Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #1 Review

Before I get down to business I'd like to ask everyone reading this a favour. DC has decided to cancel Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century, the Johnny DC comic based on the now-cancelled cartoon, with issue #20. We knew they were going to do it eventually, but this is too soon. There are too many stories still to be told about the animated-series Legion. Therefore I've started an online petition here, and I call upon everyone to go sign it. If there's a decent response I'll send it along to DC.

(And if you're a Legion fan who hasn't been reading this comic, you've been missing out. Sure, it's pitched for kids, but it's the most satisfying Legion storytelling I've come across in a long time. Every issue you get a straight-ahead done-in-one story with some nice touches in it. Don't be afraid of hunting down the back issues, either; it's worth it.)


Anyone interested in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds should also be checking the Legion Omnicom regularly, as Michael, the proprietor, is annotating the series. The Omnicom should be everyone's first stop for Legion information.


I'm writing this part of the review before having read the first issue of FC:L3W. I just want to establish some assumptions and baselines.

George Perez is drawing the comic book. Perez is great, of course, and I'm sure the art in FC:L3W is going to be just fine. We've seen him draw the Legion before, recently, of course, in the pages of The Brave and the Bold. On that occasion, his art was all right but it didn't knock me out the way I'm used to Perez doing. (Maybe I'm reacting to the inker. That's not fair, is it? If it's great, it's because Perez is great; if it's not, the inker must have messed it up? I don't want to slag the inker unfairly.) So that's our first baseline: is the art of FC:L3W better than that of the Legion issue of B&B?

We know, from various previews and interviews and stuff, that three of the major characters in this miniseries are going to be Superman, Superboy-Prime and Bart Allen. My working assumption, and I seem to recall that it's supported by somebody's statement somewhere, is that the story will be primarily about Superman and Superboy-Prime, and will not primarily be a Legion story.

This is the third large story prominently featuring the version of the Legion introduced by Geoff Johns recently as the original Legion. It seems to me that Johns is being very smart about easing this Legion into the mainstream of DC Universe goings-on: he keeps giving them big supporting roles in major DC titles, and gets people excited about them and used to them. By the time he's done, they should be quite ready to carry their own regular title (should DC decide to go that way), because so many readers will know them and like them. These stories have generated a lot of excitement among fans who miss the original Legion, and many of those fans have declared Johns's Legion to be an unqualified success. I have been a bit more skeptical about things, in many ways, and here's what I think:

- Whatever Johns's Legion's relationship to the original Legion, his Legion must stand or fall on their own merits.
- Johns's Legion has not yet had the chance to stand or fall on their own merits, as they've only been supporting characters to this point.
- When it comes to the Legion, at least, the rule is that the storylines that introduce a new era in Legion storytelling have been quite successful artistically and among readers. It's the subsequent storylines that are the true test of someone's take on the Legion.
- Therefore we won't be in good position to judge Johns's Legion until the second arc of whatever regular series they get.
- Still, we can look at some early indications. On the negative side, Johns has mostly reused old characters and storylines for his Legion. This does nothing to reassure me that his Legion is other than an exercise in nostalgia. On the positive side, he has brought in some new elements, like the notion from the reboot era that the Legion should be ambassadors of diversity in a world of xenophobia. He's tweaked the characterization of some of the Legionnaires, like Lightning Lad, Blok, Brainiac Five and Polar Boy. He seems to have something in mind for where all this is going. And it's clear that the majority of fans are willing to go along with Johns on all this, which certainly counts for something.
- But none of that will be resolved in FC:L3W.

FC:L3W is a big crossover. Big crossovers tend not to be very good. Sometimes you're lucky if you can actually identify a coherent storyline in such a comic book. That'll be another baseline: is there a real story here and is it at all interesting?

George Perez is on record that he wants to try to draw every Legionnaire ever in this series. That's nice and will provide us with hours of amusement as we try to spot them all, but it has nothing to do with how good the comic book actually is. It's a story, not a checklist or a Where's Waldo? book.

Many of us are expecting this series to fix the Legion Problem. It might or it might not. I'm going to be very interested in whether it does, and I will be commenting on it, but, again, nothing to do with how good the comic book actually is. And I think that's an important point! What do we want from these freaking comics, anyway? Story? Art? Heroism? Characters? Humour? Action? Spectacle? Emotion? Even, and I can't believe I'm about to say this, nostalgia? All of those are legitimate and fine; if you want any or all of those elements to be part of your comics-reading experience, you've got my support.

But, continuity mechanics? No.

Not that there's anything wrong with tinkering with continuity. In a complex serialized universe like DC has, sometimes it's unavoidable. But it's not our problem. It's the writers' and editors' problem. It's okay by me if they want to fix the cosmic plumbing of the multiverse in a comic I'm reading, but it had better not be the only attraction. I am, after all, paying for this.


Now that I've read it, let's see what the first issue has for us:

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

The Time Trapper yoinks Superboy-Prime out of his time and sends him to the future to exterminate the Legion. Superboy-Prime blunders around a little for a while, but eventually figures out where he is, and hits the Superman Museum to learn a little about his surroundings. Eventually he decides to destroy everything, and goes to Takron-Galtos to get help from the Legion of Super-Villains. They greet him as a messiah, and set everyone free on Takron-Galtos, killing all the guards and stuff.

Meanwhile, the United Planets is debating kicking the now-xenophobic Earth out of their club, and disbanding the Legion while they're at it. R.J. Brande shows up to inject some sanity into the proceedings, but just as it seems the Legion is about to carry the day, Leland McCauley shows up out of nowhere and assassinates Brande. McCauley quickly ages and dies himself, indicating that he was a tool of the Time Trapper.

Phantom Girl, Lightning Lass and Shadow Lass bust Mon-El out of the Phantom Zone and start him on the road back to good health. Sun Boy is still not himself after the events of the Action Comics story. Legionnaires are also searching for Chameleon Boy, Dream Girl, Element Lad, the White Witch, Bouncing Boy, Duo Damsel, Matter-Eater Lad, Tellus, Quislet, Sensor Girl, and maybe some others, but with no luck yet.

The Legionnaires are debating whether to disband when they see on their monitors a giant flaming S-shield on a burning Takron-Galtos, and summon Superman to help. Superman identifies Superboy-Prime and Brainiac 5 proposes calling in the reboot and threeboot Legions. Superman states that the only way to deal with Superboy-Prime is not to beat him, certainly not to kill him, but to redeem him.


Well, that was much better than I was expecting! And I was expecting it to be pretty good!

Where to start?

Broad strokes: the mission Superman sets out for the Legion, to redeem Superboy-Prime, is a) worthy of Superman, b) sensible, c) a possible interesting setup for Superboy-Prime joining the Legion someday, and d) an excellent subject for a major superhero comic-book crossover series. So, that alone makes this issue a success: the first issue of a five-issue series isn't good for much other than setup, so all you can do is judge how well the setup was done, and if it looked like it was worth doing. A+ on both counts here.

Perez's art is up to his usual superlative standards and I do in fact like it better than that issue of Brave and Bold.

I have said about Lex Luthor (bear with me here) that the struggle between Superman and Luthor was whether Luthor could destroy Superman before Superman could redeem Luthor. Also, Luthor, like Superboy-Prime in this issue, has been somewhat concerned about how history would treat him. What McCauley (who is, like Superboy-Prime, a tool of the Time Trapper) says about Brande in this issue, that Brande cheated him out of his role as the greatest human industrialist on Earth, could have come straight out of Luthor's mouth as a complaint about Superman. Meanwhile, Superboy-Prime talks about Smallville and Superman's past as though it had nothing to do with him. He says that Superman was an ugly baby, but after all, he must have looked the same. What I'm getting at is that this comic book is associating Superboy-Prime more with Luthor than with Superman. Which is doubly interesting because of their connections to Kon-El. I wonder if we're working up to some kind of revelation that the Time Trapper is really Lex Luthor... After all, Action Comics #864 (the one with Batman, that was #864, right?) seemed definitely to hint that the Time Trapper was now more of a Superman villain than a Legion villain.

The more I think about that idea the more I like it. Think about all it would mean! Superman vs. Luthor is the key conflict of DC Comics. If Luthor is the Time Trapper, then that means that Superman was never able to redeem him. Not even by the time eternity comes to an end! But it's not a defeat for Superman, because look at what the Trapper is doing: he's still trying to wipe out the Legion, Superman's legacy. It actually explains a lot!

While I'm on a roll I'll make another prediction: Chameleon Boy, one of the missing Legionnaires, is not exactly missing. He's deep undercover. And he's going to reveal himself at a key moment in issue #3 or #4 of this series, in the best Chameleon Boy tradition. (Chameleon Boy, I have decided, is as close as the 31st century can come to Batman. Well, original-recipe Cham was, anyway, and I'm assuming Johns is going to use that characterization. Reboot and threeboot Cham aren't quite the same.)

This issue recreates a couple of origin stories: Superman's rocket crashing to earth, and the assassination attempt on R.J. Brande in the presence of Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy. In this case, both end tragically, and with the deaths of the older mentor figures. Not sure what to make of it yet; maybe future issues will develop this.

Now, this business of Superboy-Prime being redeemed. First, note that Saturn Girl said, when pleading the Legion's case, "I have peered into the minds of those that hold onto hate and I have seen the potential to change that. We can bring out the best in them, just like Superman brought out the best in us." There's the plot of your series right there, but we didn't know it when we read it. That's something that your good writers will do: they'll use the parts of their story to help out the other parts of their story, and not let you know that they're doing it.

It's easy to imagine that Superboy-Prime, unlike Luthor, is achievably redeemable. He was a hero, after all. Sure, he's crazy, and he's killed Frith knows how many people, but he's got the seeds of Superman in him. It can be done.

As for who's going to do it, well... we've seen the Legion take on Kryptonian-level characters before and help them along towards heroism. Kon-El, Supergirl (in the threeboot), Superman-X, and of course Superman himself have all been in this position. Of course, it's not quite the same thing: what Superboy-Prime has done is worse than everything the others did put together. Plus, there's this: Superman had to learn the nuts and bolts of superheroism, of using his powers effectively, from the Legion, while the Legion in turn learned about goodness, about heart, from Superman. Superboy-Prime doesn't need help in learning to use his powers; all his problems are in the heart area.

Still, the Legion does have a lot of people around who can help Superboy-Prime. Like him, Blok and the White Witch have been villains. Like him, Mon-El has spent a crazy long time in interdimensional exile. Like him, Andromeda has struggled simultaneously with redemption and tremendous power. Like him, Shadow Lass has had to deal with inner darkness. Like him, Brainiac 5 and Matter-Eater Lad have struggled with madness. Like him, Sun Boy is now dealing with having given up on being a superhero. There's help available if Superboy-Prime is smart enough to accept it.

Speaking of Sun Boy. Anybody else notice that the conversation between Sun Boy and Polar Boy had echoes of their interaction in the infamous downfall-of-Sun-Boy story in the Five Years Later era?

Remember I had that theory about how threeboot Mon-El was the same guy as Geoff Johns's Mon-El? Oh well; wrong again. If his dialogue on the last two pages is any indication, anyway.

There's one image in this comic book that I keep coming back to. I swear it must mean something but I can't think what. It's the tablecloth on page 2. It's got a black-and-white check pattern. It could mean nothing at all, of course, but I wonder. Is it a reference to the pattern DC used on their covers in the '60s? Does it allude to a perceived 'sees-the-world-in-black-and-white' worldview of Jun and Mara? Does it imply that the conflict of this comic book is a big chess game? If there's anything there I swear I'll figure it out.

Perez's promise to show every Legionnaire ever... I'm not going to keep count; I'll leave that to others. Still, it was nice seeing Myg in this issue. One Legionnaire I was sure I wasn't going to see was Superman-X, and I still think I'm not going to see him, but there was a real chance to slip him in there in the Superman Museum scenes. Oh well. Hey, the Superman Museum's a neat place, isn't it? Or it was, anyway.

A note on the big panels featuring the reboot and threeboot Legions on the last two pages: they each show Legionnaires from all across the histories of those two teams. They aren't snapshots of any individual moment for either one. If they were, there'd be discrepancies galore--Leviathan and Kid Quantum I appearing in the same picture as Shikari and Gear, for instance. Or Atom Girl, Dream Girl, Dream Boy, Sun Boy and Supergirl all at once. Not a mistake; just poetic license.

Okay! So!

Let's keep our expectations in check for the second issue. First issues are notorious crowd-pleasers; second issues are trickier. There could be a bit of consolidation but that's okay. Perspective.

This was a good start. If the rest of the story can live up to it, FC:L3W will be one to remember for a long time.

Your comments? Anything I forgot to discuss?

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