Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Action Comics: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 2-#859)

The review of Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #8 will be delayed. When I went to the comic shop today they hadn't unpacked it yet. If I can get it before next week I will, otherwise it'll be next Wednesday. The management apologizes for any inconvenience.

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy are exploring the Batcave, looking for Batman's old kryptonite ring. They want to use it to prove that Krypton existed, because the propaganda these days is that Superman was a good alien-hating Earthman and Krypton was just a lie put around by those evil alien Legionnaires. But the Justice League, which in this case means a bunch of Legion rejects, raids the place and captures them.

Back at their headquarters, the Justice League learns about last issue's skirmish between the Legion and the Science Police, that someone who looks like Superman was involved, and that the wreckage of a time sphere was found there. The League’s leader, Earth-Man (the former Absorbency Boy) already has a bunch of Legionnaires preserved in tubes, including but not limited to Invisible Kid, Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy, Shrinking Violet and Blok, and it seems he’s absorbed their superpowers.

We also hear that the xenophobia on Earth has gone so far that Earth is on the verge of seceding from the United Planets.

Colossal Boy, Dawnstar, Superman and Wildfire figure they'd better track down Brainiac 5 to get some answers about what Superman's doing there and what to do next. Dawnstar only has a cold trail, but they follow it to an alien internment camp, where she says that even if Brainy isn't in there, there's another Legionnaire who is in there and who might be helpful.

Not Quite a Review:

The one thing I noticed most and couldn't stop thinking about?

Tusker.

Tusker is a former Legion reject and (with Golden Boy, Earth-Man, Storm Boy, Spider Girl and Radiation Roy) one of the Justice Leaguers throwing their weight around in the future. Tusker's info-caption said that his powers included an 'unbreakable skeleton'. Yet there he is with one of his tusks chipped. Which didn't bother me; maybe there's some kind of story behind that. Maybe an already-existing Legion story! I don't know. But then there was one panel on the very next page that seemed to show him with both tusks intact. Now, I don't expect everybody creating comics to get everything right every time. I know there will be mistakes. But there shouldn't be any mistakes about the things that the reader’s attention is specifically drawn to. (I’ve looked closely at it and I think it’s a colouring error.)

The other thing I’m wondering about is, whose plan is this and why?

Colossal Boy believes, and the story is presenting as a working assumption for us, that the Justice League of Earth-Born Legion Rejects (and, yes, Spider Girl was born on Earth, according to people I trust. Hadn’t known that) has engineered all this xenophobia out of resentment towards the Legion. I think Bruce Springsteen said it best when he said, “Man, I ain’t goin’ for that.” This crew of bozons, nosebleeds, weirdsmobiles and yipyops couldn’t organize a game of tag. Someone has to be behind it, someone who benefits from Earth seceding from the United Planets, maybe someone who really does hate aliens. Universo? Regulus? I suspect Regulus because of the sun thing. Alexis Luthor? It has a kind of a Luthor touch, doesn’t it?

Anyway. It’s certainly clear what it is that’s going on, even if we don’t know why, or what exactly our heroes can do about it. That’s the kind of situation I like. It’s a good premise for a Legion story, in that it makes good use of the Legionnaires’ numbers and lets them show what they believe as well as what they can do.

There have been a number of new takes on characters in this series so far—costumes mostly, although sometimes more than that—and I thought I’d go through some of them.

Lightning Lad, Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy, Invisible Kid: Not a big fan of the sleeveless look. Maybe it’s warmer there with the red sun?

Radiation Roy: Creepy, man. Is that better than just being a loser the way he used to be?

Saturn Girl: She must have cut her hair that short as a personal choice rather than because of the rigorous demands of being on the run. Because Lightning Lad’s is a lot longer. It doesn’t look good on her.

Spider Girl: See, I liked it when she became a Legionnaire in the 5YL stories. They even kept her as kind of a one-buttocked hero in the reboot. But I guess with this story and her appearances in the cartoon, she’s back to villainy. Sic transit.

Wildfire: I like Wildfire’s new costume. I do! He’s had some good ones over the years (and some bad ones) and this is one of them.

Dawnstar: There’s no excuse for not having Dawnstar in the original costume. That’s just what she should look like. Nothing else is quite right. Strange about Dawny: in the past she didn’t always seem completely committed to the Legion… but she is now.

Early Reaction: Haven’t seen any comment on this issue yet, but criticism of last issue has mostly centred around Frank’s wild-eyed art and Clark Kent’s characterization. One or two people have perceived inauthenticity in this Legion, but that’s very much a minority opinion. Overall this story is being very well-received.

One other not-yet-fully-formed thought. It kind of seems like Johns is implying, deep down, that the Legion is not the Legion when it’s cut off from Superman. In this sense: Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy may have been the Legion founders, but they have no access to Superman. They’re trying to get help from Batman’s symbols (a ring, specifically), and whatever Batman’s virtues are, he’s not Superman and he’s got nothing in particular to do with the Legion. And so they can be taken down by a bunch of drips whose only claim to fame is that they have Superman’s symbol on their arms. Still, it’s more than Garth, Imra and Rokk have, and the future-faux-JLEarth wins the fight.

On the other hand, Colossal Boy, Wildfire and Dawnstar are similarly on the run, but they have Superman with them and so they win their fight (last issue) and get a whole box of rings. Superman rings, sorta. They are the Legion.

As I said in the introduction to this thing, I don’t subscribe to the notion that the Legion is just a satellite concept to Superman; I think they stand on their own just fine. But I don’t deny that it’s a legitimate position to hold, and it’s producing very readable results here.

Running Legion Count: (New entries this week in bold)

Bouncing Boy*, Blok*, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy*, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Dawnstar, Dream Girl*, Element Lad*, Ferro Lad*, Invisible Kid I*, Invisible Kid II*, Karate Kid*, Light Lass*, Lightning Lad, Matter-Eater Lad*, Mon-El*, Phantom Girl*, Princess Projectra/Sensor Girl*, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass*, Shrinking Violet*, Spider Girl, Star Boy/Starman*, Storm Boy, Sun Boy*, Superman, Timber Wolf*, Triplicate Girl/Duo Damsel*, Ultra Boy*, Wildfire (31) (* only in brief flashback or non-speaking background appearance: 21)

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19 Comments:

Anonymous ben said...

I feel lame for feeling this way, and I'm going to continue reading the story to see what the conclusion is, but I'm not buying into this Legion. The 5YL Legion was dark, sure, but it had a sense of humour about it -- I don't find Johns has a very good sense of humour, and there has to be a touch of that, somewhere, for something to feel like the Legion to me. His Legion feels bland and personality-less, and the dark future is a generic dark future. This is partly to do with the art -- we're not given a strong enough sense of what the future looks like, how it feels, and Superman isn't really interacting with the future enough to show us anything -- it's tell tell tell!

10:15 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Now that you mention it, you're right. Neither of those things is currently bothering me, though; I might feel their lack more in a longer run.

But remember: this story is not about the Legion and not about the future. It's about Superman. That's the lens we have to keep remembering to look through for this story.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

One more thought, one which will have every Legion fan in the world up in arms against me:

Of course this Legion feels personality-less. We are, after all, comparing it to the reboot Legion and threeboot Legion and even the animated Legion, all of which have much more vivid personalities than the original Legion did. And this is just Geoff Johns's take on the original Legion anyway.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous ben said...

They have more personality than *this* version, sure, but by the 5YL most of the prebooters were starting to develop more multi-faceted personalities. Shrinking Violet being a very good example, in my mind.

And, sure, this is a Superman story and that's the lens through which we have to look at it, but I'm not entirely convined that on its own merits, the story is really doing anything shocking or interesting -- it's a bad future and it's (on some level) all Superman's fault, but it isn't doing anything that, say, rereading Alan Davis's "The Nail" isn't also doing as far as anti-ET xenophobia goes, and I'm not sure it's saying anything about Superman -and the- Legion in relation to each other.

Sorry if that's a little unformed, it's early in the morning.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

They have more personality than *this* version, sure, but by the 5YL most of the prebooters were starting to develop more multi-faceted personalities.

It is true. I was mostly trying to be provocative; many of them were characterized very well indeed.

I'm not entirely convined that on its own merits, the story is really doing anything shocking or interesting -- it's a bad future and it's (on some level) all Superman's fault, but [...] I'm not sure it's saying anything about Superman -and the- Legion in relation to each other.

No. But I think Johns's point is that at least someone is saying it for the first time in about twenty years. I think that, as far as some people are concerned, there simply haven't been any Legion stories since COIE.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous ben said...

No. But I think Johns's point is that at least someone is saying it for the first time in about twenty years. I think that, as far as some people are concerned, there simply haven't been any Legion stories since COIE.

But is that a valid criticism? Because other people may feel that there haven't been any Legion stories since just before the Waid/Kitson threeboot started, or since Zero Hour, or since those Legion bastards ran Superboy out of his own title, the varmints! I'm reading this story because I'm curious about how the Legion now fit into Superman's history but this feels like yet another desperate attempt on Johns's part to resurrect some long-dead Silver Age only with more blood and guts thrown in. His future is missing the magic (not necessarily the fun or the humour, but the spirit, if that makes any sense?) but going through a kind of slavish devotion that doesn't feel organic.

I can certainly appreciate the opinion some have, that the Legion is missing something without a connection to the Superman mythos, that they will always be an auxillary chapter of the Superman Family. Once DC started deleting and twisting continuity to remove those connections, the stories suffered for it. But, that said, you can't really ignore that the Legion continued on without Superboy or Superman for a long time, evolving the process and changing. They may not have always fit the essentialist view of what the Legion "should be," but they were still the Legion in some form -- even as the idea got diluted by reboots. Choosing to ignore character and story evolution because it no longer features the "parent" figure that originated the concept doesn't mean that the Legion ceased to exist.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, I certainly don't think it's a valid criticism, but then Johns isn't writing the story for me. I'm just trying to approach the thing on its own terms.

Obviously, you don't think it's succeeding on those terms; I am preferring to wait and see.

As for this:

Choosing to ignore character and story evolution because it no longer features the "parent" figure that originated the concept doesn't mean that the Legion ceased to exist.

You don't need to tell me, of course; I sometimes feel like I'm a louder advocate of the threeboot Legion than even Mark Waid. But anyway, Johns isn't ignoring later versions; that whole business about how the Legion are the champions of diversity? He didn't get that from the original Legion; it's straight out of the reboot.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous ben said...

Certainly -- one of the advantages of the new Legion is that the Legion seems to actually have a purpose and function within its society rather than just being "there" because super-heroes were cool a thousand years ago so they should be cool again.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Bryan-Mitchell said...

The most frustrating thing is that Johns and others keep calling this the "original Legion" when it clearly isn't. There are so many differences that it is quite frustrating that people keep calling it that.
Gary Frank shouldn't design costumes. I think all his remakes stink -- including Wildfires, IMHO. My only hope is that they are going to hit the reset button on this and Superman will correct the problems in the past and erase this future.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

There are many aspects of the argument about whether Johns's Legion is is or is ain't the original Legion that escape me. Like, why it's even an argument. But it's not worth dwelling on; DC will do what they'll do, and in a few years people will be clamouring for the original Legion to come back again again.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Jim Drew said...

The Wildfire costume revamp just reminds me of NRG from Astro City. (Reminds me poorly, since NRG is an Alex Ross design, and he often does really good ones.)

Ah well, they can't all be a Troia or a blue swirly Aquaman!

10:36 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

For a second I thought you meant NRG (i.e. Wildfire himself) from the Legion on the Run era. That was a vomitrocious costume if ever there was one.

10:57 PM  
Anonymous John said...

In many ways, this story reminds me of the first of the five years later run.

The future isn't a happy place with no Legion.

It's early in the story, though, and I don't mind Superman being around to restore the Legion to this continuity, where he couldn't in the five year later books.

Personally, I like Wildfire's look well enough. I like Gary Frank's figures and general art. I'd agree that some of the costume redesigns lack something, but I'd also guess that they were done with the intent of seeming bleak, so I'll wait to see what happens at the end before I worry about it too much.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

It's an unusual choice, isn't it, to evoke a 5YL kind of feeling? I mean, he's trying to bring back the spirit of the original Legion, and does so by giving us a story that resembles a period of time that many original Legion fans hated.

As for Superman... for me, whatever DC wants to do is fine. The Legion's in Superman's past? Great. The Legion's not in Superman's past? Great. I'm good either way.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous pedantic peasant said...

Alright,

I'm a week late, 'cause I couldn't get to the comic shop, and I don't know if anyone's going to read this, but ...

1) I'm mostly liking this story. Odds are I'd have liked any Legion story, and yeah, I'm kind of annoyed this is such a dark future. But the general attitude that Superman needs to stay in his own time to prevent paradoxes, and his long time out of contact -- particularly after the recent JLA Lightning Saga -- imply that the Legion is not going to pay him a casual call, and kind of requires a huge crisis to justify calling him back.

2) I really disliked the bug-eyed look of a lot of the art last issue, but the short-haired bug-eyed Saturn Girl is vaguely reminescent of a host of refugee-camp and on-the-run photos: shocked and half-starved. If this is a deliberate effect, as opposed to his standard art (and I think it may be, 'cause Superman is drawn much differently and, and even Dawnstar and co. are less "distorted" than Rokk, Garth, and Imra.)

3) DC has never been consistent in time travel -- some remember, some don't. But the recent Supergirl issues with Karate Kid imply that both Saturn Girl and Superman (despite having "served" with different versions of the LSH) may have had their memories blocked deliberately.

4) Gee, the earth's sun turns red after a shuttle "accident"? I wonder exactly how "accidental" it was.
I don't think Matt's on the right track with Dr. Regulus -- traditionally he's been much more focused on individual and collective vengeance on Sun Boy and the Legion than on world domination -- but maybe Sun Boy's missing because he's been detained as well? His powers could've helped cause the problem, maybe.

5) All of the different versions of Legion have had a lot of (different) good things going for them -- just different for each. Crisis on Infinite Earths may have been a great idea to simplify the DC multiverse -- and not incidentally to allow them more flexibility in using the very popular characters they'd purchased from other companies, like Charlton and Fawcett -- but it caused them some major continuity problems in several of their longest-running titles, for example:
* No Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in the JSA
* How to deal with Robin and their stupid assinine changes with Jason Todd's origin
* The major changes in all the Earth-2 titles they had just started in the past couple years, like All Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc.
* The relationship between Superman and Batman -- DC spent a good couple years playing them against each other as foils. Reversed all the World's Finest traditions and so forth, deciding that their working methods were so dissimilar they'd never get along.


To drive this point home, during the Millinium mini series a year or two after Crisis, Superman either fails at something, or is not chosen as a leader, and there's a thought balloon from Batman at the rear of the group saying he's pleased Superman didn't get it because he thinks Superman is a jerk (essentially).


The problem of the Legion was actually incidental to all of this -- a major side effect of the "new" 1980s John Byrne Superman never having been Superboy. This left the whole Legion chronology in question because Suberboy was such an integral part of the whole thing.

The Legion was popular enough and had too many characters to just say it never happenned, so what could they do?

Frankly, while I liked the Time Trapper pocket universe at the time, and the brief Matrix/Supergirl spin-off with Lex as hero and Superman teaming with a Bruce, Oliver, and Hal who become resistance leaders in lieu of heroes.

The big problem was the Legion and its history was too big. Almost every story had to be retconned, no one knew what happenned instead and it was easier to start over.

And over.

And over ...

I wish someone back then had come up with this sort of simple "He went to the future and hung out with people just before he put on the costume."



And as far as personality and diversity, while certainly the Legion was certainly an all-white and largely 2-dimensional group prior to the 70's, they were always ahead of their time in comparison to other books, and began developing diversity and complete characterization in the mid-70s. By the 80s when the Crisis shit-storm hit, they were already diverse (Tellus, Quizlet, Jacques).

Anyway, looking forward to part three, seeing who the mysterious new legionaiire is (Rond Vidar?).

Also hoping ... if this is eventually going to be a rebirth of the older Legion -- and BTW I loved Gim talking about his wife -- that this means there's hope Laurel Kent might still be alive, rather than that stupid and ill-advised "glitched-manhunter" they used to tie Legion into Millenium.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Generic Lad said...

Perhaps the red sun is due to a sun-eater who only wanted a light snack...

:-)

4:05 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

pedantic:

1. I'm finding it very readable, but it's not that... revolutionary, is it?
2. I have no real quibble with the art. I've seen better; I've seen worse. It's fine.
3. I think the problem here is that, in the first issue of this story, Superman seems to go from 'remembering' to 'having to be reminded by Brainy' in about the space of a panel. Or something like that.
4. Well, we'll see how it turns out. But, if it is Regulus, remember where you heard it first.
5. If DC was wise, they wouldn't insist on making everything conform to continuity anyway. It just makes life more difficult for them, and convinces them they have to do stupid stuff like taking Superboy out of Legion continuity. Just tell good stories and don't worry if it doesn't all line up.

The Legion's diversity isn't really all that impressive. The Doom Patrol of the late '70s/early '80s packs more diversity into four members than the Legion does into twenty-odd: a white American man whose brain has been planted in a robot's body, a black American man, a woman from India, and a woman from Russia who's semi-possessed by an energy being.

The Legionnaire in part 3... I'm guessing Chameleon Boy but it's just a hunch.

And I don't think that Laurel Kent has a prayer.

Generic Lad:

Or maybe Color Kid's responsible. (Actually, that makes a little bit of sense...)

5:16 PM  
Blogger Greybird said...

"Strange about Dawny: in the past she didn’t always seem completely committed to the Legion ... but she is now."

I'd really like to know just what stories you're thinking of to show this, as to the past. I suspect you're taking her aloofness or lack of "relaxing" with her teammates as a sign of not having a full commitment.

(Posted 5 December)

7:56 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I can't cite issue numbers... but there were times when she'd think to herself that, after all, she's largely doing this for money. Also there was her spirit-quest thing where she went off to find what her true life path would be--with the Legion, or doing something else.

I hadn't thought of the aloofness et cetera, but I imagine there's an argument there to be made if I cared to build it.

Anyway, I didn't mean anything derogatory by it. Any sane human would be of two minds about the superheroic lifestyle, and... hold on, I've never put this thought together before and I want to see if it holds up... Dawnstar may have been the sanest Legionnaire. (Tied for first, anyway.)

8:05 PM  

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