The Emerald Empress. Long time fans know all about her, one of the most powerful foes that the Legion of Super-Heroes fought, thanks to the glowing, eerie Emerald Eye of Ekron that gave her all sorts of powers. And while the original Emerald Empress eventually died when the Legion managed to free her from the Eye's grasp (it turning out to be a living, parasitic object), the character has been popular enough that the Eye survived into the post-Zero Hour "Legion of Super-Heroes" stories, as well as appearing in the present day "L.E.G.I.O.N." and "52" comics.
But now, the Eye is back, and it's picked a new Empress. And perhaps because it was Sensor Girl who defeated the Eye before, the new Empress is on Sensor Girl's home planet of Orando.
So with all that in mind? That's just the set-up for the "Legion of Super-Heroes Annual" #1. We get through that in the first few pages. And from that point on, it's a handful of Legionnaires versus a new incarnation of an old villain, one that's remaking an entire planet from the ground up.
Paul Levitz is joined here by his old co-plotter and artist Keith Giffen, the pair of them coming up with a new Emerald Empress. Levitz and Giffen's story is a little creepy in places, with a reminder that the Eye doesn't just grant powers to someone, it slowly takes over their life. This new Empress is a big change from the previous one, though; while the old Empress's final appearance had her desperate for release from the controlling sphere, this new one is a badly-abused girl who was saved from death by the Eye. The old trick on how to stop the Eye is no longer valid, and instead the few characters on Orando have to use some more ingenuity to stop the artifact.
It's not until we get into the inner workings of the Eye that things start kicking into high gear, though, and it's specifically the scenes of Shrinking Violet versus the Eye that start to truly grab your attention. Levitz and Giffen have come up with an odd setup for the Eye, here, and one that doesn't look to have its story completely told just yet. The strange scenes that Giffen draws here remind me somewhat of moments in the "Aliens" movies, only crossed with "Twin Peaks." It's lush and soft and yet wrong-looking, and it makes Violet's sense of bewilderment seem that much more real. Between those scenes and the cover image, it makes me wish that Giffen was sticking around for more "Legion of Super-Heroes" one-offs instead of heading over to "The Outsiders." With all the amount of detail in both the characters and all of the backgrounds, it's easy to see why this book ran a tiny bit late.
Brian Douglas Ahern draws art for a fun four-page backup, the "Legion History: The Board Game" which gives a brief overview of past Legion storylines, only with a sense of humor. Deaths of members and other big moments are highlighted; fans who are wondering if all the rest of the Levitz issues post-Crisis are still in continuity will be quick to note the that it appears to all be intact (including the death of Magnetic Kid). That said, Levitz plays coy with the period between his last issue and the return of the Legion in "Action Comics" a few years ago, simply putting a big question mark on the board and referring to it as, "The Mystery Years!" Sorry Quislet fans, your burning questions on how he returned are still unanswered. Ultimately, it's a cute way to brush up on your Legion history, and anything that gives Ahern more work is always a good thing in my book.
"Legion of Super-Heroes Annual" #1 is a nice throwback to when the annuals had big storylines that couldn't fit into the main series. While there are hints that this story will eventually come back to haunt the team (maybe in "Legion of Super-Heroes Annual" #2 if we're lucky?), for now it's a nice, large chunk of story that feels satisfying. All in all, a fun effort.