Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Action Comics: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 4-#861)

What Happened That You Have To Know About:

Turns out Brainy was just playing with everyone's heads, and he's really trying to stop the United Planets from coming down on Earth like a ton of bricks. But the Justice League blows his cover and he has to flee with Superman and his team--and fast, because not only does Brainy figure that the U.P. will be attacking Earth in four hours, but (unknown to the Legionnaires) the League is planning on exterminating all the aliens on Earth at about the same time. They also catch Yera spying on them as she discovers that they're using a captive Sun Boy to (presumably) turn all the suns red.

Not Quite a Review:

I think it's become obvious that this storyline is, so far, a success on its own terms. There's an excellent conflict and some suitably adverse conditions for Superman to operate under. The stage has been set with lots of appropriate Legion detail. And the art, despite Gary Frank's bleary faces, is certainly getting the job done. Assuming they don't completely fluff the ending, Johns and Frank have delivered a good Superman/Legion reunion story, and outdone the Lightning Saga.

...but it's so long. It's very, very long. This is the fourth issue, and I swear that they could have packed all this into two issues. One, if this were the early '60s and they put their minds to it. And we've got two more to go? I'm ready for it to be over now. Last issue I counted the number of full-page panels; Johns and Frank used seven pages to tell six panels' worth of story at times in that issue. In this issue, it's a little better: there were two full-page panels and one other panel that covered two whole pages (that is, four pages and three panels). Still too many. Come on, guys! These things don't cost 35 cents any more!


One thing about this story is that it's not being judged by its natural standards, or not always anyway. This is a) a Superman story in an exotic locale, and b) a story that introduces a new version of the Legion. Yet I see people treating it as c) a Legion story. Since it's good, the people who are treating it as c) can then claim that it's a sort of proof-of-concept for an ongoing series featuring this Legion. And I don't know about that.

Because, look. The first story, the one that sets up your situation and introduces your characters, is always easier to do than the ones that come after that. And I don't say that based on my knowledge of how writing works, but on which comic-book stories I've seen work and which ones not work. It's like everything John Seavey says about storytelling engines. You can turn the ignition on for any ongoing-serial story, but you'll never keep it going without a good engine. I think it's been proven over the last fifty years (!) that the Legion has a good storytelling engine, but so far we've seen exactly no evidence that Johns's Legion in particular has an engine that's any better than, or even as good as, the other current versions of the Legion being published. Because they haven't had to use it yet!

The point is not that Johns's Legion is bad. The point is, let's keep our expectations under control until we know what we're dealing with.

I continue to wait for some hint that there's a mastermind behind this Justice League. Two thirds of the way through the story, and not a sniff... maybe these posers really did pull it off by themselves. I hope not; I would find that difficult to swallow. We did get some interesting looks under the hood at the Leaguers this month, and those are some messed-up individuals right there. I guess we're supposed to feel sorry for them, but really I don't. These guys need to be taken down and stepped on.

It strikes me that Brainiac 5 must be a pretty easy character to write. Everyone who gets a chance to write the Legion always seems to want to turn his/her hand to Brainy, and they always find something they can sink their teeth into. The results aren't always anything new, but they're generally a good time anyway. Arrogance and impatience are fun.

- 'Chameleon Girl'? Unnecessary. Just call her Yera, please; not everyone has to have a code name.
- "Go figure."
- Are we really supposed to believe that the population of Earth can't see what creepy motorscooters their Justice League is?
- I've given Gary Frank a hard time about his portrayal of characters' faces, but he did a really good job on Brainy at the bottom of page 4.
- I'm gonna have to go back through the first three issues to see if I can spot Yera. Look, there she is on page 9! Twice!
- Question. Why didn't the Legionnaires hang on to their flight rings in the first place? I would.

Running Legion Count: We find out what happened to Sun Boy this issue, and also Yera, although she isn't a Legionnaire. And apparently Dream Girl's back on Naltor.

(New entries this week would be in bold, but there aren't any, except for taking the asterisk off Sun Boy.)

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*, Night Girl, Phantom Girl*, Polar Boy, 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 (33) (* only in brief flashback or non-speaking background appearance: 17)

Who haven't we seen yet who we might reasonably have expected to see? Tyroc, Quislet, Chemical King, Tellus, Magnetic Kid, White Witch, and some Subs. We're probably going to get a few Subs next issue, the White Witch is a prisoner of Mordru (she has the worst luck that way) and Johns seems to have left Tyroc, Chemical King, Quislet, Tellus and Magnetic Kid out of this continuity. So that may be about it.

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