Monday, September 12, 2011

Legion of Super Heroes: Sundown, Part 1

All right, we're almost done with the reviews of the first and best season of the Legion of Super Heroes animated series.

This episode and its second part are both simply phenomenal. I think the second half is a little stronger, but not by much, and this episode highlights a lot of what I like about the Legion of Super Heroes.

If you want to talk about iconic Legion stories, the Death of Ferro Lad is right up there. I think I have a slight preference for the Great Darkness Saga as the best Legion arc, but Ferro Lad is definitely a strong contender.

The episodes with Bouncing Boy coordinating a space battle against the Fatal Five from within the Legion crusier. He makes a series of misjudgments and the other Legionnaires are picked off one by one. The Fatal Five breach the cruiser, strike their favorite pose, and then we cut to the opening credits.

When we return, we find it was just a training simulation. Bouncing Boy is worried about his ability to lead the team. He confides his insecurities to Triplicate Girl, but they're interrupted by Braniac 5 on the intercom, telling them about a distress call.  It came from Cheyenne Delta, location of the Fenton Arms Depot.

The Legionannaires suit up, Brainy gets them past the universe's worst robot guards, and they learn that there has been a category nine containment failure. They don't know what has been unleashed, only that it's trying to escape, and they can't allow that.

There are a couple shots of Legionnaires looking for the device. This episode has a real wealth of the details that I love about this show. When Lightning Lad is off looking for the thing, he uses just enough of his powers to provide illumination for himself.

The device, a floating mechanical globe, is escaping despite the best efforts of the Legion. This is another really well done sequence. They try their best to stop the thing, but it's just overwhelming, and it bursts past everything they set up to stop it. Bouncing Boy lures it to the rest of the Legion. Brainiac 5 recognizes the weapon as a Sun-Eater, and the Legion tries to stop it, but it blasts them and then rockets off into space.

Here's another detail I liked. This is on the screen for just a moment, but the animators took the time to have Cosmic Boy shield himself when the Sun-Eater was blasting him. I had to rewind the video a couple times before I could get a screen shot, but I really like the image and the attention to detail here.

Back on board the Cruiser, Brainiac 5 briefs the rest of the Legion as they follow the Sun-Eater. He tells them that it was created during the Great Crisis by the Controllers as a weapon to end all wars. It was locked away because it was too dangerous to destroy or dismantle. Since it was locked away for so long, it's only running on reserve power, so it's stiill somewhat vulnerable, but if it consumes Cheyenne Prime, it will become almost unstoppable.

The Legion launches another assault, but the Legion flagship cruiser suffers a mechanical failure and the Sun-Eater survives this onslaught too. Since Cheyenne Prime is a red dwarf, Superman is wearing a protective suit. He dives into the gas cloud surrounding the Sun-Eater, but it burns away his protective gear. Brainy comes to his rescue, forming his hand into an oxygen mask in another blink-and-you-miss-it coll scene.

They regroup on the Cruiser, with Bouncing Boy issuing orders. Superman questions why the ship failed in the first place, but Bouncy seems to ignore him. Triplicate Girl passes him a screwdriver so he can go down to help with the repairs. Once down there, he hears something, and finds a cloaked robot performing more sabotage on the ship.

He's still weakened from his exposure to the red sun, so it's getting the better of him until Brainiac 5 shows up and destroys it. Superman thanks Brainy, who says that he really should be thanking Bouncing Boy, who enters and sasys that he'd been thinking about what Superman had said and "It always used to drive me crazy when the guy in charge wouldn't listen," so he performed a scan of the ship and found the cloaked robot.

If you'll excuse the digression, I always loved the Robotech novels, which were considerably more literate than their pedigree might suggest. Each chapter began with a Dune-like epigraph, and any book with a throwaway line about Vonnegut's concept of the duprass as a bonded pair is really a cut above the norm. Brian Daley and James Luceno, two long time friends and Star Wars novelists, collaborated on them under the pen name of Jack McKinney. It was mostly third person point of view, but for the final series, they would occasionally have a couple chapters from a character's memoirs of the experience, and I liked that, because I thought Rand had a distinctive voice.

I haven't read the series in at least ten years, but there was a line that stuck with me after all this time. Our heroes are under fire by a superior force,  and they are forced to retreat underground into a sewer system, which collapses due to the bombardment. Their by-the-book leader Scott Bernard immediately begins working to get them out. Rand's memoir says about this: "Scott hardly batted an eyelash. He just fell back to Plan W, or whatever letter he was up to by then. Can-do, that's the attitude they had drummed into him."

That's what the Legion reminds me of here. They've been beaten back twice and twice they fail to stop the Sun-Eater, but they never despair. They fall back, regroup, take an accounting, and come back at it with a better plan. They're not the strongest, but they have determination and teamwork and belief in themselves and their friends.

The Cruiser is back on line and several reinforcements have arrived by this point. I rather like the plan they came up with. Saturn Girl links minds with Brainiac 5 to cloak Cheyenne Prime from the Sun-Eater's cybernetic mind, and Sun Boy makes an artificial sun as a distraction to lure it close.

You're never alone in the Legion

I liked this image too. I thought they did a good job conveying the  massive scale of Colossal Boy here. 

Phantom Girl phases down through the cloak and activates a beacon on her belt. She'll stay there until the airstrike is ready. I love Phantom Girl. She's got guts!

Ferro Lad lowers his goggles and assumes his iron form, and Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy supercharge him with electricity and magnetic energy, respectively.

He fires...and misses! The Sun-Eater retaliates, which breaks Saturn Girl's connection to its mind. It sees where the sun is, and changes course to devour it, charging itself to full power in the process. It then changes course again, this time to Earth...

To be continued!

I love everything about this episode. It could have just been a placeholder, to establish the final confrontation in second part, but it's so much more than that. It captures the desperation and the high stakes, the heroism of the Legion, how they're beaten, but never broken.

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