Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Legionnaires / Continuity Notes: Mon-El

Mon-El, aka Lar Gand of Daxam, aka Valor, M'Onel. Created by Robert Bernstein and George Papp.

Mon-El's history has become like... ever see a cartoon where someone's trying to fix a leaky pipe? Water is spurting out from one part, so the guy fixes that, and the water starts shooting out from somewhere else. So he fixes that, and two more places start spraying… I'm overstating. There were times when Mon-El made sense, for a little while, but this is not one of those times. Let's clear all that out of the way first, and then go into why he's such a great character.

When Mon first appeared, it was in a Superboy story in the Silver Age. He was a super-powered amnesiac, and he and Superboy became convinced that Mon was Superboy's big brother from Krypton. Turned out, he wasn't: he was a guy from Daxam who had visited Krypton once. And Daxamites have the same deal that Kryptonians do: they get super-powers when they come to Earth. The only difference is that Kryptonians are vulnerable to kryptonite, which is rare, and they get better when the kryptonite is taken away, while Daxamites are vulnerable to lead, which is common, and they keep getting sicker even if the lead is taken away. Mon gets exposed to some lead, so Superboy has to send him to the Phantom Zone until he can find a cure for him.

Mon-El next appears in a Legion story. The Legion is in trouble, so they let Mon-El out of the Phantom Zone and whip up a temporary cure for him. He helps out, joins the Legion as a reserve member until they can find a permanent cure, and returns to the Zone. Eventually they do find a permanent cure and let him out again, and he becomes a full member.

Already we have some problems if we choose to think about them.

First, if Mon-El is still in the Zone after ten centuries, then that means that Superman failed to find a cure for him during his life. Which is fine, but generally in the Silver Age they didn't like to have Superman fail at stuff.

But: Superboy knows that Mon-El is still in the Zone after ten centuries, because he meets him again in the future! So either he knows that he can't find a cure, or he figures he shouldn't find a cure. To make the future come out right, see? He doesn't even take the cure that the Legion comes up with and take it back in time with him to spare Mon-El a thousand years of insubstantial purple tedium! He doesn’t even tell Mon-El that he’s going to have to wait a thousand years! Should he have?


(One thing that happens sometimes is that, in pre-Crisis Superman stories involving the Phantom Zone, you'll see Mon-El make a cameo appearance, just hanging out there in the Zone, waiting for the 30th century to happen... (in particular, see the four-issue miniseries The Phantom Zone, from about 1980, for an example of this. I had three of the four issues of this when I was little and they blew me away).)

Anyway. Mon-El remains a Legionnaire in good standing throughout the run of the Silver Age Legion, even becoming leader at one point. And it's all very straightforward until we get to Crisis on Infinite Earths.

With Crisis on Infinite Earths comes the Pocket Universe, and this is where the cracks start to appear in Mon-El's history. Because the Pocket Universe retcon says that the Superboy who joined the Legion was a creation of the Time Trapper in this pocket universe... so, was Mon-El also from this pocket universe? He first met Superboy in the 20th century, after all. But what about the Phantom Zone miniseries, just one of many times that Mon-El interacted with Superman? I don't think the comics ever resolved this point one way or another. The Trapper said he was, but certainly Mon didn't seem to regard himself as a pocket universe creation.

After the Pocket Universe story, a secret cabal of Legionnaires vowed to take revenge on the Time Trapper, including Mon-El. Mon-El was seriously wounded in the final battle with the Trapper, though, and eventually died of his injuries. Apparently.

Early in the Five Years Later stories, Mon-El wakes up. Take your pick: either he was too tough to die completely, or the Time Trapper revived him. The Trapper was almost dead too, but left a little cutting of himself alive in Mon-El, which he could do because Mon was one of his tools, thanks to the pocket universe thing. The Trapper and Mon-El fought: the Trapper wanted Mon-El to help him return to power, because if he didn't, Mordru would take over the universe. Mon-El wasn't going for that, though, and destroyed the Trapper.

This caused the Trapper's manipulations to disappear, all of them, and the universe reverted to a default state in which Mordru ruled over a Legionless 30th century, just like the Trapper said would happen. An ambitious and magically gifted member of Mordru's harem, Glorith, tried to redo what the Trapper had done and set herself up in the Trapper's place, and mostly succeeded: she reset the universe to almost how it had been when the Trapper was around. The biggest difference was that Mon-El had been substituted for Superboy.

(I'm leaving out all the Eltro Gand stuff, because as far as I can tell, it's just a detail that makes things more complicated without actually getting us anywhere. Eltro Gand was a relative of Mon-El’s who… never mind, never mind, I’m leaving it out.)

In this new history, Lar Gand was called 'Valor'. He was a Daxamite who became an interstellar hero (and had his own comic!) in the 20th century after DC's Invasion crossover event; he helped settlers get to a bunch of different planets and was known as the 'Seeder of Worlds'. As such, he was the shining 20th-century example that inspired the Legion, just like Superboy did pre-Crisis. He never met Superman as a boy; instead, he was cast into the Phantom Zone by 20th-century Glorith, who was mad at him for not wanting to rule the galaxy at her side. And the Legion let him out of the Zone in the 30th century just like before. Most of Valor's history as a Legionnaire matches Mon-El's, although you kind of have to convert some things; his death at the hands of the Time Trapper is altered to a different kind of confrontation with Glorith, for instance.

This was fine for a while, but then it just gets insanely complicated as the three Legion titles (Legion of Super-Heroes, Legionnaires, Valor) approached Zero Hour and the 'End of an Era' storyline. I think the way it worked was that Glorith accidentally killed Valor in the 20th century, and had to shift the one from the SW6 batch in Legionnaires out of the 30th century so that he could fill the original Valor's role, but then that didn't quite work, and time fell apart and the Legion was rebooted. But there may be more to it than that.

Now we're into the reboot. Valor's history as a 20th-century hero seemed to be left more or less intact by the reboot, as far as I can tell. He was still the Seeder of Worlds. Then there was a storyline where he met Superboy (that's Kon-El, not Kal-El) and ended up in the Phantom Zone with lead poisoning; funny how that works. The Legion came back to the 20th century to find him and ended up letting him out in the 30th. But he was such a legendary guy that he had to go by 'M'Onel' in the 30th century or billions of people all over the galaxy would be flipping out. So that was actually fairly straightforward.

Then we had the threeboot. In Infinite Crisis it became clear that the reboot Legion was still out there somewhere, and presumably M'Onel was there with them. That's fine. But: just recently there was a story in the Action Comics annual about how Superman met Mon-El when he was a kid, and had to put him in the Phantom Zone. This guy is not the same as the Valor who Kon-El met and who joined the reboot Legion, but he does seem to be the same as the guy who joined the threeboot Legion during the Dominator storyline. So that still makes sense.

But! Then we met the 2x+unboot Legion in the JLA/JSA crossover 'The Lightning Saga'. And we see Superman's Legion statues, showing the 2x+unboot Legion, including Mon-El.

Too many Mon-Els! Which Mon-El did Superman meet in his youth, the 2x+unboot Mon-El or the threeboot Mon-El? And where did the other one come from? (Or are they both the same? And if they are, how does that work?) And, while we're at it, are Valor's 20th/21st-century exploits still in continuity on the main DC Earth, and if so, where did that guy go? To wherever the reboot Legion is now?

This is one of those deals where I don't have any answers; I can just identify the questions. If there's going to be another DC Nation panel at some convention anytime soon, maybe someone could ask the panel to clear this up. Please?


Mon-El is many things. He's a quiet guy and didn't really take to leadership when he was in charge of the Legion. The original Mon-El/Valor had a long-term relationship with Shadow Lass that eventually became a marriage; subsequent versions of the character have been single. The thing he most likes to do is explore space; this has been true for all versions of the character ('M'Onel' is supposed to mean 'traveler' in Martian), and it's one reason why he's often absent from the Legion (which is handy for Legion writers, as he's so powerful that they must want to be able to leave him offscreen every now and then).

He’s supposed to be as powerful as Superboy. Technically that’s true, but with some adjustments:
- he’s not vulnerable to kryptonite, which means he’s more powerful than Superboy
- he’s vulnerable to lead, which is much more common than kryptonite, which means he’s less powerful than Superboy
- he has an anti-lead serum, which blocks his lead vulnerability, which means he’s more powerful than Superboy
- the anti-lead serum sometimes fails, or something, which means he’s less powerful than Superboy
Plus, let’s face it. Superboy is SUPERBOY. He’s Superman as a boy. He is, as has been noted, the greatest hero of them all. Therefore, he’s greater than Mon-El, regardless of who’s supposed to be more powerful or not.

There are some comic-book superheroes who stand apart, in my mind, as being particularly noble and incorruptible in character. Now, almost all superheroes are moral paragons, regardless of how conflicted or whatever they are. But to me there are some who are even more so. I don’t have a definitive list; I was trying to think of one the other day and was dissatisfied with it. The demographics of who I came up with were sufficiently incomplete that I just don’t think I’ve thought it through well enough. But I know that Superman, Captain America, Captain Marvel and Uncle Sam would have to be on such a list of paladins, and so would Mon-El. (I believe I’d add Wonder Woman and Michael Holt and Jaime Reyes and John Henry Irons, and there must be some more female characters who would fit, but stap my vitals if I can pick any out in particular.)

So I think Mon-El’s signature moment was the time he killed a guy and destroyed the universe.

(LSH4 #4.) Doesn’t sound noble, until you think about it: for Mon, the Time Trapper isn’t a person so much as he’s a force of entropy; if you kill him, is it murder or experimental physics? Plus, to give in to the Trapper’s arguments (i.e. that unless he co-operated with the Trapper, Mordru would conquer everything) is to despair. Mon-El won’t accept that such a compromise is the best solution. Instead, he destroys the Trapper, because at heart this solitary traveler is a Legionnaire, and when you’re a Legionnaire you know one thing for sure: there are always other good people around whom you can trust to carry on.

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