Monday, November 17, 2014

Justice League United #6 Review

This review is a few days later than I'd like it. Oh well.

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

The JLU and the Legion polish off the Cadre, but before they can take a victory lap, Black Mass finds Ultra and teleports him out to where Byth is in space. Byth does a ceremony or something to turn Ultra into Infinitus. I guess. The JLU starts to head out there, but Brainiac 5 says that he's already dispatched a Legion team to the area.

Review:

Second-issue syndrome: the energy of the setup in the Annual has run out, and now we just have some fighting. The plot advances in what I suppose is a timely enough fashion, as Byth gets his hands on Ultra. With three issues to go, I hope that there's room for something unexpected in the rest of the story, now that we've got the expected development out of the way.

The Legionnaires don't distinguish themselves in this issue. The only point of interest is the return of the Lost Legionnaires on the last page as Brainy's ace-in-the-hole, prompting a reaction on my part of, "Oh, is that what they're doing".

I dunno. Am I spoiled? Do I expect too much? Is this really a decent comic and I'm just too much of a grownup to appreciate it? I mean, it's not a bad comic. It's just sorta there. (At that, it's ahead of much of Paul Levitz's third run.)

I think if this thing came out in the 1970s it would be remembered fondly. As it happens, it's 2014, and I wish we'd never seen Dawnstar's arm in JSA #1, because this is just more retroboot slog. It's not Bad LSH; it's Caretaker LSH. Stupid retroboot. Remember when Legion comics were interesting, and not just a sop thrown to a bunch of complainypantses who can't let go of 1983?

Art:

Pretty much the same as in the Annual; sometimes the characters look good (Brainy, page 21) and sometimes not so much (Phantom Girl, page 3). Skimpy backgrounds. I've certainly seen a lot worse.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Justice League United Annual #1 Review

What Happened That You Have to Know About: A giant cosmic destroyer is threatening the existence of the future, so the Legion comes back to the present day in order to fight him through time travel. In the present-day, he's Ultra the Multi-Alien, a baby in the custody of Justice League United. Byth, a Hawkman villain, is currently engaged in trying to turn Ultra into Infinitus or whatever his name is; the Legion has set a deadline of 24 hours to either stop all this from happening or they're gonna have to kill Ultra.

Review: Well, let's first acknowledge one thing: a lot of us were concerned that the Legionnaires would be bloodthirsty murderers in this story, and they are not. Mon-El is the most triggerhappy of them, and even he made it clear that he really didn't want to do this. That may sound like a pretty low bar for Lemire to clear, but anyway he cleared it.

This whole business about Byth brainwashing Hawkman and trying to turn Ultra into a giant cosmic destroyer is a workable enough comic-book plot. I don't see anything inspired about it, but it will serve.

Originally I had a big long section here trying to figure out what Lemire was up to continuity-wise, but since I wrote it he's explained himself in a Newsarama interview, so that simplifies things. Basically he's not sweating continuity; he's just presenting what he sees as "the classic Legion". I'm on his side when it comes to not sweating continuity; I prefer not to use the words "classic" and "Legion" in the same sentence. But one thing I get from this is that, for Lemire, this is something of a one-off and not a larger vision for the Legion of the kind that might lead to a Legion title down the road. So oh well.

I would have hoped that a bit Legion fan like Lemire would have a stronger take on the Legion. Because I don't get much of a sense of them from this comic book. There's nothing very Legiony about them, as introduced here. No tie to Superman, no sense of optimism, no teenageness, no champions of diversity, just generic people in costumes with a reluctant willingness to kill. Bleah.

I mean, I know this isn't a Legion comic, and I'm trying not to judge it by the standards of one. But it is an introduction, or reintroduction, of the Legion, and as such it indicates the Legion's prospects for getting their own title back. So I'm not optimistic, because so far this is nowhere near as good as the Lightning Saga, and I thought the Lightning Saga was nothing special.

One point though. Notice how Shadow Lass was badly wounded in order to motivate Mon-El to get all angry and willing to kill Ultra. She was wounded, but did not die and is expected to recover. This says to me that DC still sees the Legion as worth keeping around. If they never thought there'd be another Legion title, they wouldn't have bothered keeping Shady alive.

So I haven't been reading JLUnited, and was looking forward to seeing Equinox. But she didn't get a lot to do in this issue. Anybody else notice that on the rare occasions that DC creates a Canadian superhero, they tend to give him or her a codename that ends with the letter X? Flying Fox, Centrix, Sparx, Equinox... On the one hand, why would they do that on purpose, but on the other hand, how could they not be doing it on purpose? (And, yes, I know there are exceptions.) Is the New52 Martian Manhunter always as grim and fighty as he seems in this issue? Because I don't mind owning I'm not frightfully keen on that.

The old Justice League Detroit supervillains the Cadre make an appearance in this comic. Ah, the Cadre: for when you need some tomato cans that the League can knock over and the Royal Flush Gang have just too much personality.

Actually I wasn't sure the entire Cadre was there. Don't think I saw Fastball. And I don't remember all the others. But Shrike was there, and Black Mass. "Black Mass". Stupidest name ever. 1) He was created long after that part of the 1970s where any black character had to have the word "black" in his or her name. 2. If the supercharacter codename you have just created contains the word "mass", throw it away and create another one, because it's a stupid name. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Time travel. So the idea is this: Brainiac 5 says that when the Legionnaires travelled back in time to the present day, they had 36 hours before Infinitus destroyed the Earth. Therefore Brainy could allow 24 hours of trying to solve the problem without killing Ultra, but after that it'd just be cutting it too fine. Which doesn't make a lick of sense. It's time travel. Once you're in the past, you've got a thousand years before Infinitus shows up.

Ah, but Lemire has anticipated my objection. Apparently Infinitus "spans time". Which means, well, I don't know what it means. But Byth was trying to turn Ultra into Infinitus right there in the present day, and not in the 31st century. So... does that mean he comes into existence in all times "at once"? Sort of like, he's always existing and is always doing all the things that he ever did? Or something? It sounds like it means that if Infinitus exists at all, it's already too late.

Yeah, yeah, I know. "Don't think about it so hard, Matthew. Just go with it." Okay. That's fine. I'm always willing to not-think-about-it if that's what the story demands. But is there a part of this story that can stand up to being thought about?

One thing that gives me some hope for this storyline: this comic book is an Annual. And Annuals often suffer from being rushed, for having nonregular art, for being out of the normal flow of quality work for its series. Maybe that's the case here! Still plenty of time for this to turn out well!

Art: I think I will not do the panel count thing for this storyline.

I am very unenthusiastic about this art. Neil Edwards? Is he the regular JLUnited guy? The characters aren't very well-rendered and the backgrounds in the panels are pretty skimpy. About like the rest of the story, really.

Membership Notes: An unusual roster. Lemire has said he's going to use "all" of the Legionnaires, but I think he means original-Legion type characters only. In the comic book, we see or get references to the following:

Blok
Bouncing Boy
Brainiac 5
Chameleon Girl
Colossal Boy
Cosmic Boy
Dawnstar
Dream Girl
Duo Damsel
Element Lad
Gates(!)
Lightning Lad
Lightning Lass
Matter-Eater Lad
Mon-El
Phantom Girl
Polar Boy
Saturn Girl
Shadow Lass
Shrinking Violet
Star Boy
Sun Boy
Tellus
Timber Wolf
Tyroc
Ultra Boy
White Witch

Supergirl also appears, but as a Justice Leaguer; this Supergirl was never a Legionnaire.

Notable by their absence: Karate Kid, Wildfire, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Sensor Girl, Quislet, and the Legionnaires who joined early in LSHv7. (Although there are a few characters that I really can't tell who they are. Like at the bottom right of page 17.) Classic, huh.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Let's Take a Look at the News Hostility Scoreboard

I have a few things I want to touch on and I'm not sure how to work them all in so let me start this way.

Gamergate.
1. I'm not a gamer. I don't know much about video games. Or care. However,
a) the important aspect of the discussion is not the games or the games journalism but the death threats, rape threats, harassment of women, and related misbehaviour by some carbon units who seem to have forgotten that they aren't melodrama villains, and
b) I don't need to know anything about video games to know that I'm against that. Plus
c) it's not like the same kind of thing isn't going on in the comic book world also.

2. Most intelligent things that there are to say about Gamergate have already been said by others, and more cleverly than I would have said it. So I won't drag you through all of that again. (Although here are some links if you want them: 1 2 3 4.)

3. In general I'm opposed to death threats, rape threats, harassment, murder, rape, and assault of all kinds.
a) Just so there's no confusion, I can also say that in specific I'm opposed to those things when directed against women who have some thoughts about pop culture.
b) Not that that's a particularly original idea, but
c) it may gain weight by repetition (which is most of the reason why we're going through this section of the discussion in the first place), so:

4. Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Janelle Asselin, Brianna Wu, and anyone else who has to deal with similar mistreatment have my complete support and encouragement and also my hope that all this is resolved in a satisfactory way.
a) (Where "satisfactory" is a catchall adjective that includes many possible outcomes including jail time for some of the troublemakers out there.)

(Note: the internet has acted as the primary medium for this trouble and harassment. I'm happy to say that, in all the time I've been operating this website, there has never been any of that kind of action here. I thank you all and here's to many more years of just that.)

I mean, like everything else isn't bad enough, now people want to reenact the Salem witch trials only with witchcraft subbed out for freaking video game criticism? You'd think that inequality, climate change, and Ferguson MO would keep us all sufficiently busy. What the hell is wrong with people?

It's very tempting, in these times, to just say, "Well, screw it, then! Everything's terrible, and I don't care anymore, and everything might as well fall apart." To resort to cynicism, in other words.

Stipulated that everything is terrible. I don't want to try to tell you that everything isn't terrible.

But not everyone has the option of giving up. (I mean, in some situations they do. If we're talking about--and I will be--giving up on DC Comics, then everyone has that option. There's nobody in the world so disadvantaged that they can't cut DC Comics out of their life, with the possible exception of DC Comics employees.) Giving up is a privilege.

Look at me: reasonably prosperous straight white male. It's easy for me to look south across the border and say, "Wow, that country is messed up. Cops pulling you over and taking your stuff, banks stealing people's houses, cops gunning people down in the street for the pure joy of it... I'm not going there." But, see, I can easily afford not to go to the U.S. For the people who live in Ferguson, it's not so simple. How would they go about giving up, assuming they wanted to? Move to another town? Hide in the basement 24/7?

The more options you have, the more giving up on the world is an option. The fewer options you have, the more you're forced to fight back. The irony here is that the people who can fight back the most effectively--the people I describe as having "more options"--are the people least likely to actually do so.

My next step is not to say that I know what I should do, or you should do, or anybody should do. (And for the most part that discussion doesn't belong on this blog.) But I do know that checking out on the world is not the way to go.

Which brings me back to DC Comics. (Remember comic books? This is a blog about comic books.)

A while ago I got so fed up with the various wretched things DC was doing that I stopped buying their comics (except for Legion of Super-Heroes, until there wasn't any more of that for me to buy either). And there were another couple of companies that did things I didn't care for either, and I stopped dealing with them too. But, you know, you do enough of that kind of thing, and you start to get a sense of the limitations of the tactic.

1. It frequently doesn't work. As in, whatever company you're boycotting may very well ignore you and keep on with what they were doing. And then where are you?
2. It's really another version of checking out of the world.
3. You can only do it once. Imagine this scenario. XYZ corporation says that they're going to do Plan A. You don't like Plan A, so you tell XYZ corporation so, and you tell them that if they stick with Plan A they'll lose you as a customer. XYZ corporation weighs these considerations and keeps going with Plan A. You take your business elsewhere. A few months later XYZ corporation announces that now that Plan A is going so well, they're also going to start in on Plan B. You like Plan B even less than Plan A. But now what are you going to say to XYZ corporation about it? You can't become even less of their customer!
4. You lose touch with what the people you're boycotting are up to.
5. If you keep doing it, you will eventually reach a point where you can't deal with anybody anymore (and you will reach that point, because, as stipulated above, everything is terrible) and you're basically a hermit in your house.

The problem is with exerting influence over powerful economic or political entities that are very good at not listening to anybody they don't have to. I don't have any secret trick for doing it, but my thinking now is that you can do it better by maintaining a relationship with them than by cutting off that relationship.

So I'm lifting my sanction from DC Comics. I mean, who knows what they'll get up to without me watching carefully, amirite? It's not because I think they deserve it; it's just that I'm starting to feel like all I've really done is leave myself out of the discussion. So I'm climbing back in. Slowly. I can't think of a whole lot of DC titles I really feel like reading these days, although there are assorted back issues and collections, and of course the Legion showing up in Justice League United, which I would have gotten anyway, and it's about time I bit the bullet on Astro City... We'll see.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Strange Visitors from Another Millennium

In his blog, Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep!, snell takes on the subject of the Legion's upcoming appearance in Justice League United. Go read it and come back here.

He's right, of course.

But, you know... Well, for one thing, it's nothing we haven't seen before. The Geoff-Johns-written Legion episode of Smallville had much the same premise. And that turned out to be not so bad. So I don't like it much either, but it's not necessarily a dealbreaker. Let's see how Lemire handles it.

However, it does bring up a point that I don't think we've addressed before--it only just occurred to me!--and I think it's worth keeping in mind whenever we think about the Legion and their comics. It's this: the Legion comes from the future, and that makes them different from us in some ways.

We can break Legion stories down into two categories. The largest category, and the one we're used to, is the one where we are meant to identify with the Legionnaires. They are our protagonists and POV characters, and we have empathy for whatever they're feeling. Jim Shooter and Paul Levitz were the big pioneers in establishing and perfecting this kind of Legion story; they made the Legionnaires more relatable to us.

The other kind of Legion story is the ones where we aren't meant to identify with the Legion. They're strangers! From the future! Who knows what they're up to? What secrets are they hiding, and why are they doing all these weird things? The very first Legion stories were of this kind: Superboy or Supergirl or Lois or Jimmy meets some exotic costumed teenagers who lead them through a bizarre adventure without telling them the whole story (at least until later). The aforementioned Smallville episode was of this kind. The "Lightning Saga", which returned the originalish Legion to DC continuity, was of this kind. And it looks like this upcoming Justice League United story will be of this kind.

(I wonder if we've struck one of the reasons why the threeboot Legion had a hard time connecting with some fans: Waid's characterizations of them made many of the Legionnaires strikingly different from regular modern humans, and also his superheroism-as-a-political/social-movement premise isn't anything we're used to. So this takes us away from the Shooter-Levitz model of getting us to identify with the Legionnaires.)

So I'm with snell: the Legion is miscast as supervillains. But I would also say that they're well-cast as antagonists, even if that's not the kind of Legion story I prefer or you prefer, because it's so easy for them to play the part of "the other".

--

While we're on the subject, what about this week's Justice League United Annual in which Dawnstar seems to be a future member of the League? Goes along with that straight-to-video thing where Karate Kid and Dawnstar... what do they, become junior Leaguers or something? I don't know.

Anyway, I don't really care for it. And it has nothing to do with the choice of Dawnstar as the character to do this with; if you have to pick a Legionnaire to steal for use in a more popular team, Dawny's probably an excellent choice. I just don't want the Legion stripped down for parts, that's all. I didn't like Star Boy showing up in JSA either.

(Obviously Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, and Mon-El, as present-day characters, are exceptions to this.)

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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Legionnaires: Colossal Boy

 We're tackling a big topic today.

Colossal Boy, aka Gim Allon of Earth (Mars in the reboot era), aka Leviathan, Micro Lad. Created by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney.

Colossal Boy has been a Legionnaire since way back when. He's usually represented as a Science Police recruit who got superpowers from a strange meteor and became a Legionnaire instead of an SP. He's one of the only longtime Legionnaires who didn't quit on the team during the Five Year Gap; he's unfailingly loyal and well-intentioned. He and Chameleon Boy have long been close friends.

Problem is he's also pretty incompetent. He's famous for crashing starships, his brief leadership stint during the reboot era was a disaster, and he married a woman who turned out to be an impostor. Worse than that, he's the Legion's tomato can: any time the writer needs to show how tough a villain is, he has him or her beat up Colossal Boy. Gim has been killed twice: in the reboot, and in the Superboy's Legion Elseworlds series.

Part of the reason for this is the nature of Gim's powers: he grows really big. This means that he gets correspondingly stronger. This is the kind of superpower that sounds good but the more you think about it the more you realize that it's not that great a deal. It makes you really noticeable, it's hard to use indoors, and it doesn't come with extra toughness to match the strength. He's perfect for the bad guys to demonstrate their powers on.

Which makes him not that great as a solo hero, but it's still a good enough superpower for the Legion as is. He definitely has his uses. And there are plenty of times, not enough of them but some, where you can see Gim acting with some professionalism and savvy. There was one such case in the threeboot, for instance, where Jim Shooter had him and Ultra Boy down in the sewers chasing stink rats, or whatever it was, and they got mixed up in some kind of domestic. He did some neat size tricks. Certainly he's no dummy; he's just kind of a schmendrick.

And now a slight digression about Blue Beetle #19.

In this issue, Jaime Reyes ends up fighting Giganta, and the Peacemaker instructs him in the arts of fighting giant people. See, giant people are not like giant robots. Giant robots are engineered to be that big; they work fine. People are not engineered to be that size, and in fact they shouldn't be that size. The square-cube law messes them up with body heat and bone cross-section and what have you. To make them that size generally requires magic.

Which works fine for most of DC's giant-person characters... but not for Gim. I don't recall any suggestions that his "strange meteor" was magical. (Although, of course, there's no reason why it couldn't be.) So let's say it's some kind of non-magical cosmic effect that gave him his powers. What does that imply?

It implies several things. First, if Gim grows 100 times taller, he also grows 100 times wider and 100 times deeper. So the cross-section of his bones grows 100x100 times... but his mass grows 100x100x100 times. In other words, the job of his bones in supporting his body has become 100 times tougher. And the bigger he gets the worse the problem is; instead of a factor of 100 it might be a factor of 200 or whatever. And yet: does Gim have any trouble moving around? Does he break an ankle every time he takes a step? He does not. So maybe he does get tougher as he gets bigger. Maybe his powers do give him some invulnerability, plus more strength than we previously thought, and more the bigger he gets.

Second, if he grows 100 times taller, the surface area of his skin increases by a factor of about 100x100... but, again, his mass increases by a factor of 100x100x100. So his skin has to work 100 times harder to disperse his body heat. Where does all that energy go all of a sudden? If we're designing a superhero, this is a great problem to have. Is his body coated in flame? Does he get heat vision? Does the energy go to power the invulnerability we talked about before? Does it make him faster?* Does he get some kind of compensatory cooling power like Polar Boy? Colossal Boy ought to be way more powerful than he's ever been shown to be. Future** Legion writers take note.

Here he is in his origin story, starting as he means to go on: he doesn't see what's coming, and he crashes his vehicle. Get used to it, big guy.



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* You know all those huge characters where the hero fights them and says, "So big! And yet... so fast!" We could make Colossal Boy one of those guys.

** You know what I mean.

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