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New Gods:

Legends (1986)

Legends was a follow-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths, which had eliminated DC’s system of multiple universes and replaced it with a single one with a new timeline. Written by John Ostrander and Len Wein, the six-issue Legends helped to consolidate this new DC Universe.

The plot centered around Darkseid, who concocted a plan to remove Earth’s super-heroes and their inspirational effect on the planet’s population. His minion, G. Gordon Godfrey, masqueraded as a psychologist who attacked super-heroes. Darkseid unleashed the villain Brimstone and spurred Captain Marvel to think he had killed someone. During the series, the Phantom Stranger hung out with Darkseid, framing the entire series as a Job-like story, testing humanity’s ability to embrace its super-heroes given its ability to distrust and to fear.

In the end, not only was Godfrey defeated, but the plan backfired considerably. After their defeat by Brimstone, the Justice League disbanded, but a new one formed in the final couple issues of Legends. Meanwhile, the government-run Suicide Squad (already prepped) debuted. Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman also made their debuts in the new timeline during Legends. Also, Wally West (who had become Flash in Crisis on Infinite Earths, following the death of his predecessor) became more comfortable in his role.

The plot of Legends may have been simple, but it was keenly executed. For example, in the climax of the series, Robin (who had been savagely beaten earlier) leads children to defend the super-heroes. This might seem like a cliché, or an acknowledgement of how super-heroes are really a children’s form of entertainment. But it was remarkably well foreshadowed throughout the series, and the climactic moment in which they intervene really feels like a climactic moment, in which things might go either way.

The art of Legends, by John Byrne and Karl Kesel, is crisp and tells the story in excellent fashion. It even has some experimentation, such as the Darkseid panels at the bottom of each page in issue #3, or the use of an extreme number of panels on certain pages in issues #6. It’s such a good example of classic 1980s comic-book artwork.

As a crossover, Legends does have a few instances in which a page is designed to set up a tie-in issue, creating plot points that don’t pay off within the mini-series itself. But these are rather limited (especially compared to DC’s next universe-wide crossover, Millennium), and they don’t detract much from the story; they certainly don’t render it incoherent.

While the story is organized around Darkseid and several of his minions appear, the focus is on the super-heroes. Still, none of these super-heroes dominates. Perhaps the closest is the Justice League: the then-current incarnation of which is featured early in the series, and a new team forms in the final issue. But much of the story has no bearing on the League, and it really isn’t a Justice League story. It’s a Darkseid story, even if most of the pages concern the effects of his machinations and not Darkseid (or related characters) directly.

Notably, the New Genesis characters are entirely absent from the mini-series. This is partly because they would have distracted from the plot. But New Genesis itself doesn’t appear, in all the shots of Apokolips. That’s because New Genesis had been destroyed in Jack Kirby’s graphic novel The Hunger Dogs, and the Superman tie-in issues (written by Legends penciler John Byrne), which did use the New Genesis characters, clearly established The Hunger Dogs as occurring withing DC continuity. (Darkseid’s death, in the intervening second Super Powers mini-series, was ignored.) Later, The Hunger Dogs would be retroactively removed from continuity and New Genesis restored without explanation. This would seem to indicate an intermediate stage of DC’s post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, in which The Hunger Dogs was initially in continuity before being removed from it (and Super Powers was deemed out-of-continuity, if it ever was in continuity).

Legends #1

“Once Upon a Time…!” -- 22 pages

  • script by Len Wein; story by John Ostrander; pencils by John Byrne; inks by Karl Kesel
  • Darkseid decides to discredit Earth’s super-heroes (to eliminate their inspirational effect)
  • introduces G. Gordon Godfrey, a psychologist who rails on TV against the super-heroes
  • Firstorm battles Brimstone, then retrieves the Justice League of America to help (while he was away, Cosmic Boy intervenes)
  • Flash (Wally West) struggles with his identity in the wake of his mentor’s death (in Crisis on Infinite Earths)
  • Captain Marvel battles Macro-Man, who is apparently killed by the hero’s lightning bolt, leading Billy Batson to vow not to transform into Captain Marvel again
  • introduces Amanda Waller and her Task Force X (which would become Suicide Squad)

first issue; cover by John Byrne; published by DC Comics; $0.75; cover-dated Nov 1986

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Legends #2

“Breach of Faith!” -- 22 pages

  • script by Len Wein; story by John Ostrander; pencils by John Byrne; inks by Karl Kesel
  • features the Phantom on Apokolips, talking with Darkseid
  • reveals that Macro-Man’s death was caused by Darkseid, not Captain Marvel
  • Brimstone defeats the Justice League (along with Firestorm and Cosmic Boy)
  • a mob attacks Batman and Robin (Jason Todd), hospitalizing Robin and overturning the Batmobile
  • features Blue Beetle and (Green Lantern) Guy Gardner
  • Deadshot (defeated by the Flash in Legends #1) is recruited for Task Force X
  • U.S. president Ronald Reagan (with Superman in the Oval Office) bans super-heroes

cover by John Byrne; published by DC Comics; $0.75; cover-dated Dec 1986

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Legends #3

“Send for… the Suicide Squad!” -- 22 pages

  • script by Len Wein; story by John Ostrander; pencils by John Byrne; inks by Karl Kesel
  • Bruce Wayne visits Jason Todd in the hospital (a scene that establishes Jason is new as Robin)
  • the Suicide Squad defeats Brimstone, though Blockbuster is killed

cover by John Byrne; published by DC Comics; $0.75; cover-dated Jan 1987

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Legends #4

“Cry Havoc…!” -- 22 pages

  • script by Len Wein; story by John Ostrander; pencils by John Byrne; inks by Karl Kesel
  • Black Canary defeats Count Vertigo and then faces the police for violating the ban on super-heroes
  • Darkseid send Desaad to stop Warlord (Travis Morgan)
  • Batman stops the Joker (and references what he did to Catwoman in Detective Comics Vol. 1 #570)
  • Blue Beetle battles Chronos and then faces the police
  • Dr. Fate decides to leave his tower and intervene
  • as Flash and Changeling battle Captain Boomerang, two of Darkseid’s warhounds intervene
  • on the final page, Darkseid plots to bring Superman to Apokolips

cover by John Byrne; published by DC Comics; $0.75; cover-dated Feb 1987

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Legends #5

“Let Slip the Dogs of War!” -- 22 pages

  • script by Len Wein; story by John Ostrander; pencils by John Byrne; inks by Karl Kesel
  • Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel again (for the first time since Legends #1) and immediately realizes (with Captain Marvel’s brain) that he’s been had
  • Dr. Fate puts together a team (Captain Marvel, Black Canary, Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Batman, Flash, and Changeling) and confronts G. Gordon Godfrey, who’s leading a near-revolution in Washington, D.C.
  • on the final page, Robin (Jason Todd) leaves the hospital

cover by John Byrne; published by DC Comics; $0.75; cover-dated Mar 1987

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Legends #6

“Finale!” -- 30 pages

  • script by Len Wein; story by John Ostrander; pencils by John Byrne; inks by Dennis Janke and Karl Kesel
  • Martian Manhunter arrives in Washington, D.C., and informs the heroes that the Justice League has disbanded
  • Wonder Woman debuts (in the new, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths timeline)
  • Martian Manhunter saves President Ronald Reagan, who then rescinds his executive order banning super-heroes
  • in the climax, children led by Robin defend the heroes (a plot point foreshadowed throughout the series), and when Godfrey slaps a girl, people turn against him
  • most of the gathered heroes decide to stay together as the new Justice League

final issue; cover by John Byrne; published by DC Comics; $0.75; cover-dated Apr 1987

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Legends: The Collection

collects Legends #1-6; cover by John Byrne; published by DC Comics; $9.95; published 1993


Tagged , G. Gordon Godfrey, Legends.