Monday, January 4, 2010

It Came From the Discard Bin! #5: Legion of Monsters

It Came From The Back Issue Bins … The Legion of Monsters
by Jason Shayer

With a title like The Legion of Monsters, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to pull together a grouping monsters, like Morbius, Werewolf by Night, and the Man-Thing. The Legion of Monsters #1 black and white magazine hit the newsstands in early 1975. The title of this series, as well as this concept, proved to be terribly misleading. This issue featured a beautiful Neal Adams cover painting featuring Stoker’s Dracula commanding Frankenstein’s Monster and the Manphibian. The Manphibian? Who could forget the Manphibian? What? You did? Never heard of him? He’s the Marvel knockoff of the Creature From The Black Lagoon.

The disappointing The Legion of Monsters #1 didn’t feature the promised monster team-up and contained individual stories, none of which were even remotely connected. And to add insult to injury, these stories were unused pieces from Marvel’s other black and white magazines, like the Dracula Lives! and Monsters Unleashed.

And about the idea of this being an ongoing series. The Legion of Monsters #1 turned out to be a one-shot despite the editorial, as well as in-house ads and subscription forms, indicating that it would be an ongoing publication.

However, like all good monsters, the idea didn’t stay dead for long. A few months later, the Legion of Monsters made their very first appearance in the pages of Marvel Premiere #28. Now this was more like it, right? I really wanted this to be something special, but it wasn’t. In fact, it was terrible.

As a monster fan, I can appreciate how difficult it is to get all of the monsters together, but getting them together almost took half the comic book! This issue teamed up Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider, and Morbius to face the fearsome threat of the being known as Starseed. What? Never heard of him either? There’s a reason. Fortunately, we haven’t heard of Starseed since either. Might tell you something.

Monster comics didn’t survive long after the 1970s. The most successful attempt at bringing together monsters again was in the 1990s under the banner of the Midnight Sons. This banner pulled together supernatural heroes like Blade, Ghost Rider, Morbius, and Doctor Strange.

More recently, in 2005, Marvel tried to revive this franchise with Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos (2005) which was kind of a Hellboy/BPRD rip-off as S.H.I.E.L.D. employed various monsters, like the Werewolf by Night and the Living Mummy, to tackle supernatural threats. It died a merciful death.

In 2008, Marvel returned to its traditional monster roots by publishing four one-shots that featured Morbius, Man-Thing, Werewolf by Night, and Satana. Sticking to the original formula, these one shots were self-contained and didn’t have any of the monsters teaming up. These issues were nicely repackaged in a hardcover collection that you can probably find at most comic book stores.

Late this year, Marvel tried once again to reboot the Legion of Monsters. This time in hopes of ensuring its success, they decided to recruit its favorite vigilante. Frank Castle is no stranger to the supernatural; being in and out of prisons and mental institutes, hunted and praised by law enforcement, killed and raised from the dead by angels, and left a bloody trail of mobsters in his wake.

This reboot of the Legion of Monsters is tied into the latest version of the Punisher franchise. This version had returned to the basics that made the Punisher a success in the 1980s. Solid, no holds barred story-telling, a deadly, single-minded Frank Castle, and a gritty realistic approach to the series all make The Punisher a comic worth checking out, even before the monster slant.

Okay, okay, you’ve hung on this far waiting to see what the hell all of this has to do with the Legion of Monsters. Here’s the payoff. The previous story arc concluded with the Punisher’s death, leaving him a dismembered corpse. In Punisher #11, Frank is put back together by Dr. Michael Morbius, with a tip of the hat to Frankenstein’s Monster, and joins the others monsters as the newly rebranded Legion of Monsters. Together they head off to take on a deadly organization that threatens to purge the Marvel Universe of monsters.

Don’t miss this ride, it’s just getting underway. Don’t make me say I told you so.

--Jason Shayer