Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Legion of Super-Heroes #3 Review

What Happened That You Have to Know About: Ultra Boy's dad, the leader of Rimbor, fights the Legion over the whole trident thing, and they bring him back to Legion HQ. Superboy brings Robin to the 31st century, but the Legion says this is a bad idea so they mindwipe him and put him back. Saturn Girl tries a neat trick to try to get information out of Mordru, but it doesn't work. And maybe the trident has been stolen again?

Review: Before I got away to the comic shop I saw a couple of people saying that this was the best issue yet of this young series. I don't know about that, but there certainly is a lot of chewy detail that makes it a good read.

In a sense this is kind of a false start of an issue: it's a lot of people trying things that don't work. Superboy recruiting Robin; the Legion reaching out to Crav, the General Nah; Saturn Girl trying the old switcheroo on Mordru.* I am not saying, "This sucks, nothing happened, what the hell." Stuff certainly did happen, and since I don't know where the story is going I can't say that we didn't make progress toward the ending. Maybe I'll look back from issue #6 and go, "Oh, I get what they were doing."

I do think that the use of Robin was a cheap trick. I have a lot of time for cheap tricks, but it's best to call them what they are. Are lots of Batman and/or Robin fans going to buy this comic because of this low-impact cameo appearance? I hope so. I guess.

We are slowly getting more details on the Legionnaires themselves. I guess this is how it's going to work. Little bit of Ultra Boy, Dawnstar, Mon-El this time around. Problem is, there are lots of Legionnaires who badly need more than a little bit of attention. Going to take forever.

The second fight scene against C,tGN didn't do much for me. Yet another fight involving the entire Legion, in which Saturn Girl tries to put the adversary to sleep. Sorry, Imra, he's got more than 4 HD; ain't gonna work. I wonder if it wouldn't be better to deal with smaller groups of Legionnaires issue-by-issue and save the big group scenes for special occasions. I mean, the whole point of having that many people around is that they don't have to stay in a big group; they can split up and tackle separate problems. Maybe lots of separate problems!

Overall I don't think I would say that this is the best issue yet. I think the way to look at it is, with every issue, we get a better sense of what's going on, not only in the story but in the series overall, and the more that gets developed, the better our experience is. So there is a cumulatively increasing effect here, but I wouldn't put #3 over #2 on that basis.

Anyway! Keep 'em coming!

Notes:
- "Dawnstar Gr'ell". No, don't do that. Yeah, I know. But don't do that
- anybody know what show it is that Superboy and Robin like?
- okay, so, the double-page spread: there *are* other people in the Metropolis area; it isn't just the Legion
- if the trident has been stolen again, it'd be nice if we, you know, saw it happen instead of being told about it
- next issue: some answers, it looks like
- Mongul! That actually works for me
- I wonder if C,tGN's colourful underlings are supposed to have, like, names and personalities and stuff, or if we'll ever see them again
- why is the Gotham police commissioner using a Frichtman tag? I thought they were supposed to be obscure tech

Art: 96 panels/22 pages = 4.4 panels/page. 2 splash pages, 1 double-page spread, 1 other instance of the art being spread over two pages.

Still splashpagier than I'd like, but beautiful. I like the different facial expressions on the cover. I wonder about Chameleon Boy's design... his new more-alien look seems less expressive than his previous portrayals. You know? And there's no reason for Chameleon Boy of all people not to be expressive.

--

* Switcheru.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Could the Terminator Kill the Road Runner?

Typical question about superheroes. Who's the strongest, or, who's the most powerful, or, who would win in a fight. The correct answer, of course, is that it depends on who's writing the story and how they want it to come out. That's entirely true, but a) it's not interesting, and b) there's more than that to be said about it.

I propose to spend some time applying this question to the Legion of Super-Heroes. I already know where I'm going with it, but as I type this I don't know all the places I'm going to hit on the way there.

Anyway, one of the aspects of this question that affects what kind of answer you get is just how you frame it. Let's take the common example of Batman and Superman. Is Batman stronger than Superman? Clearly he is not. Is Batman more powerful than Superman? In the senses of the world "powerful" that we are most likely to be talking about, no, he is not. Could Batman beat Superman in a fight? Now, here, we finally have something that some people would answer "yes" to.

So: who's the strongest Legionnaire?

There are a lot of Legionnaires with super-strength, but they're not all equal; nobody's going to put Colossal Boy, Timber Wolf, Blok and Kent Shakespeare up against the really big guns. No, the ones in the conversation here are Superboy, Supergirl, Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Laurel Gand, Kon-El, Thunder, and Superman-X. And I think Thunder, Ultra Boy and Kon-El are generally seen as a notch below the rest of them in sheer strength. (I do think that!) For the other five, we could probably find rationales to parse it out, but the specific details probably wouldn't be particularly satisfying or persuasive. Bottom line: the strongest Legionnaire is Superboy, or Supergirl, or Mon-El, or Laurel, or Kell-El.

The most powerful Legionnaire might be the same person! It's certainly not a dumb thing to say, that Superboy is the most powerful Legionnaire. But this is where a lot of people will point to Mon-El, saying that Superboy is vulnerable to Kryptonite, which Mon-El isn't, while Mon has his serum to protect him from lead; therefore Mon-El is more powerful. Point taken. I'd like to mention a couple of other Legionnaires in this context, though: Wildfire can certainly command an amount of raw power comparable to the Kryptonians/Daxamites, for one. The White Witch also. The new Dr. Fate character? Maybe!

When it comes to "who would win in a fight", things get really complicated. Because a lot of Legionnaires have powers that allow them to command a lot of power under certain circumstances, or that can be used in a versatile way, or a way that allows them to trump a lot of their opponents' abilities. Let's run through some of them:

- the White Witch, if she had enough prep time, could come up with some kind of spell that could handle any or all opponents
- Chemical King and Chemical Kid could defeat any opponent by stopping the chemical reactions that allow their physical bodies to operate (although, now that I think of it, that wouldn't work on Quislet or, during much of the threeboot, Dream Girl)
- Earth-Man, depending on who he's been hanging out with, might be incandescently powerful, to the point where he'd be a match for anybody
- Element Lad, during his time as the Progenitor, showed how powerful he could theoretically become
- what if Infectious Lass researched a bunch of, like, Kryptonian diseases, and...
- a couple of different times, Paul Levitz used Polar Boy as the Legion's ultimate weapon, showing how his cold-projection powers, if pushed to their maximum, could shut any opponent down
- it isn't so much that Saturn Girl is more powerful than the other Legionnaires as it is that none of the others are as good as she is at fighting in her particular arena. The only other one worth mentioning is Tellus, and I think it's canon that she's a better telepath than he is

But all of this is particularly theoretical. It's not just arguments for how things would play out; it's arguments for how things maybe could play out, if all went well. It's more obviously in the hands of the writer at the time.

One other Legionnaire I'd like to mention this time is Dawnstar. Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Dawnstar is a world-beater like some Legionnaires are. She's a tracker, not a stomper. But do you realize how fast she is? In space, she can fly faster than light. If I remember her DC Comics RPG stats right, she can fly a lot faster than light*, and she doesn't really have to exert herself to do so. It's just a thing she can do. This puts her, as far as raw speed alone is concerned, ahead of all DC's other speed-based characters, including her teammates Superboy and Supergirl and XS... although, of course, they can do speed-related tricks that she can't do, like time travel and phasing through walls.

But you see my point, right? Dawny has a thing she can do that puts her way out in front of everyone else in one category. Superboy, strong as he is, doesn't: with all of his powers he doesn't have anything that separates him from a lot of similarly super characters. Most of what makes him special when comparing him to other Kryptonian-type characters is a kind of privilege. If we say he'd be the one to win in a fight, it's because, you know, he's Superboy; who the flip else are you going to pick?

Still: we could imagine someone who could fly faster than Dawny. There wouldn't necessarily be a point in such a character, but we could do it. Superboy's strong, but we could imagine someone stronger. Dawnstar's fast, but we could imagine someone faster. Star Boy can make things heavy, but we can imagine someone who could make them heavier. But there's one Legionnaire that we can't do this with. There's one Legionnaire, and it's someone we haven't mentioned yet, whose power is absolute.

(And I don't mean Polar Boy, who can strain himself to project coldness of absolute zero. Just because the universe provides him with his limit doesn't mean he doesn't have a limit.)

I'm talking, of course, of Matter-Eater Lad.

He can eat anything.

Anything.

(Any thing, that is; he can't eat energy. He's not Energy-Eater Lad. Also, we're talking about original M-E Lad here; reboot M-E Lad had his powers nerfed down to having strong acids in his mouth, and we didn't get to see enough of threeboot M-E Lad.)

The most famous example of this was the Miracle Machine, an ancient indestructible artifact that granted wishes. It could do anything. The Legionnaires, who were guarding it against those who would misuse it, tried lots of things to destroy it, because it was obviously insanely dangerous to have around. Nothing worked, because it's an ancient indestructible artifact. Then Matter-Eater Lad ate it, because Matter-Eater Lad can eat anything.

So that's where I was going with this: there is a narrow sense in which Matter-Eater Lad is the most powerful Legionnaire. No wonder they wanted him on the team! Everyone else's powers top out at one point or another... but not his.

--

* I know that this makes no actual sense when you consider things like "physics". Just go with it

Labels: ,

Friday, December 27, 2019

Legion of Super-Heroes #2 Review

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

The Legion defends Aquaman's trident from the Horraz. The fight comes to an abrupt end when the trident's function as a portal to the elemental plane of water is activated, washing away the Horraz leader. Rose is working as the LSH liaison to the United Planets. The Legion sends some mission teams to planets Gotham and Rimbor, and Superboy goes back in time to recruit Robin (Damian Wayne) to the Legion.

Review:

I suppose I'm going to have to go through this thing with an Interlac alphabet in front of me. After all these years, I still can't sightread it.

The problem with this issue is we really don't have a story. It's a fight followed by two or three boardroom meetings. There's a danger here that I'm going to focus on the trees at the expense of an understanding of the forest, so I'll try not to do that... It's very possible that this Legion run will be best appreciated when looking back at a large number of issues as a whole. So what does that leave me to do as a reviewer? Mm, we'll see.

On the one hand, this comic is making me appreciate Mark Waid and the threeboot a lot more. Remember LSHv5 #2? The Dream Girl issue. That got a lot more accomplished than this did, and it was a self-contained story, which this comic is decidedly not. On the other hand, remember LSHv6 #2 and LSHv7 #2? Me neither: Brian Michael Bendis is bringing a lot more snap to this enterprise than Paul Levitz did in his third run. (And those weren't even really bad comics!) So there's some interesting stuff going on here even beyond the novelty of just having Legion comics again.

Bendis seems to have decided just to put Rose in the role of LSH/UP liaison, without showing us anything about Rose explaining herself to the Legion. On the one hand, Rose has some things to say about what her deal is that we really do want to hear. On the other, I definitely support anytime Bendis wants to skip over the boring parts and get to the juicy stuff. Presumably it's just a matter of time before we get Rose's info. I'm not being naive about this, am I? It's not like they can just not tell us.

I would categorize the inclusion of Robin in this series as a cheap trick. (That's not a condemnation: I have a deep respect and affection for cheap tricks.) Outside the story, it gives the Legion some visibility for Batman fans, which is obviously advantageous. Inside the story, though, it kinda distracts from learning about this Legion whom we only met one issue ago. Dilutes the attention. Really seems like a distraction to me.

The smaller teams going to Rimbor and Gotham, though? Good, yes, more of that. That should help.

Who would you say we've gotten to know the best so far? I guess Saturn Girl, Ultra Boy, maybe Brainiac 5, but none of them really strongly... I know what I said about Bendis's setting-first approach to the title last month. I would still like to get a better sense of the individual Legionnaires. It'll take forever, I know! But let's start.

Hmm, so, the 15th again for #3? Okay, be that way.

Notes:
- when did we find out that the Horraz leader was named Tortor? Just this issue?
- is time-travel just really easy?
- are the Frichtman tags helping any of you? I haven't really taken the trouble to squint at any of them

Art: 85 panels/22 pages = 3.9 panels/page. 1 splash page, 2 double-page spreads, 3 instances of multiple panels spread across two pages. Ryan Sook is still giving us a lot of one-panel pages, but he partially compensates for that with several pages with six or seven panels each. The quality of the rendering is good, but it's extremely busy and you really have to *look* at it. This is a quality that has its advantages; I just noticed a bunch of things while doing exactly this: Bouncing Boy on page 2; Phantom Girl, if that's who that is, on page 5.

Membership Notes:

A lot of stuff really isn't clear yet! When I can give some kind of comprehensive update, I will, but for now: there are a lot of Legionnaires.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Watch This Space

I just read LSHv8 #2, but I am not in a position to type up a review tonight. Soon as I can. Certainly this year. Happy holidays to all if I don't communicate with you otherwise before then!

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 Review

Back to the old salt mine.

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

Some nasties called the Horraz are, for some reason, delivering Aquaman's legendary trident to Mordru, who is in this reality a "demon gangster" on Planet Gotham. Ultra Boy and some other Legionnaires intercept it. Meanwhile, Superboy officially joins the Legion just in time for the Horraz to attack in large numbers, presumably to get the trident back. The president of the United Planets is updated on all of this and is not pleased. Oh, and Rose shows up, but nobody's paying any attention to her.

Review:

Okay, so the first thing about this is, I would not call this a complete comic-book story. It's a chapter one, is what it is. I prefer complete stories in my comics. Now, I understand this is a bar that very few current comics can clear. But I think it's worth mentioning every now and then.

Second thing. I like the way we're starting small. A few Legionnaires fighting some random dudes over an artifact. That's a very manageable scale for a story, and I applaud this approach. (Back in the days of the reboot Legion, this was my complaint about DnA's run on the comic: freaking world was almost getting destroyed every issue.) It's not no-stakes, of course; the trident could maybe restore the oceans to whatever it is that's left of the Earth, and Mordru and the Horraz could be major players. But that's fine. Start small, build up from there.

Let's get into what I think is the most important point, which is just what Brian Michael Bendis's approach to the comic seems like it's going to be. I'll start with an observation I've made before.

The original Legion, in the early '60s, did not have a lot of characterization. The Legionnaires were close to interchangeable as far as their personalities were concerned. Eventually, writers like Jim Shooter and Cary Bates started bringing whatcha might call a more Marvelistic style of characterization to the team, which improved things somewhat, and then Paul Levitz completed the process by settling the Legionnaires into vital, understandable personalities that, decades later, still seem to us like who the characters really are. Then we had the reboot Legion, which built on that by giving the Legionnaires somewhat broader personalities, often ones that may have been less naturalistic but better suited to superheroic characters. After that, Mark Waid's threeboot Legion had bizarre alien personalities that were integrated into the natures of their superpowers and home planets, in ways both obvious and subtle.

(I know, I'm leaving stuff out. I'm just talking about the undisputedly distinct versions of the Legion.)

Well, there's no way to continue that pattern. You can't find a way to develop the Legionnaires' personalities that's more sophisticated than what Waid did in the threeboot. And it doesn't look like Bendis is trying to do that. Bendis has the reputation that his characters do a lot of Sorkinesque back-and-forth banter, and all sound kind of like each other, and that's certainly true here.

I mean, it's not like the Legionnaires are all identical robots; we get hints of what Ultra Boy and Karate Kid and Saturn Girl are like. I'd like a little more than that, but, fine, it's a first issue, there's a lot of ground to cover.

So, yeah, Bendis isn't trying to out-characterize previous Legion writers. I'm going to say something that a lot of people will disagree with, and that's this: it's okay to deemphasize character. There's a lot of different stuff going on in fiction, and you don't have to do it all. You can pick the parts you think are important for the kind of story you want to tell. And plenty of writers don't have character as their top priority, including some of my favourites. I'm thinking of P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote a lot of funny stuff with intricate plots, in which some of his characters were broadly memorable and some were kind of just anybody. Perfectly acceptable approach.

If Bendis isn't emphasizing character, what is he emphasizing? Just from this one issue, I'd have to say that he's emphasizing setting. There's all kinds of crazy stuff in this Legion's universe. Apparently teleportation's easy. It's not clear at all just what Metropolis is, or what it's in. And what's the deal with Gotham? The United Planets homeworld... is that a planet, or a... building...? Previous Legion writers have tended to let the science-fictional details of the universe accrete gradually and in kind of an ad-hoc way. But I get the impression that this is where a lot of Bendis's and Sook's creativity has been invested.

And if that's the recipe for this series, then, yeah, okay. Dozens of chatty superpowered teens exploring a bonkers galaxy? I can work with that.

(It also seems to be part of the recipe that we get elements of the contemporary DCU added strongly to the mix. I don't like that; I prefer as few current-day elements as possible in my Legion comics. But that's just my personal preference and I don't think it ruins the comic.)

I'm going to be interested in seeing how Bendis handles the large cast. If every Legionnaire is going to appear in every issue, it's just not going to work. Few at a time, few at a time. Look at the fight against Mordru in this issue: what was Star Boy there for? He didn't *do* anything; Ultra Boy had to double back and help out.

One last thing about this issue... it wasn't just a guest appearance where the Legionnaires just had to show up and pose. It wasn't a generic emergency like a galactic rift that had to be sealed. It wasn't a high-concept crossover. It was just a regular Legion comic, where something shady is going on and the golden lads and lasses must get their hands dusty investigating it. It's been so long since there's been one of those, and I have missed it like stink.

Bottom line: this was an okay comic book with good ingredients. It's a good introduction and an enjoyable read. I continue to be cautiously optimistic about this title and am looking forward to #2. While I disagree with some of what Bendis wants to do here, I do like the fact that he seems to have some kind of strong vision that he's chasing. It can make up for a lot.

Notes:

- hey, Phantom Girl has a little halo over her head. Didn't notice that before. What's it do?
- I actually want to see the PowerPoint slides the Legionnaires prepared for Superboy
- the Horraz lettering on pages 1-3! That's some Bob Lappan action right there. Nice job by Dave Sharpe
- remember I said the skeletal Legionnaire in the green containment suit was Chemical King? Pipe page 23; more likely Chemical Queen
- I hope the Horraz are more interesting than just being, you know, orcs or whatever
- this may be a plot point: on page 1, what caused the Horraz ship to go out of control?
- I didn't really get some of Mordru's dialogue. Face of madness? You will not shame me? Huh?

Art:

81 panels/24 pages = 3.4 panels/page. 3 double-paged spreads. But note that there are six separate pairs of facing pages where the art spills from one over to the next. That's a lot. What other comics have that? That Nextwave issue?

Panel count is a little light. I had high hopes at the start of the story but Ryan Sook got pretty splashpagey toward the end. I hope it was just first-issue syndrome; I don't want puffy Legion comics. Had enough of that with Johns and Frank.

But the actual art looks good. Sook shows off a couple of times, like with the first Saturn Girl page. (Or on the cover where he does size/perspective tricks with Shrinking Violet and Superboy's arm.) He doesn't stint on the backgrounds. Distinguishes faces well. Really it's a nice-looking comic book. I hope he can keep this pace up.

Membership Notes:

I ain't puttin' it all here; I'll update the Legion Roster/The Legionnaires page, like, this weekend or something. It's due for a renovation anyway.

Labels: ,