“The Dazzling Debut of Dawnstar!” & “Five Against One”
Writer: Paul Levitz
Pencils: James Sherman & Mike Nasser (Michael Netzer)
Inks: Jack Abel
Colors: Liz Berube
Letters: Bill Morse
Cover artist: Mike Grell
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover price: 30 cents
My local comics retailer is blowing out its back issues and sets for half off this week, so I couldn’t resist stopping by to peruse the long boxes. I found a complete set of Peter David’s Atlantis Chronicles (which should make for an interesting read in the lead-up to the new Aquaman movie) and the first 20 or so issues of Power Pack. I also happened upon a bundle of four Legion of Super-Heroes comics from the 1970s, and among them was this gem: the first appearance of Dawnstar. I’d never read it before, so I was keen to delve into the character’s origin. To my surprise, though, writer Paul Levitz really doesn’t offer much in the way of background for her in her introduction, but more disconcerting is how he chooses to depict the better-known heroes’ reactions to her. Given the clunky nature of the plot and characterization in this main story, I’m honestly surprised Dawnstar turned to have any kind of staying power in the DC Universe.
The Legion of Super-Heroes has had little success in curbing the criminal activities of the Sklarian Raiders, but newly elected leader Wildfire brings in a consultant of sorts to help them team finally put an end to the organization: Dawnstar, space-faring tracker extraordinaire. But resentment over Wildfire’s leadership and an unfamiliarity with the newcomer leads to conflict among the heroes. Meanwhile, Brainiac 5 visits the Sorcerer’s World to steal a magical artifact from malevolent Mordru for the equally villainous Pulsar Stargrave.
While James Sherman provides the pencil art for the main story, Mike Grell is specifically listed in the credits as Dawnstar’s designer. While her look, with the emphasis on fringe in her costume, is definitely the product of its time, it’s a striking design all the same that has rarely been altered over the years. I really enjoy this era of the Legion, in part because I find the incorporation of so many sideburns for the male heroes to look sharp; that’s likely due to the fact that I started reading comics in this era, the late 1970s, so my attachment to the Legion is tied up in these designs. Penciller James Sherman’s style has always been a serviceable but ultimately unremarkable one. His backgrounds are terribly lacking throughout the book, and the designs for the Sklarian Raiders are oddly flat and lacking in menace. Furthermore, the brain bottle design for the leader of the criminal organization is random and never explained. Nasser/Netzer’s linework for the backup story featuring Brainiac 5 boasts a little more personality, at least in the closeup panels, but the wider shots are rather indistinct stylistically.
Dawnstar’s introduction feels rather unceremonious here. She became an integral part of the team doing forward over the decades, but based on her superficial presentation here, it feels as though she wasn’t expected to last long. That Levitz didn’t take the time to introduce her in greater depth to both the audience and her future teammates seems to me to be an odd choice, especially when forgoing the Brainy backup would have given him the space he needed to explore her background in more detail.
I’m a bit torn about the negative tone running through the dialogue and character interactions in the story. On the one hand, I’m intrigued by the political nature of the Legion’s operations, with members openly expressing dissatisfaction with Wildfire’s leadership. However, the heroes’ related hostility to Dawnstar, who’d done nothing to merit it, makes them seem like dicks. Levitz appears to have gone too far in his effort to instill some interpersonal conflict in among the protagonists.
Despite the branding on the cover, this issue is officially titled Superboy #226, according to the indicia, but really, it’s a Legion comic, not a Superboy one. This is a rather noteworthy chapter in Legion history with Dawnstar’s introduction. I’m just surprised it was such an awkward and flawed one as well. 5/10