Five or the other Legionnaires, but Wildfire suggests they board the cruiser and work on that. Oddly, it turns out to be the same Legion cruiser that Light Lass, Timber Wolf and Blok had just used to find and attack the Dark Man's ship. The Science Police inform them that their earlier flight path to the North Atlantic had not been cleared, violating commercial airspace without an approved flight plan. Wildfire and Princess Projectra apologize to the Science Police, and set course to follow the original flight plan and head for those coordinates.
Back on the Dragonbane, Light Lass has become hopelessly lost among the corridors and hallways, and the dim lighting caused by the power shutdown has made that worse. While searching for Timber Wolf, she comes across the ship's computer room. She tries to activate the computer to search for Timber Wolf and the others, but instead she accidentally activates a memory program that shows her Tharok's origin.
As the record plays, it is seen that several years ago Tharok was a small-time thief on Zadron trying to steal a small, nuclear device. When the Science Police pursued him and the nuclear device was activated by a shot gone wrong, the left half of Tharok's body was vaporized. The Zadronian scientists then built a make-shift cyborg body to save Tharok's life, but it was a rushed work and the robot half was very ugly. Light Lass acknowledges that this is the story of Tharok's origin that she is familiar with. However, the record continues, and Light Lass sees how one scientist took some DNA samples from Tharok's brain and grew a clone from it. Mutated by the nuclear explosion, the brain stem lived, continuing to mutate into a life-force vampire. Taking control of the scientist, it orders him to work and improve its life; after a protein bath, and consuming the life essence of the almost dead, hypnotized scientist who created him him/it, the creature takes the shape of a fully human Tharok. Sensing an opposing force in the universe, the Tharok vows to neutralize that force forever. As the memory program finishes, Light Lass is shocked to see the Dark Man standing behind her.
Elsewhere on the Dragonbane, Timber Wolf has tried in vain for an hour to free himself of the shackles to no avail. Blok comes across the imprisoned Timber Wolf, who is afraid that Blok will take advantage of the situation and kill him. However, Blok reminds Timber Wolf that he promised him and Light Lass that he would help them capture the Dark Man. And so Blok frees Timber Wolf without any problems. Together, the two go off in search of the Dark Man and Light Lass.
Back in the makeshift jail where Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are imprisoned, the Fatal Five break in and free the two Legionnaires. When asked why, Mano tells the Legionnaires that they hope that Saturn Girl can help ease Tharok's mental pain, as they need their leader back. Saturn Girl enters his mind (yet again!) and is able to calm him, and break the Dark Man's mental control. Tharok suddenly realizes that his pain is because the Dark Man has been trying to mentally control him. Tharok asks the Legion to help them take down the Dark Man, and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl reluctantly agree. Tharok and the Legion leader shake hands to seal the bargain. The two Legionnaires and the Fatal Five head for the control room.
Over the North Atlantic, the Legionnaires who were trapped in the neutron sphere arrive at the site, to find the Dark Man's ship listing on the ocean's surface, due to the power failure induced by Saturn Girl earlier. The five Legionnaires prepare to board the Dragonbane.
In the main computer room of the Dragonbane that also holds a hydroponic garden, Timber Wolf and Blok enter the chamber to find the Dark Man above in the trees, with Light Lass as his prisoner. Motionless, he still dares Timber Wolf to come and get him and claim the woman, a dare that Timber Wolf answers. However, the vines animate and attack Timber Wolf from all directions.
When Colossal Boy tells the others that he can see Timber Wolf and Light Lass through the observation dome at the top of the Dragonbane, Mon-El attempts to smash through, but it's much denser than plasti-steel, though he eventually does manage the task. Seeing the Legionnaires breaking in, the Dark Man is annoyed that the Fatal Five failed to destroy them, and takes mental control of Light Lass. She uses her anti-gravity powers on the oncoming Legionnaires. Timber Wolf, having taken care of the vines as they weren't much threat to someone who practiced their abilities in the jungles of Zoon, attacks the Dark Man. The Dark Man grabs hold of Brin and begins to use his powers on him. It is Blok, down under the boughs, who uproots the giant oak with his massive strength, sending the Dark Man plunging to the ground. As Light Lass falls from the tree, the barely recovered, somewhat dazed and fearful Timber Wolf uses his athletics skills to save both himself and Ayla. Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and the Fatal Five arrive on the scene. The Dark Man comes face-to-face with Tharok. As the two charge each other and trade punches, there is an explosion and both seem to cease to exist. Confused and outnumbered by the Legionnaires, the rest of the Fatal Five surrender to them.
The next morning, the morning after Election Eve, the Legionnaires learn that Colossal Boy's mother, Marte Allon, has won the election and is the President of Earth. Gim wonders what this will mean for him, but Saturn Girl tells him that his mother will be a good President. The Legionnaires and the Allons celebrate...for a little while.
And so another confrontation between the Legion and the Fatal Five comes to an end...and the Dark Man is taken off the stage, along with Tharok seemingly once and for all. The third part of the three-part story, this was by far the poorest issue of three, and a pretty sorry story.
While Timber Wolf and Light Lass are the dominant Legionnaires in this story, though Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl have a few good moments as well, the story doesn't have any major "oomph!" moments to it that one would expect in a Legion/Fatal Five tale. The notion that Timber Wolf would be so surprised at the identity of the Dark Man that he would allow himself to be hit with the photon charge was convenient as it shorted out his flight ring (at least both author Conway and editor Harris remembered he wears a flight ring!), and he gets to do his Zoonian acrobatic stuff. That said, this was not built-in drama, this was drama created by the malfunctioning flight ring. The best part of this issue is the scene between Light Lass and the Emerald Empress. Light Lass has been shown to be pretty on her toes these last few issues, and she knows that she's outclassed by the Empress and the Eye. Instead of panicking, she thinks fast, outwits her foes, and confuses the Eye so that she can escape. And then, in her very next scene, Light Lass turns off her professionalism by basically watching a horror holo-film and casting herself as the beautiful victim. Sure, we learn the Dark Man's origins, but still...
I do want to say something about Blok here first, though. At this point, the reader doesn't know or understand his powers, other than the fact that he's super-strong and seems pretty tough. He's definitely different visually from the other Legionnaires, and seems to interact well with Light Lass and Timber Wolf. The character strikes me as relatively peaceful (other than his attack on Light Lass back in Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #253, and his actions here with the tree) and is very introverted and pensive. I wasn't sure when I first read this issue whether he was suitable to be a Legionnaire, but at the same time, I found the character intriguing...and still do after this reread of the issue.
I have to say that when I re-read this issue this time out, as soon as Tharok/the Dark Man's extended origin started (it ran to 3-1/2 pages) I wondered if the story would have to be expanded into a fourth issue. We'd learn *all* about Tharok and the Dark Man this time out, and then the final confrontation would come in the next issue. And then, when the end of the issue arrives... Oy, vey.
The end of the story failed me for a couple of reasons. The Fatal Five did not live up to their dangerous and dreaded reputations. When they break into the prison area to free Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad, that was fine - but not the way they did it. I was expecting the Five to threaten to kill Lightning Lad if Saturn Girl didn't help them, but instead, we get a scene where they just tuck their tails between their legs and beg the Legion for help. They're the Fatal Five, for goodness sake! Then there's the meeting between Tharok and the Dark Man that is sort of the story's climax, and they both...disappear, after an explosion. What the heck happened to the cosmic confrontation that writer Conway seemed to be promising the reader?? And then we get...nothing. The Legion faces off against the Fatal Five, Lightning Lad tells them to surrender, and they do! Instead, the reader gets an election party at Colossal Boy's parents' apartment, which is all well and good but could and should have been the ending of *next* issue. It is clear to me at the end of the story that neither Gerry Conway nor Jack C. Harris knew enough about the Fatal Five and respected them enough as dangerous killers they are to present a good story. In fact, they ruined these characters so badly that none of them reappeared for more than four years.
In truth, part of the problem with this story is clearly the pacing. When the writer spends way too much time talking about the past, they don't have any time to deal with the present. If the face-to-face meeting between Tharok and the Dark Man was shown as being more of a big deal, i.e., not one panel and then a sound effect, the ending o the story would have been much more dramatic. And if pacing had been better handled, the reader might have gotten the Fatal Five/Four vs. Legion showdown that should have been here.
And then there's the real foul-up of this issue... When we see the five Legionnaires here who were imprisoned in the neutron sphere in the North Atlantic, there's just one problem - there were six Legionnaires there! Gerry Conway and Jack C. Harris obviously forgot that six Legionnaires went under water, as there's no sign or mention of Shrinking Violet in this issue! This is just poor editing, not to mention shoddy writing. That said, I can see writer Conway forgetting her if she has nothing to do in this story (and let's be honest, none of the six/five Legionnaires had anything to do this issue), but it's the editor's job to keep track of the characters and who's where.
The artwork this issue came as a surprise to me. The fact that John Calnan inked this issue, not Frank Chiaramonte, was a disappointment to me. I struggled this issue with Jimmy Janes's pencils this issue, and it was clear to me that John Calnan did a lion's share of the work (perhaps because Janes was so busy on the Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series?). This issue had Janes's first cover, and while it was adequate the interior art had a dull layout and to be honest, some more background elements in the panels would have been nice.
This issue is, by and large, a huge disappointment. As the third and climactic piece in the Dark Man story, it should have been much better than it was and had a climax that would have the readers talking about it for years to come. My only thoughts were, "Is Tharok really dead?" and "Where's the big fight between the Fatal Five and the Legion?"
While Shrinking Violet was captured with the five Legionnaires last issue, she is nowhere to be seen in this story...
Shadow Lass is consistently miscoloured in the story, as if her mid-riff is dark blue or it's a different coloured part of her costume, and not her skin as it should be...
The issue features the death of Tharok. He will remain dead for the remainder of this series' continuity.
The issue also features the election of Colossal Boy's mother, Marte Allon, as President of Earth. She will remain in this position until The Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 3 #10 (May, 1985).
Next Issue: Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #2