1989 and 1990 were a great time to be in comics if you had a popular series. That was, after all, the era when creators like Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane could deliver comic sales in numbers that people in the industry only dream about today.
The big name creators were literally like rock stars, earning amazing amounts of money for producing their comics–or, famously, not producing their comics–all the while driving an unsustainable collectors’ market in which fans dreamed of striking it rich investing in the latest foil-enhanced book.
That’s what life was like at the top, but the riches never quite trickled down to the ordinary comics. Oh sure, for a short time, rank-and-file mainstream comics at Marvel and DC sold well. Additionally, lest we forget, Sandman was blazing a trail in which literary comics began to gain a market foothold.
However, books in the vast class of other titles were mostly forgotten in that era. If a book wasn’t the latest fad, it was lost in the marketplace. That was the case with the Alien Legion.
Alien Legion actually has a fairly strong history in the medium. It was one of the main comics released under the Epic Comics imprint, Marvel’s first line of creator-owned books. You might know Dreadstar from that line, and their longest-lived and best-known comic by far was Groo.
However, the Alien Legion predated Sergio’s inept barbarian in the Epic line, first appearing in 1984. The Legion also managed to run for some ten years, finally running out of steam in 1993. By that time, the comics market was enduring a long and painful hangover from its boom years.
In this book, Checker has collected seven issues of Alien Legion from ’89 and ’90. In them readers learn that the book’s reputation is well deserved. The team of Chuck Dixon and Larry Stroman deliver solidly professional work in all seven stories, but though it has some nice individual moments, this book is neither flashy nor innovative. Instead it contains some solid and fun action-adventure.
In my favorite story in this book, “Deep Blue,” a group of Legionnaires finds themselves trapped inside the body of a giant undersea space eel creature called a Momojian Kindrel. It’s fun to see the team fight their way to the Kindrel’s head as they deal with attacks from inside the body.
This story even gets a bit poignant as we read the creature’s thoughts on its advanced age and impending mortality from a Legionnaire who mind-melds with the creature. In the end the Legionnaires free themselves and put the creature out if its agony. That gives this story a nice, bittersweet ending.
Another story, “Man of War”, sees the Legion helping a team of archeologists explore a planet which had once been used as a proxy planet for wars. “The fate of worlds and entire systems was decided here,” the narration tells readers. As you might expect, a great weapon gets activated on the planet and the Legion is forced to fight a desperate battle.
In a nice moment, readers see the heroism of one particular Legionnaire, whose courage helps him save his friends from the horrible weapon.
This story also contains the single most dramatic scene in the book, as the giant claw of the weapon is thrust up through the ground in a towering full-page spread. Artist Larry Stroman lavishes a tremendous amount of detail in this scene, producing an image that firmly convinces the reader of the powerful and danger that the weapon presents.
The scene stands out in part because it provides a tantalizing hint of the great art that Stroman could have produced in this book. Unfortunately, Stroman never quite delivers a moment quite as amazing as that one.
Too many scenes are like the portrait of the city Mass Driver of the planet Mmrosdia in the chapter “Vector-Red.” The city looks like it should be impressive, and it has a fair amount of detail given it in the artwork, but Stroman is somehow unable to convey the scale of the city he’s trying to present.
Perhaps it’s the uninspired coloring, or inker Mark Farmer’s inking style, or a sign that Stroman’s artistic skills were still growing at the time. Unfortunately, however, this scene simply never has the scale or majesty that Stroman seems to be striving for.
Even the two-issue story that stands at the center of this book, in which Legionnaire Jugger Grimrod confronts his evil father, somehow lacks that certain spark that would have made it a great story. We read about Jugger’s internal persona battles about his father’s evil, but for whatever reason these thoughts never quite connect to a the dramatic fever pitch that Dixon is striving for in that story.
The follow-up story, “Stand Down,” tells the story of Grimrod’s extremely nasty youth and the horrible trials he went through that shaped his character. It’s only in reading this story that readers start to see the drama that could have been present in the previous two stories, and get a feel for how horrific Jugger’s father really was to his family.
If those scenes had been embedded in the previous story, it would have made all three of these issues much more dramatic. Instead, it feels like a bit of a lost opportunity.
After reading Piecemaker, it’s easy to see why this series ultimately failed in the early ‘90s. Dixon and Stroman delivered a solidly professional comic that simply never quite captured the imagination in the way that other comics of that era did. Reading these stories some twenty years after they first appeared, it’s clear that Dixon and Stroman had some good chops in them. But this would never have been the kind of comic that would break through and capture readers’ hearts.