Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Legion of Super-Heroes: Millennium #2 - Setting Expectations

Still not really a review. When we get to Legion of Super-Heroes v8 #1, that'll be a review.

Can I start with the art? I was really impressed by the art in this comic book. Scott and Sook do what they do, and Cheung is on-model for the OMAC stuff, but it was Jeff Dekal's cosmic sequence that knocked me over.

When I wrote a thing about the previous issue I was really optimistic about how this was going to turn out, that it could end up being a really great story. And it isn't that, because it isn't really complete in itself. It's a setup for the LSH series. Which, I mean, we knew it was that, but now we know that it really is that. I guess Rose kinda gets a complete story for herself when she has her epiphany out by the Source Wall or wherever she is, but since we don't know what the nature of it is, there really isn't any closure for us in it.

But I stick with the other stuff I said about LSH:M #1. Rose/Thorn continues to form her impressions about superheroes and human society and youth, through encountering DC's various futuristic characters, and at the end she's ready to deliver her findings to the Legion. As a way of introducing the Legion, it's certainly one of them, and it's stylishly done, but I'm not sure I can see why this was Bendis's approach.

The advantages of it certainly appeal to me. First, it provides context and perspective. Previous versions of the Legion were separated from Kal-El and the present by a thousand-year barrier that seemed about an inch thick. A thousand years, or only a hundred? Whatever; it's practically right next door by time bubble. But this comic book shows us that, no, it's a huge distance, it's a vast amount of time. We might have known that before, but now we've seen it.

Second, and as I pointed out last time, it positions the Legion as the ultimate inheritors and redeemers of the superheroic tradition. Rose's story is honest with us about the failings of superheroes. Superman, Supergirl, Kamandi, Batman Beyond, OMAC... everything they wanted to protect has been swept away. They preach hope, but the hope always ends with another fall of civilization. They fight for what's right, but not in a way that addresses the problems that need addressing. True to her own alter-egoed nature, Rose is drawn to superheroes even as she disdains them. But then, an epiphany leads her to give it one more try. Maybe, a thousand years away from when she started, there's one last band of superheroes who can get it right this time, who can succeed where everyone else failed. I love it, and I think it's a wonderful point to make about the Legion.

Here's a disadvantage. The Legion is a challenge for new readers. Not a serious one. It's a superhero comic, not Infinite Jest. If you want to read it, pick it up and read it; you'll be fine. But, still: science fiction setting with several dozen main characters... it's a lot of detail to take in. So Bendis is going to introduce them by first showing us a cascade of a dozen more science fiction characters that we might not be familiar with either? I think Neal Stephenson said it best when he wrote, "Well, there's something to be said for cheekiness, I suppose."

Let's consider something else that's good. In interviews, Bendis has mentioned his admiration for various earlier versions of the Legion, including, interestingly, the 5YL and reboot and threeboot Legions. Which I appreciate, as I haven't seen that stuff appreciated in Legion comics for quite a while. But this isn't just talk by Bendis; you can see it all through the fourboot's introduction. The Legion are again the champions of diversity; that's from the reboot Legion. New Earth looks a lot like it did in the SW6 Legion's Legionnaires title. You can hear the ideas of the threeboot Legion in young Michael Carter's monologue to Rose in the Space Museum. And if they're going to be teaching Jon the ropes of how to be a superhero, that's an echo of the animated Legion.

Bendis hasn't proven anything to me yet. But what he has done, in interviews and in the comics he's written about the fourboot Legion, is show me that he has a deep and ambitious understanding of the Legion's meaning and role, in comics and in the real world, as the last heirs of the legacy of superheroes, as windows into the future of our imaginations, and as symbols of hope. I don't know if he can pay that off. I don't know if he's the right writer to do that. But I'm very pleased that that's what he's trying, and I hope he succeeds.

I mentioned a minute ago the Legion's role as champions of diversity. It's been a thing in comics for decades now, and the composition of the team itself has kind of lagged behind it. Remember when the threeboot Legion started and bigots were jumping up and down complaining about Star Boy being Black? And that was one character. There are, I am pleased to report, several more characters who've been changed in that way this time around. I'm going to count the Legionnaires (using the double-page spread from this issue for reference) so we can see what we're talking about here. Not because the specific numbers are important, but I do want to see what the numbers show us about the overall trend of the LSH roster:

Regular Human-Looking Legionnaires (white): (7) Mon-El, Saturn Girl, Superboy, Triplicate Girl, Bouncing Boy, Colossal Boy, Timber Wolf
Regular Human-Looking Legionnaires (people of colour): (9) Cosmic Boy, Light Lass, Ultra Boy, Matter-Eater Lad, Dawnstar, Lightning Lad, Shrinking Violet, Gold Lantern, Karate Kid
Presumably Regular Human-Looking Legionnaires That We Can't Tell What They'd Normally Look Like: (5) Wildfire, Invisible Kid, Dr. Fate, Chemical King (I'm assuming that the skeleton in the green containment suit is Chemical King), Sun Boy
Humanoid Legionnaires Who Look Different Enough To Be Alien: (11) Element Lad, Star Boy, Dream Girl, Brainiac 5, Shadow Lass, White Witch, Princess Projectra, Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl, Monster Boy, Blok
Nonhumanoid Legionnaires: (0)

Did I miss anybody? I don't think so. If we did this same exercise for any other version of the Legion, we'd get very different results; the first group would be a lot bigger and the next three would be smaller. And it wouldn't be as good. I mean, what do we think the future's going to be like, anyway?

Obviously there's more to diversity than that, but we're going to have to spend some time with the characters before we can comment on it.

But there's one thing we can see. These are all characters updated from the original Legion of Super-Heroes roster, plus some new ones, but no Legionnaires updated from later versions of the Legion. No Kid Quantum, no Quislet, no Gates, no Dragonwing, no Kono. And, I don't really like that. One, I'd like to see those characters. Two, I don't subscribe to the idea that the original Legion is the real version and everything else is just ringing the changes off of that. Maybe some of 'em will show up later.

One thing I kinda want to mention. The scene at the end where Rose meets the Legion? It's the official founding of the Legion. And they're all there, twenty or thirty of them, including Superboy. So they went back in time to get Superboy before they were the Legion yet? I mean, I'm sure Bendis has thought out this detail; after all, he anticipated my objection about the Legion potentially disrupting the founding of the United Planets in Superman. It's probably something like, they've been a team for a while but haven't had the official founding yet. Like a restaurant can be open for weeks before the grand opening.

I'm going to be curious to see what Rose's role is with this team, if any. Before reading this comic I didn't know if she was going to inspire the team or organize it or what. But, no, nothing like that; she's found them fully formed. So how did they get together? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it wasn't R.J. Brande this time.

So. #1 next month. Let's be patient with it, but let's also remember this: it's relatively easy to make a first issue or a first arc go well. The real test of serialized entertainment is the second story, when you can't rely on the energy of introductions anymore, when all the things you've put in your world to shape the first story don't apply anymore. We are in for, I hope, the long haul.

Did the Space Museum always look like the Hall of Justice?

Monster Boy's costume looks a lot like Mano's, doesn't it?

They faked us out in the group shot with Invisible Kid. We thought he was going to be between Element Lad and Light Lass, but no.

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14 Comments:

Blogger DanielT said...

The Space Museum predates the Hall of Justice, but no depiction of it has it looking like that.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Tks.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Jim Davis said...

I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed at $10 for the two issues.

Some nice artwork but threadbare story.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Well, yes. Price is certainly a factor I didn’t consider.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Ian said...

I share many of your conclusions...this was a primer; a prologue that gave a meaningful context for the Legion. I'm probably incorrect but this approach seemed new. Not that we haven't seen all of these futures before but the intertextuality here does give some breadth to the distance between the Legion and present day. This quality made the "inspiration" of the 21st Century feel almost optional, obscure and less obvious? That the Legion picks a moment in our present day as their inspiration seems bold. It's a clever maneuver.

It requires a second reading. Both issues in one sitting. But even that's rare for me these days. This is a good thing.

I too noticed that Brande isn't a vital part of the beginnings here. I don't mind. I'm ready for something different. I don't necessarily want to read the same story verbatim but I'd like the origin to be in keeping with the spirit of something Legion-y and this didn't discourage me.

I was initially annoyed by the Rose/Thorn being the centerpiece. She felt like a cipher. The second chapter changed my mind. I particularly enjoyed Booster's character as both true to his character and shockingly cogent in his commentary about his feelings about his present feeling staid and corporate and predictable and how that resonated metatextually with my own feelings about certain trends in place today.

As always thanks for your thoughts and input.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

The approach seems new to me too. I mean, I always think something I haven’t seen before is new and I’m generally wrong about that, but what else is like it? (Although go back and look at the first few pages of LSH v5 #1.)

It’s a really nice overture, is what it is.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Am I blind, or does Millennium #2 not actually have any creator credits in it?

10:06 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

It doesn't! I was looking for them too!

10:26 AM  
Blogger Hal Shipman said...

I agree with your conjecture that we're seeing the "official" founding. The Brande story could still be in there.

Thanks for the diversity roster. It's still way behind, proportionally, but better. The absence of non-humanoids is weird, though. Especially someone as charismatic as Gates.

One thing I read somewhere said, with dead certainty, that Booster wasn't a security guard this time around. But he clearly works at the museum. There are a number of folks wearing the same uniform. Who seem to be paying more attention to their jobs, FWIW.

Finally, I've also read some folks commenting that "finally" DC sorted out their various futures. But didn't they do that a LONG time ago? With virtually the same sequence? I seem to remember it from the '70's, possibly first in one of Bob Rozakis' Answer Man columns, but certainly a number of other times.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Yeah, I'm not sure if there's any kind of ideal proportions for how the diversity breaks down. Should it exactly match Earth's demographics? There's an argument for that. But, let's keep an eye on it, and let's keep an eye on the relative skin tones; there's a tendency for nonwhite characters' skin to be coloured more lightly over time.

I don't have a good sense on how closely tied in to continuity DC's futures were in the past. Honestly I don't even think it's important. I don't even think it's important for the Legion! As long as they have some kind of link to Superman. Sure, in this comic, Bendis is getting a lot of philosophical weight about all the recurring themes in DC's various properties and how they recur throughout the ages, and that's great, and I like it, but it's not strictly necessary to tell Legion stories.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous SubLiminal Kid said...

We still don't know what Lyle Norg looks like.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Yes, as noted. (I was going to say, "We don't even know that it's Lyle Norg!" but then I checked, and, yes, we do know that. Better luck next time, Jacques.)

3:13 PM  
Blogger Rob M said...

RE: the diversity discussion, I've seen others elsewhere mention that it's odd to alter the skin color of some characters while omitting from the roster the two pre-existing black characters - Tyroc and Jacques. Considering that the new roster is essentially the "classic" Legion through Crisis, it's an odd coincidence that only the two people of color are missing (I guess you could add Ferro Lad and Chemical King, who haven't yet been confirmed one way or the other).

3:32 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

That's true. It's also true that nonwhite colours from other versions of the Legion haven't been included. Still, there are other explanations for Troy and Jacques: Tyroc is a difficult character to write and his original portrayal is slightly radioactive, and DC writers seem reluctant to use Jacques if they have the option of using Lyle. I don't like it and I wouldn't do it, but I can't say for sure that it's reflective of a deeper problem. (Except the one that means they always reset to the original lineup.)

6:13 PM  

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