Monday, March 03, 2008

Action Comics: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 5-#862)

What Happened That You Need To Know About:

Superman's group of Legionnaires, plus a group of Substitute Heroes that includes Fire Lad, Chlorophyll Kid, Stone Boy and Rainbow Girl, invade the Justice League's satellite. Brainy discovers that the famous crystal tablet is legitimately old and therefore not just a simple forgery. There's a big fight between the Legionnaires and Leaguers while Brainy tries to power down the machine that's draining Sun Boy.

Not Quite a Review:

Art by Frank again. Full-page-panel count for this month: LSH #39, 1; Action #862, 3. So that's a little better.

One of the many fine comic-book blogs linked in my sidebar is Tom Bondurant's Comics Ate My Brain. Tom generally has something interesting to say, and a while ago he came up with a way of classifying the different notions and storylines that come up in superhero comics (and other similar stories): Could, Would, Does. You should read it yourself, but in a nutshell, Does stories are ones that establish or straightforwardly use the conventions of the genre and character in question, Could stories are ones that make continuity linkages to explain or extend story elements, and Would stories are ones that try to revisit the genre and character in terms of real-world logic.

The reason I bring this up is that it's become obvious to me that Geoff Johns has been Coulding his brains out all over this comic book. Geoff Johns is a Could machine. He hasn't added much... or anything, really... that's new, but he's used some ingenious combinations of already-existing things to tie his storytelling universe together and make it do what he wants. Look: there is a Green Lantern Corps, and there is Sinestro, so there Could be a Yellow Lantern Corps too. In fact there Could be Lantern Corps for all the different colours of the rainbow! Furthermore, that almost-forgotten Legion reject Rainbow Girl Could have a connection to this whole extravaganza! Meanwhile, the Legion Could have rejected all those other guys not just because their powers were lame, but because Saturn Girl was there to pick up on what a bunch of sickos they were. (Are.) And Infectious Lass Could have appeared in Tales of the Unexpected because the aforementioned sickos sent her back in time. It's a Couldfest.

That's a description, by the way; not a criticism. Could stories have a long and proud history in comics.

The last Legion writer to write the Legion of Substitute Heroes perfectly straight was probably Paul Levitz. Since Levitz, Keith Giffen may be the only one who's done anything worth mentioning with them, and he kept throwing curveballs: first, he made them comic-relief figures in the pages of DC Comics Presents and the Substitute Heroes special that he did. Some people thought that was great; others hated it. But GIffen himself redeemed the Subs in the Five Years Later run of the Legion, depicting them as hard-bitten, kick-ass guerrilla fighters. Interestingly, Giffen left Polar Boy and Night Girl out of both portrayals, maybe because they were innately 'straight' characters that he couldn't plausibly torque in either direction.

Johns has basically split the difference between Giffen's two takes. Johns's Subs (again, minus Polar Boy and Night Girl) are a bunch of neck-or-nothing risktakers who are forced by the nature of their powers and resources to rely on audacity for their effectiveness. They aren't as incompetent as Giffen suggested; they're just constitutionally incapable of the kind of expertise the Legion has developed, and have to compensate with unpredictability and daring. It's a reasonable approach to take and I kind of like it. (Although I'm still not clear on just what Rainbow Girl's powers actually are.)

I'm glad the point was made about the differences between the Subs and the faux-Leaguers. It's an important point to be made about superheroics, and about the 'Legion are jerks' idea that's a common mockery of the Silver Age stories: there are two ways you can go when the Legion rejects you. You can do what Polar Boy and Night Girl and Nightwind did, or you can do what Spider Girl and Radiation Roy and Ron-Karr did. If you want to be a superhero, then be a superhero; you don't need to be a Legionnaire for that. And if you don't understand that, or don't care, then you shouldn't be a Legionnaire in the first place.

The story is very definitely now heading for the finish line, which is good to see. It feels like next issue will be satisfyingly final. But, honestly, there was no reason for this to take this long. This story could have been told in five issues just by eliminating the big single- and double-page spreads, and I wouldn't be surprised if it could have been cut down to three without losing anything we'd miss.

Running Legion Count:

We get passing references to a couple of other longtime Legion characters: Color Kid has been blinded, and Infectious Lass 'dropped into the timestream' (nice one! Answers a question I never even thought to ask!), and we are reintroduced to our old pals Fire Lad, Chlorophyll Kid and Stone Boy.

Bouncing Boy*, Blok*, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy*, Chlorophyll Kid, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Dawnstar, Dream Girl*, Element Lad*, Ferro Lad*, Fire 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*, Stone Boy, Storm Boy, Sun Boy, Superman, Timber Wolf, Triplicate Girl/Duo Damsel*, Ultra Boy*, Wildfire (36) (* only in brief flashback or non-speaking background appearance: 17)

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Blogger Jim Harbor said...

Johns is notable for essentially fapping fanfiction over his books. Now that's not nesesarrily a bad thing, fanfic is awesome, but it is telling when the first thing he does on getting on a book is retconning in something he sent to its letter column seven years before.

12:57 AM  

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