The Earthwar Saga:
by Rick Bennett
Nearly A Quarter Century Gone
In the summer of 1978, I, a young boy of eleven years, read an epic. It wasn't the tale of Homer, or the Odyssey, or Dante's Inferno. It was "The Earthwar Saga". And it truly was epic in scope to me.
From the issues of #241 to #245, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes provided me with galaxy spanning action, a stellar cast, and enough space oddities to rival "Star Wars". Paul Levitz wrote this epic well before his Great Darkness Saga, and it stands the test of time very well.
Issue #241 starts out fast, and gets faster. Mon-el has to clean up one of Wildfire's messes as a quartet of hero's heads for Weber's World, the seat of the galactic bureaucracy that made up the United Planets. At the same time, Brainy almost commandeers what would be Element Lads' team to combat the Resource Raiders, a space-faring gang of thieves bent on stealing the earths' resources. With not enough firepower to combat the Raiders with just small team of four legionnaires, Brainy sends a message across time to bring Superboy in to aid them. A small battle ensues, which gives Brainy the idea to send Chameleon Boy in as a spy. This works well, and the base of the Raiders is invaded. Brainy then discovers that the Raiders are merely an advance force sent by the Khunds, a race of would-be cosmic conquerors with a mad-on for earth.
Meanwhile, as they say, Wildfire's team has discovered that sabotage attempts are apparently being made by a UP traitor, with bomb fragments discovered by Dawnstar.
Issue #242 picks up the pace, with Wildfire confronting ambassador Relnic, only to be stonewalled. Element Lads' team wages a losing battle against the Khunds as their invasion of earth begins. Shifting gears, the team heads out for Khundia, following the reasoning that killing the head kills the body. Wildfires' team prevents several attempts on the ambassadorial meetings, not knowing if the suspected traitor is Ambassador Relnic, or Ontiir, head of security. The scene shifts again to Khundia, where the team fights it's way to the throne room. The Leader of Khundia is defeated, and exposed as a mere puppet of an outside force. Superboy detects a signal being used to control him, and the group sets off in a search mission to find the instigator. Their search leads them to Weber's World. This issue gave us a few panels of the instigators behind the Khunds, the Dark Circle, an old foe of the Legion.
This would be the last issue of the Earthwar Saga penciled and inked by James Sherman and Bob McLeod.
With issue #243, Joe Staton takes over on the art chores. Mr. Staton's art is much less detailed than Mr. Sherman's, but Jack Abel's inks still help to render a solid job. This is before Mr. Staton takes a more cartoonish feel with his work.
Wildfire and Element Lad combine their two teams just as Brainy is mysteriously kid-napped en-route to Weber's World. This leads to a search by Superboy and Mon-el and the first clue as to who the true instigator of the madness is. With Brainy's disappearance, Superboy states that it is as if by MAGIC. As the peace conference gets underway, Relnic has a heated exchange with the Dominator delegates. The team shows up a few moments later, only to find the members of the conference gone, with no trace.
Here, the story switches gears, and the focus shifts to the invasion of earth proper. The Legion of Substitute-Heroes lends aid, but they are swiftly cut down. Officer Erin, the one person with the key to who is behind the crisis, leaves the headquarters. A lonely signal flashes, and the next page holds the return of...the married Legionnaires. The story ends with Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Duo Damsel, and Bouncing Boy weaving their way to earth to mount a last stand defense against the Khunds.
The pay -off issue is #244. Written by Levitz, with art by Staton and Giella, the story starts to wind down. Staton's art is much simpler, with less and less detail, which, while not bad, is not as good as the first part of the story arc.
Wildfire's team starts the issue headed for earth with Ontiir along, only to run into the ship/station with the missing delegates onboard. A quick rescue confirms that the DARK CIRCLE is behind the war, with an attempt to take over earth. The rescued Dominators pledge the support of the Dominion in stopping the Circle, but any Legion fan knew it would be them. The action then shifts to the Khund's attempt to invade Legion HQ. There, they are met and stymied by Lightning Lad's crew, which then sets out for the Presidential Palace in one of the Legion's armored transports.
At this point, the returning Karate Kid rescues Officer Erin at the SP headquarters, and it is assumed that she relates the current events, as well as her reason for attempting to contact the Legion in the first place. Levitz is setting the stage now for the final confrontation between the Legion and the Dark Circle, but he has one more trick up his sleeve. When the Legion confronts the Circle leaders and they unleash their Negasphere bomb, everyone is rendered unconscious by the blast except for Superboy. At this point, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Karate Kid show up, only to face the sole remaining member of the Dark Circle. And his name is...
Mordru, the Merciless!
Earthwar! The planet has been laid to waste. Khund forces are everywhere. Four legionnaires remain to face the Might of the Greatest Sorcerer of the 30th century, Mordru. Issue #245 is the concluding chapter of Earthwar, by Levitz, Staton, and the great Murphy Anderson.
After engineering an underground escape, the one place Mordru has a mental block on, the legionnaires retreat to devise a battle strategy. Mordru commands his forces to search for them, and we are treated to the summation of the story to date. Released from imprisonment by the Dark Circle to serve them, Mordru turned the tables and used his magic to control them while using their plan to conquer the Earth using the armies of other worlds. He was the disguised Relnic who attempted to foster war with the Dominators, and the one who kidnapped the delegates and Brainy. With the Legionnaires trapped in glass stasis tubes, he awaits the capture of the sole remaining Legionnaires.
Impatient, he broadcasts a mental command through sorcery for them to show themselves. Superboy, being vulnerable to magic, is overwhelmed, and is stopped only by Karate Kid. At this point, Lightning Lad takes the point, a plan is formed, and his team returns to do battle.
A surprise attack from underneath gives the Legionnaires time to gather the remaining members and make a break for it. The head into space as Mordru blasts Superboy with a bolt of eldritch energy.
The final confrontation takes place between the two powers, the Legion in Superboy's sphere against Mordru, locked in silent combat in space. As Mordru obliterates the sphere and contains the Legion in a sphere of his own magic, Element Lad is finally clued in on a plan. With Brainy's help, he finds the chemical formula to change free-floating atoms into Soil to imprison Mordru, in effect creating an artificial world around the sorcerer. After five furious issues of fight, flight, and battle, the Earthwar...is over.
It is this concluding chapter that has the Legion overturn the article of the Legion Charter that prohibits married Legionnaires from active duty. Two of it's founding members, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl return, while Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy elect to stay retired.
Levitz's Earthwar Saga was the first truly epic comic book I ever read, both in scope and in the talent that contributed to it. When I first bought the books with James Sherman on the art chores, I was blown away. This was a richness of detail and composition, of subtle shading and coloring that I had never seen before. It established in me a deep and abiding love for crisp, clean art, even more so than the art of the great Mike Grell. This was art that was the precursor the fine quality of the Darkness Saga, art truly ahead of its' time. Then, with the change to Staton, a much simpler standard of quality was the rule. I didn't think too much of it as a boy, but as I re-read these issues, I noticed that I appreciated that the work wasn't drawn to be beautiful. Earth was devastated with destruction and death everywhere. Staton's art reflected this bleakness grandly.
Earthwar, in all respects, was a truly fine story, in the opinion of both an eleven year old kid, and the comics fan that he grew up to be.
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2001 by Rick Bennett.
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