Comic Book Review – Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus Volume 1

Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus Volume 1 (2020)
Reprints Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #1-39, Annual #1-4, Timber Wolf #1-5, Adventures of Superman #478, and Who’s Who #1-11, 13, 14, 16
Written by Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Dan Jurgens, and Al Gordon
Art by Keith Giffen, Doug Braithwaite, Dusty Abell, Brandon Peterson, Jason Pearson, Rob Haynes, Ian Montgomery, Joe Phillips, Stuart Immonen, Colleen Doran, Curt Swan, June Brigman, David A. Williams, Chris Sprouse

I have not read many omnibus collections though there is a larger type of trade paperback collection that gets pretty close. It used to be when comics got bound together for a reprint, you got about 6-8 issues a book. Now we are seeing year-long arcs being collected and, in the case of omnibuses, entire creator-focused runs. Everything about Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later feels epic in scale. The cast is beyond sprawling, and the story arcs touch on brand-new elements and established bits of Legionnaires lore going back decades. These issues were originally published in 1989, and the influence of Watchmen and that British new wave of storytelling is also present throughout. 

The Legion of Super-Heroes was a team of intergalactic teenagers, each possessing a unique power, that operated at the end of the 30th Century. They were based on Earth and funded by industrialist R.J. Brande, the first person saved by the original three members Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Lightning Lad. By the time we got to August 1998, the roster had grown into at least two dozen or more. The third volume of the Legion series was canceled that month, and three months later, in November, the fourth volume debuted, leaping five years ahead.

The Legionnaires are now in their early to mid-30s, the team has been disbanded, and most members don’t even live on Earth anymore. Founders Imra Ardeen and her husband Garth Ranzz (Saturn Girl & Lightning Lad) now live on his home planet of Winath, where they are raising their family. Rokk Krinn (Cosmic Boy) and Luorno Durgo (Shrinking Violet) struggle with PTSD, the result of a brutal war between their respective home planets Braal and Imsk. Jo Nah (Ultra Boy) leads a gang of people struggling to survive on the streets of Rimbor. 

Meanwhile, on Earth, the planet’s government is secretly run by the brutal Dominators, aliens intent on harvesting the human metagene to weaponize it. The Dominators are aided by Dirk Morgna (Sun Boy), who helps spread their propaganda through the public-facing human-led EarthGov. There is opposition, though, led by Jacques Foccart (Invisible Kid) and some former Legionnaires. Reep Daggle (Chameleon Boy), now aware that his estranged father was, in fact, Legion backer R.J. Brande, a shape-shifting Durlan in disguise, decides that it is time for the Legion to reunite against the growing darkness in the universe.

If you are new to the Legion of Super-Heroes, I can’t imagine this would be an excellent jumping-on point. This book is dense with Legion history, characters, and plots, but I think co-writers Keith Giffen & The Bierbaums do as best they can by giving readers the essential information you need to understand who each character is. Every issue ends with at least two in-universe pieces of text. These include news articles, intergovernmental memos, personal journals, and more. You can definitely see Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen’s influence on how world-building is delivered to the readers outside of traditional sequential storytelling. This omnibus clocks in at 1,425 pages, so there dozens of arcs and subplots in the issues collected.

The first significant arc could be called “Getting the Band Back Together” and centers on Reep Daggle reuniting his old Legionnaire friends. This is also where the reader gets an update on what has gone on in the last five years. This year-long storyline also works to fix some continuity problems leftover from 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. One result of that story was that Superman’s time as Superboy was erased from continuity, and that posed a problem as the Legion’s inspiration was always heralded as Superboy. The team was introduced in the pages of Adventure Comics in a Superboy story. Keith Giffen, in particular, reworks things to make Mon-El the new post-Crisis inspiration. 

Mon-El was an amnesiac alien found by Superboy in a story from the 1960s. He possesses the same powers as the Boy of Steel, and other circumstances led Superboy to believe Mon-El was his older brother. By the end of that issue, readers would learn that Mon-El was from Daxam, a planet of people who shared ancestors with Krypton. Daxamites have a vulnerability to lead and with Mon-El exposed while on Earth, Superboy puts him in the Phantom Zone until he can find a cure. Jump to the 31st Century, where the Legion lets Mon-El out and treats him with the now discovered treatment. He sticks around and becomes a more consistent Superboy-like figure who can be with the Legion every month.

Giffen drops the Mon-El name because of its ties to the now non-existent Superboy. Lar Gand is the character’s real name, and his superhero moniker becomes Valor. There is some retroactive storytelling that makes Valor the founder of the original United Planets in the 20th Century after liberating people experimented on by the Dominators. Later in his life, he’ll get lead poisoning and be put in stasis, emerging in the 31st Century to be cured and join the Legion. It seemed like a very natural change that didn’t shake up Legion continuity too drastically.

Another significant change that time is spent working out in the first year is what to do about Supergirl’s absence. Eventually, Supergirl joined the Legion and became romantically involved with Brainiac 5. She was killed in battle during the Crisis, and the fallout was dealt with at the time in the Legion comic. However, now that Superboy was erased and the rebooting of Superman’s existence got rid of Supergirl, it made things more confusing. Andromeda (Laurel Gand) is introduced in these first twelve issues, a 31st century descendent of Lar Gand from Daxam. This means she has the same suite of powers that Supergirl had but none of the pesky timeline questions. Andromeda is retroactively made the love interest of Brainiac 5, but they are no longer together in the five years that have passed. Instead, Andromeda is partnered with Rond Vidar, the last Green Lantern left in the universe.

A significant source of conflict in the first part of the collection is the space pirate Roxxas. He has lost his sanity and now houses several fighting personalities. Roxxas has also become increasingly homicidal and goes about murdering a former Legionnaire in his introduction in Five Years Later. There is a building of tension as Roxxas learns the Legion is reforming, and a fantastic showdown takes place on Winath after he arrives and finds the Legionnaires starting to find their stride again. 

There’s a war with the Khund Empire, which leads to a short arc that pits some of the Legion against a deposed and lonely Darkseid. In my opinion, this is all build-up to the most significant arc of the series, the fall of Earth. An event occurs that kicks off a global civil war between the Dominators/EarthGov and the last of the human resistance. It is a truly epic saga that makes up more than half of this omnibus. We get plenty of behind the scenes glimpses at Dominator leadership, growing increasingly aware of how much panic they are when it comes to maintaining a hold on Earth. Jacques Foccart’s rebellion struggles for a long time to push back the invaders but gets help from those Legionnaires coming from off-planet.

There is a moment in the story that will throw any reader not expecting it for a loop when Devlin O’Ryan, a journalist for the Daily Planet, stumbles across a Dominator genetics laboratory underground labeled SW6. What he finds shakes up the status quo in a massive way and expands the series cast by more than double. The book does become a little crowded at times, and if you don’t stay focused, it is easy to lose track. 

It’s in this arc we also get some fantastic yet tragic spotlight issues. First are Jan Arrah (Element Lad) and his lover, Science Police officer Shvaughn Erin. Because of medical supply shortages, Shvaughn reveals to Jan that they have been using a hormone-altering drug called ProFem. Shvaughn was born Sean Erin, and before they met, Sean had crossed over to the female gender utilizing the drug. They confess this to Jan, who explains that their gender doesn’t matter to him, that he loves Shvaughn/Sean regardless. Sadly, fully back in male form, Sean admits they psychologically can’t get over it right now. This is such a tragic story about societal and personal psychological hangups getting in our way of being happy with life. From a contemporary standpoint, some elements are clunky, but I think based on what mainstream readers were encountering in regards to trans and non-binary characters at the time, this is incredibly forward-thinking.

The second spotlight that really got to me was the closure given to Dirk Morgna. As it becomes evident that the Dominators will no longer control EarthGov, this puts Dirk in a perilous position. There are flashbacks to Dirk’s life, showing his father’s toxic effects on him when it came to Dirk’s future relationships. It also recontextualizes Dirk’s transformation into Sun Boy during his battle with nemesis Dr. Regulus due to his father’s terrible leadership in the corporate world. We finally see Dirk’s rise to power within EarthGov during this issue as he alienates his former teammates, unable to get over his insecurities and paranoias. Where this issue goes, and its ultimate conclusion is so heart-achingly horrific. Dirk’s powers are out of control, and so his mind.

If you want to truly get lost in an expansive, rich future world, Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later will do the trick. It’s very messy, and the art isn’t always fantastic, but this story’s scope is ambitious and not like much else we get in comics these days. While the Legion was a part of the DC Universe, it was always in its own niche because it was set in the far future. You won’t feel a need to have read a dozen other titles; everything necessary to this story is being told in these issues. You might get the itch to go back and read the events mentioned by characters, and I would highly encourage that. I think the Legion is an acquired comics taste, but if you enjoy it, then there is such a rich backlog of work to dive into.

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