Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Can YOU Name The Real Lunatic Legion?

In 1975, as writer Steve Englehart's gig on Captain Marvel was just getting cranked up, a new villainous group was introduced whose chosen name falls in line with other malicious groups that didn't put enough thought into how they were describing themselves to those they opposed (I'm looking at you, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants). For instance, a truly evil person wouldn't likely admit that of himself or their goals or methods--they'd instead accuse their accuser of being narrow-minded or woefully ignorant. But that person actually labeling himself as evil takes away any justification they might feel they have for their actions, however mad, giving them no high ground to hold over whoever they attack. Imagine, say, Dr. Doom making such an admission--it's unthinkable.

Which brings us to the Lunatic Legion, a group name that either says (a) "anyone in our group is a lunatic," or (b) "our name should tell you something about how far we're willing to go to carry out our plans." Somehow I don't think that option (b) ever entered the minds of our band of lunatics, which leaves us with (a). That being the case, the structure of their story leaves some wiggle room for the masterminds of the Legion to still maintain their dignity--because it doesn't seem to be crystal clear just which characters comprise the Lunatic Legion.

Which lets us wiggle our way into yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

Just what is

To boil it down: The Legion's introductory story in Captain Marvel goes back and forth on just who it is we're talking about. Is the Legion indeed made up of the six murderous Kree pictured above? Granted, they certainly act like lunatics toward Mar-vell, with their bigoted agenda of ridding their race of any who are not pure-bred, blue-hued Kree. But we first learn of the group when agents on Earth begin attacking Mar-vell--starting with Nitro, the villain who's known for his ability to detonate himself and then reassemble his atoms as if blowing himself to pieces was perfectly natural. To make things even more confusing, Nitro isn't after Mar-vell at all, but a nerve gas canister called Compound Thirteen--and he only runs into Mar-vell during his getaway following the theft. After he downs Mar-vell and flees, there's only a single cryptic utterance by Nitro to get the ball rolling as far as the plot drawing Mar-vell into the Legion's operations. (And not vice versa--as far as anyone can tell here, neither Nitro nor the Legion are even interested in Mar-vell.)

Then there's the Living Laser, who's been assigned to target Rick Jones, Mar-vell's human link to Earth. It's clear that the Laser is definitely on the Legion's payroll and acting on specific instructions to terminate Rick--and through his communication with his superiors, we now discover that Nitro was sent after Mar-vell, despite evidence to the contrary.

The Laser muddies the waters further when he gives the impression he's working for his former group, the Lethal Legion--which only proves that lunatics have trouble sometimes keeping track of things, just like the rest of us.

On an unrelated note, we get another curve ball thrown at us when the Laser proves to be not quite as "living" as his name implied.

Finally, we have an operative called Nimrod (no relation to the X-Men foe), who intercepts Mar-vell just as he's soaring away from Earth toward the moon in order to investigate the Legion.

Despite Nimrod's bluster and confidence, he's dispatched almost immediately (and thereby adding to the amount of junk orbiting the Earth that would continue to accumulate through the decades).

As we can see, at this point Mar-vell, having no frame of reference on the Legion, believes that it's a separate entity which is directing these agents' attacks.  With Nimrod's defeat, we've covered the ground on what we've seen of the Legion thus far.

After the Laser's attempt on Rick, the story then identifies where the Legion are based, while also attempting to make sense of just why the "Lunatic Legion" are so named--thanks to Ant-Man and the Wasp, who assisted in foiling the Laser's mission.

We'll circle back to Ant-Man's cobbled-together rationale in a moment. For now, let's meet the others who may or may not be the Lunatic Legion--the renegade Kree who are out to reclaim their racial heritage. Once they've captured Mar-vell, we're treated to the backstory regarding the Skrull contest set up between the ancient Kree and the Cotati, who once shared the same planet until the Skrulls arrived to offer one of the two species advanced technology, depending on which of them proved to be the better at adapting a barren moon in a way which demonstrated progress. When told from the renegades' perspective, the story takes on a revisionist slant--for instance, that the Skrulls were bribed by the Cotati to favor the plant race in the contest's outcome. Yet the end result remains the same.

If we're to believe the Kree renegades, it's clear that it's their three operatives who collectively were named the Lunatic Legion--which would add up, since these Kree believe they're acting for a just cause and would never classify themselves as mentally ill or foolish (i.e., lunatics), even as an "inside joke" as Ant-Man's connect-the-dots explanation would have us believe.

Yet even before the Kree divulge their purpose to Mar-vell, the narrative for the scene where he's captured on the moon appears to take a different stance--and it's the group of Kree who instead receive the dramatic unveiling as the Lunatic Legion.

Obviously the story's left hand isn't completely up to speed on what its right hand is doing. In addition, despite all we've heard from the Kree and their reasons for returning to the moon's ancient blue city, the Laser seems to have a far different impression of the Kree's objectives:

And it's anyone's guess how Compound Thirteen figures into all of this.

So--do we have enough facts to make the call either way on who we can consider to be the Lunatic Legion? Well, regardless of Ant-Man's struggle to make a Roman connection to the group, a legion consisted of thousands of men, so that lets out the Laser and the other two--but though the Kree number at twice that, they don't exactly qualify, either. But one of the Kree co-leaders, Sro-Himm, appears to settle the issue when he and Zarek have Rick in their clutches--and ding ding ding, we have a winner.

Fortunately, Mar-vell makes the scene again just in time, and the Legi... er, the Kree are soundly defeated.

The chaos of this topsy-turvy plot can probably be explained (at least in part) by the transition that saw the departure of Jim Starlin and brought in Englehart:

  • The Nitro issue was Starlin's last complete book, though Englehart handled the scripting;
  • the Laser's attempt on Rick, plotted by Englehart, was scripted by Mike Friedrich (with guest-artist Alfredo Alcala);
  • Following was a reprint, with three pages of new material by Starlin, Englehart, and Bill Mantlo;
  • Which finally led to the new creative team's debut (Englehart and artist Al Milgrom), where Ant-Man ushered in the full plot involving the Lunatic Legion.

The Lunatic Legion perhaps holds the record for the briefest duration of a villain group, though that might merit a separate post (or your insightful comments on the subject). Nimrod was virtually D.O.A.; the Laser was somehow made into a cyborg, though I imagine by now that's been explained away and he's back with us; while Nitro was last seen (as far as I know) in Doom's custody, with the former Speedball, Penance, seeking revenge against him. I'd certainly categorize the Laser and Nitro as lunatics worthy of the title; but as a robot that was the sum of his programming, perhaps the jury is out on Nimrod, wherever his pieces/parts are in orbit.


Anonymous said...

My theory is, maybe in the Kree language "lunatic" means "really cool guy, popular with the ladies."


Tiboldt said...

The true passion of this group of blue people was not villainy, and after changing their name, went onto a successful career in performance art.

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