When Marvel Comics launched its Epic Comics creator-owned line of titles in 1982, I had a tough time trying to decide which of the new titles would be included in my monthly comic book budget. Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar and Steve Englehart’s Coyote were occasional purchases, but there was one Epic title that stood out the most for me starting with issue #1 and would be my top purchase with each new issue: 1984’s Alien Legion by the creative team of Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz, Frank Cirocco and Terry Austin.
Frank Cirocco’s painted cover for Alien Legion #1 drew me in from the first moment I saw it on the spinner rack of my local comic shop. The $2.00 cover price was a bit steep for me back then considering the going rate for most Marvel and DC titles on my purchase list was $.60. But at 48 pages on higher quality paper (I wish today’s comics were printed on Baxter paper!), it was worth sacrificing the two additional titles I could have bought. Though a recent look back at my purchases shows I still had a decent comics haul that month.
The inside cover’s “state of the galaxy” does a great job setting up the first story by describing the roles of the governing body, the TOPHAN Galactic Union (TGU), and the Alien Legion, mercenaries comprised of different races from throughout the Union. The TGU is made up of elected officials from the Thermor, Ophides and Auron galaxies (hence TOPHAN) with established treaties, trade agreements and peacekeeping responsibilities throughout the galaxy. The Alien Legion are the grunts sent in for the dirty work. Page one of issue #1 sums them up best: “Footsloggers and soldiers of fortune, priests and poets, killers and cads – they fight for a future Galarchy, for cash, a cause, for the thrill of adventure. Legionnaires live rough and they die hard, tough as tungsten and loyal to the dirty end.” How could I not buy this issue off the rack?
The “dossiers” of six of the main legionnaires give each of their backgrounds: Torie Montroc, the human university graduate forced to join by his wealthy father in order to earn a trust fund; Sarigar, the serpentine alien leader of the unit featured in the title; Jugger Grimrod, the anti-social weapons expert; Durge, the former wrestler known for his bravery; Meico, the kind-hearted former refugee; and Torqa Dun, the former bureaucrat who’s in it for the money more than the honor of service.
The story begins in space when a Legion ship, en route to disrupt an illegal mining operation on the nearby moon Wedifact IV, is sneak attacked by a squadron of enemy Harkilons. The Legion ship, badly damaged, fights back just long enough for two shuttles (Vector and Nomad) to escape to their destination. But despite the destruction of the main ship and the loss of half of their colleagues, the surviving 28 legionnaires still have a job to do.
Lieutenant Montroc, piloting Nomad, and Vector’s Lieutenant Birkh confirm their orders from Captain Sarigar: observe the operation from the air, then rendezvous with Captains Sarigar and Phyte to plan further action. Birkh’s team spots the illegal mining operation, but what looks to be a routine plan is thrown off when the mine’s defense battery knocks out Vector shuttle, crash landing it to the surface.
Before Birkh’s team can even assess their surroundings, they’re ambushed by rogue miners led by Prinn, who waste no time shooting to kill. Birkh curses the fact the legionnaires can’t properly fight back as their regulation weapons were replaced by eco-friendly dart guns in order not to environmentally impact the planet. Prinn, hardly sympathetic to the ecological impact of his mining operation, kills Birkh. The 28 are now down to 14.
Back at Tophan Galactic Union headquarters, Legion representatives are given little support by the committee members, who are more concerned with the ecological preservation of Wedifact IV and its species of rathosaurs over the military implications of the Harkilon empire breaking an already fragile peace. The representatives, ambivalent to the military in general, simply want the legionnaires to fulfill their mission of knocking out the pirate mining outpost with as little environmental consequences as possible, regardless of the Legion’s losses.
Back on Wedifact IV Montroc leads his seven man squad through the jungle and finds Birkh’s team dead in a clearing. As the remaining legionnaires bury and collect the dogtags of the fallen, Badj sneaks off on his own to observe the rathosaurs. Only they are not living uninterrupted in their natural habitat, they’ve been trained by the pirates to do their manual labor. Montroc’s job isn’t made any easier by infighting among the men, but a crack of Sarigar’s serpentine tail quickly restores order.
The remaining legionnaires move in on Prinn’s mining operation with a nighttime raid. The idealistic Montroc asks Sarigar if it’s worth the risk, but Sarigar quickly reminds him that as legionnaires it’s about following the orders. When their stealth attempt to breach the mine fails, it’s the legionnaires versus the entire camp. With the odds against them and nothing more than dart guns, the legionnaires ignore their disadvantage and give it everything they’ve got. Prinn uses his lackeys to save his own skin, which leads to a surprise reveal.
No spoilers here. Potts and Zelenetz crafted a fantastic story that does a great job introducing the major characters. Penciller Frank Cirocco and inker Terry Austin complemented each other perfectly on their Alien Legion run. Austin is one of a handful of inkers who’s lines worked amazingly with many pencillers: Howard Chaykin, Paul Smith and of course, John Byrne to name a few. But his all too brief work with Frank Cirocco on the pages of Alien Legion is my favorite of his penciller/inker collaborations. I’m the proud owner of three original Terry Austin inked pages, but it’s my Cirocco/Austin page from Alien Legion #4 that is my favorite of my original comic art collection. The crisp lines make me wish they worked on more Alien Legion issues and a broader range of stories together.
After reading Alien Legion #1, it was a tough wait until the next issue. But great writing, great characters, and top notch art always made subsequent issues worth the wait. Even thirty five years later, these footsloggers are well worth revisiting. Long live the Legion!