Dial H for History: MON-EL's 3 Histories W/ The LEGION

DC Preview: SUPERMAN #694

Newsarama Note: Longtime Mon-El fan and Doctor Who afficianado Vinnie Bartilucci steps in for David Pepose for a special Dial H for History, featuring "Superboy's big brother" Mon-El. SPOILERS AHOY for some recent events in the lives of Mon-El, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the Superman family. You've been warned. See you in the 31st Century.

After a year-long adventure in the modern-day, Once and future Legion of Super-Heroes member Mon-El, AKA Lar Gand has returned to the Phantom Zone and will have to be (it helps to think fourth-dimensionally when discussing this stuff) freed a thousand years hence in the 31st century.  It's the latest iteration of a character that's been around since the Silver Age, and has played many a role in DCU history.  In honor of James Robinson's stellar re-introduction of the character to modern day readers, let's take a look at the character as he's appeared over the last few decades.

Mon-El was first introduced in 1961 in the story "Superboy's Big Brother!" from Superboy #89.  It was a complete re-use of a Superman story from 1953, right down to the title.  In it, a rocket crashes on Earth, containing a young man speaking in Kryptonese.  He has star charts from Krypton, and a note from Jor-El, Superboy's father - Young Clark Kent assumes the man must be his older brother.  Amnesiac and unable to remember his name, Clark names him "Mon-El", from the day he landed on Earth, and Clark's family name of El.  They get along famously, but when Superboy realizes that Mon is immune to Kryptonite, he grows suspicious.  He confronts Mon with a piece of fake Kryptonite, and knows he's a fake when Mon "feigns" the effects of K-poisoning.  But he's not faking - he's just not Kryptonian.  He's from a planet called Daxam, also orbiting a red sun, which explains his powers.  But his people are deathly allergic to lead; he's unaffected by the fake-K, but sickened by the lead box holding it.  The pain of the reaction restores his memory - his name is Lar Gand, an explorer who landed on Krypton shortly before its explosion. Jor-El met him as he landed, hastily explained the planet's fate and shooed him off planet with some star charts pointing towards Earth.  With his health deteriorating due to the trace amounts of lead in Earth's atmosphere, Superboy places Lar in the Phantom Zone, in the hopes that one day he'll find a cure for the weakness. 

That cure takes a thousand years to be found - Brainiac 5 and the legion of Super-Heroes rescue him from the zone in the far-off 30th century.  freed briefly to fight a centuries-old Luthor robot, he's given a permanent version of the Lead antidote five months (issues) later, and starts a long career with the Legion.  He and Superboy got to work together many times over the years, strengthening the friendship that started a thousand years before.

And then...came Crisis.

When John Byrne took over Superman, one of the things they changed was that when Superman started his career, he did it AS Superman.  No career as Superboy.  And that's all well and good, but it rather gave the origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes a bit of a serious shake.  No worries, said John - The Legion was inspired by the LEGEND of Superman, which, over the centuries, had mutated to include the idea that he also helped people as a young boy.  Any stories featuring Superboy would have "really" happened with only Mon-El, or some other combination of Legionnaires.

It should have been a fairly easy fix. 

But DC wanted to give a more solid explanation for the new continuity.  And once you start fixing one thing, it all dominoes.  It's like trying to cover up a hole in your wall - first you have to make the hole a little bigger to hold the plaster, then you realize the paint doesn't quite match, so you have to do the whole wall, and then you realize now it doesn't match the OTHER walls, and before you know it, you're buying a new house.

So the first idea was that the entire history of the 30th century that we'd been reading about was a massive scheme by the Time Trapper to capture and destroy them. He created "pocket universe" that more resembled the Silver age version of Superman's history, including versions of the Phantom Zone criminals in their more "Flash Gordon-y" outfits.   The real Superman met with this pocket universe version and the Legion, The Pocket Universe Superboy sacrificed himself, and the tale  resulted in a series of events that would affect Superman for quite some time to come, but that is another story.

The story was all well and good, but it rather reduced the entirety of the history of the Legion to a big plot device.  Even the Legionnaires hated it, realizing that it made the whole reason they started the team a lie.  Mon-El was the most put out, being as he effectively thought of this now non-existent person as a brother.  So a small team of Legionnaires attempt to kill the Time Trapper in response for his actions.  They succeed, but at a terrible cost. Mon-El dies from his injuries, and with the Time Trapper gone, even more of reality unravels.  Now the Pocket Universe is wiped out of existence, which effectively means the origin of the Legion never happened.  Even the Time Trapper was himself erased, replaced by a new mistress of time and magic, Glorith. 

This was all a precursor to DC's decision to try again to clear up the Legion continuity, this time by removing Superboy from the Legion history entirely.  The folks at DC realized they had another Kryptonian-level hero in the 20th century - Mon-El.  Of course, with no Superboy to find him and place him in the Phantom Zone, his origin too was functionally void.  So his story was radically altered and rebooted, now connected to the DC mega-event Invasion! In the new history,  Lar Gand's father was a member of the forces attacking Earth, led by the Dominators.  Superman convinces him and the Daxamites to change sides, and together they rout the invasion.  Lar Gand discovers that the Dominators had abducted massive numbers of humans, experimenting on them to learn about the mysterious "metagene" that causes some Earthlings to spontaneously gain superpowers in moments of life-threatening danger.  They had mutated humans so they had magnetic powers, the ability to split into multiple forms, and many more.  Lar frees these people and helps them travel to other worlds where they can start new lives, indeed new civilizations.  Those planets would eventually become the worlds that would form the United Planets in the 30th century, making Mon-El even more of a hero to the future than Superman ever was. 

In this new timeline, Lar Gand had the majority of his adventures in the modern day, including meeting Vril Dox (Brainiac II), the head of L.E.G.I.O.N., itself a way to try and set up a new origin for the Legion of the 30th century. In this version of the story, it's Dox who first cures him of the lead weakness, creating his own version of the anti-lead serum. Gand plays a major role in another mega-event, Eclipso-The Darkness Within, and gets his own short-lived series, titled "Valor", the name Superman gives him after the events of Eclipso (since they never met as youngsters, the "Mon-El" name was never given).  He then had a long and successful career in modern day, inspired the events of the forming of the LoSH, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Right?

Well, no.  In the future, Glorith had continued to dither and dicker with the timestream in her new role as the replacement for the Time Trapper.  And, long story short, yadda yadda yadda, she ends up killing Valor.  So to preserve the events of the future, Waverider of the Linear Men has to step in, grab a version of Lar Gand from the future (one created by the Time Trapper, you know, the guy who was dead) and have him tear through a list of all the things the original Valor was SUPPOSED to do over the rest of his life. The whole thing was eerily reminiscent of Lallafa, the poet in the Hitchhiker's Guide books who, after never having time to ever write the poems for which he was so famous, is handed a published copy of them and told to just transcribe them.

Do you want me to stop for a moment? cause it actually gets MORE confusing.

Since events that should have taken the rest of Valor's life effectively all get done at once, that's enough to still cause the timeline to get bollixed up further, starting a chain of events that ends up in the entire Legion history being re-written from scratch after the mega-event Zero Hour.  In the new history, much of the latest 20-century adventures of Lar Gand have still happened, and he has become an almost deific character in the 30th.  So when the Legion discover him trapped in the "Stasis" Zone in the 30th century, placed there after his anti-lead serum wears off, it causes more than a small issue.  Having the legendary Valor show up in their age could have similar social consequences to the second coming of a major religious figure, so huge is his footprint on history.  So they choose to give him ANOTHER secret identity, modern-day Daxamite "M'onel", an eerily familiar name which is supposedly Martian for "He who wanders".

That's it, right? 

...Maybe you ought to get a cup of tea...

This version of the character seemingly perished, along with that entire version of the Legion in a story with the modern-day Teen Titans and the current Superboy, Conner Kent.  Shortly afterwards, the events of Infinite Crisis occurred, resulting in yet another iteration of the DCU's history, both present and future.  In this version, Superman's adventures when he was a boy were restored, as were the events of him meeting, befriending and saving Lar Gand when they were teenagers.  The future, however, appeared to be something else else entirely.  There was now an entirely new Legion of Super-Heroes, more of a political movement than a team of super-teens saving the world.  Mon-El appeared in the book shortly after the modern-day Supergirl started appearing with them, providing what seems to be a return to form to his first origin, albeit with a new and different Legion.

Except...

Events in Justice League would reveal to Superman that the "superhero club" he used to meet and adventure with in the future still existed, and needed his help.  In a story known as the Lightning Saga, the Legion from Superman's youth (now adults as he is) reappear and set up events that would be played out in the Final Crisis event, Legion of Three Worlds.  In it, we learn that ALL the iterations of the Legion we'd read, including the current one, all were from parallel Earths, a concept that had been wiped from continuity by Crisis on Infinite Earths, but restored by Infinite Crisis and the following story 52.  The Legion featuring M'onel were from Earth-247, and the current "political movement" Legion were in fact the Legion of Earth Prime.  They all met in one massive fight against the newly invigorated Time Trapper, and after the battle, each returned to their respective worlds, with a few members left behind in what was now the Legion of Earth-Zero, the "real" legion.

So this left us with a new/old Legion for which we'd soon be seeing new stories, all that needed sorting was getting Mon-El back to the proverbial future.  His origin was again slightly tweaked.  The long-alluded to connection of Daxam and Krypton is set in stone.  Its red sun is now named "Val-or", after the Kryptonian scientist who discovered it, and the planet is named after the Kryptonian who first landed on it.  In a new wrinkle, Lar Gand is revealed to be the result of a generations-hence mating between a female Daxamite explorer and an Earthling, the Daxamite a member of an expeditionary force who explored Earth centuries ago.  Lar is the most recent descendant of that child, the only visible difference being a desire to explore that has long since been bred and frightened out of his people.  Upon discovery that the ship of his ancestor is well hidden and still functional, he chooses to leave the planet and see the stars.  The ship is programmed to return to its last target, Earth, and from that point the details of his "classic" origin play out relatively unchanged until about a year ago.

As part of the recent "New Krypton" story, Mon-El is brought out of the Phantom Zone in modern day as the Zone begins to mysteriously vanish.  Over the course of the next year as he stands-in for Superman as Metropolis's protector, the Legion secretly guide him in his adventures, taking up places near him to ensure that he remains safe, and learns the hard lessons of becoming a true hero.  When Brainiac (the bad one, not he ones from the assorted Legions) returns and is eventually defeated by the combined might of the Legion, the heroes of today and the people of a restored Kandor (you REALLY should have been reading; it was awesome) it comes down to Mon-El to take the massive collection of bottled cities from Brainiac's ship and restore them upon planets across the galaxy. These planets would eventually become the members of the United Planets a millennium hence.

So in a nice amalgamation of  the classic origins and the "Valor" stories from the 80's and 90's, Mon-El has gotten a solid backstory, spending a long period as a hero in our modern day.  As many adventures as he had with the Legion, he never really had a chance to become much more than an emergency backup Superboy.  Now with these experiences under his belt, he's become more of a unique character, with his own adventures and past.  Both Mon-El and the Legion have been restored to a position that is both similar to the "classic" continuity yet still nicely expanded and updated.  Geoff Johns, James Robinson and Sterling Gates have all done a stellar job of giving as good a setup as a writer could get for a new series.  Paul Levitz, one of the men responsible for the glory days of the team, has been handed the keys again, and with the team set up as nicely as it is, it looks like we'll see both Mon-El and the team he's most connected to stand a real chance to return to those days as a tentpole of DC's continuity.

Long Live the Legion.

 

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