For about the prior six issues we'd been interweaving several plot threads and I think we were kind of intentionally leaving this psychological study for a clean issue where we could really try to explore the themes of this adventure in one self-contained story.
The set-up occurred several issues earlier, when Live Wire angrily hurled lighting bolts at an unruly mob in the Acapulco dome and critically injured a male teen in the audience, causing his mind to erupt in an explosion of mental energy. That vortex of energy has sucked in the Legionnaires Brainiac 5, Apparition and Gossamer, and they’re locked inside facing some kind of intense emotional turmoil. At the end of #14, the team of Invisible Kid, Saturn Girl, Ultra Boy, Andromeda and Live Wire is about to plunge into the vortex to try and rescue the trapped Legionnaires.
The plan is to have Saturn Girl link the minds of the rescue team so they can all join together to resist the mental torture that’s overcome the others, allowing the rescue team to guide the stranded Legionnaires out of the vortex.
But as soon as they entered the vortex at the end of #14, they found themselves being dragged down the gullet of an enormous reptilian creature and that’s where #15 begins.
Saturn Girl and I-Kid are consumed with panic and helplessness until they smartly realize it's the vortex that's overcoming them -- all of their perceptions of hopelessness are actually creations of their own minds – amplifications of weaknesses that are always rattling around in their brains threatening to grab hold in moments of weakness.
Imra composes herself enough to plead with Jo to calm down and recognize the space-creature for what it is -- a creation of his own mind, a nightmare recreating the traumatic events of his Ultra Boy origin. Saturn Girl adroitly reminds Jo that the love of his life, Apparition, is also caught up in the vortex and she needs Jo’s help. That does it, Jo concentrates, flexes his muscles and the tentacles of the creature snap like wet spaghetti and Jo is free of his nightmare.
But there's plenty more where that came from – Andromeda has dreampt up an army of the Khund warriors who slaughtered her family. Jo uses the same ploy Imra used on him, reminding Laurel that her imaginary adversaries are keeping her from rescuing her paramour, Brainiac 5.
But Saturn Girl has drifted away and come across Gossamer, whose nightmare is that her brother, Live Wire, has lost his temper one too many times and actually killed the people he’d hurt in earlier issues. Gossamer blames herself for not finding a way to help troubled Garth control his anger and behave more responsibly. Saturn Girl calms Ayla and guides her toward the real-life Garth, who’s right now experiencing an actual crisis.
They find him reliving a trauma from childhood where he was responsible for the death of a pet. He’s overcome with guilt and feels as if he’s the one who should have died. He wants to drown himself but Ayla and Imra rescue him. They tell the troubled, guilt-ridden Garth that it’s up to him to confront his problems and get his act together but that no matter what, they’ll always be there for him.
The group next finds Ferro, who’s being driven crazy by the stigma of his malformed face, but Gossamer makes him realize he'd still treat any of his teammates with acceptance and friendship whether or not they had a deformity like his, so why should he fear rejection from them? Live Wire whispers additional encouragement -- the girls are actually intrigued by Ferro and the mystery of his mask “drives them crazy.”
Meanwhile, the other group of rescuers has run into a swarm of bugs, rodents and serpents that’s been conjured up by germ-a-phobic Apparition.
Ultra Boy rushes in to save his girl, but one of the serpents confronts him and that re-triggers Jo’s great phobia and they’re all plunged right back into the nightmare that started the issue – U-Boy and the rest being eaten alive by a giant space-dragon.
The other team bumps into Brainy and finds him simply wandering around, using his mental powers to convince himself that the nightmares he’s experiencing are controllable and can be dismissed through some carefully calculated thought. He’s pleased to have his theory confirmed and to team up with a group that’s also winning the battle against the mental vortex.
At this point the team is plunged into the war for Earth and realize they’re in the nightmare of the boy who’s unleashed this entire psychic storm. In turns out the boy, “Mayf,” witnessed the Dominators executing his abusive mother after a neighbor ratted her out for stealing food.
Gossamer is trying to calm Mayf down, but when the kid sees Live Wire and realizes he’s the guy who nearly killed him with a stray lightning blast, Mayf flips out and unleashes a fresh wave of mental energy. Garth is ready to angrily retaliate, but Ferro Lad elbows him hard in the nose to knock some sense into the hothead and Imra links minds with Garth and Ferro so they can combine their mental strength and get through to the traumatized Mayf.
Garth assures the kid that he has nothing to fear from the Legionnaire – he won’t hurt Mayf again, and in fact, will be there to defend him if anyone else ever tries to hurt him again.
With that assurance, the mental vortex evaporates and suddenly everyone’s back in the Acapulco dome. Mayf’s mental readings are still strange and off the scale so he’ll need additional treatment, but the Legionnaires are finally safe.
All it took, Saturn Girl observes, is a little help from their friends, and Garth is thoughtfully adding that maybe that’s all any of them ever needed.
And with that, our run on the book ends. It was nice to conclude things with a story where the deep friendships within the team prevailed and conquered the phobias and conflicts that had been unleashed. It was a chance to emphasize what mattered most to us as we were being set out to pasture by DC.
As was the case with “Dommie,” the Dominator girl, the idea was for Mayf to ultimately join the Legion. We’d planned on this strange kid dub himself the new “Kid Psycho,” and in this case the “Pscyho” part being that he would be mentally unstable and tapping into observations from an alternate reality that only he could perceive, a reality that revealed to him what was going on in the minds of others. He’d be particularly attuned to the demons, phobias and traumas that haunt the villains the Legion would oppose, being able to relive the experiences that drove the Legion’s antagonists to their villainy.
I’d wanted him to have a hand-puppet that would be the “medium” from whom we’d learn what was going on in Mayf’s “mental visions” and had also wanted him to be on the pudgy side, identifiably Hispanic and with scruffy adolescent whiskers, a very identifiable and kind of vaguely “fannish” look, but apparently the idea of having our first official Hispanic Legionnaires be quasi-insane and not heroically handsome was troublesome and he turned into a good-looking brown-haired wasp-ish character. Of course, it’s all academic, since I’m guessing nobody ever saw Mayf again after this issue.
I’m fairly pleased with the story and how it helped us explore the personalities of the involved Legionnaires and lay in some origins and background for some of the characters. We didn’t get much of a look into the anxieties and phobias of Brainy, Saturn Girl or Invisible Kid, mostly because I viewed them as being best able to recognize what was being done to their minds and resist it.
And I personally really prefer a story where the journey each character takes is a little different – overly rational Brainy really doesn’t need any help at all while passionate Jo drags a bunch of his teammates into his nightmare not once but twice.
(Fans of the ’70s Legion will protest that Brainy should have been depicted as perhaps the most unstable of the group since he cracked up back then and tried to destroy the universe by creating Omega with the Miracle Machine, but I wasn’t completely sold on that plotline and in any case feel like the “Legionnaires” series was dealing with a young, well-adjusted Brainy who might have been destined for a smoother, happier road in part because of a rewarding, long-term relationship with Andomeda.)
The story also really allows Gossamer to shine as the great nurturer within the team, several times coming up with the adroit words of support that pulls a teammate out of a negative spiral, and setting an example some of the others picked up on as they figured out how to rescue more and more of their teammates.
It was a bit of a whirlwind and we might have been able to make the various scenarios more intense and more insightful if we’d spread the story out beyond the one issue, but I think we found a pretty good balance and I’m pleased with the pace and the progress the story makes.
I really enjoyed Jeff Moy’s artwork on this issue and regretted that he arrived just as we were departing. While his slightly cartoonish style wasn’t for everyone, I loved the lighter touch and thought he did an excellent job on this very challenging issue.
And there’s a nice sexy feel to everything, lots of uniforms getting shredded and skintight costumes showing off lovely Legionnaire anatomies, which to me is part of what makes this team appealing and hard to resist.
I should also single out Tom McCraw’s colors in this issue, which really popped and were especially effective with the visual we used for Saturn Girl’s mind-linking stunt, where shadowy outlines of each character were given distinctive colors.
All in all, I’d say it was a satisfying, fitting way to wrap up our run working on the Legion.
It's OK, I'm a Senator
Legion Recollections by Tom Bierbaum
- Recollections of Legionnaires #15