Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Days of Past Future

It recently occurred to me to ask the question, "What is the Legion of Super-Heroes for?"

As in, what purpose does the Legion serve from the perspective of DC Comics?

Stipulated that this question, applied to any comic-book character or characters, can be truthfully answered with, "They serve the purpose of appearing in comic-book stories that people will buy because they enjoy reading about those characters' adventures." Further stipulated that any superhero characters have the purpose of, "They exist to be the protagonists of the story and to fight supervillains." What I'm looking for is, what is the purpose of the Legion beyond all that stuff.

Here are some examples of what I mean. The purpose of Superman is to be the preeminent superhero of the DCU. The purpose of the Justice League is to organize the DCU's top superheroes for easy collective use. The purpose of the Outsiders is to give Batman an outlet for some of his worst tendencies. And so on.

I've gone on at length before about the essential qualities of the Legion, but that's more a description of what the Legion is. Not quite the same question. For instance, the Legion is traditionally composed of young superheroes, but the Legion is not the DCU's go-to team for teenagers. The Teen Titans is. The Legion isn't around to be young; they just are young.

As far as I can tell the Legion has two purposes in DC's ecosystem. (Let me know if you can think of any I missed.)

The first one is that they are there to reflect glory on Superman, by which I also mean Superboy. They represent the ultimate triumph of his ideals, on the one hand, and on the other hand they're really cool friends for him to have. Does Batman hang out with dozens of 31st-century aliens with their own spaceships and stuff? No, that he does not. DC needs Superman to be the greatest superhero ever, and the Legion is highly useful in justifying that status in his portrayal. For this purpose alone, DC will probably never completely discard the Legion.

The Legion's second purpose is that they represent the distant future of the DCU, and that's where we run into some problems.

(At one point the Legion had a third purpose, which DC has since outgrown: Legion comics were DC's laboratory for experimenting with various kinds of long-form storytelling. Stories like the death and resurrection of Lightning Lad, Earthwar, and the Great Darkness Saga were notably longer stories than DC usually told during their respective eras. The Legion still gets mixed up in its share of long stories, but it's not unusual anymore and anyway DC feels free to do this kind of experimenting with any or all of its titles these days.)

First, what comic book writer wants to have the future already decided? It's actually kind of a stupid idea if you think about it. What the flip is the point of a comic book where Superman has to save the world in the 21st century when DC's got over fifty years of comics showing Earth existing in the 31st century?

I'm not saying there aren't ways around that. I'm just saying that having the Legion around is not necessarily a welcome thing for all of DC's creators. Which brings us to the second problem.

Second, the Legion's future is an optimistic one. Which is great! I like it. You like it. But DC must hate it at times. After all, not only does it take some suspense away, but it's not what Marvel does. Marvel's future is always really unpleasant, something that's to be dreaded and changed. There's no room for a Legion of Super-Heroes in Marvel Comics.* And DC does so like to take its lead from Marvel.

This is probably the reason Geoff Johns grabbed onto the future-xenophobia idea so enthusiastically. Splits the difference: 31st-century Earth can still be, overall, a prosperous and amazing place, while also having a problem that makes it seem dystopian from our point of view. An optimistic and terrible future.

The third problem is not a drawback so much as it is something to be managed, and that is that the future is always changing.

(By this, I don't mean that details of DC continuity are always changing and the Legion's future must always change to reflect what's going on in the present. This happens, of course, but it's stupid and DC would do much better to just let all that stuff slide.)

No, what I mean is that our ideas of what the future is going to be like are always changing. Look at the difference between the future as drawn by Al Plastino and John Forte, and the future as drawn by Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell. It's like night and day.

For the first few decades of the Legion's existence, the various writers and artists managed to update their views of the future without actually saying that that's what they were doing. Then the reboots started, and while they were unwelcome in many ways they did have the effect of making it easier to reflect contemporary ideas of what the future was going to be like. Because the creators didn't have to change the existing settings and characters, see? They could just make new versions.

And I think that's why I have so much of a problem with the retroboot.

To go from publishing the threeboot Legion to the retroboot Legion is to abandon the idea of showing the future. Because you're not; you're showing somebody else's vision of the future from a quarter century ago. I mean, I don't say that the retroboot writers and artists were doing nothing more than echoing Levitz's second run; that's certainly not true. But the retroboot future is clearly a variation on the pre-Crisis future, and Crisis was thirty years ago. It's a 1980s future.

So how sad is that? We need an inspiring vision of the future as much today as we ever have. We could be getting it from Legion comics. But even when there are Legion comics, they aren't really about the future anymore.**

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* Yes, yes; Shi'ar Imperial Guard; not what I'm talking about.
** To be fair, DC is also showing us some kind of future in Justice League 3001. But I'm not reading that. Is it any good?

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Monday, June 08, 2015

Convergence: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #2 Review

This review is so late! I know it is. I'll put together something about the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold miniseries too, I think, once I actually go to the comic shop and get the second issues of them. Anyway!

What Happened That You Have to Know About: The Atomic Knights attack Metropolis and are doing pretty well fighting the Legion until Wildfire shows up and turns the tide. The Legion eventually talks them down, although there's some jiggery pokery with a canister of death virus mixed in there.

Review: You know, it's actually a nice little story. There's not a lot to it, but it's not badly done and Stuart Moore, the writer, quite properly represents the Legion as not wanting to fight these guys. (I'm not saying that's much of a bar to clear. I'm just saying he got it right.)

Also, it uses the Legion's and Atomic Knights's future settings in effective contrast with each other. I was all, "Well, one way this isn't a Legion story is that... oh, wait. No. It is." The more I look at this thing, the more solid it seems. I only have one serious objection, and that can wait for a future article.

The problems are a) that the premise and the ending of the thing are forced by the requirements of Convergence, and I can't muster any interest in Convergence, and b) even the continuity of this story seems to be a temporary one, just thrown together for this story. I mean, are these characters going to remember Convergence afterwards? So we get what's supposed to be a key growing-up story for Superboy, and we're burning it on this... exercise.

Or maybe I'm just old and cynical. Are there people out there who are really into Convergence? Who are really invested in it? I am so not, but it could be just me.

Also. Of all these sets of characters who are supposed to be ripping up each others' cities. Are any of 'em actually doing it? Really they shouldn't be, considering heroism and all.

Invisible Kid's invisibility seems to be one of those superpowers like Projectra's illusions in the sense that just what it can and can't do depends on who's writing it. The Knights beat him in this comic by looking in the infrared spectrum, but I could swear that I've read stories where he's invisible to infrared too. Seriously, in the 31st century, what good is invisibility that only works on visible light?

Legion continuity has been really hard to pin down in recent years. It took us a while to figure out what the deal was with the retroboot, and then once we did, it was gone. When Paul Levitz took over, he changed the rules on us a little, especially after Flashpoint, and also we've had the Star Trek crossover, all of Grant Morrison's stuff in Action, the Infinitus Saga, and now this Convergence story. And they're all not quite the same as the retroboot Legion, and not quite the same as each other. I suppose it's intentional?

I like Lightning Lass's costume here. Reminiscent of her brother's Cockrum-designed costume, but more elegant. I think it's a keeper.

Art: Looks like Gus Storms was only around for the first issue. This time we get Peter Gross and Mark Farmer, and everybody seems to like that better. Certainly it's more conventional than the first issue was, and it looks like they had more time to get it finished. But, I mean, let's not get carried away. I just opened to a page at random; turned out to be page 6. And there's nothing inspired here. It's drab. It's not kinetic. The character renderings are certainly nothing special, except in panel 2. The panel layout makes room for Colossal Boy to speak in panel 3, and panel 4 is squared up to us to reinforce the effect of the energy blast on Sun Boy, so that's fine. And they put the background in, which I always appreciate. So, you know. It's all right.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Convergence: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #1 Review

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

30th-century Metropolis is trapped in a dome and the Legionnaires who are there don't have any powers. They're trying to hold it together. Brainiac 5 is trying to figure out exactly where the dome is but isn't getting far. Then Telos, the villain of Convergence, announces that the heroes of the various trapped cities are going to have to fight each other. The Legionnaires aren't nuts about this, but prepare, and the Atomic Knights show up.

Review:

The Convergence premise sounds like a pretty stupid idea in the first place, and I don't see what else there is to be said about that.

The writer and artist on this comic, Stuart Moore and Gus Storms, are the creative team on the EGOs comic published by Image. EGOs, like LSH, is about superheroes in the future. So that's interesting.

I've been collecting and reading EGOs, incidentally, but it hasn't captured my imagination the way The Hypernaturals did, to bring up the other obvious comparison. I'm going to have to go back and reread it and see if I can get a better impression of it because it really hasn't stayed with me so far. It sounds like I'm criticizing the thing but honestly I'm not; it might be really good and I just haven't clicked with it yet. Give it a shot; it's if nothing else more than just the same old thing.

But anyway it's cool to see Moore's and Storms's take on the Legion, given all this. I'll deal with Storms below. Much of Moore's story is wished on him by Convergence; I imagine that his only choice was to have the Atomic Knights show up a bit earlier or a bit later. (If that.) So all we really see him do is character work.

And there are some odd character choices. Superboy having self-doubt and needing someone to talk him out of it? Superboy and Lightning Lass attracted to each other? I'm not sure I agree with you a hunnert percent on your police work, there, Lou.

But, you know, it's only for two issues, so what the hey. (It is only for two issues, right? Right?)

One of the first things Superboy says in this issue is that they've been in this dome for more than three hundred days. But a lot of the dialogue sounds like the characters are discussing some of these points for the first time. Nobody said exposition would be easy, but you've got to do better than this...

Anybody notice on page 1 they used the logo from the threeboot Legion? Hey, threeboot logo. Long time no.

One of the differences between me and whoever makes the Legion decisions for DC is that I am impatient with middle ground and half measures and would like choices between two alternatives to be resolved in favour of one of the alternatives and not the other, while DC seems to want to eat its cake and have it too.

So, for instance, when it comes to the notion of bringing back the Baxter-era Legion, I would either a) do exactly that, or b) not do it at all. DC, frustratingly to me, sorta brings them back. And has done so more than once: the Legion in this story is a variant on the Baxter Legion about as much as the retroboot Legion and the Infinitus Saga Legion. And each writer who does this ends up putting their own spin on the team. Which, good for them! But I don't know if that's what the nostalgist faction is looking for.

Anyway, that's really the only attraction here, I think: Moore's take on the characters. The story certainly isn't of any interest. And, while we're at it: the next-issue blurb says "Down in the Bunker". So... is issue #2 an introduction to the Atomic Knights side of this story? If so, when does the big fight get resolved? If at all?

I dunno. Convergence. Cripes, man. Oh well, any port in a storm.

Art:

Gus Storms has a loose, open kind of style that I am trying real hard to come to terms with in a Legion comic. I most definitely do not prefer it, but I am trying to meet it halfway. Storms takes the very familiar Levitz-Giffen Legion and draws them like reference sheets are things that happen to other people. He changes facial types, sizes, body types... It's hard to get used to, for a longtime Legion fan, but it's absolutely the right thing to do. The Legionnaires all look like different people. Imagine! This doesn't look like any other Legion comic I've ever read, and there should be a lot more Legion comics that don't look like any other Legion comics I've ever read.

So that's fine. Really the art goes along with the story in that sense: it's very different from what we're used to, and may not in fact be a good fit for the Legion at all, but at least it's something sorta new.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Justice League United #10 Review

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

Brainiac 5 comes up with a pretty good plan to save Thanagar; he rigs up a way to teleport it to Rann's orbit. That works, and the Legion goes home.

Review:

So this issue turns out to be more of a denouement than a conclusion; the important issues were all wrapped up last month, and this is just cleaning up details. Which I guess is okay.

Brainiac 5's solution to the black hole threatening Thanagar was very well done by Lemire. He wasn't just retegulating the framistat; the zeta beam has been a factor all through this story and its properties are well established. Lemire didn't pull a rabbit out of a hat. He pulled a rabbit out of plain sight.

(Why send it to Rann's orbit, of all places, by the way? Just because DC, that's why?)

(Note: the White Witch's spell to amplify the effect of the zeta beams to work on the whole planet is reminiscent of the spell she cast in the Great Darkness Saga to switch the people from... was it the Sorcerer's World?... to Apokolips and vice versa. I'm sure this was intentional.)

The whole sequence where the Legion shifts from evacuating Thanagar to teleporting Thanagar underlines the tremendous advantage the Legion has in many situations because some of their members are just so useful. They get invaluable information that's just not available to a group like the Legion of Substitute Heroes from Saturn Girl and Dream Girl. R.J. Brande is another huge advantage. Brainiac 5 is a tremendous advantage. Element Lad and the White Witch, to a lesser extent. Dawnstar can be a huge advantage when the writer permits it. Mon-El, obviously.

If my summary above is a little brief, it's because there's a lot of this comic book that's been turned over to Justice League character stuff, which is certainly welcome, but not of primary interest to me with my Legion-centric perspective.

So how was The Infinitus Saga as a story? I don't think it was anything much. There were a lot of superheroes. There was some fighting. A couple of nice touches. Not something that's going to have me rereading it much. Certainly it was stretched out beyond its natural length, which I loathe. It was okay and now it's over and I'm looking forward to the next thing.

Tell you the truth, I had a notion that DC was going to use this series to kill off the Legion. Not forever. Just to clear the decks for whatever the next version of the team was going to turn out to be. (Probably some retro Legion from this Convergence stuff.) Not sure how I would have felt about if they did. But they didn't, so that's fine.

Anyway. See you next month for the Legion-related issues of Convergence. Hope there's more to come after that. But I have another blogpost brewing anyway that I hope it won't take me too long to finish.

Art:

I like the black hole effect. I like how the colorist got White Witch right. Some impressive forced perspective on Colossal Boy on the splash page.

The layout faked me out a couple of times, making me think it was a double-page spread when it wasn't, or vice versa. The panel arrangements were creative, but I couldn't tell what end was being served by having done the way they were. Just thought it looked good, I guess.

I was pleased with how the characters were rendered, for the most part. Brainiac 5 was done well. Also the Martian Manhunter. Not sure if I can say the same about Animal-Man.

I dunno. I've seen a lot worse art than this on Legion comics. I'm not complaining. But it does seem to add up to less than the sum of its parts.

Membership Notes:

The Lost Legionnaires return to the future with everybody else, and we also see a few of the SW6 and reboot Legionnaires again, so, you know, whatever. The Legion also takes Ultra with them, but I don't think we can really call him a Legionnaire.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Justice League United #9 Review

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

The heroes fight back against Infinitus and his forces. Supergirl takes on Byth, who transforms into some kind of octopus tentacle creature. The Martian Manhunter breaks the brainwashing on Hawkman. A group of heroes shows up in time to break the deadlock between Supergirl and Byth, and the Martian Manhunter telepathically turns Infinitus back into Ultra. So that should solve everything, except that Brainiac 5 built some kind of black-hole bomb to stop Infinitus, and activated it, and now that there's no Infinitus to use it on it's going to destroy everything.

Review:

For some reason I don't feel like reviewing this comic. Why don't I? It's actually pretty decent.

Stuff happens in it, for one thing; it doesn't feel like just more killing time on the way from the first issue of the arc to the sixth.

There's still a problem with characterization, but it's mostly an effect of limited space on stage. There are a lot of Justice Leaguers and Legionnaires to feature, and some of them get to express themselves a bit, but it's a very crowded comic book. So I give it a pass on that... but the villain still doesn't have any personality, and there's really no way to excuse that away.

I'm not sure about the choice of having Infinitus defeated only to have the black-hole bomb become the new threat. Let's list the pros and cons:
Pro:
- Didn't see it coming!
- Nice to have something a little different happening.
Con:
- Oh cripes not another rift.
- Stakes are lower: Infinitus threatened all of existence, but this bomb seems like a much more local and limited problem.

One thing about the way the story played out: it put the Justice League in the position of doing the key things to save the day. Freeing Hawkman, leading the reinforcements to Byth, overcoming Ultra's mind... For that matter, the black-hole bomb, our new adversary, is Brainiac 5's contribution, which fits given the Legion's role as foils or secondary antagonists in this story. Anyway, the title on the cover is Justice League Unlimited, so that's the right way of doing it.

Unacceptable editing mistake: "Get you're damn hands off me, Martian!" Anybody could write it down like that; it should not be allowed to get through.

Okay, so, the story wraps up next month, and then on to... what's it called? Convergence? More nostalgia, anyway.

Art:

One of my least favourite things about comic-book art is when artists save time by not providing backgrounds. That doesn't happen in this issue. The characters are all well-rendered, and I like the trick on the bottom of page 4 with the checkerboardy-type background; is that supposed to be reality reacting to Supergirl's punch? It's a very nice-looking issue.

Pages 8 and 9 are a problem; the backgrounds and action is so similar from page to page that the order of panels isn't really clear, which sort of takes away from Bouncing Boy's big moment.

My copy of the comic book has the Harley Quinn variant cover. Why the flip does this comic have a Harley Quinn variant cover in the first place? Dash Harley Quinn.

Membership Notes:

The SW6-era and Reboot-era Legionnaires we saw last issue aren't in evidence this time around, unless I missed them. (Well, Matter-Eater Lad in his SW6 costume is there, if you want to count that.) Maybe it was just a one-time thing. Also, Mon-El mentions something about the Legion's "Planetary Defense Squad", consisting of Wildfire, the White Witch, Bouncing Boy, Lightning Lad, and Element Lad. I don't get how and why they're a planetary defense squad, but maybe there's a way that it makes sense.

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