Great Darkness Saga: A Complete Guide to the Legion of Superheroes Epic
The Legion of Super-Heroes’ Great Darkness Saga is the greatest epics of the DC Universe’s future, and it showed how dangerous Darkseid really is.
Almost four decades after its original publication date, “The Great Darkness Saga” still stands today as one of the most consequential and sweeping epics in DC canon. Unfolding only over five issues of Legion of Super-Heroes, the 1982 storyline, by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, and Larry Mahlstedt, featured almost the entirety of the Legion of Superheroes rising to fight off the threat of a revived Darkseid.
The story also serves as a magnum opus for the classic Levitz/Giffen run on the Legion of Superheroes title and stands as potentially the most important Legion of Superheroes story of all time. It also cemented Darkseid as a truly immortal threat and one of the greatest villains in the DC Universe. Now, here’s how DC built up to the sweeping story arc, the most important issues to read going into the events itself, and the long-standing impact this story had on the DC Universe.
WHAT LED TO THE GREAT DARKNESS SAGA?
The lead-up to the Great Darkness Saga first began in Legion of Superheroes #287 in Levitz and Giffen’s aptly named back-up feature, “Prologue to Darkness.” In this short prologue, Mon-El and Shadow Lass are called in by the United Planets to investigate a seemingly barren world. Almost immediately upon their arrival, however, the two Legionnaires seem to have triggered a series of long-dormant automatic defenses and are forced to fight off tanks and death-rays.
But almost as soon as they arrived, Mon-El and Shadow Lass are called away by a distress signal, much to their pleasure. However, back on the surface of the barren world, a mysterious figure cloaked in shadow is seemingly awoken and watches as the two Legionnaires fly off. The final words to the couple serve as a foreshadowing of the events to come, as he calls after them to “worship the darkness.”
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE GREAT DARKNESS SAGA?
Pretty soon after the events of #287, the actual story unfolds throughout issues #290-294 of the Legion’s monthly series and is self-contained to the Legion’s own title. In the first issue, a team of Legionnaires consisting of Cosmic Boy, Phantom Girl, Wildfire, Superboy and new recruit Invisible Kid II investigates an attack at the Museum of Mystic Arts. There, the team is approached by the Museum’s curator, Antonio Stefanacci. Stefanacci warns the team of what he observes as a growing “darkness” that may be behind the attack. At that moment, the team is ambushed by a shadow-clad figure seeking to steal a powerful artifact that the museum had just acquired. Despite their best efforts, the team fails to stop the figure and he makes off with the artifact.
Steffanacci tells the Legion of a series of other attacks around the globe, where magical artifacts are being stolen. Soon enough, the team makes its way to the Tower of London where they are again attacked by another shadow-clad figure who then steals Excalibur. The team then has several encounters with these beings who they learn to be “Servants” stealing magical artifacts for their “Master,” who is using the objects to drain their power.
Slowly, the Master moves up from artifacts to draining the power of some of the most powerful individuals across the universe, including the powerful wizard Mordru.
The Legionnaires follow the Servants from world to world, while trying to deduce the true plans of their Master. After learning that the Servants were reverse-DNA clones of several powerful heroes, including Superman himself, and following them to the Master’s homeworld, Brainiac 5 is finally able to deduce the Master’s true identity: Darkseid, the dread lord of Apokolips.
Of course, this is not before Darkseid moves to finally crush the Legion by taking mental of the entire planet of Daxam and granting all of them the powers of Superman. This all comes to a head in the final climactic battle in issue #294.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE GREAT DARKNESS SAGA?
“The Great Darkness Saga” had several consequences on the Legion and the DC Universe as a whole. Firstly, it helped establish the Legion as a wildly popular DC property in the 1980s. Darkseid would also continue to prove a powerful enemy to the team, even when he wasn’t directly fighting them. Most notably, it is revealed in Legion of Superheroes Annual #3 that Darkseid secretly kidnapped one of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s twin sons and transformed the infant into Validus, who would go on to become one of the Legion’s greatest villains.
Furthermore, “The Great Darkness Saga” was one of the first stories to truly establish Darkseid as one of the most powerful villains of DC Comics lore. The feats Darkseid pulled off in this story cemented him as DC’s most powerful cosmic villain, capable of both physical might and master manipulation. This is a pattern that can also be seen in subsequent DC stories featuring Darkseid, like Legends, Cosmic Odyssey and Final Crisis.